NAPLES, Fla. — As Justin’s Place, affiliated with St. Matthew’s House, graduates 30 more people from its 12-month, in-patient addiction recovery program, each person has had their own battle to reach this point of triumph.
A battle that, in the early months, may have felt impossible.
“It was really hard to surrender,” said Susan Cheatwood, who battled staying sober for decades. She said, in May 2017, she finally came in for treatment, graduated from Justin’s Place the following year and has been sober for five yearas. “I needed to take control. It was a way of me, it was a coping mechanism and I tried to ‘play God’ of my life. When I entered Justin’s Place and I gained that relationship with God.”
St. Matthew’s House started the Justin’s Place Recovery Program in 2010, named after Justin Holecek, who died in 2009 at age 30 after battling alcoholism for years. Program leaders say this graduating class now pushes the total number of people who have completed recovery past 700.
Justin Cheatwood had no choice but to come to Naples. A judge in southern Ohio ordered him to get treatment and directed his future to Justin’s Place. Justin said he started abusing substances when he was 11. By the time Justin was 36, he was at risk of losing about everything in his life.
“The first few months (at Justin’s Place), I wanted to be negative,” he said. “I blamed everybody but myself because what I was doing was deflecting. I didn’t want to look within myself but I knew that I was easier for me to blame other people.”
Yet Justin and Susan each battled through the early weeks and months where they wanted to walk away. They connected on a deeper level while in recovery. After graduating in 2018, they got married in the first days of the pandemic, in March 2020. Now the Cheatwoods keep their circle close to St. Matthew’s, as Justin works as a case manager with the Campbell Lodge Shelter, a facility that with more than 100 beds that works with people battling homelessness. Susan is a store manager for the thrift store with St. Matthew’s House.
Susan Cheatwood pointed to a support system and also the discipline to stay sober, every hour, every day.
“Starting here as cashier, I knew that, after I clock out of work, that I was going to be exhausted,” she said. “I’m not going to want to be outside of myself and be selfless or attend meetings or attend church. But I would make a commitment at 7:30 in the morning (that day) to say ‘after I clock out, I’m going to either attend church or drive somebody somewhere’ and I held onto that commitment. It was because I was serving somebody else to help me stay sober for another day.”
Justin Cheatwood has his own method.
“Three P’s. I call it ‘pause, play, play the tape out,” he said. “When I look at any circumstance, it’s serious for me. It’s life or death. It’s also losing my kids again and losing my family. So I look at any of these circumstances and I pause and I pray. I say, ‘is it worth it?’.”
Leaders with St. Matthew’s House say a recent survey from clients shows an 80 percent success rate in graduates staying sober for at least two more years and that the cost of the program is “about $40,000” from recent years.
Deadly overdoses from substance abuse are also becoming more of an issue in the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, in 2021, more than 107,000 people died from drug overdoses, with a majority from fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. That is a 15 percent increase from 2020, when the CDC reported more than 93,000 deadly overdoses.
"They teach us a lot of things," said Chris Hager, one of Tuesday's 30 graduates at Justin's Place. "Principles of defense mechanisms, character defects, the way I tick and how the times I respond to the environment because the world is going to keep happening. So they teach us a lot of principles and getting comfortable to sit with yourself, in your own head and not lose control. You learn patience. Coming out of there, my strong suit is patience and waiting on the Lord."