Danielle’s life unraveled in stages. In 2005, pregnant with her second child, her fiancé died in a car accident, leaving her bereft and traumatized, but still able to care for her children with her own father’s support. Several years later, she married a man with whom she had another child. He abused her and in the midst of a contentious divorce, he died of an overdose. Eventually, her own substance use disorder overwhelmed her and she made the difficult decision to turn her kids over to her parents so they would be safe, but she maintained regular contact for several years. When her father decided that his help had shifted to enabling, he stopped supporting her financially. She took to the streets.
For years, Danielle couch-surfed, cycled in and out of jail, and did whatever was necessary to support her habit. Then one day she heard about St. Francis House. “Initially, I would go inside for the wrong reasons — often to find someone to use with,” she admits. But the staff kept reaching out — engaging her in conversation, stowing her bag for safekeeping, and bringing her coffee and piece of fruit when she lingered on the sidewalk. “They treated me like a human being, they weren’t judgmental, they talked to me, and always asked if I needed anything.”
Finding St. Francis House
Eventually she started coming inside more often to shower, get clean clothing, and relax in the Women’s Center or the Atrium. “St. Francis House played a huge part in keeping me safe,” says Danielle. “I would overdose and staff would call an ambulance and sit with me to make sure I was OK. Staff would always offer me detox and recovery services, but I always refused.”
She feels particularly indebted to guest engagement liaison Neysa Johnson, a long-time employee whose job is to get to know guests and help them in countless ways. “She IS St. Francis House. She really cares about the guests and treats everyone with dignity and respect, which isn’t something you’re used to when you’re using,” says Danielle. She recalls with affection Neysa’s box of keepsakes that guests have gifted to her over the years: notes of appreciation, trinkets, flowers that are now dried, but remind her of someone’s gratitude.
Turning a Glimmer into Full-Fledged Hope
“Even at Danielle’s lowest points, there was a glimmer, a spark, no matter how much she tried to hide it,” says Johnson. “I always tried to remind her that there was so much more to her than her addiction.” Danielle eventually got sober, crediting Alcoholics Anonymous and therapy — which has helped her deal with past trauma and grief — with keeping her on an even keel. Today, she lives with her husband and their toddler in New Hampshire, where she does coaching and outreach for a recovery program. She has reconnected with two of her three older children and just became a grandmother.
Her advice to others who are struggling? “Make use of all the services St. Francis House offers. I wish I had done the Moving Ahead Program and if I had been sober, the Recovery Support Center would have been an amazing resource.”