Some people have a gift that lets them see past the ugliness of something to glimpse its potential. People who know Deborah Blackwell say she has this gift.
Peaceful Waters is an Edgewood-based sober home for women Blackwell opened in August 2008, shortly after she says God laid out a plan that would change her life, and the lives of dozens of women.
Addiction is ugly. A woman, anyone really, in active addiction does things they would never do sober. Steal. Lie. Abandon. Abuse their bodies. Sell their souls. Caught in compulsion, life becomes only about getting the next drink or drug. In and out of rehab, in and out of jail. Friends become acquaintances, then strangers. Family members love as long as they can, but often give up and move on.
Cherese, 38, lives at Peaceful Waters. She was 21 and working when she tried marijuana. She says, “I was trying to be a part of someone’s life.”
At 30, again trying to fit in, she tried crack. She says, “From June until September, I lost my job, my car. Looking back I see everything I lost, but I didn’t see it then.”
We could make moral judgments about Cherese, but we would be wrong. The American Medical Association has recognized addiction as a disease since 1956.
“Through behavioral changes, counseling, emotional and spiritual support, addiction can be treated,” says Blackwell, who has a degree in psychology, addictions counseling certification and has 12 years’ experience serving substance abuse and mental health patients. As a Christian, she didn’t question God’s vision for Peaceful Waters, a place that follows standard treatment protocols, but emphasizes spiritual development.
Peaceful Waters accepts women who often have no place left to go.
“Some women have been back and forth so many times other houses won’t take them. One woman had liver cancer. One girl gave birth while she was here,” says Maria DiSebastiano, one of about 20 church-affiliated volunteers who are the lifeblood of Peaceful Waters.
Situated in a two-story house near the train station, Peaceful Waters is a place where women can heal and grow. The minimum stay is nine months, but women can stay indefinitely if they follow rules that include attending a house of worship – any church, any religion – participating in groups, activities and family dinners, making curfew and staying drug and alcohol free.
“Living here, I don’t think about using. I’m ready to do right. I’m too old to be in continual destruction,” says Cherese, now sober and taking college courses.
As executive director, Blackwell oversees a schedule that helps women develop routine and interests outside drugs and alcohol. Volunteers from Mountain Christian and New Destiny Evangelistic churches lead most activities.
Board members help Blackwell make tough decisions, like consolidating two locations, and smart ones, like seeking nonprofit status.
The Board wants business partners to provide jobs for women who aren’t easily employable due to legal issues and work gaps. They’d like to open a thrift store, too.
“We could train our women in customer service, using a cash register, even mending things,” Blackwell says.
Admission to Peaceful Waters costs $1,000, which includes three weeks of residency. Women are then asked to pay $150 rent each week. Since some women come with nothing but the clothes on their back, the Board tries to match women with sponsors.
Sylvia Bryant, a pastor at New Destiny Evangelistic Church, says, “Please know this isn’t a one-way street. The ladies planted a beautiful flower garden at our church and they serve at functions.”
Blackwell also gives back. Harford Community College nursing students come to Peaceful Waters to fulfill clinical requirements. She serves on the Harford County Mental Health and Addictions Recovery Council.
“Debbie has the experience and expertise to assist county and state officials in developing strategic plans to address substance abuse,” says Joe Ryan, manager for Harford County’s Office of Drug Control Policy. “Peaceful Waters is a community asset.” I95