DURHAM, N.C. – She had been a drug addict all her adult life.
Addicted to methamphetamine since she was 17, Kimberly Connolly had been in and out of recovery programs. She’d be clean for three years. She would tell her family that she was done with drugs forever and that she was going to change for good.
Then she would relapse.
“It was like I was in quicksand,” Connolly, 35, said with tears in her eyes. “People are trying to pull you out and you’re trying to pull you out, but you feel hopeless.”
Most programs didn’t work for long.
TROSA – Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, Inc. – she said, is different.
Recently TROSA, a 20-year-old substance abuse recovery program, opened a second thrift store in Durham, following a model of creating opportunities for recovering addicts to work and learn skills and to raise money for housing and other services it provides to clients.
The 113,000-square-foot store, in a remodeled building that once housed a Wal-Mart, will provide extra vocational training, said Kevin McDonald, TROSA’s chief executive.
The two-year residential program is “a work program,” Connolly said. “You’re not just going to class here, class there, and sitting, then maybe doing a chore, and then going back to classes and learning about your drug addiction. And all those things are wonderful and for the right person they’re the right program, but this program makes you work for what you want.”
Since it was founded in 1994, TROSA has proved its value to the community in tackling the seemingly intractable problem of addiction, said Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow. “The reason we provide them funds is because we know that their program works,” she said. “What’s great about TROSA is they get their residents involved in a variety of businesses so that they have employment experience.”
The program serves 500 people struggling with additions to a variety of substances. To date, the organization says 1,350 people have graduated from the program. One year out, 85 percent remain sober and off drugs, 90 percent have a permanent home and 95 percent have jobs, according to TROSA.
McDonald said the program has had to adjust to different waves of addictions and different kinds of clients over the years. When the program started, he said, most of the residents were addicted to crack cocaine.
The clients are younger now, and the scourge is heroin. “It’s a hard drug to get clean from,” McDonald said.
The new thrift store will sell clothes, furniture, electronics and other household items.
McDonald said he hopes to develop another TROSA in a different part of the state. “My biggest fear is running out of beds,” he said. “I’d hate to have to turn people around and leave them out there alone with no help.”
A former addict, McDonald said he started drinking and doing drugs when he was 13. At 32 and facing 20 years on criminal charges, a lawyer persuaded him to join a treatment program in San Francisco to avoid prison time. He agreed, but the day he got out of jail he reverted to his old ways.
“The first thing I did was went to drink, and scored some heroin, and the heroin was no good,” McDonald said. “It was the best thing that happened to me in the world because it was no good. That piece showed me the futility of the life going around doing all this different stuff. It just hit me in the face.”
He made it a point to change.
From then on, he wanted to help others just as some have helped him.
Connolly said she still thinks about her struggle with methamphetamine but no longer craves it. She will graduate from the program next year but plans to continue her work with TROSA to help other alcoholics and drug addicts recover.
Sixty percent of the staff at TROSA are graduates of the program. When asked what exactly she’ll do after graduation, she paused.
“I don’t know,” she said. “The sky is the limit.”
When she graduates this time, she says she won’t tell her family that she is done with drugs forever. She won’t tell them that she going to change for good. She’ll just do it.