This year, to celebrate National Recovery Month and her own fifth year in recovery, Sandra Huffman is walking 1,300 miles from Fort Lauderdale to Washington, D.C. Here, we talked with Sandra about her struggle with addiction and how she was inspired to move forward.
Phoenix House: What was your initial experience with addiction?
Sandra Huffman: My adopted parents were alcoholics, and they divorced when I was about two. My mom remarried a doctor, and that’s when things really got interesting; by the time I was seven my stepdad had me taking Ritalin and Donnatal. I remember sneaking downstairs to get more medication and making up stories so my stepdad would increase my dosage. It sounds crazy, but I’ve been an addict since I was seven years old.
PH: Did you or your parents seek substance abuse treatment?
SH: I was in treatment in Pennsylvania during my teens, and my adopted mother also entered treatment around that time. It worked for her—she now has 31 years clean. But it didn’t stick for me that time, and I ended up running away to Fort Lauderdale, FL. I hit the streets and spent more than 30 years in active addiction.
PH: You have three kids, and your oldest daughter was born when you were 15 years old. How did your drug use affect your family life?
SH: It was hard. I went from one violent relationship to another, from one drug to the next. I gave my oldest daughter up for adoption when she was 18 months old, and I kept moving the other kids around the country in an attempt to escape my addictions. But they followed me; while living in Kansas, I became a “meth mom.” I was so out of it I would go on school field trips for classes that my kids weren’t even in.
PH: What was the turning point that motivated you to finally get help?
SH: In my mid-30s I was back out on the streets, in the most violent relationship of my life, and I started using crack. It nearly killed me, but luckily I ended up in jail instead. I was still eligible for drug court because I had miraculously never been to jail before—that’s where I met Judge Marcia Beach, and she loved me until I could love myself. She put me in a 90-day in-custody drug court treatment program, and it really saved my life.
PH: Did you have a positive treatment experience?
SH: Absolutely. After detox, my head started to clear up, and I could really take it all in: the speakers who came in, the group therapy and individual counseling, the readings, the meditation. During my final 30 days in treatment, I made a plan for my future—something I had never done before in my life. And I finally had people to help me execute that plan. I put myself through every program I could; I attended parenting classes, job training, a dual diagnosis program, and a culinary skills class. I even got to bring my son back home.
PH: After completing treatment, how did you become involved with the online recovery community In The Rooms?
SH: They put out a call for interns, and I knew I wanted to be involved in that concept of bringing recovery into the public eye. I’ve been interning them for the past two years. Last year we were in the office watching a guy online who did a 1,300 mile walk from Minnesota to Washington, D.C. in honor of recovery month. I told my colleagues, “I could do that.” I really meant it, and they really believed me. Before, when I was still using, nobody would have ever believed in something I wanted to do. So I took that support and ran with it.
PH: And Sandra’s Walk for Recovery was born! You’ve been walking since June—have there been difficulties along the road?
SH: There have definitely been challenges. I gave up my house to do this, and all my possessions are now in a storage unit in Florida. The biggest struggle, though, has been the stigma that surrounds substance abuse and addiction. There’s been a lot of hesitation and negative vibes from potential sponsors, like “She’s an addict—what if she relapses? How would that make us look?” They don’t want to attach their name or product to something that isn’t a guaranteed win. Nevertheless, we’ve turned this walk into a nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty, grassroots foundation for an even bigger and better walk next year.
PH: What have been some highlights of the walk so far?
SH: I’ve been relying on total strangers, and I’ve had some amazing people step up and help me out along the way, mile by mile. The connections I’ve made have been so valuable, with famous musicians and other pioneers in recovery. My 20-year-old son recently quit his job at a bar and came up to join me. His presence is truly a gift. This whole tour is a gift—I’m not promoting any specific path or program, but instead I’m promoting the pure joy of sobriety and the awesome things that happen in the lives of people everywhere who are in sustained recovery.
PH: Have awesome things happened in your own recovery?
SH: All the time. In sobriety I’ve managed to find my own birth family—seven brothers and sisters. It turns out that one of my brothers is named Robert, just like my son—and they both have red hair and blue eyes! Plus, my oldest daughter is back in my life. Everything has fallen back into place for me, like it has for so many others in long-term recovery. That’s what the world needs to see—they need to see the power of this amazing community, and the beauty of what recovery can accomplish.Back to Index