Queen of Peace helps when women hit rock bottom

Sally DeIuliis walked through the doors of Queen of Peace Center June 19, 2015, six months pregnant. She’d just been kicked out of a homeless shelter.

She doesn’t remember how she got to the Catholic Charities family-centered behavioral health care provider for women with addiction, their children and families. She does remember saying, “It’s not that bad” — failing to fool the interviewer who replied, “You’re pregnant and on drugs.”

DeIuliis had tried to get clean before, even paying for methadone — a drug used to help withdrawal — from a clinic. She switched to a free clinic, didn’t realize the strength of the dose was many times lower, and the baby almost died during severe withdrawal symptoms.

Sally DeIuliis talked to her nephew, Landon, as they both wore Batman shirts on April 15. “Sunday is Batman day,” explained DeIuliis. After receiving help from Queen of Peace Center and the WISH Clinic with a drug addiction, DeIuliis is sharing her story because she knows people need to see the personal side of the transformation that is possible with their help.

Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

“I was so far in, I thought I wouldn’t ever be anything but a junkie on the street,” she said. Before using heroin for the first time at age 22 she was in graduate school, had a decent job, a car, a house and more and lost all of it. “I never thought I’d ever get back, and I thought trying to get back would be more devastating than just giving up.”

At Queen of Peace Center she was connected with the WISH Center at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital and began supervised withdrawal process, a key piece to the healthy birth of her baby. Though she chose to live with her parents who were caring for her two boys, she came every day to Queen of Peace Center to take advantage of the holistic approach offered by the center. It offers a variety of treatment options, permanent and transitional housing for women and their families and an early-intervention and prevention program for adolescents.

Queen of Peace Center, an example of the Catholic Charities agencies that receive funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal, is innovative because it allows women to bring their children with them, and the children receive treatment as well from counselors who specialize in treating children. “That is huge, because addiction is a family disease that affects so many areas of life. It’s as much of a recovery process for them as it is for me,” DeIuliis said.

She started group therapy every weekday from 9-4, skipping two weeks after having the baby. She moved through three levels of care, graduating in 18 months. The center helps with parenting, budgeting and more. “Your whole life is ruined when you’re using,” DeIuliis said. “OK, yes, I knew I had to put alcohol and drugs down, I get that. But how do I live? There’s so much more. It means changing everything in your life. I still come here when things aren’t going good or when things are going good.”

She attended Mass and prayer services at the chapel at the center, and her baby, now age 2, was baptized there. She also has guardianship of her nephew, age 7, and cares for another nephew, 9.

Seven-year-old Landon DeIuliis-Adams wrestled a bale of hay into a wheelbarrow to feed horses with his aunt, Sally DeIuliis, who takes care of him, his brother, and DeIuliis’ son, Emmerson.

Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

A graduate of Catholic schools, DeIuliis has an undergraduate degree in social work and criminal justice. She tried heroin once when feeling depressed and within weeks was using it daily, eventually shooting it into her veins, a $200 a day habit. It was five years before she ended up at Queen of Peace Center.

She’s more than willing to be a spokesperson for Catholic Charities and Queen of Peace Center because she knows people need to see the personal side of the transformation that is possible with their help. Two years ago, she said, she wouldn’t look at her image in the mirror, so broken and ashamed of herself. She returned to school to become a certified nursing assistant, has a job, is involved in her children’s schoolwork and busy taking them to swimming lessons and sports practices.

“I used to think I had to be perfect. When I realized I wasn’t, my world broke,” DeIuliis said. One big help is knowing “God is on my side,” she said.

Sister Clare Bass, CSJ, works as a residential aide at Queen of Peace Center, trying to fill a gap for women who had missing pieces in their lives. She shares the sense of community she has experienced as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Recovery from substance abuse, she said, requires rebuilding relationships, adding that “it takes time, but it can be done.”

The Catholic Church’s response is a natural one, she said, because it shares the message, especially for those who feel isolated, that “God loves everyone, no matter what problems you have.”

It’s also a justice issue, she said, because many people don’t have the resources to afford treatment.

Emma Vonder Haar