When I landed at Phoenix House in June of 2008, I was a 42-year-old single mom who had been using crack cocaine for four years. I had a good lawyer who got me into Phoenix House after I served 77 days in jail for a grand theft charge.
Early on, Phoenix House assigned me my “Big Sister,” a Colombian woman named Ana Hernandez, and I will never forget what she told me. “I am going to show you how to do it the right way,” she said. “You’re going to see people who do it the wrong way, but it will be your choice whether you do it the right way or the wrong way.” Later on, when I got a “Little Sister,” I taught her the same thing, and she taught it to her own “Little Sister.” I was at Phoenix House for 13 months, so I really got to see this progress, watch things moving forward.
At first, I hated the place. I was stuck there with no makeup, no drugs, just learning the philosophy. Then, at some point a light just came on in my head. “Just sit down and listen to what we have to say,” one counselor told me, “and then, maybe, it’ll all sink in.” He was right.
So I started going to groups and became involved within the program. There were so many men in the house, and there were only 32 of us women, so I really felt like I had to set an example for the younger girls. I got involved in the Encounters groups, and to this day I still use the skills I learned there: reading people, noticing how they talk and being aware of how they present themselves.
Soon, the cloud started to lift – I was journaling, my counselor was helping me work through my guilt and shame, and I was starting to get a little bit of relief. There was a gentleman at Phoenix House who taught me how to read the bible, and I started meditating and praying every morning.
I left Phoenix House in June of 2009 and graduated in February of 2010. I went back in front of the judge and he released me early for outpatient treatment, which was really great because it gave me a network when I came back to my hometown. I’ve been a hairdresser for 23 years, and the salon I I used to work for let me go on a medical leave when I went into treatment at Phoenix House. Two of the ladies who work for the salon are recovering addicts, and one of them said, “when you’re ready to get your job back, let me know.” So I did. Between those two ladies and Phoenix House, I was really given a second chance, and I will never forget that.
Today, I’m back at home and back at work. I’m trying to help out at the jail, attend some of their meetings so that I can reach those woman that really need inspiration. I’m also thinking of going back to school to become a substance abuse counselor—I truly feel that this is my calling.
I know in my heart that if I hadn’t spent two years at Phoenix House to heal, I would still be out there doing drugs. Phoenix House gave me the tools that I needed. A lot of women go to treatment without knowing how to pay a bill or make a bed—some of us just need to be re-trained, and Phoenix House re-trained me. They went about it the right way, taking baby steps.
My counselor used to say, “Julie, just follow the process.” And I used to think, “what the hell does that mean?” Now I know that recovery is definitely a process. It’s like peeling an onion; getting through the tough layers to your core foundation. That’s what Phoenix House taught me.