Encouraging the Ladies of the Charis House

 In Ministry Village, The Charis House

The women at the Charis House arrive with a variety of addictions to substances; but in almost every single case, the addiction is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. The goal of “getting sober” is why many women enter the Charis House; however, reaching that goal is only the beginning of their journey. True recovery encompasses gaining the skills necessary to manage everyday life, and at the Charis House, those skills are taught through a variety of Bible-based classes and Christ-centered counseling. Karen Cox is the therapist at the Charis House, and she works closely with each woman from the beginning of her journey until she graduates from the program.

Karen came to Ministry Village at Olive in November 2013 after having worked as a therapist and licensed mental health counselor for young people, adults and families. Her office is located in the Phase II Charis House. It is decorated with soothing colors and photos, and exudes calming aromatherapy fragrances. Karen’s composed and open manner invites the women to feel comfortable, and she works carefully to earn their trust and encourage each one to put in the work that real transformation requires. Karen remembers being just 12 years old when she read her older sister’s psychology textbook and instinctively knew psychology would be her path. She never deviated, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling psychology. She chose a career in counseling because she enjoys being around people and helping people learn to better manage their life experiences.

When a woman enters Phase I at the Charis House, Karen meets with her and creates an individualized treatment plan. During Phase I, women receive one-on-one weekly counseling. As a woman progresses to Phase II of the program, the counseling sessions usually become monthly. Each woman’s plan is different. Every plan addresses substance recovery, but beyond that, each person is dealing with a different issue or combination of issues so their plans must be customized. Common threads Karen sees among the women include anxiety, depression and issues associated with trauma.

“The addiction itself isn’t their primary problem…”

Karen cox

Karen estimates that 90-95% of the Charis House women under her care through the years have experienced some type of trauma that became the springboard into their addictions. “The addiction itself isn’t their primary problem – it is a response to not dealing with the initial trauma or loss they experienced,” explains Karen. Not having the skills necessary to deal with the trauma leads a person to medicating or numbing themselves with drugs or alcohol, which then leads them into a spiral of negative and damaging behavior.

“I’ve learned that women who have histories of addiction are not ‘tough women’ like so many people assume,” says Karen. “Sure there are a few, but most of these women are tender and loving. They aren’t hard-hearted. They usually need help developing skills like assertiveness and conflict resolution.” Karen explains that when a person develops an addiction, she stops growing at that stage of development — at whatever age the addiction begins. So if a child is 14 or 15 when she first develops an addiction, and then suffers through addiction until the age of 30 before becoming sober, she has missed out on developing all those life skills that most people gain between the ages of 14 and 30. At that point, not only are you dealing with the physical challenges that come with tackling an addiction, but emotionally, there are a lot of years to catch up on.

Karen teaches one group class each week and it changes throughout the year based on the group dynamics. As new women come in and others go out, the group culture changes, so Karen identifies the areas that are common challenges to the group and helps them work through issues, develop new skills, and strengthen skills they have learned. Soon, she will begin teaching a class on setting healthy boundaries, which she says is an important area for addicts to learn.

When asked how those outside of the Charis House can best support the women in the program and the work being done, Karen seems to contemplate the question deeply. She knows how much the Ministry Village volunteers and supporters love these women – women who have often come from environments where love is sorely lacking. And she agrees that pouring love into their lives is an important part of the healing process. However, she also stresses the importance of respecting the guidelines and rules of the Charis House. “Getting others to trust the boundaries we’ve put into place, and recognize that the structure we require has a purpose, is important. Addicts are skilled manipulators. We need to balance good healthy boundaries for the women so they can learn to do that for themselves.” Boundaries include limited and supervised visitation with family members, including husbands and children. Keeping the women focused on their own recovery, so they are not distracted by the needs or issues their family members might bring to the equation, is vital.

“Recovery is very uncomfortable, and you have to learn to face situations head-on and sober,” says Karen. “That’s difficult for some of these women to learn.” Phase I of the program is a minimum of one year commitment; but sometimes, after a woman is sober and has been clean for a week or two, she thinks she is ready to leave rather than complete the program. In her sessions, Karen walks them through the steps of what it would look like to go back into the lives they left behind, and face the situations that are waiting for them, without the skills they need. This helps them realize the crucial importance of the work they still have left to do. Karen encourages the ladies to learn that they can survive being uncomfortable, and she reminds them that they need to gain the necessary skills to cope with life’s issues.

Karen has written a book, Promises For Prodigals, that is available on Amazon. The book includes 460 scriptural promises for prodigals and is meant to encourage those who have a prodigal in their own family. “Most of us have gone through a period of rebellion in our lives and can relate. So I really turned to God and asked, ‘What does the Lord promise me about the prodigal?’” It’s full of decrees to believe. It certainly applies to the Charis House ladies, not only for themselves but also because many of them have children of their own. The book teaches and encourages them to believe these things for their own children, and pray them over their own kids.”

“I get a front row seat every week to the miraculous.”

Karen Cox

While Karen acknowledges that working in the mental health field can be challenging at times, she is passionate about what she does, especially at the Charis House. “I get a front row seat every week to the miraculous. Every story is different and every work day is different – some are more challenging than others. But watching the transformation of each woman is wonderful.”

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