CLARE Foundation Honors Palisadian Dedicated to Women’s Substance Abuse Recovery
By JACQUELINE PRIMO | Reporter
With kind blue eyes and a sweet smile, recently widowed 82-year-old Palisadian Dorothy Richards looks the part of a doting grandmother. What you might not suspect is that thewoman who showers love on her grandsons Oliver and Tucker, as well as her two grown daughters Arline and Nicole, is also recovering from substance abuse.
Richards, who is still mourning the recent loss of her husband of 49 years, William JosephRichards (read his obituary here), readily describes herself as “a recovering woman of almost40 years.”
From the living room of her sunny Marquez Knolls home, Richards told the Palisadian Postitdoesn’t matter if you have a great family and live in a nice house in a great neighborhood likePacific Palisades, you can still get caught in the grips of substance abuse.
“I was with my youngest child, Nicole, who was 2 at the time when I had a moment of clarity andrealized the impact of what my [substance abuse] was doing,” said Richards who has lived in thePalisades for 38 years.She described this moment as “getting the gift of desperation,” a turning point in her life whenshe decided to seek help. She was 42 years old and had struggled for nearly six years beforegetting sober.
“We get a lot of moments, but you only get one moment where you say, ‘I need to get help,’” saidRichards, adding that the first step toward recovery from substance abuse is admitting there is aproblem. “Being honest is the key, and being honest with yourself.”Sober ever since, she added, “Once you get sober, you can’t imagine going back…to that life ofdesperation.”
HELPING OTHERS RECOVER
After finding her own way to sobriety, Richards decided she wanted to help others experiencelife without substance abuse.In 1989, she joined the board of the CLARE Foundation, a nonprofit organization providingeffective and compassionate treatment, recovery and prevention services for alcoholism andsubstance abuse to individuals, families and the community.
Founded in 1970, the CLARE Foundation’s origins date back to the late 1960s when a group ofsober people began bringing a message of recovery to homeless substance abusers on thebeaches of Santa Monica and Venice.“The CLARE Foundation helps those who are still suffering,” said Richards, who serves as chairof the Major Gifts Committee. Her efforts have helped the organization grow to 11 residential,outpatient and prevention programs that serve thousands of people on the Westside each year.After dedicating more than 25 years to the CLARE Foundation, Richards was honored with thelaunch of the Dorothy Richards Fund for Women’s Recovery at a private event on Sept.16.
“The [Dorothy Richards Fund for Women’s Recovery] is intended to raise awareness and fundsfor the specific needs of women in recovery and to focus on education and prevention,” said JoNelsen, Institutional Advancement Associate at CLARE.“This is, to my knowledge, the first time CLARE has ever done a named fund like this. It’s aparticularly deserving honor for Dorothy who has meant a lot to the women who have come toCLARE and has always been an advocate for them here,” said Nicholas Vrataric, CLAREExecutive Director, in an interview with the Post.Vrataric said the launch event raised more than $50,000 to help support women in recovery atCLARE, and the figure is expected to continue to grow.
WOMEN AND THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
Women suffering from substance abuse can face a tough road to recovery.“They’re going to lie to their doctor,” Richards said of women suffering from substance abuse.“And how do I know that? Because I lied to the doctor.”They may battle with the issue of social stigma and the fear of social repercussions if they “comeclean” with their substance abuse and seek help, Richards said, noting that women oftenassociate their substance abuse with shame and guilt and may fear how others will view them.Similarly, the issue of childcare and financial dependency on spouses can prevent many womenfrom seeking the help they need.
“It’s most difficult for women to access treatment. They generally don’t have access to the pursestrings and are generally tied to relationships and children in a way that men don’t seem to be. Iwould say that almost 80 or 90 percent of our women’s beds [at CLARE] are on some form ofscholarship. They need some form of financial assistance in order to access treatment, andaccess is everything,” Vrataric told the Post.
Richards said women “go down faster than men with substance abuse” and often have a hardertime getting help and staying sober.“Substance abuse is now the seventh leading cause of premature death in women, with 18women dying each day from drug overdoses that are directly linked to prescription medications,”Nelsen said, citing statistics from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.“Women’s rates of heroin addiction alone have doubled since 2007. Most are 18- to 25-year-oldswho start with prescribed painkillers, which then lead to drugs that are killers in themselves,”
Nelsen continued. “Dorothy is especially concerned for those women who are mothers, whowithout access to education and treatment, will also impact our future generation.”To address issues specific to women in recovery, CLARE opened the Women’s TreatmentProgram in 2003. The Women’s Treatment Program Facility, renovated in December 2012,provides comprehensive services to approximately 275 women each year.Having a facility geared specifically to women’s needs is important because women often have aharder time staying on the road to recovery.
“Women don’t stay in recovery like men do. They get pulled out by those relationships [withchildren and/or significant others] and tend to have a more difficult time seeing the benefits ofrecovery,” Vrataric explained.
“Men feel the benefits of recovery sooner and are more rewarded by it than women are becausetheir emotional wellbeing and gratification tend to have other sources,” he added, noting thatwomen in substance abuse recovery programs sometimes return to the destructive relationshipsthat exacerbated the problem in the first place.
“As a woman in recovery herself, Dorothy is passionate about addressing those statistics,”Nelsen said.Now, the Dorothy Richards Fund for Women’s Recovery will open the door to treatment formore women who can’t afford it.
THE ROOT OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Richards said she believes substance abuse is both a genetic and medical issue. In her view,some people who begin using substances as a social or recreational activity are subsequentlyincapable of limiting their use.“The disease is a progression,” Richards said, elaborating that once you abuse, “you always havethe disease.”“You can’t turn a pickle back into a cucumber,” she said, laughing.For more information or to donate to the Dorothy Richards Fund for Women’s Recovery, visit clarefoundation.org.