HEALTH SENTINEL: It turns out, the Road to Recovery for addiction starts right here in Fort Wayne — and is not easy

Chris Brown of Fort Wayne started Road to Recovery in 2013, a nonprofit that now operates five houses for men addicted to drugs or alcohol. Brown, whose ex-husband is an addict, says she brings to Road to Recovery a family perspective, helping the men understand the impact their addictions have on their loved ones. Brown is standing outside Road to Recovery’s main house at 2018 N. Clinton St. (By Jennifer Boen for The News-Sentinel)
Ronnie Sloan, 39, became addicted to fentanyl after a doctor prescribed it following a severe neck injury incurred in high school. “My addiction was so bad that I went to get a tooth pulled just to get pain medicine. There was nothing wrong with that tooth.” He came to Road to Recovery in January and was almost ready to rejoin family when he relapsed. He was back in jail but says, “They haven’t given up on me here.” (By Jennifer Boen for The News-Sentinel)
Justin Callaway, 39, now the program manager for Road to Recovery, which operates a halfway house for addicts newly in recovery and four other houses for men further along in recovery, is a recovering alcoholic. It has been 7 ½ years since he took his last drink, but he says, “I live with a healthy fear each day that I might start again.” On the wall behind Callaway are the cocaine anonymous 12-step program principles. (By Jennifer Boen for The News-Sentinel)
Though some critics say too little scientific data has been compiled to prove AA's and other addiction treatment programs' effectiveness, a study by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs found male veterans with drug or alcohol addictions who participated in AA or a similar voluntary program had nearly twice the sobriety success rate after one year compared to those who didn't attend AA or another aftercare support programs. The more meetings attended and the longer the veterans stayed in the program, the greater the success rate of alcohol and drug abstinence. (By Jennifer Boen for The News-Sentinel)
Chris Brown, executive director of Fort Wayne’s Road to Recovery, sets the responsibility bar high for men accepted to live at Road to Recovery. Most are court-ordered to the program, and they pay weekly rent and must find employment. Their underwear cannot be visible when in common areas, and socks or shoes are required. They must also sign in and out in this logbook, listing specifics of where they are going and when they will return. (By Jennifer Boen for The News-Sentinel)

The root of Chris Brown’s passion to help people with addictions is a very personal one. Though she never fought the demons of addiction in her own body and mind, she knows full well how addiction can wreak havoc in a family. Alcohol addiction in her now-ex-husband ended their 20-year marriage and shattered his relationship with their three daughters, ages 16, 19 and 26.

Brown still recalls the frustration, anger and bewilderment when her ex would show up drunk at important family events, even his mother’s funeral. But her never-give-up attitude and a degree in counseling helped her turn the pain and frustration of those difficult years into something positive.

“There’s so much talk these days about drug and alcohol addiction, about the opioid crisis, but few people are talking about solutions,” Brown said. So in 2013, she started Road to Recovery, Inc., a nonprofit that currently operates five recovery homes for men, all in the central Fort Wayne area. The main house, located at 2018 N. Clinton St., is for men early in recovery. Most are court-ordered for supervised housing and individual or group treatment and supportive services. Road to Recovery’s main house, which was once Leonard’s Lane halfway house, accommodates 14 men and a house manager. The men stay in the program, on average, 9 to 12 months.

The other four houses are for men who have completed all the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous or a similar program and who have remained drug- or alcohol-free but who need safe housing and additional support to stay clean and sober.

“So often these men can’t go back to their families yet. They may want to, but their wives or girlfriends or parents don’t trust them. Their families want to believe they won’t drink or do drugs again, but that trust isn’t there,” Brown said, noting if the men return to the old neighborhoods, the old friends, they’ll fall deeper into the addiction rut.

Brown runs a tight ship. Men pay rent of $120 a week, do chores and must find employment. Those in the main house are required to attend daily AA or other recovery program meetings and have an AA or NA sponsor within 30 days of arrival. Curfew is 10 p.m. They sign in and out of a log book

“A lot of men wonder why a woman is running a recovery program like this for men,” Brown said. “I tell them I bring a family perspective to this. They can make excuses for why they are drinking or drugging, but I explain what it’s done to their families. It’s tough love here.”

If a resident who has been doing well messes up and admits he has used, he might be granted one-time grace, but if a man is not forthcoming and tests positive for drugs or alcohol, a call is made to the court-appointed case manager and Brown tells the resident, “You’re going back to jail.”

Ronnie Sloan, 30, who first came to Road to Recovery in January 2016, has had setbacks along the way to kicking his drug addiction. He incurred a serious neck injury some years back and became addicted to the synthetic opioid fentanyl but has used street drugs too. After being drug-free for over six months and close to rejoining his family, he used again and was back in jail and drug court. Because the judge who reviewed his case noted he had made a positive connection to Road to Recovery, she recommended he return on house arrest.

“You give yourself excuses to use,” Sloan said, noting he was on the 11th step of NA when he started hanging around old friends. “I got cocky, but you can’t bulls*** your way through this.”

Temptation often strikes hard when an addict is nearing program completion, said Road to Recovery program manager Justin Callaway, 37, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 7 ½ years.

“Some men set themselves up for failure,” afraid of assuming responsibilities without the substance crutch, he said. Family members are encouraged to visit, which helps in the trust building process.

Creating a sense of belonging is a strength of Road to Recovery, Callaway said. That desire to belong is what often leads people to substance abuse in the first place, something he knows firsthand.

“I was in the gang life. It was easier to drink to become the character I wanted to be, so I would drink and drink and drink until I lost myself in the character,” Callaway recalled. “At this house, there is a “brotherhood vibe. We care about one another.”

Addiction treatment is complex and research shows the best approach is multifaceted. Brown agreed saying, “We can’t be the only go to. We don’t have a magic wand, but we do have a safe living environment, with people supporting these guys so they won’t do drugs or alcohol.”

How you can help:

The 14 men at Road to Recovery’s main house, 2018 N. Clinton St., will eat Christmas Day dinner together, with some joined by family members.

Road to Recovery is asking for the donation of Christmas dinner or perhaps a portion of it, as well as plates of cookies or small treats. If interested, please contact Chris Brown, executive director, at or 260-413-3080.

Other donations needed: small gifts or department store or restaurant gift cards for the men; twin-size sheets and blankets; towels; toiletries; and cleaning supplies. Additionally, individuals or groups with tools and who are willing to help with house repairs such as replacing flooring are in great need. Contact Brown for more information.