Keep Your Eyes Open

Things finally fall into place after decades of addiction and a brush with fate

She didn’t see it coming. Sandy Lubega, and the driver of the car that struck her that night, were both drunk. She was wandering Minneapolis in a blackout, she says, so she doesn’t remember the accident, but she remembers the scene around her hospital bed. Her family gathered by her side, along with two ministers reading her last rites.

She hadn’t seen the relapse coming, either - not after the half-decade of sobriety she maintained up until 2009. But there she was, two years deep into an alcoholic relapse that she was convinced would kill her, one way or another. Ironically, it seemed her fate had been sealed by the hands of a drunk driver other than herself.

Six weeks passed and she left the hospital in a wheelchair. A brain injury, crushed knees, pins surgically inserted into her ankles - these were a few of the injuries that forced her into a nursing home for the next few months. Physical therapy helped her regain mobility, but not as quickly as the pain pills she steadily began to abuse after the accident.

“Everyone thought I was healing well because I could do a lot on the pain meds,” she recalls. “So I kept taking more, and no one knew.”

With opioids steadily prescribed for two years following the accident, Sandy certainly didn’t see the withdrawals coming. When the pills ran out, three days of agonizing sickness brought her back to alcohol, and she kept drinking until her family helped her into treatment months later.

“This time I decided that in order to save my life and help my children I just couldn’t do this again,” says Lubega. “So I decided to do something different.”

A good thing, a God thing

After five trips to inpatient treatment, nothing about the process was new for Lubega, except for her dedication to recovery and personal commitment to aftercare. Lubega moved into New Heights Sober House while attending IOP at NuWay House nearby and immediately began to help out wherever she could.

“If I saw something that needed to be done I would do it,” Lubega says. “What I do here is part of my recovery. Helping other people - it helps me.”

"Helping other people - it helps me.”

Sandy continued taking on responsibilities, like preparing rooms for incoming residents, doing intake assessments, and providing general leadership and guidance to her peers. Her de facto house manager role became an unspoken understanding, and on her one-year sobriety date it was made official. Finally, something she did see coming.

“I really think it was a God thing, the way everything just fell into place this time,” she says.

Expect success

Daily operations have become increasingly demanding as New Heights has expanded from one to four sober houses coupled with an ever-growing wait list.

There’s something infectious about the success she’s experienced at New Heights, something that brought her closer to her family while building a new community within the houses. It’s become a pattern she sees in many residents - many of whom, like Sandy, end up staying longer than they expect, a testament to the communal success and support within the houses.

“People want to stay and get stronger in this community,” she says. “It’s amazing to see and I’m really proud of everyone here, because they’ve all worked so hard to get to where they are.”

This story appears in the Fall issue of New Heights quarterly magazine.


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