Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I was born the middle of three children. My father was never in my life. My aunt, cousin and grandmother lived with my mother, my brother, my sister and me. I grew up in a traumatizing household. I was sexually abused as a child. Growing up I remember feeling like I had no hope. I didn’t see a future and didn’t believe in education. Drug abuse and domestic violence were a normal part of my life. My mother’s and my aunt’s boyfriends beat them often. I learned a very dysfunctional view of relationships. When I was eight years old, my aunt’s boyfriend broke a beer bottle and cut her from the top of her eyebrow down to her chin. She received around 300 stitches. I came home after my aunt was released from the hospital and she and the boyfriend were sitting on the sofa — drinking beer and laughing, as if nothing had happened. I thought, “What is he still doing here?” I was baffled with disbelief.
When I was 14 years old, I witnessed my aunt’s boyfriend, at the time, being shot and killed in our neighborhood by her former boyfriend. A couple of months later, my mother was raped, beaten and left for dead by one of our neighbors. My mother had the strength to continue to scream while her rapist passed out on the bed after locking her in the closet. Another neighbor heard my mother’s screams and was able to rescue her, then run to our home to inform my 16-year-old brother. My brother ran to her and saw her bloody and naked. He started having mental health issues shortly after that. My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 18 years old. He has been living in a group home for the past 24 years. After the rape, my mom was hospitalized for three to four months. She was never the same after that. She recovered physically, but she never fully recovered from the emotional trauma.
I was very smart in school, but I was an angry child and a violent person. I was physically violent and enjoyed fighting anyone. I was involved in street gangs. By the time I was 16 years old, I was a high school dropout, a teenage mom and a daily free-basing cocaine addict. I got high with my mother, aunt and grandmother, and I bought drugs from my father. My first child was born positive for marijuana. Four years later I got pregnant with my second child. I was smoking crack cocaine every day. She was born positive for cocaine. I was court-ordered to go into substance abuse treatment, but I continued to use drugs. I had figured out the system. A year later, when I was pregnant with my third child, I went into substance abuse treatment again, right before my son was born. At birth my son tested negative for any substances, but social services still took custody of him shortly after birth. I saw my son the day he was born and then I didn’t see him again until six months later. The Department of Children and Family Services took custody of my second child when she was 18 months old.
I continued to use drugs.
My turning point was at the age of 22, when I was 7 ½ months pregnant with my fourth child. I was tired of the life I was living. I even tried committing suicide to escape my life. I had been up for days. It was 3 a.m. and I said, Everybody can’t be living like this, God help me.” I went into treatment for the sixth time the following day, July 14, 1994, and I haven’t not found a reason to use any drugs since then.
It was hard because everybody I knew was using drugs. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to use drugs anymore, and I needed to change my lifestyle. I gave birth to my fourth child while I was in treatment. When my son was just two weeks old, we went to live in a homeless shelter. I started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Every day for 18 months I thought about using drugs to get high. I had been using something since I was 12 years old. It was challenging and difficult in the beginning for me to learn how to stop using drugs. When I was really struggling, I would pray, “God take my will, my life and show me how to live today.”
I got custody of my other children and moved out of the homeless shelter into my first apartment with all four of my children, the oldest was five years old. I was trying to change from the inside out. I got my GED and started working for $5.25 an hour. Because I started working, they cut back my food stamps and raised what I had to pay for Section 8 housing. It was like I was being punished for working and set up to fail.
God put a beautiful woman in my life to help me. My second sponsor in Narcotics Anonymous is an ordained minister who has sponsored me for the past 17 years. She taught me how to treat men and how to be a lady. I know she wants the best for me. The women in my life have been productive members of society, enjoying life without drugs, working and obtaining an education. They have encouraged me to figure out my goals in life.
I went back to school because I had to. There was no way I was going to survive and provide for my children without an education. The women gave me hope and courage that I can do it. My sponsor encouraged me when I feel like giving up. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders. She would not let me give up. I worked third shift — midnight to 8 a.m. — at a drug treatment facility, and I enrolled in college to earn my associate degree. I started from the bottom up. When I got off work, I would take the kids to daycare or school, then I went to school from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’d go home from school, spend time with my children, prepare dinner for them and get three or four hours of sleep before going back to work. There also were evenings I attended my Narcotics Anonymous meetings, so I could stay clean from drugs. This was my daily routine for years. It took me five years to earn my two-year associate degree. Then I earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. I bought my first home when I was 29. I became a certified counselor, and the first 15 years of my career I worked as a counselor with women experiencing addiction and mental health issues. I graduated with my master’s degree in human service counseling in 2005. I became licensed as a mental health therapist and drug abuse counselor. I opened my own private practice in 2011.
In 2009, I adopted my cousin’s daughter. I wasn’t sure if I’d be approved because in 1992. I had been convicted of two counts of child abuse and neglect related to my second and third child. The Department of Children and Family Services told me I could never have anything to do with children after that. I didn’t think I would be able to adopt my cousin’s daughter, but the court could not find a record of the child abuse of charges from 1992, and the adoption went through. I believed that God intervened, so I could adopt her. She’s my daughter. She’s been part of my life since I took her home from the hospital at four days old.
In 2009 I went back to get my doctorate in psychology. I had completed my dissertation but because I had reached my time limit, I could not graduate with my Ph.D. They converted my Ph.D. into a master’s degree of psychology. I was devasted but determined. I would never give up on my goals or dreams, I know if I do, I will be giving up on myself. I thought I would never stop using drugs. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I told myself If I can stop smoking crack, I can do anything or be anything I choose to be with God’s help. I was determined to get my Ph.D., so I enrolled in another doctoral program within two months. At this moment, I need to write my dissertation, then I will be finished.
Only God could transform a 16-year-old high school dropout, single mom, free-basing cocaine addict, into a mother of five successful, healthy, drug-free children; and a professional with my own home, my own private practice, two master’s degrees — and just months away from earning a Ph.D. Five years after a judge locked me up in jail and took my children from me, I sat on a board with that same judge and we opened a women’s recovery house. I do a lot of community work. I am advocate for women.
I am a Christian. I go to church and participate in Bible studies. God has blessed me with good children that did not travel the path I did. My children are now 32, 28, 27, 26 and 15 years old. All are doing well. God helped me get clean. He gave me my children back and taught me how to be a mother. God put the recovery community into my life, like my sponsor and other women who taught me how to be a mother, friend and neighbor. God chose me to be a member of a self-help program and, with God’s help, I made it through going to school while working full-time and raising five kids.
People ask me how I did all of that. I tell them that it was God’s strength; the 12-step program and fellowship; courageous women; and my children needing their mother. That’s what gave me the ability to do that. The relationship that I currently have with God is different than when I was younger. I was raised thinking that God was a punishing God. I felt like if there was a God, then why did I have to go through what I went through. I didn’t come from a household of love, and I didn’t understand God’s love for me. I didn’t like God and blamed him until I got clean. When I started working the steps in Narcotics Anonymous, I realized that God had been with me all along and had been protecting me in many ways.
Now I am not just surviving — I am living. I am healthy and happy. God has given me a new way to live life.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10