For years, Leigh and Kent Iberg bore the soul-crushing experience of watching their daughter Megan Smith attempt sobriety, only to relapse almost immediately. “We would go through the excitement of ‘maybe this time,’ recalls Kent, “and then the disappointment of her bottoming out again.”
“I spent one whole summer when she was 28 or 29 getting her in and out of 30-day rehabs,” says Leigh. “I always saw Megan as a responsible woman, a beautiful mother and wife, very successful in her work. That was especially hard.”
After struggling with alcoholism for 20 years, Megan hit rock bottom at age 45. Shortly after losing her ex-husband to cirrhosis of the liver and watching her wife leave her three months later, she got a DUI—her second one in five years—on her way to work as a psychiatric-mental health nursing supervisor. She lost her job and spent 30 days in jail.
“When she went to jail, we left her there,” says Leigh. “Bottom line, it got to the point, with years of therapy and our strong faith, we truly understood we’re not in control, and neither is Megan.
“We recognized that we had been enablers. Being loving parents, you think you’re doing the right thing. We finally said, ‘That’s it.’ Boundaries became a very big part of our life.”
When Megan got out of jail, a parole stipulation required her to blow into a breathalyzer daily to prove she hadn’t been drinking. She couldn’t do it. Ten days later, she entered The Healing Place.
“I could never admit that I had a problem or that I wasn’t able to control my habit,” says Megan. “I came in with the notion that there was nothing they could teach me, that it was a facility to keep me off the streets and dry. By the grace of God, I got caught relapsing after three months.”
Her relapse provided an opening for true healing.
“It was humiliating and embarrassing,” recalls Megan. “But the staff did not judge me. They loved me until I could learn to love myself. Because of their encouragement and non-judgment, I felt like I was on a journey that I could fully participate in. I became willing to open my mind and flourished from there.”
Megan’s parents did not communicate with her while she was going through the program, but she kept them apprised of her journey.
“Megan wrote me six- and eight page-long letters every step of the way,” says Leigh. “She told me how each step of the 12-step program had been. The hardest part was forgiving herself for what she’d done to others. I kept them all; they are amazing.”
Meeting Megan again
Eleven months after entering the program, Megan invited her parents to attend her commencement from The Healing Place. Leigh and Kent cautiously agreed —and encountered a different person. “We were extremely surprised,” says Leigh. ”We met an honest Megan, a more confident Megan. It was a thrill.”
During the graduation weekend, Anna Murphy, program director for The Healing Place for Women, taught a class about recovery to family members.
“It made my parents understand at a different level the disease of alcoholism,” says Megan, who often spends weekends at home with her parents in Waynesboro, Virginia. “In the past, I would have been terrified to tell them what I’m going through. Today, I feel comfortable being honest with them. The relationship that I hold with my parents is bar none. It’s a beautiful thing.”
In addition to graduating from The Healing Place, Megan completed CARITAS Works, joined the CARITAS staff as a Peer Mentor, and moved into the Recovery Residences. She celebrated her one-year sobriety anniversary in September.
“The Works program got me believing in myself again,” says Megan. “Taking a deep look into my personality and learning my positive attributes was huge. I decided it was so important to give back what was freely given to me, that I became a Peer Mentor. Now, I am guiding the younger sisters through the program.”
“Watching Megan evolve through this process, only to turn around and give away what she has gained reminds me every day of the power of this program,” says Anna, The Healing Place for Women program director. “We are so proud of her.”
Megan hopes to pursue a career in peer recovery. Her parents couldn’t be more pleased.
“I’m just loving this,” says Leigh. “I’m 70 years old, and every day is a gift. I will take whatever comes, but the best thing is that Megan knows who she was yesterday, she knows who she is today, and she knows who she can be tomorrow.”
The Healing Place for Women has served more than 500 women since opening at CARITAS in December 2020. As Richmond’s largest agency tackling homelessness and addiction, CARITAS creates space to heal and time to rebuild for thousands of our neighbors in need.