Jeremiah thought he had hit bottom in the fall of 2017 when he and his wife separated because of his addictions. His parents had long given up on him and cut off all contact. He hardly ever saw his three kids. But things got worse. Soon homeless and living in a tent, he reached the point where he was questioning whether or not he wanted to live.
But from the depths of despair he finally sought the treatment he desperately needed. On August 31, 2018, during one of his final days at the Gándara Center’s Hairston House, a community-based recovery program for men in Northampton, Jeremiah recalled his struggles—and his triumphs over them. He was leaving Hairston after a 16-month stay and credits its recovery program with fundamentally changing his outlook. “This place, the Hairston House, saved my life,” he said.
For years Jeremiah drank heavily and smoked crack, but he was a “functioning addict,” he said, until opiates came into the picture at age 27. After doing heroin for ten years, the drug almost took the ultimate toll when he gave up on everything. “One day I decided I was going to commit suicide,” he said, “but instead I went to the emergency room.” This was the beginning of Jeremiah’s new life without substance use. After a stay at the Northern Hope Center in Greenfield, where he received clinical stabilization services, including counseling, he stayed at a homeless shelter in Westfield for two months. “At that point I was truly surrendering and asking for help,” he said.
Help came. He received a call from Dan McCarthy, the program director at the Hairston House. After an interview, Jeremiah checked into the 17-bed facility. “That’s when my life really started to change,” he said. He pointed out that the Hairston House emphasizes a client’s individual responsibility in developing and maintaining his own service plan, but he credits Hairston House Case Manager Wayne Gates with helping him build that plan. “A great thing about the Hairston House is that they don’t just say, ‘This is what you want to accomplish when you’re here.’ We, as clients, write out our treatment plans, and then we go over them with our case workers, and they give us suggestions,” said Jeremiah.
The Hairston House is based on a Social Model philosophy, which focuses on individual responsibility and peer support as the basis for its clients’ recovery. It uses behavior modification techniques and modalities with positive reinforcement to treat drug and alcohol use problems. The Social Model also involves mutual self-help as a way to provide men in recovery with support from a social network. This model encourages communal activities such as preparing meals together and performing community service as well. For example, Jeremiah and several of his housemates volunteered for the 2018 Frozen Yogurt 5K in Northampton, which raised funds to build a playground at Gándara’s Mooreland residential group home for children.
Jeremiah speaks of a “brotherhood” at the Hairston House—a community of fellow recovering individuals that make sure all the residents follow house expectations and follow Social Model guidelines. “That’s the great thing about the Social Model: we help each other,” he said. “When we notice someone slacking off on something, we encourage them to pick it up. Most of the time the person doesn’t get offended—me included. I like it when someone brings something about me to my attention. It gives me another view of the situation.”
Upon arriving, the first actions Jeremiah took at the Hairston House was getting therapy and medication-assisted treatment (methadone), and setting up short-term and long-term goals, such as permanent housing. “I figured out what I wanted to do for my physical health, my mental health, and my sobriety,” he said. “I’m in Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m a 12-step guy. I got a sponsor. I hooked up with a recovery coach out of Greenfield and I built a network. I can’t say enough about the Hairston House. If you need to talk to a professional, even if your case worker isn’t here, any of the staff is willing to sit down with you, have a conversation, and help you out. They give you everything you need to get back on your feet.”
A Springboard to Success
Hairston House residents start their day with a morning “springboard” meeting. “If something’s bothering you, you put it out on the table and ask for help,” he said. “That’s something I never did in my life—until recovery—was ask someone for help. I was so thick-headed. I couldn’t just go up to another person and ask for advice. That’s just the type of person I was. Now, when I have to make big decisions, I’ll ask a couple of people in my network about it. I’m able to analyze things instead of just reacting, which is a huge help in life.”
Jeremiah also finds that he is simply a more pleasant person to be around after his stint at the Hairston House and having gone through all 12 steps of his AA recovery. Indeed, he punctuates his story with an occasional outbreak of hearty laughter—something he couldn’t imagine doing two years ago. “I was a real angry person before I started all of this. I snapped easily,” he said. His three sons, 18, 15, and 13—who are very supportive of his recovery—notice a huge difference in his mood. “When they do something wrong, instead of yelling at them, like I used to, I just sit down with them and have a conversation. My whole train of thought has changed after the experience I’ve had here,” he said.
At the time of this interview, Jeremiah, a native of Orange, had been moving from the Hairston House into an apartment in Greenfield—a subsidized unit that is part of a re-entry program by the Franklin County House of Correction. Subject to random drug screenings, he will meet with a caseworker every day, but the prospect of being on his own is both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. “All the coping skills—everything I’ve learned in the last 20 months of recovery and 16 months at the Hairston House—is all going to be coming into play now,” he said.
Jeremiah is on social security disability insurance because of a condition called thrombocythemia, in which his bone marrow releases too many platelets into his blood, often leaving him lightheaded, weak, and nauseous. “That’s tough, after working most of my life, but I’m lucky to be alive,” he said. At his sickest, when he first walked into the emergency room, he had lost 55 pounds—his six-foot-four frame down to 165 pounds. Now he has gained back his weight and is making the most of his life in recovery, studying for the GED exam and volunteering as a peer supporter at the North Quabbin Recovery Center in Athol. “Down the road, my goal is to get into the recovery field,” he said. “I’d love to help teenagers.”
In the meantime, Jeremiah is building on the momentum that he has gained ever since that day in January of 2017 when he began asking for help with his addictions. And he will always be grateful for the Hairston House, not only for helping him focus on recovery, but also following up and making sure that when he left he was moving into housing that was conducive to his recovery. “They let me stay for over a year—they stuck with me until I found a place to live that was right for me. They really went to bat for me. I’ll say it again: the Hairston House saved my life.”
For more information on the Hairston House, contact Daniel McCarthy at email@example.com or 413-585-8390.