When I was in high school, I started smoking weed on occasion with my friends. Shortly after that I was doing lines of cocaine, and that escalated to methamphetamine use. I had a really good upbringing but I had self-esteem issues, and I’d mask them by using these substances. I wonder what was going on with me that made me need to get high? I guess it was just a feeling of acceptance; drug users were people I felt like I could identify with because they didn’t judge me. I felt welcomed. Sure, I’d have periods where I’d quit using, but then I’d just start up again. I was addicted to methamphetamines, off and on, for more than 20 years.
I was moving around a lot. I would live with boyfriend or my mom or whomever. Everybody I knew was so sick of my crap—of course my family loved me, but there’s always a point in time where they say, “enough is enough.” That lifestyle of addiction is really rough because you can’t hold down a job—you can’t do anything normal because you’re too busy trying to find the money for your next high. So I started doing illegal stuff to get money, and that’s when I started getting arrested. I’ve been to prison four times on drug-related charges; I totally destroyed my life with those felonies.
I just couldn’t stay away from drugs, and I didn’t know how to ask for help or where to go. I remember sitting in jail this last time and looking at myself, 42 years old, realizing that I had just thrown away the best years of my life and I could never get them back. That realization devastated me to the point where I just cried for a week. I thought, “This is it. I can’t do this anymore.” So I decided to voluntarily go into residential treatment at Phoenix House of Santa Fe Springs. I’d been incarcerated for nine months, and in June of 2010 the Phoenix House folks came and picked me up and took me to treatment—and I never looked back.
Treatment was such a valuable experience. The program I attended was women and children only, and I loved the structure of the program. More than that, I love Phoenix House and what they stand for—how they help people identify issues, take initiative, work on things, support each other. I just think it’s the best program there is. When I completed residential treatment, I did outpatient for a while and went straight into sober living, where I live to this day. I really love it here; me and the other girls in the house, we have meetings and we’re accountable for everything we do. It’s a really good environment.
Family reunification was one of the first things I needed focus on after treatment, because I had detached myself from my family over last seven years of my addiction. That was what I had been missing more than anything—when you’re struggling with addiction, seeing your family is the last thing you want to do. But I have great ties with all of them now, and we’re really close again. Everybody lives all over the country but we keep in touch and spend the holidays together. Today, I’m in college for drug and alcohol counseling, family studies, and human services—college has been the best experience of my life. I go to Phoenix House every Tuesday to work with girls who are getting ready to phase out of treatment, and I’m starting an internship there this month as well. It’s so cool—when you finally make the conscious decision to change your life, doors just open for you.
I’m still in touch with a lot of my friends from the treatment program; we had an alumni meeting there last night, and there are more of us going to those meetings now than ever before. We talk to the girls who are in treatment, tell them what we’re doing these days, let them know that recovery is doable. We let them know that if they run into problems in the future, there are ways to get through that without running back to addiction. Those girls are scared, they want so much to go down the right path. It’s so important for us alumni to take what we’ve learned and the perspective we all have now, and to share that with those girls. That’s what it’s all about: recovery. I tell the girls, “If I can do it, you can do it.” And I know they will.