Sable House has helped people for 20 years

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Kayla Bunge
Monday, October 5, 2009
— John spent many years in mental, emotional and physical anguish, and he often drowned his sorrows in a drink.

John was an alcoholic.

John woke one morning after drinking and thought he'd lost his mind. He needed help.

"I thought, 'I just looked at insanity from the inside,'" he said. "It was a terrifying experience. I couldn't go on that way. … But I couldn't do it alone."

John, 60, who asked that his real name not be used, saw a psychiatrist, who put him on antidepressants and suggested he join Alcoholics Anonymous.

He took that advice.

He vowed to quit drinking.

He started attending meetings and hanging out with friends.

John wandered into the Sable House, a transitional home for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, where he found a group of people who had been through similar experiences. He regularly came to the house for holiday parties and other social activities. He enjoyed the company he found at the house.

"It gave me a place to be with people I knew and actually be able to participate in things like a Thanksgiving dinner or a New Year's Eve party without alcohol," he said. "Just being around people was a big deal for me."

John has been sober for almost 15 years and now spends a lot of time giving back to the program and the people who helped him get his life back. He volunteers with Alcoholics Anonymous and serves as the resident manager at Sable House—a job he has had for about two years.

'I had to find a way'

Dan and Jean Sable opened the Sable House, 131 N. Fremont St., in 1989. They restored the historic Starin Mansion and turned the five-story house into a comfortable place for people recovering from alcohol and drug addictions to get back on their feet.

Jean was a recovering alcoholic.

She educated herself about addiction, and she found a lot of ignorance, denial and misinformation about addiction. She attended support-group meetings, workshops and classes, and she wrote down everything she was feeling and thinking.

Jean shared her story, at first anonymously and then publicly in her one-woman play, "Please Remember Me," which she performed across the country between 1982 and 1991.

"I had to find a way to share the gut-wrenching agony associated with alcohol and other drug abuse without creating a 10-foot wall (between me and my audience)," she once wrote about her decision to write a play.

She put the money she earned from her shows toward purchasing the old mansion and starting Sable House. It was her dream to create a family atmosphere where preventative education, support and respect would help alcoholics and drug addicts recover.

Jean died Sept. 11, 2008. She was 71.

Dan continues to run the program, and this year, Sable House is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

"This is what she would have wanted me to do," he said. "She would expect no less of me."

'Some of what we had'

Sable House boasts seven bedrooms, two living rooms, and two dining rooms. The house is quiet, comfortable and warm. The door almost always is open.

Residents, whether they are staying for a few days or a few months, often spend evenings watching movies, playing cards or sitting around a fire on the patio. Others often drop by for a few hours to socialize.

The people who live at Sable House might come from all walks of life, but they share a commitment to sobriety, Dan said. To be accepted to live at the house, people must have been clean for at least 30 days and go through a screening interview. To remain at the house, people must remain clean and attend at least three support-group meetings a week, he said.

Dan said he expects those at the house to be sincere about their recovery.

"Some people are pretty desperate for this sort of thing," he said.

Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are referred to Sable House in a number of ways. Counselors, nonprofit support organizations and county human services departments direct people to the house as a place to follow through on their treatment. Some find it through the United Way of Jefferson and North Walworth Counties, which provides the house with some funding. Some hear about it by word of mouth.

When Dan and Jean first opened the house, they accepted as many as eight people—four men and four women in two rooms—to live at the house at one time. But as Dan and Jean got older, they scaled back, accepting only up to three people, each in their own room.

Residents are responsible for cleaning their rooms, buying their own groceries, cooking their own meals and doing their own laundry. An assistant helps with day-to-day upkeep of the house.

John, the resident manager at the house, has filled that role for two years. He mows the lawn, trims the bushes and shovels snow. He also helps run a few Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the house.

"But most of my time is spent being a good listener and perhaps steering people in a direction they haven't thought of or a more reasonable direction than the one they were headed in," he said.

Dan said the people who live at the house and who make good use of their time there are successful in their recovery because they honor their commitment to sobriety—and the house offers a supportive environment.

"Just because you're a recovering person, you're not a bum, you're not a drunk," he said. "You're treated like every other person here."

Dan said his family's experience with alcoholism was not easy, but it brought them together. He said it was Jean's dream to give to others "some of what we had."

"Every day at the house is a reminder of her and her struggle," he said.

Last updated: 11:49 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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