Michelle Duplantis has nervously practiced the speech she will deliver at the 20th annual Women of Substance luncheon to be held 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, May 8, at the Audubon Tea Room. Having completed a six-month substance-abuse treatment program and aftercare at Grace House, Duplantis is being honored as its Alumna of the Year.
“My family is so proud of me now because I am doing such a great job at being a human being,” Duplantis said.
Several other women also will be honored for acting as role models to Grace House clients, including Walton Goldring, Ali Rouse Royster and Celie Stumm. The Richard “Buzzy” Gaiennie Award will be presented to Susan Rodriguez, and the Volunteer Recognition Award will go to Pam Albers.
Duplantis recently joined the staff at Bridge House, the men’s recovery facility. Having turned her life around, she now sponsors seven other women striving to become sober and self-sufficient. She even tattooed her sobriety date, 10-18-12, on her forearm as a visual reminder of the turning point.
Her life has not always been one to be modeled.
Duplantis began smoking marijuana at just 13. Four years later, her father died from a narcotics overdose, and she became more depressed.
“I used to mask everything. When my father died, I lost my best friend,” she said.
Injuries from car accidents led her to use opiates to dull the physical pain.
“Doctors told me the pills would be addictive, but I never thought it would be that bad.”
She stopped taking pain medication when she became pregnant, but was prescribed Percocet following the birth of her daughter by Caesarean section. Her addiction resumed and she started selling pills from pain clinics to earn money.
“The DEA came to my house … I was loaded when they came to my door,” she said.
Charged with four felonies, Duplantis was jailed, but quickly released because of overcrowding. Receiving no treatment for her addiction, she soon escalated to heroin.
Finally, her mother insisted she check in to River Oaks Hospital. From there she reluctantly found her way to Grace House. Homeless and at risk of losing custody of her child, she was out of options.
“The majority of our clients have lost everything to substance abuse,” said Michelle Gaiennie, executive director of clinical services.
At Grace House, Duplantis overcame depression while gaining self-esteem, said Clinical Director Jackie Kellett. She learned to love herself, become proud of her accomplishments and motivated to make positive change, including building a supportive peer group.
Duplantis started working at Dat Dog restaurant where she was named “Best Cashier” two years running and “Best Hot Dog Dresser” companywide. She trained new employees and even added a new item of her own creation to the menu.
Until five years ago, intake at Grace House was limited to 25 women seeking treatment, but now accommodates 70, regardless of ability to pay, said Kevin Gardere, development director. Every resident completing the program since January has achieved sobriety and acquired safe housing. Eighty-six percent have attained full-time employment.
Women really need separate, gender-specific treatment, said Else Pedersen, Bridge House/Grace House chief executive officer. Because the majority had childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence or parents with addictions, they need an environment where they can experience safety and belonging. After completing the Grace House program, Duplantis exemplifies what can happen.
“Now I can see life for what it truly is; life is a miracle,” Duplantis said.
All proceeds from the luncheon and silent auction benefit the treatment program. A seat may be purchased for $100 by visiting www.bridgehouse.org or by calling (504) 821-7288.