One man's story of addiction, hope and finding help
Michael Sveda of Eau Claire has been an alcoholic since he was 12 years old. In the 41 years since, he has been charged with seven DWIs, attended five treatment programs and countless AA meetings, and gone through several stints of sobriety.
Nothing seemed to prompt lasting change until the end of last year when he drank himself into the hospital three times.
"My drinking just got so out of hand that they said you're going to die," Sveda said.
He was given the chance to enter the Exodus House in Hudson, and he took it.
There he found a treatment program unlike any of the others he'd gone through before.
On probation, Sveda lives full time in the Exodus House, which is run by Lutheran Social Services for the Department of Corrections.
The Exodus House is a full time 12-bed treatment center for men from all over the state who struggle with addiction and have a correctional history. To be a part of the program the men have to be referred and pass a screening process to make sure they are "eligible and appropriate," program supervisor Nikki Kulibert said.
This year the house celebrated its 10th anniversary. Over the years it has seen the impact of epidemics. In the last three years, Kulibert said she saw an influx of meth addiction. Now she's seeing more clients with opioid dependence.
"There's no doubt that there's a need for services like this," Kulibert said.
The issue is seeing more attention, Kulibert said, as people are starting to understand more that addiction is a disease.
"It's not as swept under the rug," she said.
Exodus House has also worked to keep up with the changing world of addiction treatment and the individual needs of those in the house. The phase system was implemented as one of the changes, group counseling was moved to the mornings, and new curriculums have been implemented alongside a greater awareness of working with trauma and mental health.
"The field's always evolving," Kulibert said. "Addiction's not taking a rest."
Here Sveda said he's finally found a program that addressed psychological trauma that he is still dealing with from his childhood. Previous treatments kept referring him to an Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Counselor, until Exodus House realized his trouble went deeper than that and connected him with a psychologist.
"There is so much I learned here," Sveda said of PTSD and trauma. "The other programs didn't deal with that."
Sveda said he was finally able to move beyond coping issues. But moving forward still took time and work.
"You have to look at yourself, which can be a scary thing," Sveda said. "You have to face your past."
When he first came to the house in March, Sveda said he didn't want to share in the daily group therapy that Exodus House centers on. Now he shares his story willingly with the group, and has found that people understand.
"I learned that I could talk about it," Sveda said.
While he still feels bad about what he's done in the past, he knows he has to unload that baggage, and he said Exodus House is the place to do that.
Other programs didn't have the time to work with him on a one-to-one basis, Sveda said, but Exodus House staff have been more than willing to work with him.
"This is part of their home too," he said.
Kulibert said treatment at Exodus House is individualized.
"No two people who come into Exodus House are the exact same," Kulibert said.
They have different needs, and therefore have different goals and are helped differently.
The ultimate goal for Kulibert is for each client to successfully complete the program and have a stable foundation for leaving. As of May this year, 14 men have successfully completed the program of the 18 admitted. For all of 2017, 36 of the 43 admitted were successful.
"The guys we have here, they're good guys," Kulibert said. "They want to make changes, they want to get their life back on track and sometimes they need help."
The house relies on a budget set by the Department of Corrections, and also sees a lot of support from the community in donations. Kulibert said donations are made of clothing, gift bags around the holidays and even doughnuts.
"Battling addiction is no easy task," she said. "It takes a village."
The length of the stay at Exodus House varies, sometimes lasting 60 days, sometimes 120. Clients in the house work through phases. When they first enter, they must stay close to the house, but as they progress they become eligible for work and movement outside the house.
"We want them to attain employment," Kulibert said, in order to get as close as possible to what their life will be like when they leave.
Sveda is in that second phase. He has a job in town, and often bikes to visit the library, bookshops and the marina.
"It's freedom," Sveda said, with just enough structure.
When he leaves, he'll be on his own again, but not without support. All those who leave the house successfully are required to leave with aftercare and employment in place.
Sveda said he feels empowered by not drinking, and is becoming a different person, one who's nicer and friendlier.
"I'll always be addicted, but not using, not drinking it's just so great," he said.
Sveda said he doesn't know what would have happened if he hadn't come to Exodus House. He does know when he leaves he'll have to focus on taking small steps - first reaching six months of sobriety, then a year, then a year and a half before he turns he sights on five years, ten years.
"Can I go the rest of my life before drinking?" Sveda hesitated before answering. "Yes — if I take everything I learned in this program and apply it to myself."