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COLUMN: I wish I'd had Madi's House to help with loved one's struggle with addiction

Posted at 3:53 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 20:57:15-04

CINCINNATI — Week after week, I have loved bringing you “Positively Cincinnati.” One big reason is that I typically feel some kind of personal connection to the stories. This week is no exception.

In anticipation of WCPO’s Thursday telethon for Madi’s House, I’m taking a look at how this reaffirming, safe place was born — a place where people can go to get help for what is an illness.

Watch Kristyn Hartman's "Positively Cincinnati" segment on Madi's House in the viewer at the top of this story.

Perhaps you know that WCPO's own Steve Raleigh and his wife, Julie, decided to build it. They say their daughter, Madi, often talked about needing a bridge to “healthy” following rehab — a spot that supported sobriety in everyday life. Madi’s addiction and mental health struggle took her before that dream could become a reality.

But out of her loss, Madi’s House was born.

Julie told me, "Losing Madi was the worst day of my life. I have a hole in my heart."

Sadly, she knows she’s far from alone in that grief.

"It crosses all boundaries," she said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, middle class. It hits us all, hits us all hard."

It’s exactly why the Raleighs are working to bring the Tri-State a place that is warm — one that will welcome people facing the challenges of addiction and mental illness with open arms. The first step is their Madi’s House Annex.

I was there Sunday to see some of the programming — not just for people on the road to sobriety, but their families, too. It is, indeed, a place where people in this fight that affects so many can be accepted for who they are, loved for who they are — no judgment.

And as I watched the community there, I wished something like it had been available to someone I loved.

I am one of those family members who felt helpless in the storm of addiction. The "Madi" in my life was my former husband, Chris. This spring he passed after a long struggle with alcohol.

WCPO anchor Kristyn Hartman, with her late, former husband, Chris.

An accomplished, soft-hearted, good soul, he had great difficulty talking — even with me — about his dependency. I think the stigma surrounding addiction had a lot to do with it. Late in our marriage, when I would encourage him to get help, he would say things like, “You need to apologize to me for accusing me of such a grievous character flaw.” That’s society’s moral condemnation of addiction getting in the way of getting help for what is an illness.

That last point deserves repeating: Addiction is an illness, and that's why Madi’s House is a stigma-free zone. It offers community. It is that place where people can go to relate to other people walking the path to sobriety. They’re working to serve family members, too — something that makes me smile, as I could have used such wonderful support.

That brings us to tonight’s “Positively Cincinnati.” It is our focus on the eve of a telethon brought to you by the good people of WCPO, who see a real need for Madi’s House.

Thursday’s telethon will build on the growing Madi’s House mission. Recently Mercy Health donated a big, beautiful old house with lovely land so the Raleigh family can bring Madi’s dream to even more people. I hope you’ll watch the story, and the telethon, with the full understanding that you never know when someone you love might need it. I never thought it could be my family. And it was.

For the love of every Madi — in hope, in health, in healing.