True Story: Erica and Joan

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

More than 15 years ago, Joan Hajjar was living on the edge. Homeless and without hope, her daily existence revolved around her next drug or drink. Determined to beat her addiction, she entered Phoenix House in 1993, where she found the tools to reclaim her life. Now serving as director of Phoenix House’s AmeriCorps and Youth Power Mentoring Corps programs, she was recently honored as one of the twelve OASAS Spotlight Individuals for National Recovery Month. Here, her daughter, Erica, shares her perspective on her mother’s journey—and the bond they’ve formed.

Erica and Joan: A True Story of Addiction and RecoveryIf you saw my mother and me today, you probably wouldn’t guess that I didn’t really know her until I was a teenager.

When I was four, she made the most difficult decision a parent can make. Battling addiction, she realized that she couldn’t raise me in the way she felt I deserved. For my own wellbeing, she decided it was best that I leave her care and live with my paternal grandparents.

For the next ten years, I saw her only occasionally—even though we lived not too far from one another in Brooklyn. I didn’t resent her (from the beginning, my grandparents taught me that she did what she had to do), but at the same time, we didn’t have much of a connection.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that we began to form the close relationship we have now. By then, she was clean and had started working at Phoenix House. She reached out to me and we began seeing each other more frequently on weekends. If it weren’t for Phoenix House, I wouldn’t have her here with me today.

At 26, I’ve pushed the rare flashbacks of my parents fighting to the deepest parts of my brain—and instead, focus on the wonderful memories my mother and I have worked so hard to create. I think of the volunteering I’ve done with her at Phoenix House—where I’ve had the chance to see the incredible work she does. And I think how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know her side of the family.

Through the years, we’ve come to an understanding. I am who I am and she can’t do anything to change my ways, so she only gives me encouragement and support with all of my endeavors.

Most of all, I appreciate the important lesson she’s taught me: with patience and understanding, a person can truly get through any hardship. It doesn’t hurt to have a little faith in God as well.

My mother’s name is Joan, so I always make the association with Joan of Arc. She’s the best candidate to be chosen as one of the twelve OASAS Spotlight Stories. While addiction is a vicious, chronic condition, she has taken control of her disease—and come out on top.
Erica Olsen

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  • Having known Joan for several years and having co-presented with her about her process of recovering her role as a mother over the course of her recovery from addiction, it is so heartwarming to me to read your words, Erica.

  • I’ve known Ms. Joan for 5 years, we first met when I was a patient at the Phoenix House Academy in Brooklyn, She encouraged me to become a member of AmeriCorps, I must say the experience was wonderful and rewarding, I have learned so much from Joan and AmeriCorps training. I am proud to say that Joan is a winner in my eyes and heart, Ms. Joan please keep up the good works that you provide as a Mom to your daughter and to some of us when we need u to be that person, God Bless You!!.

    AmeriCorps Member/Graduate.

    Renee S.

  • Andy

    Thank you Joan & Erica for sharing. Huzzah!

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