A young woman sits in the lobby awaiting her appointment to enter the Santa Maria detox program. A tear silently rolls down her face. Coach Karen Gaddis gently makes her way to the chair next to her, speaking in hushed tones, knowing well the pain and anxiety that is building as they wait for this woman’s admission. This is the beginning of a long relationship, one that Karen will cultivate and pursue, regardless of where this woman goes. Karen is one of our recovery support services staff. She is a coach who is regularly found in our lobby, knowingly, kindly and compassionately waiting to meet women who need her help and understanding. Coach Karen’s presence sends a calming message that what lies ahead will be worth the struggle to regain health and hope. She listens intently and understands with the experience of having “been there” herself. She understands that the fear, doubt and pain will rise to an almost paralyzing level. She also knows for this woman, and every women in the program, their best chance at beating the odds is to be drawn in and respected. Karen realizes each woman must find a level of trust that she belongs to a community not only of treatment, but also acceptance. Karen meets each woman “where she is” and builds a lasting, nonjudgmental relationship from that point. She has chosen to serve this woman, and so many others, with emotional support, practical guidance and most of all, empathy for the journey that is recovery. It is her vocation, her avocation, her passion and her salvation.
Karen knows that this kind of care at Santa Maria can save lives, for she credits it for saving hers. As she recalls, “the staff became like angels in my life”. After 23 years in recovery, she sees the mission of her life to serve other women find serenity, hope and a bright future. She has become one of those angels.
Karen’s own story is fraught with pain and violence. Her desperate addiction to crack cocaine, in the epidemic that swept Houston and other cities in the 90’s, lasted far too long and led to horrific and degrading experiences. It began innocently enough, with a friend offering a cocaine- laced cigarette at a party, which quickly led to Karen’s dependence and desperation. That addiction took her to unimaginable places, where she was robbed of her will to live, year by year. She entered “treatment” many times over five years but never found a place that helped her to get honest about how her lack of self-esteem and untreated abuse and violence had hijacked her life.
The team at Santa Maria helped her recall buried trauma from her childhood. They helped her understand that her parents “weekend alcoholism” set the stage for developing an understanding that adults can deal with the issues of life repressing stress and fear with substance use. She was able to look at the low points of her addiction and she says, “they, (the staff), helped me to see what I really looked like, at 90 pounds and about to lose my family.” They taught her that substance use disorder was a medical condition. Slowly, with their help and her hard work, she began to heal.
After completing treatment and maintaining sobriety, Karen was hired and came up through the ranks of the Santa Maria staff, first serving at Paschall House as residential tech. She also served in that capacity at Jacquelyn and Bonita House. She learned of her coaching assignment as recovery support became a prominent part of our treatment services. She took the training and became certified as a coach. She has been serving in that role ever since. She says, “You have to keep helping, don’t ever give up. I have to humble myself to be an advocate. I have to lovingly tell my full story. That is what helps the most.”
Today, she is married and has grandchildren in her life. She is very active in her church. She continues dedicated participation in AA and NA by sponsoring many woman and continuing to work her program with the help of her own sponsor. She says she wants to continue to serve more clients because she knows so many are out there suffering. Karen has turned around the dark moments of her life to become a beacon of hope for others. She is the face of RecovHERy.