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Minnesota woman opens sobriety house in Alpena

News Photo by Julie Riddle A bedroom at a women’s sobriety house in Alpena, furnished through donations, awaits new residents.

ALPENA — “You can do so many things with houses,” said Margie Pierce, sitting in the cozy living room of Alpena’s newest sober-living home.

A kitten playing at her feet, Pierce talked fondly about the home she opened a few weeks ago, a place of refuge, where women trying to stay drug- and alcohol-free can restart their lives surrounded by people devoted to helping them stay sober.

The sober house, tucked in a neighborhood on Alpena’s south side, welcomes women who have been through a 12-step program to kick their addiction. They can stay as long as they need to, paying a low rent that covers utilities, paper goods, coffee, and more.

More importantly, they can get support as they work to break free from the influences that triggered and fed their addictions — something almost impossible without a sobriety-based place to live, Pierce said.

People who own a home could do so much with it to help others, from creating a group home to renting a room to someone who is having a hard time finding housing, said Pierce, a Minnesota resident who just purchased the Alpena home to fill a need she saw in Northeast Michigan.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Margie Pierce, owner of a new sober-living home in Alpena, opens a back-porch hot tub, one of the touches that will make the women who live in the home feel welcome, Pierce said.

“If you’re a sober person, you’re in an amazing position to both help people and help yourself at the same time,” Pierce said. “There aren’t too many win-wins out there, but this is one of them.”

An alcoholic who’s been sober a decade, with a career as a chemical engineer and a side job as an AirBNB host, Pierce walked away from her 9-to-5 job to devote her time to creating and running homes to help people stay sober.

She owns several sober-living homes — which she calls fellowship houses — in Minnesota, and now she’s expanded her vision to help the recovery community of the Alpena area.

“The drug addicts are here,” Pierce said bluntly. “You might want to be blissfully unaware, but they’re there.”

There are three places you can find an addict, she said — in jail, out causing trouble, or in a place where the community is trying to help them get better

News Photo by Julie Riddle Encouraging wall decorations donated by Alpena’s recovery community wait to be hung on the bedroom wall in a new sobriety house in Alpena on Thursday.

Pierce got connected to Northeast Michigan as a sponsor for another woman who was fighting addiction.

Pierce’s sponsee for the past eight years, Isa Morua, came to Alpena four years ago for treatment at the Sunrise Centre addiction rehabilitation facility. She eventually became an employee at the center, watching as streams of women went through treatment only to leave the center with nowhere safe to go.

When Pierce wondered where she might best expand her network of fellowship houses, Morua was quick to point to Alpena.

Once Pierce found the four-bedroom, two-bathroom home, Alpena’s recovery community generously pitched in to donate bedspreads, lamps, wall art, kitchen supplies, and everything needed to furnish the home that can house up to eight women. The only items missing are two twin mattresses — new mattresses are out of stock everywhere, Pierce said — and a few sets of twin-sized bedding.

Two women live in the home now — women with bright and ready smiles as they settle into their new safe space.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Romeo the kitten entertains Isa Morua, the manager of Alpena’s newest sober-living home, as she talks to building owner Margie Pierce. Kittens are a group living home’s best defense against mice and sadness, Morua said.

There’s room for more, Pierce said.

There are house rules — a curfew, mandatory drug testing — and Morua serves as the house manager, stopping by occasionally to check on the residents, sometimes for a surprise visit in the middle of the night.

A home that’s safe and helps people get better is so much cheaper for a community than rehab, courts, jail, and crime, Pierce said.

And, she added, addicts in recovery make great neighbors.

They are the people who are trying, she said. They’re exerting daily, excruciating effort into being better people. They’ve learned what it is to need help, and they are the first to reach out to help others in need.

“Losing everything in life and gaining it all back gives you this appreciation for life that — no offense to normal people — you just can’t get any other way,” Pierce said. “The amount of joy that there is, being someone who’s recovered — it’s just a tremendous thing.”

Everyone involved with a sobriety house understands what an addict is going through in their recovery. The residence is a place of acceptance, a place to carve pumpkins and celebrate Thanksgiving with people who won’t be judgemental.

At one of Pierce’s fellowship houses in Minnesota, a neighbor once complained because there were too many women on the front porch of the home, laughing together over their morning coffee.

Pierce didn’t mind the complaint.

She just invited the neighbor to join them.

“I wish people could see, you’re not next to a drug addict,” Morua said. “You’re next to a recovering person who is adding to the community.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

To connect

To learn about living at about sobriety homes, contact Isa Morua at 989-255-9149.

Progress reported on recovery efforts

Alpena Recovery Alliance met via videoconference on Thursday. Highlights from the meeting include:

∫ Sara Sircely, managing director of Northern Michigan Regional Entity, said her organization has funds available to help people pay costs associated with running a sobriety house, including covering lodging for residents who struggle financially.

∫ Donna Hardies, of Catholic Human Services’ Up North Prevention program, reported efforts to start an Alpena chapter of Families Against Narcotics, a community-based organization for those seeking recovery and their families. Anyone interested in being considered for the chapter’s board of directors may contact Hardies at 800-356-5755.

∫ Steve and Jessica Garfield, planners of Recovery Notes open mic nights in Petoskey, said they’re trying to organize something similar in Alpena. Participants sing, read poetry, rap, or try their hand at stand-up comedy in an environment of acceptance that also encompasses the joyful part of recovery, “discovering yourself again as the sober you,” Jessica Garfield said, “and having that be exciting.”

∫ Paul Knaus reported the Sunrise Behavioral Health Clinic is trying to provide a full behavioral health program in Alpena, with a long-term goal of developing recovery housing with an employment component. He has struggled to find people to staff the clinic, Knaus said, speculating the organization may need to bring workers from out of the area.

∫ Madeleine McConnell, representing Catholic Human Services, reported the success of a program embedding a recovery coach at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena to facilitate quick connections between someone with a chemical dependency and any help they need. A court-related juvenile day treatment program for youths with addictions will be getting off the ground shortly, she reported.

∫ Jason Beatty, of Alpena’s Freedom Recovery Center, lauded local court leaders for recognizing addiction as a disease and offering the support of the court system in helping fight substance use disorder — an attitude Beatty said is not present in many other parts of northern Michigan.

The next Alpena Recovery Alliance meeting is scheduled for October 15.

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