My Life Changed In A Halfway House

Living in a halfway house changed my entire life trajectory.

woman in group reading, halfway house LeoPatrizi | Canva

I was about to be homeless. I’d been renting a condo owned by my ex-husband, but I never gave him money for the two months I stayed there. It was still hard for me to show up at work when I was feeling like death. As a result, my paychecks were dwindling.

At least I was clean and sober. It was truly the only thing I had going for me. My addiction to pills and alcohol had been a nightmare, and I almost didn’t make it out alive.


I still had physical and mental cravings, though, and I didn’t know how strong I could be going forward. My withdrawal from the pills had been particularly harsh and left me completely wiped out. Knowing that just one tiny pill would take away my suffering was still tempting. My sobriety was a razor-thin line that could be crossed at any minute.

Being thrown out of my ex-husband’s apartment made me feel even worse. There was nowhere else I had to go and nobody I knew who would take me in. Drugs had destroyed almost all of my friendships. People were done giving me second chances.

In desperation, I called a woman from the AA program that I’d attended off and on over the years. Her advice was simple yet panic-inducing.


She said the best place for me would be a halfway house where I could work on staying clean and also have a place to live.

Because of the circumstances, there was no way I could argue. She gave me the numbers of the women who owned the house, Robin and Paula, and told me to call them.

I barely had a dollar in my bank account, so I fell upon the mercy of those women. I spoke to Paula first and asked to stay a week for free until I got my paycheck. I’m not sure why she trusted me that day, but she told me I could come over. I’d heard of Paula and Robin before in the rooms of AA. They had a reputation for being really tough on the girls in their house. Frankly, I was a little afraid of them, but I had no other option.

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I broke down in my car for a minute when I pulled up to their house. I felt depressed and deeply ashamed of my situation, my drug addict behavior, and how I’d let so many people down. I was in my mid-forties and about to live under Robin and Paula’s strict rules. A few girls I knew who lived there were considerably younger than me. Honestly, I was old enough to be their mother. What would they think of me?

Robin greeted me when I knocked. I was relieved to see her nice smile as she welcomed me. She showed me around the house and said she and Paula owned several halfway houses in the neighborhood. All around me were young girls in various stages of dress frantically cleaning the house while listening to loud music. They all looked suspiciously at me as I gave them a small wave.

I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I was grateful when Robin showed me my bedroom so I could hide.

I was grateful that I didn’t have a roommate yet and took the opportunity to get some rest. Robin had mentioned a meeting for all the houses that evening. We sat in groups in their backyard listening to Robin and Paula as their giant Great Dane walked around so everybody could pet him. I noticed a few women closer to my age, and I wondered if they also struggled to make friends in the sea of teenagers.


Robin took me aside after the meeting was over.

"I have another house that I think you’d be much happier living in," she said. "It’s over on Ilex Street and has four bedrooms and plenty of space for everyone."

I jumped at the offer. Robin gave me the address and told me to grab my stuff.

The Ilex house was white and nondescript with a nicely manicured lawn. I punched in the code for the front door and entered a spacious living room where three women sat watching TV. The women were older, more my age, and I breathed a sigh of relief and introduced myself. Everyone was friendly and kind, and one of them, Kim, showed me the bedroom where I’d be staying.


"I have the other bed," Kim said as if she was delighted to have a roommate. "It’s probably the second biggest bedroom in the house."

Smiling at Kim, I unpacked all my things, embarrassed by how few there were. Over the years, I’d sold or given up everything I had right down to my last fork. Being hooked on drugs meant that I got evicted every three months and was constantly broke. The amount of stuff I’d left behind could have fit in a large two-story house.

I chatted with Kim as I put my stuff away in the drawers. She looked so cute with her short, spiky blonde hair, tanned face, and freckles. If I wasn’t so shy, I would have asked to be friends.

"I have towels if you need them," Kim told me. "You can also wear anything of mine as long as you wash it after."


Saying thank you seemed inadequate. Kim seemed ready to help in any way possible. She welcomed me and made me feel special, and that meant more to me than any material item I needed. I’d imagined myself being so lonely every day away from my friends and family, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

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I became more familiar with the strict house rules the next day as my roommates made their weekly schedule for chores.

Everybody had the same chore for a week, and Sunday nights were "deep-cleaning" nights where Robin and Paula would come and inspect afterward. I messed up the first week because I forgot to clean the bathroom floor, thinking somebody else was in charge of the floors. Paula grounded me for the night. That hadn’t happened since I was sixteen.


All the women had to attend at least five AA meetings a week. After each meeting, we had to wait to get our paper signed by the meeting leader so we had proof. If we didn’t make it to all five meetings, extra chores or a week’s curfew were doled out.

We had to pay our rent on time and buy our own groceries. Every woman had to have a job as well, so I began working as a transcriptionist at a veterinary clinic. Of course, there was the weekly meeting for all the houses that could last from one to two hours. We also had random drug tests to make sure we were still doing the right thing. If I failed one, I would have been kicked out that same day.

I started to reach out to the other women, young and old, and began to make friends.

There was a girl named Alyssa who played the guitar and sang beautifully, and we’d all sit around her clamoring for more. She and I became particularly close despite our age difference. All the girls wanted was somebody to listen to them, and I was happy to play that role.


They began to look at me not as a parent but maybe a "wise aunt." In some ways, I still felt like a baby for being in recovery later in my life. I still had a lot to learn, but I tried to speak from experience as much as I could.

Although Robin and Paula could be tough, I thrived in the new environment.

We had to make our beds first thing in the morning, which was something I hadn’t done since I could remember, but the habit sticks with me to this day. It was the first time in a long time that I started acting responsibly about tasks and my money.

Possibly without them knowing it, Robin and Paula were changing my life little by little. They helped me be more positive and confident because I was suddenly getting things done. My social skills also improved because of the other women, and I no longer hid in my bed all day.


My favorite part of the Ilex house was when the women gathered early every morning on the back patio and read from our books. We shared stories on recovery, coping, self-help, and anything else positive we could get our hands on. Then we would go around and tell the group what the passage meant to us. It was a great way to get to know each other, but it also set up the day for a positive start.

One of the quotes described being strong like a little pilgrim, so we started calling each other "little pilgrims" around the house. We mostly got along fine except for the occasional squabble over dishes or laundry, but we never stayed mad and always had each other’s back.

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I never thought I would say this, but my time living in the Ilex House is one of my best memories.


It marked my transition between behaving like a child and acting like a grownup. There were lessons everywhere I looked, and I was finally in a place where I could learn them. The drugs I used to be desperate for seemed inconsequential as if the whole thing never happened. However, it was important for me to remember how far I once fell and what it took to pull myself out. It was a long, hard, agonizing process that I never wanted to repeat.

On the day I left the house after nine months, the women gathered around to give me hugs and advice. By this time, some of them had become my best friends. I’d really miss Kim and staying up late with her to watch true crime shows in our room. She was a complete lifesaver to me in a very uncertain time. I miss Alyssa and think fondly of the time we went out at 6:00 a.m. and surprised everybody by bringing home donuts. The beautiful songs she sang are still on my iPhone to this day.

I’d miss Robin and Paula most of all. They took a risk on a desperate stranger and helped bring her back to life. I wouldn’t even know how to repay them for that.


I still stay in touch with some of my friends from the halfway house via Facebook. We’ve all moved on in some form or another, but the love between us remains. I still call myself a little pilgrim and am proud of it.

Drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly common.

Alcohol and drug addiction is something to take seriously, although often overlooked. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can suffer from alcohol and drug addiction.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that approximately 20.3 million people above the age of 12 have suffered from a substance use disorder in the past year. According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, close to 2 million people of the same age bracket have suffered from opioid use disorders and 14.8 million from alcohol use disorders.


If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, there are resources to get help.

The process of recovery is not linear, but the first step to getting better is asking for help. For more information, referrals to local treatment facilities and support groups, and relevant links, visit SAMHSA’s website. If you’d like to join a recovery support group, you can locate the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings near you. Or you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-799-7233, which is a free 24/7 confidential information service in both English and Spanish. For TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, call 1-800-487-4889.

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Glenna Gill is a writer and blogger from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her articles have been featured in Scary Mommy and P.S. I Love You. When I Was Lost is her first full-length book, a memoir of love, loss and hope.