Growing up, I was the black sheep of my family. My two sisters had a lot of friends, but I always felt different. My father was a single dad, and I really could have used the support of an extra parent. I wound up with emotional problems, but at the time, I thought I was normal.
When I was fifteen, I left home because my father was trying to abuse me sexually. I met a guy, got pregnant, and then got married. We struggled because my husband refused to work. I tried to make it on my own with the child, but in the end, I gave him up for adoption.
I never did any drugs till I was 21. That’s when I decided to move to Georgia and become a dancer. I was leaving town and my younger sister turned me on to cocaine. She told me it would help me stay awake. I didn’t like how it made my nose feel, so I didn’t want to try it again.
It wasn’t until I got to Atlanta that I learned there was another way to use the drug. I got a boyfriend who turned me on to shooting cocaine—and I stayed with him for three years. Then I wound up with another guy who turned out to be a Hell’s Angel. He was wanted in Atlanta, so I decided to move back to Tampa and bring him with me. By then, I was pregnant with his baby. After I gave birth, he stayed home with our child and started smoking crack. Pretty soon, I was smoking with him. That was really my downfall. I lost my house and my son—and my life just kept getting crazier.
I went in that direction for the next 24 years—dating drug users, having babies, and then getting rid of their daddies before each child was a year old. I got married over and over, and wound up with five children. For many years, I lost contact with all of them because of my drug use.
During this time, I was in and out of jail. At two different points, I was sentenced to three years in prison. The second time, I was court-ordered to treatment and because of where I was living, Phoenix House’s Adult Outpatient Counseling Center in Tampa decided to take me. I started with three classes a week, plus AA. I did all the work on myself and got clean. Then, when I’d almost finished treatment, my boyfriend disappeared and my son got sentenced to 30 years in the Florida state prison. By coincidence, my case in drug court was transferred to the same judge who had sentenced my son. I was doing really well, but when they switched judges on me, I flipped out. I relapsed and ran from Phoenix House.
By that time, I had reunited with my daughter and I ran away to her house in Daytona. It didn’t take long before the cops found me and brought me back. I had been diagnosed as bipolar and I felt like I was fighting against the whole world, but my counselor at Phoenix House, November Church, was adamant about my coming back and getting well. That girl has a heart; she can see inside you. She treats you like a person. She made a big impact on my life, even when I had to sit there and listen to her tell me I was wrong.
I knew I’d ruined my own life, but I didn’t think I was hurting anybody but me. I came to realize that I’d hurt everyone around me, especially my children. I grew up as a welfare baby, so I didn’t have a chance from the beginning. But as I got clean, I saw that I had to make that difference. I had to be the one to change. Nobody could do it for me. So, I completed my treatment and I’ve been sober for about nineteen months.
Today, I’m not haunted by my past. I’ve been HIV positive for 13 years, but I’m doing well; my doctors say I’m another Magic Johnson. I’m very close to my daughter and her one-year-old baby. I also support my son who’s serving 30 years, and his four-year-old son. My children are so proud. They can tell I’m not going back. I’m 55, so what do I have left? I want to spend the rest of my time making a difference for others. After I left treatment, I bought a trailer and some tools, and started hiring other recovering addicts who had trouble finding work. We do yard work and other odd jobs. Even the people who work with me on these little jobs tell me, “You’re a blessing!” I’m the person I should have been twenty years ago.