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Former addicts work at Joliet treatment and recovery center

Two women in recovery work at Joliet treatment and recovery center

JOLIET – “I thought I was going to be the crazy old lady at the end of the bar.”

A decade ago, if anyone had told Debbie Boedeker that she would be sober, working as the night manager at an addiction treatment facility and taking classes in addictions counseling, she would have laughed.

Jennifer Peachey, a counselor in the women’s extended care unit at the same facility – Stepping Stones in Joliet – had been in treatment seven times and had lost custody of her five children before she went into recovery.

Their stories are not uncommon, said Pete McLenighan, executive director at Stepping Stones. About half of the employees at Stepping Stones are in recovery from a substance abuse disorder, although not all of them received their treatment at Stepping Stones.

Nevertheless, McLenighan said, Stepping Stones is fortunate to have such employees as part of its team.

“They are some of the most dedicated people we have,” McLenighan said. “While every single person is different and each has their own story, we find that they are role models and sources of inspiration to people who are struggling.”

Boedeker said she began smoking and drinking in her early teens, socially acceptable activities in her world. In her 20s and 30s, she worked as a secretary – one known for efficiency and organization – in downtown Chicago.

“I had a high tolerance,” Boedeker said. “I could function and drink. I got more done in a day than most people did in a week. I even went through three or four company reorganizations where other people lost their jobs.”

A series of events – coupled with escalated drinking – changed that. In 1990, Boedeker married a drinker. In 1996, her father died; her sister died nine months later. When the husband’s drinking took him to “dark places,” Boedeker separated from him – they eventually divorced – and moved in with her mother, who died in 1997.

In 1998, Boedeker lost her job. Her drug of choice at that time, she said, was crack cocaine, although she continued drinking. Boedeker said she would sit at the bar with her beer and half a pint of vodka in her purse.

“I can remember people passing out around me and I was still sitting there, drinking,” Boedeker said.

Boedeker became involved with a man who ran a bar; he hired her. Boedeker said she drank behind the bar on the job and frequented other bars when the bar was closed. She had blackouts. The man fired her.

While on her way to a telemarketing job in 2004, Boedeker received a DUI. Her only other DUI – in 1984 – had been a “slap on the wrist,” she said. In the meantime, Boedeker rented a motel room in Joliet, right near a bar.

One day, she fell down flat drunk. Soon afterward, Boedeker walked into the front door of Stepping Stones and said, “If I don’t get help, I’ll die.”

Miraculously, a bed was available. After completing the paperwork, Boedeker left to cancel the motel room and to call a friend for a ride. That friend found Boedeker passed out on the motel room floor, Boedeker said. When Boedeker regained consciousness, she went to Stepping Stones.

Peachey said she had drank and used marijuana – which she called a gateway drug – for years. Her using increased 20 years ago when Peachey’s mother died. Peachey said she’s used every drug.

Eventually, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services intervened and removed the children – then ages 5 through 18, Peachey said – from Peachey’s care. DCFS, Peachey added, recommended she come to Stepping Stones. This time, treatment worked.

“I was tired of hurting myself and the pain and carrying guilt,” Peachey said. “I believe it was the care from the counselors that allowed me to accept people and to embrace and accept myself.”

After leaving Stepping Stones, Boedeker worked at a gas station and in medical billing. Peachey waitressed and then was hired at a company that worked with mentally disabled adults. Eventually, friends suggested they apply to Stepping Stones. Both women feel exceedingly blessed.

As a counselor, Peachey feels it’s important for clients to know people do recover, get their children back, participate in society and lead fulfilling lives. Boedeker stressed that recovery is a gift.

“Not everyone is able to find this gift, and even people that do find it aren’t able to maintain it, so I am very grateful,” Boedeker said. “If everyone lived their life by the 12 steps, it would be much better in the world. It’s a beautiful way to live.”


Stepping Stones believes alcohol and drug addictions are treatable illnesses; abstinence from mood-altering substances is key to recovery. Stepping Stones also participates in programs that support recovery, such as different types of 12-step groups

Programs and services include intensive residential, extended residential, recovery homes, outpatient recovery support and family education and involvement. Stepping Stones is at 1621 Theodore St., Joliet, the website said.

Stepping Stones is funded by the United Way of Will County and United Way of Grundy County, approved by most major insurance companies, licensed by the Illinois Department of Human Services and is a certified Medicaid provider, the website said.

For more information, call 815-744-4555 or visit
Source: Stepping Stones

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