True Story: Vanessa

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

VanessaAt the age of six, I was raped by an older family member. He threatened to kill my mother if I told anyone, so I stayed silent. No one knew but myself and God. I kept that secret for forty years.

After the rape, there were other incidents of touching and fondling, and then I didn’t see my abuser again till I was a teenager. That’s when I started experimenting with marijuana. At 19, I tried coke with some friends and I just kept getting into it more and more. I didn’t realize I was using it to numb my pain.

After my third year of college, I dropped out, got married, and had a child. My husband was shot and he left town to protect his life. I never saw him again. I was alone with the baby, and I started using more coke. My abuser came back into my life and my drug use just kept escalating.

I always managed to hold down a job. My son kept me going. I knew I had to be there for him and thank God, he turned out to be a wonderful young man. He did well in school and he was never in trouble with the law. When he was 19, he left for the military. That’s when I realized it was finally time to focus on me. I prayed to God to give me the strength to face my fears. I talked to a church member about my drug use and she referred me to Phoenix House. I left everything behind and came to treatment the following Monday.

The minute I walked through the doors of the Long Island City Center, I knew I was going to get better. I was thirsty to be better. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t know who I was or who I was destined to be. I wanted to know the real Vanessa. I never looked back.

After about three months in the program, I missed a group counseling session. I never missed group, so my counselor found me and asked me what was wrong. I broke down and said that I had been molested. She immediately took me to see the psychiatrist and for the first time, I was able to talk about my rape and all the years of abuse. I had been depressed for several years, and I was diagnosed with PTSD. Not long after that, I was diagnosed with another illness that had to be managed and immediately began treatment. That was a difficult time for me and in the old days, I would have gotten high, but I didn’t. Phoenix House taught me that I have the courage to fight anything as long as I’m clean and sober. I learned to take it one day at a time, utilize my peers, and recognize triggers. Most importantly, I learned that I have to stay in touch with my feelings, rather than suppressing them as I had for so long.

I stayed at the Long Island City Center for 15 months and I’ve been in aftercare at the Jack Aron Center in Manhattan for the past seven months. Luckily, after 30 days in treatment, I was able to go back to my job in health care; I’ve been able to work during the day and come back to Phoenix House at night. In two weeks, I’m going to live in an apartment with my parents. My family has always been there for me. My son is my biggest supporter. When he drove me to Phoenix House for the first time, he said, “Mom, what is this place for?” I told him that I had some issues I had to work out with alcohol and he said, “But Mom, you never drink.” He didn’t know about my coke addiction and I wasn’t ready to share. Six months into the program, I finally came clean to him about my addiction and all the hurt, pain, and shame that led to it. Today, he’s proud of me; he’s in college now and he has a great GPA.

I can honestly say that Phoenix House gave me a portion of my life back. God gave me one part, I gave myself another part, and Phoenix House gave me the third part. I felt safe there and I knew I could air out what I needed to. I also want to thank Pastor Michael A. Walrond, Jr. for always supporting me and reminding me to dream—and dream big. Once I gave up the guilt I had for using all those years and realized why I never told my secret, I could face my demons. Today, I’ve been sober for 22 months. One of the best moments of my sobriety was watching Barack Obama’s inauguration last fall. The first time he was elected, I was sitting in front of my TV, high as a kite. The second time, I went to Washington, D.C. and watched it in person. It was an incredible feeling to be there sober.

Now, I’m looking forward to getting my own apartment and going back to school. I had one year left of college when I dropped out in my twenties, but even if my credits don’t carry over, I don’t mind starting over. I’m hoping to get my Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) degree. I really want to give back.

For so long, I was too embarrassed to go to treatment because I didn’t want that stigma, “Oh, she’s in rehab.” But it got to the point where it didn’t matter what other people thought. I came to Phoenix House for me—and it has made all the difference.

If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.

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  • Melody Perez

    I see these clients everyday and I must say I never dare ask why some are here even though some do tell without asking if they feel comfortable talking. Congratulations to Vanessa who I see often I pray to god that when you leave Phoenix House he stays right by your side. There’s nothing like family and it looks like you have a great one by your side. much success in your future endeavors. It’s never to late to go back to school i’m sure you will do great. Best of luck to you and your family.

  • Andrena

    Congrats Vanessa!!! 25 grateful sober years, here. “L.I.C … the place to be”! Continue doing you! One day at a time!!!

    drop me a line!

  • Khaalida

    I’m so happy for you and your story is inspiring. I’m may not be able to relate to the abuse but I can’t relate to the fears and judgment of life and people and you have done exceptionally well. I am grateful for you. Thank you for sharing your struggle and who knows how many people will fight because of your story. You always give words of wisdom and you are special to me. I love you and continue to create your big dream.

  • Noland Caldwell

    Always let your drams be bigger
    than your fears.
    Your Actions louder than your

    Dream on!


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