True Story: Vivian

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Vivian2I was always a great student, so I went to a two-year program where I skipped from the 7th to the 9th grade. All of a sudden, I was in high school at the age of 13. I started drinking because I wanted to fit in with the older kids and be popular. My parents were old-fashioned and strict, but I was headstrong. I started isolating myself from my family and making more and more bad decisions.

It all caught up to me when I got pregnant at 15. My boyfriend and I left New York and moved to Puerto Rico, but things weren’t so good there either. We were teen parents with no jobs. Eventually, I took my son and went to live with my uncle in Baltimore. I was 16 years old and couldn’t get a job, so I tried stripping. I began hanging out with pimps and prostitutes, and experimenting with cocaine. I always said I would never sell my body, but that whole lifestyle sucked me in. Before long, I was selling drugs, too.

When I was 23, I tried crack. I thought I was doing badly before, but that’s when I really hit bottom. I don’t know how, but one year turned into twenty. I went on to have a total of seven children. I just didn’t have any love for myself and I didn’t realize I wouldn’t find it in the streets.

I ended up back in New York, living basically anywhere. At one point, I sold to an undercover cop and was mandated to treatment. I stayed clean for four years, but then I relapsed in 2000. Soon after that, I got rearrested for selling heroin. I was on probation already, but the judge offered me another chance at treatment. That’s how I landed at the Phoenix House Career Academy in Brooklyn. The staff genuinely cared for me. Phoenix House has changed a lot since then, but the messages remain the same—like taking it one day at time.

I completed treatment successfully, but I relapsed again maybe a year later. I got raped in the streets and lost my housing assistance. At that point, I didn’t care about anything. I was living under a bridge. My family members would stop and cry when they saw me. They didn’t understand addiction. I thought, This is how I’m going to die. I witnessed people getting killed right in front of my eyes.

After all that insanity, I caught another drug charge. I said I wouldn’t do another treatment program, so I got sent to Riker’s Island. I went through withdrawal in jail and I was sick as a dog. I had scars everywhere from picking my skin. Eventually, I got in a fight with one of the other inmates, and they put me in solitary confinement for 40 days. I finally said, “Hey, what the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life?” The day I got released from prison, another woman said to me, “You’ll be back.” But I said, “No. I have a plan.”

The moment I set foot in my old neighborhood in the Bronx, people said, “Hey, you look good! I got a little something for you.” But I refused the drugs. It was October and I was wearing flip-flops. All I had were the clothes on my back. I found a three-quarter house and while I was there, I learned about Phoenix House’s Bronx Community Recovery Center (BCRC). Someone told me that I should share my story there. I said to myself, “I’m going!” That place became my safe haven. They were the bridge that allowed me to get my life back. I found myself in a loving environment where everyone had an open door. I started going to the Center every day and then I became a volunteer. Whether it was going to a health fair or participating on the Center’s basketball team, I was there. I helped other people in recovery with their resumes, dealing with legal issues—whatever they needed. I found that helping somebody else helped me sustain my own recovery. If it weren’t for the Center and the people there, I wouldn’t be here today.

Now, I’ve been clean for over three years. I’ve worked as an alumni coordinator and an administrative assistant at Phoenix House, gotten married, and had a baby girl. Since then, I’ve had so many new experiences—paying my bills, keeping an apartment, and staying sober even through a layoff.

Sometimes, I see people in my neighborhood who are still using. I always think, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Now, I see all the things I didn’t see all those years. I have a great relationship with my family; my mom has always been there for me. I’m back in touch with three of my children and I’m working on reconnecting with the others. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it if I didn’t have a plan. It starts with one small step: not using. After that, anything is possible.

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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Filed Under: New York, 


  • Olga M. Lopez


  • Antoinette Weish

    I luv you Vivian and am so proud of you.
    You are an amazing woman with the tenacity to continuously persevere. There is much more
    Beautiful things in store for you Insha Allah Ameen!

  • Jen Lancaster

    Hello my son is using drugs. Wright now he is in adcare but after that I not sure if he would come to your program I wish he would but he is 23 now . Ty Jen lancaster

  • alharris


    Thank so much for reaching out. Asking for help is so important and we wanted to make sure we reached you right away. Can you please let us know where you’re located? That way we’ll be able to put you in touch with a clinician at one of our programs near you. You can also call 888 286 5027 and someone will be able to talk with you about your son’s needs and the programs we have in your area. Best of luck and we hope to serve you soon!

  • Aja

    I am so proud of you, Vivian! You have come so far, and it is truly a blessing to know you. You have so much to offer and I hope that you will continue to share your story, and inspire others to believe that recovery is possible!

  • Emily

    As I read your story and others I sit here and tears in my eyes, but with new hope! My daughter 32 this year has missed 3 or 4 Christmas’s as well has her birthday and mine. She is currently in jail here in Florida waiting decision for drug court and rehab placement. I pray that she also will be ready, willing and able to complete program and come back to her family. Reading your story is like looking at her life, before you got to rehab. God bless you and keep you strong in your recovery and new life for the rest of your life.

  • Nichelle

    As I read your story I found a true connection of how much our lives in areas have been the same and can relate to certain things.. I started to have tears fill my eyes and goose bumps all over from the connection of your story… I can not wait to enter the journey of a new life!!!!

    All I can say is thank you for that!!!!!!!

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