Spirit of Alabama: Phoenix House helps people rise above addiction

Sadly, so many families in Alabama and across the country has, in some way, faced challenges of drug and alcohol abuse and addition. Here in Tuscaloosa one nonprofit transitional housing facility has a long history of helping folks who struggle with addiction.

And it is a struggle. Phoenix House of Tuscaloosa began operations back in the 1960s. Since then, the organization has provided opportunities for addiction recovery through residential and outpatient care.

Long-time Tuscaloosa Sheriff Ted Sexton serves as the organization’s executive director. He didn’t have to be educated about addiction. Over four decades of working in law enforcement, he saw plenty firsthand.

“In my 40-year career in law enforcement there were two issues that were pervasive that were creating so many issues in our community: mental health and substance abuse,” Sexton said. “In this particular position here, you deal with both.”

Addiction is a disease, Sexton said, and he knows what because he grew up with an alcoholic in the family.

“There’s hardly a family in Tuscaloosa County that has not been affected,” he said. “Recovery is not pretty. It’s about having folks around you that are supportive but also will hold you accountable and make you responsible.

Phoenix House Clinical Director Jon Tyler works directly with clients who are trying to overcome addiction to drugs or alcohol, and at one time he too faced the same challenge.

“We believe that helping to reintegrate into employment, helping to reintegrate into the recovery community of whatever situation, living environment that they go to after us,” Tyler said. “We believe that those are monumentally important.”

Phoenix House is located on the old West End Christian Academy campus. Its building is old and in need of a makeover, so fundraising efforts are getting started for improvements. But plush carpet and fancy drapes have little to do with saving lives and helping people to get clean and stay that way.

“You give me 10 minutes and I’ll get myself in trouble,” Phoenix House client Heath Griffin said.

Griffin said he’s addicted to anything he does: Work, play, drugs — you name it and he’s all in 100%. He’s been clean for six months now and said he’s on the right path thanks to Phoenix House. In fact, he said he likely wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t gotten help. And he’ll never forget the people who cared enough to set him straight.

“You remember the people who pick you up,” he said. “It’s not the ones who kick you down, it’s the ones that pick you up. You forget the ones who kick you down because they’re not going to be around. It’s the ones that pick you up that keep you going.”

Phoenix House charges an enrollment fee of $150 for new clients. But if you can’t pay, you’re not turned away because staff and clients know beating addiction is a lifelong journey. Part of that journey can be failure, but that doesn’t mean giving up. Anyone coming to Phoenix House will find patient and caring people who offer support while demanding accountability.

If you have a Spirit of Alabama you’d like to share, email spiritofalabama@wvua23.com.

Categories: Featured, Spirit of Alabama