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15
Sep

Bernadine K., Women’s Program

September 15, 2011

Bernadine Kelly did not come to HAS willingly. A drug and alcohol user since the age of twelve, she had tried treatment before, with poor results. This time, however, Bernadine was offered a simple choice: treatment—the judge recommended Sisterhouse—or ten years in prison. Bernadine chose Sisterhouse, but she wasn’t happy about it. “I was bitter,” she says, “and I didn’t want to be there. I would see people out on the corner doing drugs, and just think about how much I wanted to be out there with them.” As the days and weeks passed, however, Bernadine found herself less tempted. “For one thing,” she states, “my counselor got me to stop looking out the window!”
In fact, Bernadine says, her counselor and the others at Sisterhouse were gradually encouraging her to take a good look at herself, to be more introspective and consider both the traits that had contributed to her addiction and the strengths she could use to build a healthier life. “I had never done that before,” she says, “and I realized that I was angry. I didn’t like anyone, including myself. I learned to open up to other people and to really think about my own actions. If I realize I’ve done or said something hurtful, I apologize and try to make it right. I used to just brush it off.”
In addition to changing her own attitudes and behaviors, Bernadine’s time at Sisterhouse allowed her to make some life-changing practical improvements. One of the main factors behind her drug and alcohol abuse, Bernadine believes, was the fact that she was illiterate. “I didn’t know how to read or write,” she recalls, “and everyone else did. Teachers just pushed me from grade to grade until I gave up and pushed myself out of school. I felt small, so I used.” Sisterhouse staff quickly realized that Bernadine’s shame was fueling her addiction and provided her with literacy training. “I can read and write now,” she says, “and I love it. I love my life.”
The best parts of sober living, Bernadine states, are the small things: breakfast, for example. “It’s so great being able to just get up, have breakfast, and prepare for my day—instead of worrying about where I’m going to find drugs.” Now an AA sponsor and mentor to a current Sisterhouse resident, Bernadine works hard to convey the value and rewards of life without drugs or alcohol to those who are still struggling with addiction. “I take them out,” she says, “try to show them a new way of life.” Bernadine and her sponsees exchange Christmas gifts, see movies—she recommends Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls—and go out to eat—“you know,” she says, “normal stuff.”
Bernadine remains grateful to the program at Sisterhouse, which she says saved her life, and advises anyone experiencing a drug or alcohol problem to seek help and stick with it. “Just be patient,” she says.  “If you keep trying, miracles can happen!”