Dressed in black robes, the latest class of TROSA graduates beamed brightly as they crossed the stage, accepting a ring and diploma for completing the drug and alcohol rehab program many called the hardest thing they’ve ever done.
“When I walked up the stairs at TROSA, I was a very broken woman,” said Linda Bridgemohan, 49. “Very broken spiritually, mentally, physically. I knew I had to do something. I knew there had to be a change. I knew I had to become the person I had let substances take away from me. ... Two years you could not have told me I’d be the woman you see standing before you today.”
The Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, or TROSA, is a free two-year rehab program taking in about 500 participants on its Durham campus, some coming from court orders, some getting help for the first time, others for the fifth.
In a graduation ceremony Sunday afternoon, the 34 graduates in attendance delivered their own kind of valedictory remarks, each briefly standing on a mountaintop looking down and back at the distance they had traveled. Many had different words for the same thing: the gutter, rock bottom, their struggles both personal and shared and the forces motivating them to seek a change.
“You really realize how hard the way we were living life was; it was hell,” James Jarrett said. “We were in the gutter. We rob. We steal. We hurt people. That’s what we did. I don’t want to be that person anymore.”
Jarrett told the crowd, made up of family members and loved ones, current TROSA residents and past graduates, that the struggle didn’t end that day with the diploma, that it would be constant and hard, but he urged those sharing his struggle to be proud of how far they’ve come, and strong in how far they have yet to go.
“My daddy and mama sent me to college, and I made it through one semester,” Jarrett said. “Wasted a bunch of money. Here I am graduating from two-year drug rehab, and they’re happy, you know?”
TROSA’s residents all take part in some kind of vocational training, including moving, lawn care, working in the organization’s thrift store in Durham and perhaps the most visible, the annual Christmas tree sales.
The progression is from a bunk-bed living facility to dorm-style apartments, with more and more independence, from nine patients to a room down to a single roommate. Jeff Stern, TROSA’s director of business operations, said the program has a 30-35 percent graduation rate, meaning participants complete the program in two years and walk at one of four graduations each year. Success is measured a little differently, said.
“Substance abuse goes across all walks of life, all socioeconomic groups,” Stem said. “Some folks are coming here with 20 years of work experience, being an attorney; others are coming in with 20 years of homelessness and have never held a job. What we look at in terms of success rates is success one year after graduation.
“Are you still free of drugs and alcohol, are you in stable housing, are you still employed full time, has there been any criminal recidivism? It’s 80-95 percent success rate on all of those.”
Stern said residents “aren’t just pushing a broom” in the program, that they’re being trusted with the kinds of responsibilities they’ll be expected to uphold once they move on, be it driving a $30,000 moving truck, or simply being honest.
“We’re giving people real-world responsibilities and trusting them with a lot,” Stern said. “These aren’t just menial jobs, they’re real responsibilities. I think that does make a difference.”
Many of the graduates talked about earning back the trust of their families, of earning it back from themselves, of their struggles to get back to a place of pride and the grim realities they say they saw without the program.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful that God kept me alive long enough to get my life back together,” Trevor Logsdon said. “For 26 and a half months now I’ve woken up every single day and worked as hard as I can to be a better person, to change my life in some way. No program, no person can do that. You have to make that choice. And I made that choice to change something.”