True Story: Mary

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

MaryI’m the second oldest of six children. I grew up in Indiana and Illinois, went to Catholic school and got a college degree. When my father passed away we moved to California, and – long story short – I got married. My husband was an alcoholic and unemployed and I remember coming home and he’d be sober all of a sudden, really quick. I didn’t know how he was doing it. One day he asked if I wanted anything from the store, and I said, “I want whatever it is you’re taking.” Because I knew he would drink and then take something to get sober—and that was what I wanted to try. So he got me some, and that’s how I was introduced to methamphetamines.

I was a user for the next ten or so years. I would buy drugs, and sell drugs, and steal for drugs, and I won’t pretend I didn’t get into the prostitution part of that lifestyle. When my son was twelve years old my daughter, who was an adult by then, came and told me that she’d just gotten a house and wanted her brother to come and live with her. She said he would be better off, what with my drug use and all. Of course I didn’t react well to this at first, but the next day I called my daughter and I told her she was right. So my son went to live with her.

My rock bottom happened in a couple of steps. First, I got arrested for shoplifting at my daughter’s store while she was the manager on duty. Then, while I was in prison on burglary charges, I remember getting a letter from my son that really hit home. I had always gotten him every gadget or toy he wanted – whether I bought it, stole it, or traded drugs for it – and he wrote me this letter saying, “Mom, I’d give all those things back if I could just have you back at home with me.” That’s when I knew how much I had really and truly screwed up.

I was first introduced to the idea of treatment while I was in prison. They asked me if I had a drug problem and my answer – I’m not kidding – was “My only drug problem is when my dealer doesn’t have any drugs!” They laughed at me, but I was completely serious. That’s how bad the sickness was for me. Anyway, the folks from Phoenix House visited the prison and I spent a few months really trying to decide whether or not to go to treatment when I got out. The thing is, I knew I’d get cash when I was paroled, and I knew I could use that to get myself an apartment and make money doing the things I did best—like selling drugs. But something about that letter from my son stuck with me, and so I found the strength to do it: I went into treatment at the Phoenix House facility in Monrovia as soon as I got out.

I was the first female admitted to their Mother and Child program, but unfortunately my son couldn’t live with me there since he was already 13 and too old. Still, he and my daughter came to family counseling and were actively involved in my treatment. With Phoenix House’s help, I was able to get clean and rebuild my family from the dysfunctional mess it had become. Treatment was a life-saver for me. At first, of course, I hated it—I hated it because the things people were saying to me were so true and painful. But eventually I grew to love the program and, more importantly, to love myself.

When I graduated I became a counselor and worked at Phoenix House for the next eight years, eventually becoming Admissions Coordinator. When I moved on from Phoenix House I became a transitional counselor for women in the prison system. Those women always ask me, “What’s different about you? Why didn’t you end up back in prison? What made you stop?” And I tell them: it’s because of treatment. Treatment works.

Today, I’m back home living near my family—my son lives a couple of blocks away and my daughter is in the same condo complex as me. I have two beautiful grandchildren whom I see all the time. It’s the children who are my real passion; they’re amazing. In my childhood development classes in college I learned that kids learn more in the first five years of their life than in the entire rest of their lives. That’s why it’s so important to set a good example, and that’s what I’m doing, now, for them. Pretty soon I’ll celebrate my twelfth year sober, and my family couldn’t be more proud.

My son is a single parent now, and he’s had custody of his eight-year-old daughter since she was one and a half. When she was very young he got a DUI and went to jail for thirty days. When he came back, he told me he would never drink and drive again. I said, “Well, sure, but never say never!” But he said, “No, mom. I mean never. I was away from my daughter for thirty days. I remember how that feels—you used to go to jail for months at a time. I’m never going to be away from my daughter again.” And I believe him. It’s amazing, the things you learn. Recovery teaches you something every day.

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