September 26, 2008

Walking to Recover

By Jessica Marcy [email protected] 981-3340

Denise Johnston, a self-described former drug addict, was doing more than simply taking an evening stroll as she pushed a stroller with her 18-month-old son Christian Armbrister through Old Southwest on Friday.

With the same bright blond hair and big blue eyes, the mother and son duo weaved through Highland Park as part of Bethany Hall's "Out of the Darkness" recovery walk.

Organizers started the walk three years ago to raise awareness about substance abuse and planned it for September, the national alcohol and drug addiction recovery month.

Last year, Johnston walked while enrolled at the residential treatment center for women. This year, she did so to show her support for other women undergoing the program.

When she entered Bethany Hall in Roanoke, Johnston said she was a wreck. She said she was strung out and had just served six weeks in jail on drug distribution charges. Her son was 11 days old when she went to jail and 10 weeks old when they both entered Bethany Hall.

She described how Bethany Hall changed her life by teaching her simple things such as breathing and how to be mindful. It showed her the importance of thinking about your actions.

When she finished after nine months, Johnston got a job at McDonald's and a place to live in Old Southwest.

Bethany Hall's executive director, Vickie Price, says more people suffer from substance abuse than cancer, Alzheimer's and coronary heart disease put together.

Started in 1970, Bethany Hall is one of only two long-term facilities in Virginia that accept pregnant women and women with children. Fourteen women live inside the house at 1109 Franklin Road while 12 live next door in an apartment building.

The program lasts from six to nine months depending on the individual, and each woman has a big sister to encourage support in her journey to sobriety.

Program director Denise Yopp described how they organized the walk "to make a statement in a quiet, powerful sort of way" and to show that substance abuse is treatable.

As the women returned from their walk last week, they stood on the lawn in front of Bethany Hall. They then lit candles and recited the Serenity Prayer.

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