MARYSVILLE – When Kirstin Preheim’s dad died of a heroin overdose five years ago she knew she had to change.
“I was my father’s daughter,” she said, explaining that her siblings weren’t addicted to drugs.
She got clean and had a son, Greyson, now 2, but relapsed in January, due to an abusive relationship, she said.
Preheim got clean again, and knew she couldn’t go home, so she “hounded Todd” Flanagan for a place to live in one of the Oxford Houses in Snohomish County – the 300th in the state. Flanagan is the outreach coordinator for the houses that are self-run and self-supported by recovering addicts.
On Aug. 7, Preheim moved into a new house in an upscale part of Marysville, next to Mayor Jon Nehring and City Council president Kamille Norton.
“I love it. It’s beautiful,” she said of the home.
Preheim feels like she’s started to thrive in the home.
“There’s camaraderie, love and respect,” she said at a recent open house. “We all have similar backgrounds. There’s no judgment.”
Preheim gets so much support from the other women and children in the home.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “They’ve been with me every step of the way.”
Preheim works at a restaurant and like the other women there pays for a portion of everything: rent, food, utilities, etc. “I’ve become a responsible adult,” she said. “It’s a good feeling.”
She said too much of her life has been in a destructive environment. “I’m becoming the mom my son deserves,” she said.
Preheim said while she appreciates all the help she’s received after she became an addict, she’d like to see more done to keep people from becoming addicts in the first place.
Education is key, she said. She grew up in an environment where there was drug abuse, and she needed someone to talk to. “I did not know there was another way,” she said. “I needed people to talk to when I was a kid.”
Ideally, that help would come from home, but since that can’t always happen Preheim said schools should provide individual counseling.
“There’s confusion like you can’t’ get out of it,” she said.
There’s also a lot of peer pressure.
“Some people can handle it,” she said of alcohol and drugs. “But there’s a hell of a lot more of us who can’t.”
Preheim said society needs to offer more kids the chances to do things like sports, music, plays, etc., so they will avoid drugs and alcohol.
“If they stay active and productive kids will stay away from nonsense like that,” she said.
Amy Spicer also lives on the house on the hill with a great view of Marysville and Puget Sound.
She was living at a different Oxford House, but was asked to help with the new start-up one in Marysville. Oxford House likes to do that to show others how it works.
Unlike Preheim, Spicer said she had a great childhood. Her dad is a retired narcotics officer. But she took a wrong turn.
She said she suffered an injury and became addicted to painkillers.
Spicer has a 6-year-old daughter she wants custody of.
“That’s a huge reason to get clean,” she said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
Like Preheim, Spicer’s proud to becoming a productive member of society.
She likes that she’s being held accountable and is being self-supporting, rather than relying on her parents. “It’s more like a family,” she said of living at Oxford House. “You really get to know each other. It’s our home.”
Kind of like a sorority, the friendships can last a lifetime. Even when someone moves away they can become alumni to stay involved.
“We stay in contact,” Spicer said.
Like many Oxford House employees, Flanagan was once a client.
“They changed my life. I owe my heart and soul to Oxford House,” he said.
Flanagan said he was broken and didn’t want to move in at first, but his family wouldn’t take him back.
“I had to learn to love myself,” he said.
Flanagan grew up in Eastern Washington and after getting clean and sober started a construction company. It was doing very well, but he wasn’t happy.
“I wanted to give back” to the organization that turned his life around, he said. “It’s like night and day. I traded a salary job for a nonprofit, but my ability to feel good went up.”
He also works with a variety of groups to find more Oxford Houses. Once people know the facts, it’s not that hard of a sell.
“They’re amazing neighbors,” he said. They also are great tenants. It’s a stable income for homeowners because if they mess up, they are kicked out. Because they all have chores they keep the homes clean. In his job now, Flanagan goes to the Diversion Center in Everett and to various 12-Step groups to find people to help.
“I love what I do for other people,” he said.
By the numbers
18 – the number of months clients stay in a house before they have an 87 percent chance of remaining clean and sober.
80 – the percentage of votes needed to approve a new member to a house.
51 – the percentage of votes needed for all other decisions in a house.
315 – the number of Oxford Houses in Washington state, most in the nation. Texas is second with 276.
1975 – the year they started.
50 – the percent who relapse if they leave before 18 months.
118 – the average amount of money it costs a client each week to live in an Oxford House.
3 – the number of Oxford Houses in Marysville after having none before January. Seattle has 22, Vancouver 41 and Everett seven.
80 – the percentage of clients who have served time in jail.
28 – the number of days needed in a rehabilitation program or at least a five- to 10-day detoxification program to live in an Oxford House.
2,000 – the number of such houses in the country that are a democratically run, self-supporting and drug- and alcohol- free homes.
3 – the philosophy behind Oxford House is three-fold:
•Self-help is the bedrock of recovery.
•Disciplined democracy is key to living together.