Image by Andy Manis for COURIER Image by Andy Manis for COURIER

In May, Kimberly Hill helped open the Opportunity House, a sober-living home that offers women a safe environment to get their lives back on track.

The first time Kimberly Hill felt like she belonged somewhere was when she finally got serious about recovering from addiction in 2002. “I didn’t want to live, but I didn’t want to die,” she told COURIER. “Where do you go from there?”

At the time, Hill was in her 30s. After a long journey where “lots of bad stuff happened,” Hill admitted to her parents she was relying on cocaine and alcohol just to get through the day. She went into the hospital for treatment, moved back in with her family, got a sponsor, and started attending regular recovery meetings. 

She’s been substance-free since April 27, 2003.

Hill, 54, is now the director of the Recovery Pathways Program at Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program (SWCAP), where she works to develop recovery communities in rural areas. Currently, she’s focused on ensuring residents dealing with addiction who live in Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, and Richland counties have access to support services, including job skills training, 12-step programs, and medication-assisted treatment.

The Recovery Pathways Program is funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health 

As part of the program, Hill helped open the Opportunity House in May. The two-story sober-living home in Iowa County offers living space for up to five women who have a history of opioid use or opioid use disorder and are working to get their lives back on track. 

Located on West Merrimac Street in Dodgeville, the Opportunity House is the only recovery house in the area; the nearest one is an hour away in Madison. Residents pay about $400 per month, which covers rent and other resources, and are required to attend regular recovery meetings and volunteer or work a set number of hours per week. 

It’s not transitional housing, Hill said: Residents can stay as long as they need.

“Having a safe environment to go into is crucial in recovery,” said Hill, who serves as the Opportunity House’s coordinator. “Without being housed in a safe environment that is drug-free and alcohol-free, many people relapse and fall back into their old patterns because they don’t have the coping skills they need to basically survive until they can actually start living rather than just surviving.”

In 2018, Wisconsin lost 838 people to opioid overdose. It was the first time since 2015 that the rate of opioid-related deaths actually decreased in the state. 

“My passion is helping individuals struggling with the disease of addiction or substance use disorder,” Hill said. “I remember what it was like early on when I started using and how I had no self-confidence. I really was a loner. I couldn’t talk to anybody about how I was feeling. I always felt like an outcast. When I got into recovery, that is the first time in my life I felt like somebody saw me. ”

Hill started using cocaine as a teen when she played on her high school’s soccer team. Later, during a brief stint when she quit cocaine, she began drinking alcohol heavily. “I was functional until I wasn’t,” she said. 

“I couldn’t stay sober one day the summer of 2002. I was basically drinking or using just to survive, just to make it to work, just to function. It was a nightmare, and I’d wake up—if I went to bed—and prayed to God this would stop.”

After becoming sober, Hill went to college to obtain a degree in human services in psychology, and was licensed as a substance abuse counselor for the state of Wisconsin. It’s been 16 years, but Hill still remembers what it feels like to “be at the bottom,” which is why she’s so passionate about her work. 

“I want people to know that they don’t have to feel that way—that can change,” Hill said. “The alcohol and drugs are not the problem. The problem is us, and we can change. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t realize there’s hope.”

That’s why the Opportunity House is such an important endeavor, Hill said, because it offers a built-in support system. There are already plans in the works to open a recovery house for men in Iowa County in the next few months, and two more properties in Richland County later.

“They say the opposite of addiction is connection,” Hill said, “and that is 100 percent true.”

This post was originally published on COURIER.