One of the most frequent comments I'm getting from people who have finished reading Lifeline is, "What happens to these characters after they leave LakeShore Recovery Center?"
And the truth is, I don't know. The journey out of addiction and into recovery can be a long road, and the right supports are crucial. For a character like Red, however, I imagine a recovery home or sober living community would be an important transition after completing an extended treatment program.
Today, I’m honored to interview Kenneth Ramirez, founder of We Have a Choice Recovery House in Monroe County, PA. Kenneth has an incredible story of finding recovery after years of pain and suffering, and he currently works to help support others in early recovery by providing safe housing for men through his certified recovery home.
A: Kenneth, thank you so much joining me today.
K: Hi, Abbey. Congrats on the release of your new book. I pray for it to blossom and prosper across the world. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you, with the hopes that my testimony will reach a broken spirit and fill it with hope.
A: I’m so excited for the opportunity to discuss your work at We Have a Choice Recovery House. But I also understand that you’re in long-term recovery. Will you share a little about your background and how you found recovery?
K: I am an adult child of an alcoholic and substance abuser. My mother and father are both addicts. I come from a family that was entrenched in drug and alcohol addiction. This abuse also included being exposed to domestic violence, being molested, and having to live in multiple battered family shelters as a child. I grew up traumatized by the horrors of active addiction within my dysfunctional family system.
Eventually, I sought relief from my pain as a teenager in the forms of drugs and alcohol. This was my escape from all the noise within my head. I began drinking and smoking marijuana by age 12, not knowing that this would lead to me becoming a full blown drug addict by age 18. At my 18th birthday party, I was introduced to cocaine by my mother’s brother. This was the beginning of my destruction.
From 18-35, I became a full blown cocaine addict. My addiction took me to a total of ten inpatient rehabilitation centers, ten detoxes, and two long-term TC (therapeutic communities), each consisting of one year. But I relapsed after every treatment episode. My addiction also took me through multiple criminal arrests, homelessness, and several frequent visits to the psych ward. Most of all, I can remember the pain, isolation, and despair of living as the walking dead, spiritually, mentally, and physically.
On July 1, 2009, I was rescued from my addiction by two angels sent from Heaven. They were two New York City Police Officers who just so happened to be walking the beat on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. By then, I was in a state of desperation. I was sitting on a stoop in front of a local Spanish bodega, screaming to get more money for crack cocaine. The officers approached me and informed me that I was breaking the law by drinking an open can of beer in public. When they ran a warrant search on me, they discovered that I had a warrant out for my arrest in Suffolk County, Long Island. The officers arrested me, and I know now that was the day that my life was saved, and my recovery began.
I spent almost six months in a Suffolk County jail, which gave me some time to strap my head back on right. I developed a new perspective on my life and what I wanted to do with it. I knew that I did not want to die as using drug addict—that I wanted a better life. I began to attend church in jail on Sundays and read the bible every morning before sunrise. I also attended AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings in jail two times a week. These activities, which are lifesaving practices, awakened my spirit to the recovery journey that I am still on today.
After getting out of jail, I continued to attend NA meetings and developed a strong recovery foundation and support group. After my first year in recovery, my mother died from lung cancer, and I really was challenged with pain and emotions. But I grabbed on to the NA program and God and was able to survive my emotions and stay clean. Thank you, Jesus.
A: What a powerful story—a true testament to the idea that recovery IS always possible. Thank you so much for sharing that. Currently, you run a recovery house for men in early recovery. Tell me a little bit about what inspired you to open We Have a Choice Recovery House?
K: When I had been clean for one year, I began seeking employment in addiction treatment. At that point in my life, I was more aware of my passion and desire to help others recover from the horrors of active addiction. This led me to my first job as a counselor assistant at a facility in Long Island. Later, I went to school to become a Drug and Alcohol Counselor (CASAC) in New York City. I continued to advance my skills as a counselor and ultimately realized that that this was my calling in life.
I moved to Pennsylvania with my wife and kids about four years ago and worked at a facility in Henryville, Pennsylvania. There, I was an Intensive Outpatient Counselor. Many of the clients I served were repeats because, once completing treatment, they always returned to the same destructive environments. For many of them, it was the only choice that they had, due to a lack of family support, financial means, etc.
This reminded me of my personal experiences with continued use in the past because I never had a safe home to go to after completing a rehab. During my years as an active drug and alcohol user, I lived in many disorganized sober homes and institutions. Most of these facilities had staff that did not care about clients, and even drug use was also a regular thing in these so-called sober homes. This always set me up for failure. Yet, it’s what sparked the seed for me to open the We Have A Choice Recovery House for men in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania.
I know from firsthand experience that if an addict does not have a safe and structured environment to return to after completing treatment, relapse usually happens within the first 24 hours of release. My recovery home is a structured home for men that provides safety, empowerment, self-help supports and guidelines for residency that keep residents accountable for their recovery at all times. We also have a live in house manager named Alex who monitors the clients’ daily activities. We also implement weekly house meetings, assigned daily chores, and random drug and alcohol testing. I believe that my Certified Recovery home will provide the structure to men in need of recovery from their drug addictions, and also be the springboard for them to build healthy lives today.
A: We Have a Choice is also the first in the area to be certified by the Pennsylvania Alliance for Recovery Residences (PARR). What does that certification mean and why was it important to you as the founder?
K: I wanted to be Certified by PARR and NARR (National Alliance for Recovery Residences) because they set high standards for the operation of recovery residences and sober homes. PARR is currently the only certifying recovery house body in Pennsylvania, and their stamp of approval does not come easily. PARR standards lead to certification once all criteria are met. This stamp of approval communicates structure, safety, and accountability for recovery residences. This does not mean that relapse can't happen for residents but following PARR standards reduces relapse for recovery house residents that adhere to the recovery home policies and procedures. Many facilities present as sober homes but are not structured properly. I wanted to be the first certified recovery home in Monroe County, PA to set the bar high for local recovery homes that are not structured properly.
A: I’ve written here about how writing LIFELINE helped to carry me through the pain and grief of my brother’s addiction. I’ve also interviewed several others who have used art as a “lifeline”—a way to find healing and hope and offer it other people. It’s clear that We Have a Choice Recovery House offers a critical lifeline to men in early recovery. In what ways has your work at We Have a Choice been a “lifeline” for you?
K: It is my mission in life today to provide help to the still sick and suffering addict, promote hope to broken spirits, and to guide, coach, mentor, and be a cheerleader to those in need. In order to do that, I have to be a role model and live recovery so that I can be an attraction to other addicts seeking recovery and a better life. This is not just my lifeline; this is my life, period! It’s why I'm still here today. God spared my life, so I can help others. God is using all of my life experiences for his will and purpose today. My pain and experiences in active drug addiction is actually a gold mine of wealth just waiting to be offered to someone else for guidance. I’ve learned that God always has a better plan for our lives—better than anything we could ever think of.
A: Thanks so much for chatting with me today, Kenneth. If you want to find out more about We Have a Choice Recovery House, you can contact Kenneth at KennyR5273@gmail.com or by phone at (570)-534-5439.
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