I was born and raised in Santa Ana, CA, where it seemed like everything revolved around drugs, gangs, and jail. I started dabbling in drugs at the age of 13—I would pretty much try anything and everything. By the time I was in my mid-teens, my drug of choice was heroin. My habit progressed from occasional usage to full-on chronic usage, continuing and worsening over the next decade. I simply accepted this; I had no idea you could recover from an addiction. I had never even heard of recovery.
By 28 years old, I was in a dangerous downward spiral. I had lost my marriage and my kids—everything meaningful had been replaced by drugs. That was when my cousin and a couple of friends rallied together to help; they tag-teamed me, locked me down, and wouldn’t let me out of their sight. They opened the yellow pages and called Phoenix House of Orange County.
I remember my first day at Phoenix House; I felt like everyone was speaking a foreign language that I didn’t understand. I was very angry and resistant. I don’t know what made me stay. I just know that I was tired of my life, and tired of my addiction. I watched the residents walk around in their uniforms with their clipboards, and I felt something I couldn’t identify—a sense of community that drew me in. Despite my resistance, despite my body wanting to leave, I stayed.
It was definitely a struggle. After all those years of drug abuse, I was physically ill. I wasn’t eating, I was battling a heart condition, I had liver problems—everything seemed to be going wrong. But through it all, the thing that kept me in treatment was the knowledge that these people loved me. For the first time in my life, I knew I was loved. I couldn’t just let go of that, because it felt so good—knowing that I was loved at a time when I couldn’t even love myself. That’s what made me stay.
I went through different phases during the program, but overall it was like a divine intervention—the Phoenix House team saved my life. They taught me so much. It took me a long time to grasp it all because my brain was so warped, but once the fog lifted I was able to comprehend what they were teaching and I began to love learning. I completed my high school degree while I was at Phoenix House, and after I graduated I went on to study psychology and public speaking. I reconnected with my children; it was difficult at the beginning but we eventually became a very strong and connected family.
I’ve been clean for 20 years now. I’m a proud grandmother of five, and I work as an addiction counselor. It’s amazing to work with people who are going through the same struggles that I went through decades ago. I continue to spread the word about Phoenix House, and I’ve returned many times over the years to help out. I’m proud to be a Phoenix House alumna, and I’m thrilled to have chosen this path; every day I am of service to others, and every day this brings me immense satisfaction and personal growth.