Jeff Pemberton was in a bad place.
A member of the United States Marine Corps, he returned home from three tours in Iraq with a medical discharge and an addiction that he’d struggled with, already, for years.
“I didn’t know what PTSD was and didn’t want to hear about that,” he recalls.
“I dove into the bottle and the atmosphere around that and I did what I knew how to do best…I played with guns.”
Before long, Jeff was running guns in East St. Louis. He went to prison twice.
Along the way, his addiction to alcohol was only deepening.
“I got the point where I was drinking half a gallon of vodka a day, and that was not to catch a buzz, that was to be able to brush my teeth, eat my food, go to work and be able to function.”
“I had 18 straight years of hard-core drinking and the last three years were like that.”
In July, Jeff will turn 40 years old, but more importantly than that, he will celebrate two years of sober living, a feat that he knows wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the Oxford House in Paducah.
“I honestly, in all the depths of my heart, know that I wouldn’t be sober right now if God hadn’t made the Oxford House an option for me,” he says.
The Oxford House is a unique solution to a rising problem.
Oxford House is an umbrella of self-run, self-supported homes that serve as sober living options for those who are serious about recovery.
A network of 2,542 houses that can house 20,222 recovering addicts, Oxford Houses exist as a means to break the cycle of addiction.
In these independent houses, residents who are pursuing sobriety find the support and structured living environment that can help lead to their success. Residents, who can stay as long as they wish in Oxford Houses, work a 12-step program together while also taking responsibility for the stewardship of their home. With no paid staff members at Oxford Houses, residents must do their part, from paying expenses equally to serving in one of many positions that help the house run effectively.
During their stay, both men and women, who occupy gender-specific Oxford Houses, all adhere to the same guidelines, including participation in a 12-step program, curfew rules, attendance at weekly house meetings, a full-time job and strict sober living.
In the Paducah men’s Oxford House, dubbed by residents as Fraley Rising, Jeff says his housemates come to the House from many avenues.
“Normally, people come from shelters, rehabs or jail. Some come off the street,” he says.
“Right now, the majority of our housemates are from Louisville. They are starting their lives over out here and getting good roots on their recoveries.”
Nationwide, 13 percent of the more than 20,000 Oxford House residents are veterans, like Jeff.
Sober for two years, he knows that he has come a long way.
“I was hitting 14 meetings a week when I first started,” he recalls.
“I was scared.”
“I didn’t know how to stay sober.”
“I wanted to learn everything that I could because I had not lived sober in so long.”
“Oxford House provided a safe environment for me to do that.”
Despite his milestone, he also still feels very new to his sobriety, which is why he continues to rely on the support from his Oxford House housemates.
“Having other people in the House that see things that I’m not seeing because I’m young in sobriety is key,” he says.
“Everyone approaches each other with care and concern here.”
“Without that structure and without being around like-minded people, I know that I wouldn’t be sober.”
Jeff estimates that the two women’s and one men’s Oxford Houses in Paducah have helped nearly 60 people in their short time since opening, some to success and others not, which is okay with him and other members.
“Recovery is for people who want it,” he says.
“Not for people who need it.”
Because each Oxford House is designed to be self-sustaining and independent, they receive no financial assistance. House members share expenses and responsibilities equally, no matter how long they stay.
It’s a model that sees a great amount of success across the nation, but according to core member Jeff Pemberton, community support can go a long way in ensuring that success.
“Sometimes we have houses that struggle due to fluctuation of residents,” he says.
“It’s always helpful to have donations of money, household items or furniture.”
To donate to the Oxford House network, you can visit www.oxfordhouse.org.
To donate to Oxford Houses locally, reach out via Facebook at Oxford House of Paducah or call Jeff at 270-558-5279.
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