Bobbi Jo Reed: Healing House, Addiction and New Documentary
For 25 years, Bobbi Jo Reed has rescued thousands of addicts. But before she could help others, Bobbi Jo needed to help herself.
In the documentary, Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence, this true life story takes an honest look into the world of alcoholism and addiction. Her story is heartbreaking, but so incredibly inspiring. With such vulnerability Bobbi Jo shares her honest testimony, her transformation through a relationship with the Lord, keys to long term recovery, and how her Healing Homes in Kansas City’s most dangerous neighborhood have provided safe transitions for more than 8,000 people.
Risen sat down with Bobbi Jo, who is a complete delight, to hear firsthand her story and share in the joy of how the Lord has, and continues to use her. This is a story of trust and triumph.
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Bobbi Jo, your story is heartbreaking, but it’s so inspiring. Share a glimpse into what you endured…
Bobbi Jo Reed: I started drinking at a very young age 12, because I had low self-esteem. And, I worked and I was hanging out with older people and drinking. The first time I drank, I was like, “This is it.” For the first time, I felt comfortable inside my own skin. And of course, I felt like it made me fit in with the older people I was around. And, it made me funnier. And of course, you get a drink and you’re a better dancer and better looking too. And so, I pursued that for the next 22 years. And things happened to me, and I did things and I went to places that you can’t even imagine that you would end up in these places. But with addiction, I’ll tell you what, the farther down the scale you go, and it all becomes acceptable because you think, “Oh well, this is just how it is.”
And, I look back today and that’s an eternity away. There’s a saying that talks about incomprehensible demoralization. And, there were many times in my life that I just wanted to die, I had no hope. I didn’t even think I should be breathing the same air as other people. I went for over a year without looking at myself in the mirror, because I couldn’t stand to see what was looking back at me.
I’m a lot older and a lot chubbier, and I like what I see in that mirror today! I’m not that person anymore. And, I have come from that and God is the one that watched over me during the midst of all that. I understand that today. And it really has guided my path to what I’m doing now.
RM: One of the things that struck me, having young children, was that your brother mentioned he and your parents were kind of largely unaware how deep your addiction was rooted. What can families do to better support?
BJR: Right. I had a family that we were all working, we were all very busy. We didn’t sit down and eat dinner together, or talk about what was going on in our lives. We all lived under the same roof, but we all very much had separate lives. We had the elephant in the front room, sissy being an addict and an alcoholic, but nobody talked about it. I was in a family if you didn’t talk about it, once it happening. And so, I think everybody just kind of ignored it and had their own things going on. I think that if we sit down and we had those meals together and we talk, it’s much more apparent to see changes in siblings or children.
Because when you start losing that connection, you’re disconnected. Everybody’s under the same roof, but disconnected. It’s not as imperative to really see what’s going on, but you’d look for changes in behaviors, attitude. Because, addiction’s a very dark thing and it will start twisting your way of thinking and acting. I think that if you see changes, address them right away. Don’t act like it’s not happening. Just blocking it out will not fix anything. We need to talk, and we need to figure out that addiction is a disease. It’s not a stigmatism. I mean, people look at the word addict and alcoholics and they view something in their head automatically. And, addiction is a disease. It’s not a lack of moral fiber, and I think talking and realizing that their help is help.
RM: Looking at your life from the things that you went through, whether it be the addiction or abuse, or even like bullied into prostitution, I mean, it’s nothing short of a miracle and you can definitely see God’s hand on it all now. Talk about when your relationship with the Lord began and how your life was so transformed.
BJR: After I had got sober, I was dating a guy and he kept relapsing and I kick him out. And so, he started going to this church. And, I didn’t want to lose… This sounds awful. But, he was a crack addict, and boy, I wasn’t going to lose my crack head to a church girl. So, I started going to church, and I believe the Lord started planting seeds. And, my mom died on December 30th. And December 31st, I had a little house, all my roommates had relapsed. And, I was home alone on New Year’s Eve, I just picked up the urn for my mother. And, I came home that night and I was crying, my boyfriend was gone, my roommates were gone. My dad had died three and a half years earlier. And, my mom had just passed. And even though I sober, this new toll came back into me.
It was like, “Oh my, what am I going to do?” And, I cried out to God. It was December 31st of 1998, and I cried out to the Lord, I said, “Lord, please don’t let me go back to where I came from, and just please lead and direct and just grab a hold of me, God.” And, I fell asleep, praying and crying that night. And I got to tell you, fear had covered my whole life. Fear of being inadequate, not smart enough, not attractive enough, just all those worldly fears. And, when I woke up January, first of 1999, the Holy Spirit had taken up residence in me. And for the first time in my life, I knew everything was going to be okay.
RM: As we’re seeing your journey unfold on screen, you have this heart to want to help others. And, it started so simple. It started with hygiene products and baked goods. You didn’t start with this vision of transforming all of Kansas City. Share how the Lord continues to shape your life as you help others.
BJR: So, with the hygiene products, when I was in that detox, you couldn’t even get cleaned up. And so, I immediately thought, “Wow, I need to do something for those folks.” So, I’d take the little tubes of toothpaste, and so… And initially, I did it because it made me feel good about myself. And then, somehow it just became the next right thing to do. And, I had always felt worthwhile, that I wasn’t worth anything. I just didn’t feel like I had much purpose in my life. And, those little bars of soap and those little tubes of toothpaste gave me a passion. And, I started thinking, “Man, maybe there is something I’m good at, maybe there is a purpose for my life.” And, it just grew from there. And, I would share my story with other ladies that were going through the same thing as me and other people.
And, I could see that they were hearing it, not only with their ears, but they were hearing it in their heart. And, that it wasn’t making an impact on them. And then, I came to find out, and I was going to hospitals and detoxes and treatment centers, and I figured out there were 900 women going through inpatient treatment in Kansas City every year with only 30 safe beds to go to.
So that’s when God said, “Okay sister, you got to do something to help.” And, that’s how it all started. I bought an old nursing home… of course, a lot of that is in the movie, and now we have 14 homes. And I think, 40 apartments right now for the families. There’s 200 people that live with Healing House every day and 34 children right now.
RM: That’s incredible. What a testament to you. The idea of giving others the sense of community, you talked about that being a really big and an integral part. Why is a sense of community, a sense of belonging, so important? I mean, it is for us at any stage of our life, let alone when you’re overcoming something huge.
BJR: Right. What has been created here is a family that I really didn’t have, a family that sits down and eats dinner and communicates, a family that we do meetings, we do family game nights. I mean, when you’re in addiction, you feel like a lost soul, right. And so, you come into this place and everybody’s got your best interest at heart. Everybody’s encouraging, everybody’s helping you. And, it’s like these big loving arms, just start comforting you when you get in the door. And I think it’s, we all need connection. And, I think it’s so important for everybody to feel a sense of longing. And, that’s what’s being created here. Everybody calls me, mom. I tell people, “I have this huge dysfunctional family, but the cool thing about my family is, we’re all trying to get better together.”
RM: I love the detail. So, I had read that you purchased your first nursing home, which actually became Healing House in 2001. So, how beautiful that 20 years later, we’re able to have this documentary that showcases your journey and can provide hope and healing for more outside of just your region. So, how does it make you feel to know that this will definitely impact and change so many more lives?
BJR: You know what? That’s the most important thing to me, is that people know there’s hope. A lot of us think, “Oh, if we have somebody that has an addiction, we have to take them to a $50,000 treatment center.” There’s hope out there for everyone. And, all they have to be as open-minded and willing. I am so excited to spread this message of hope, and love and inspiration. I think this is going to change lives. And, some people will be inspired to maybe do this in their community. I have to tell you, our whole community has been transformed. We just got a strip mall. We’re redoing the whole thing, putting in businesses, getting our people jobs, and job training. It’s amazing. Well, I couldn’t have dreamed this life up for real.
RM: I can’t help but think aside from the timing, that the thought that it’s perfectly placed in that the whole country has just experienced this world pandemic. We’re in quarantine. We’re forced to maybe reflect a little bit more, slow down a little bit more, ask are we walking into our purpose? What is that? Many may find themselves unemployed, or just lost a loved one. So, life looks different and everyone wants some kind of hope or renewance. What would you share with them for like such a time as this?
BJR: Right. I think that we’ve all got… 2020s been a crazy year. Many of us experience loss of loved ones throughout this year. And a friend of mine, Pastor Adam says, “The worst thing is not the last thing.” And so, it’s easy to sit at home and think, “Whoa is me, and poor me.” And, I want everybody to know there’s more for us. And, that this, your past does not define you. You don’t need to stay crippled in your pain, or anything you might be walking through. I’ll tell you what, you’re going to watch this movie. And, if you’re grumbling about your newspaper not being in your yard, you’re going to say, “I need to stop that.” Everybody’s going to say, “Wait a minute, is my life really that difficult?” “If that lady can do that, there’s more for me to do.” And so, I hope it just sparks a fire in everybody that watches it.
RM: I know that before the movie was made, you regularly shared your story and you have a book. But, did you ever have a hesitation with sharing? Did you ever just want to say, “That chapter’s done, I don’t really want anyone else to know about it,” rather than taking what you did and helping so many more by being honest about your journey?
BJR: No. No reservation at all, because the person that I am today is not that person. There’s no shame in my game for real. And, I think that when I wrote the book, my brothers called me. I have two older brothers and both of them called and said, “Sis, I think this might look bad in the family.” And I’m like, “You know what?” “But, we…” “I came from a family of secret keepers, right.” My mom told her friends that I had the flu for 20 years, “Oh poor sissy is sick again, or poor sissy wrecked her car.” “No…” They called me sissy. “Sissy was drunk and crashed into a telephone pole.” But, you know what? We don’t want anybody to know what’s going on behind closed doors, and something that was very important to me because I come from a family of secrets, is that I tell the truth because I can’t help people if I don’t tell the truth.
And, the movie’s only so long, so I couldn’t even share all the multitude of things. But, the reality of it is, there’s a thing in AA that says, or the 12 steps, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” And, I’m not going to be a secret keeper anymore. And, if my stumbling or my falling can help somebody else to get the courage to know they can get back up, so be it. Don’t care. I mean, I’m an open book and I loved that. And, I think any of us that can share something that could encourage other people, we need to use it.
RM: Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you for taking the time. I also want to make sure that we connect individuals, if they feel led to give, to help, to continue to support, and have more homes and more resources, where can they do that?
Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence is available on Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital & On Demand February 16, 2021