I was always a great student, so I went to a two-year program where I skipped from the 7th to the 9th grade. All of a sudden, I was in high school at the age of 13. I started drinking because I wanted to fit in with the older kids and be popular. My parents were old-fashioned and strict, but I was headstrong. I started isolating myself from my family and making more and more bad decisions.
It all caught up to me when I got pregnant at 15. My boyfriend and I left New York and moved to Puerto Rico, but things weren’t so good there either. We were teen parents with no jobs. Eventually, I took my son and went to live with my uncle in Baltimore. I was 16 years old and couldn’t get a job, so I tried stripping. I began hanging out with pimps and prostitutes, and experimenting with cocaine. I always said I would never sell my body, but that whole lifestyle sucked me in. Before long, I was selling drugs, too.
When I was 23, I tried crack. I thought I was doing badly before, but that’s when I really hit bottom. I don’t know how, but one year turned into twenty. I went on to have a total of seven children. I just didn’t have any love for myself and I didn’t realize I wouldn’t find it in the streets.
I ended up back in New York, living basically anywhere. At one point, I sold to an undercover cop and was mandated to treatment. I stayed clean for four years, but then I relapsed in 2000. Soon after that, I got rearrested for selling heroin. I was on probation already, but the judge offered me another chance at treatment. That’s how I landed at the Phoenix House Career Academy in Brooklyn. The staff genuinely cared for me. Phoenix House has changed a lot since then, but the messages remain the same—like taking it one day at time.
I completed treatment successfully, but I relapsed again maybe a year later. I got raped in the streets and lost my housing assistance. At that point, I didn’t care about anything. I was living under a bridge. My family members would stop and cry when they saw me. They didn’t understand addiction. I thought, This is how I’m going to die. I witnessed people getting killed right in front of my eyes.
After all that insanity, I caught another drug charge. I said I wouldn’t do another treatment program, so I got sent to Riker’s Island. I went through withdrawal in jail and I was sick as a dog. I had scars everywhere from picking my skin. Eventually, I got in a fight with one of the other inmates, and they put me in solitary confinement for 40 days. I finally said, “Hey, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life?” The day I got released from prison, another woman said to me, “You’ll be back.” But I said, “No. I have a plan.”
The moment I set foot in my old neighborhood in the Bronx, people said, “Hey, you look good! I got a little something for you.” But I refused the drugs. It was October and I was wearing flip-flops. All I had were the clothes on my back. I found a three-quarter house and while I was there, I learned about Phoenix House’s Bronx Community Recovery Center (BCRC). Someone told me that I should share my story there. I said to myself, “I’m going!” That place became my safe haven. They were the bridge that allowed me to get my life back. I found myself in a loving environment where everyone had an open door. I started going to the Center every day and then I became a volunteer. Whether it was going to a health fair or participating on the Center’s basketball team, I was there. I helped other people in recovery with their resumes, dealing with legal issues—whatever they needed. I found that helping somebody else helped me sustain my own recovery. If it weren’t for the Center and the people there, I wouldn’t be here today.
Now, I’ve been clean for over three years. I’ve worked as an alumni coordinator and an administrative assistant at Phoenix House, gotten married, and had a baby girl. Since then, I’ve had so many new experiences—paying my bills, keeping an apartment, and staying sober even through a layoff.
Sometimes, I see people in my neighborhood who are still using. I always think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Now, I see all the things I didn’t see all those years. I have a great relationship with my family; my mom has always been there for me. I’m back in touch with three of my children and I’m working on reconnecting with the others. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it if I didn’t have a plan. It starts with one small step: not using. After that, anything is possible.
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.