Women's recovery house manager Shannon Battle-Bragg has been in recovery herself for several years, and looks forward to passing the lessons she learned on to women starting on the journey. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

CARIBOU, Maine — Aroostook County’s first recovery house for women is under construction and may be open for tenants as soon as this winter.

The huge farmhouse tucked on a side road near downtown Caribou will provide a refuge for six or seven tenants. With highly structured daily routines, weekly meetings and individualized recovery plans, the house fills a long-time need in The County — which like the rest of Maine has spent years grappling with a substance use disorder epidemic.

Contractors and volunteers have been working nonstop on renovating an old farmhouse to become Aroostook’s first recovery house for women. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

Last year, more than 500 people died from drug overdoses in Maine — 17 in Aroostook County. The annual death toll for overdoses has risen sharply for at least the past decade, giving the state one of the worst drug death rates in the country.

Still, there is a lack of resources to deal with widespread substance use disorder, especially in rural areas like Aroostook County. A recovery house for men opened in Caribou last year, but the nearest long-term recovery facilities for women are in Bangor and Machias.

The women’s house is a joint effort between the Center for the Advancement of Rural Living and Recovery Aroostook — a group of volunteers, primarily from Caribou, who advocate for recovery awareness and services. Having recovery houses in The County has been a long-time goal for Recovery Aroostook, which has only been able to fund the projects recently thanks to a combination of grants and loans.

Rent at the recovery house is $125 a week, though there is some scholarship money to help people who can’t otherwise afford the services to get in the door for their first weeks at the house.

Sunlight streams into one of the rooms at Aroostook’s soon-to-be first women’s recovery house. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

Unlike halfway houses, which provide more short-term living solutions, the recovery house will give people a place to live for several weeks or months while they work on finishing their education, applying for jobs or mending relationships with their families and communities.

“If [people in recovery] have resources and a safe place to live, that’s a lot to have lifted off your shoulders,” house manager Shannon Battle-Bragg said.

Battle-Bragg is in recovery herself, and will have been sober for three years this September. She spent decades living with addiction, and when she got out of prison more than a year ago, she was unsure what to do next.

A lot of people starting out in recovery find themselves in this place, she said — without a car, job, house or money, and often without the support of family and friends. Without somewhere to make the transition, it’s all too easy to wind up falling back on old habits, Battle-Bragg said — especially when people are on their own.

“It’s important to know that you’re not alone,” Battle-Bragg said. “Addiction usually comes from trauma in some way, shape or form. People don’t just wake up one day and say I’m going to do this.”

Recovery is a lifestyle just like addiction is, Battle-Bragg said. Having survived substance use disorder, she’s now a certified recovery councilor and is pursuing an associates degree in human services.

Volunteers and recovery experts sit on the front porch of the soon-to-be women’s recovery house in Caribou. From left: Shannon Battle-Bragg, Kristen Henry, Lena Guerrette, and Jan Jackson. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

While the recovery houses are a huge victory, more resources are desperately needed for people with substance use disorder, Sandra Haines, chairperson of the women’s house, said. The County still doesn’t have a detoxification facility, for example, and there are far fewer recovery resources an hour north, in the St. John Valley.

Even though a majority of people in Caribou probably know someone who is struggling with substance use disorder, stigma around the disease continues to slow progress when it comes to finding funding and support for these projects, Center for the Advancement of Rural Living Program Director Karen Gorman said.

“We’re all recovering from something,” Recovery Aroostook member Jan Jackson said.

More board members are needed for the women’s recovery house, and people who are interested can contact Battle-Bragg via email.

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.