You Are Never Alone at YANA House
“I was married to my drug dealer,” Mary* begins, with typical unflinching humor. “I thought it would be a great investment in my future. I mean, if he was married to me, he’d have to share his drugs with me.”
The exuberant 27-year-old brunette expels an ironic, self-deprecating laugh, as if to bolster her nerve for the painful story she’s telling: drinking by age 15, using opiates and prescription pills in college, suicidal in the wake of her father’s suicide, and reluctantly agreeing to try a treatment program … which probably saved her life.
After inpatient mental health care and drug treatment, Mary knew she couldn’t go back home. The treatment center suggested she try YANA (“You Are Never Alone”) House. “I didn’t want to come because I thought recovery homes were for bad people,” she laughs. “Dirty people.”
Annie* at first seems in every way Mary’s opposite. She’s a quiet, angular blonde with an aura of fragility. But her tale of desolation and redemption resonates with Mary’s: addiction, chaos, despair and suicidal thoughts. Annie, too, struggled with drug and alcohol use, but her most dangerous dependency wasn’t chemical. She was continually swept up in destructive relationships.
In YANA’s homey common room, Annie’s reserve falls away as she talks about a particularly caustic relationship with a man she couldn’t bring herself to leave. “I lost my identity,” she admits. “My whole life revolved around him.”
Annie’s treatment program finally put a name to her illness: addiction to relationships and sexuality. “Somehow I learned that you have to be sexy and sexual and beautiful in order for men to love you,” she says. “Not just the one you’re with, but all of them, so that you know that he won’t leave you. All my self-worth was based on that.
“I hated my body, hated being in it,” Annie says. Hated it so much she exercised obsessively, struggled with an eating disorder, and medicated herself with alcohol. Finally, her on-again, off-again boyfriend did her a strange favor: he sent her a cruel email that confirmed her darkest fears about herself, and quite possibly unearthed the roots of her depression. “What he said was, ‘You are nothing,’” she recalls, her eyes filling with tears. “And that’s a message I have always heard. I am nothing. I am nobody.”
It would be his final message to her. By then, she’d joined YANA’s intimate community of women who have pretty much been there, done that. No longer trapped in a mad, unending play with only two actors, Annie suddenly saw her ex’s manipulations with a newfound clarity. For the first time, she now had women friends who could offer her fresh perspectives. She freed herself from his influence permanently.
“It’s about connecting and bonding as women,” explains Susan Binns, YANA’s straight-talking matriarch. Binns learned firsthand, more than 30 years ago, that addicts in recovery need a community of people who share the experience of addiction to help them build a new life. After a drinking binge that nearly killed her, Binns clawed her way through treatment at Cumberland Heights, only to realize that aftercare for women did not exist. “I saw the need because I experienced the need,” she says.
She co-founded YANA in 1996 in a rental house that she and the first residents cleaned and prepped themselves. Today the women of YANA live, bond, and recover in the nonprofit’s five modest houses, tucked into a tranquil residential neighborhood.
During her first months at YANA, Mary says she was so nervous around her new housemates that she sat for weeks with headphones in her ears, coloring in a Care Bears coloring book. “It was the first time I wasn’t high on something,” she explains. Since then she’s come to love her new life: a fulfilling job, close friendships with women who understand her, and all kinds of help and opportunities through YANA, from medical care to creative therapies such as dream analysis and yoga.
December marks several milestones for Mary: it’s three years exactly since her father’s suicide and one year since her treatment program. And this month, she finishes her bachelor’s degree. “Hopefully, in December I will be able to shut the door on a markedly sad time in my life,” she says.
Mary credits YANA residents and staff with helping her banish the constant inner turmoil that drove her to use drugs. “They were very respectful of the fact that I was afraid all the time,” she says. “They were very kind and loving. And that’s what I needed.”
*Names have been changed to protect residents' identities
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
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