The search to fill that void in my gut began when I was thirteen years old.  Religion, shoplifting, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and the streets were all attempts to find my place in the world that would end that deep loneliness and void I felt.  I got pregnant when I was 17 years old and believed that a baby would fill that void.  Pregnant again when I was twenty, and married to an alcoholic who did not cooperate with my vision of the perfect family that would fulfill my life, resulted in being a single mother with two small children.  The use of alcohol and crack cocaine began as a means of temporary escape from my reality and progressed so rapidly that it was too late by the time I realized what had happened.  I had crossed an invisible line and could no longer say no or control the obsession to use.  I stopped going to work.  I sold everything I owned including the washing machine.  If it wasn’t attached it was gone.  There were no limits including my children’s things. 

My children

I asked my ex-husband to take them for a couple of days.  A couple of days turned into months.  I became homeless- living out of my car.   All I wanted to do every minute of every day was smoke crack.  There were moments of reality.  The reality that I had abandoned my children, lost everything, and belonged nowhere.  These moments I wanted to die.  I didn’t know how to fix what my life had become so I just kept smoking crack.

One night during a drug transaction my boyfriend was shot.  I stood in the street screaming for help.   When the police came I was still holding the crack pipe in my hand.  The whole time I was at the police station I was thinking that he was in the Hospital and wondering if he got the crack.  When they told me that he was dead I felt like the last thing I had left was gone all because of crack.

I entered a 30-day rehab a week later, January 1995.  I found out that I was pregnant.  My counselor at the rehab completed the referral to the Families in Recovery Program.  I stayed with my brother when I got out of rehab, but I relapsed on March 20, 1995.  The guilt towards using and realization that I could not control the hold that crack had on me despite the devastation and loss it had resulted in, hit me that night.  I called Families in Recovery every week waiting for a bed and finally entered the program in June 1995 with my two children and pregnant.  My children were 5 and 7 years old.

Families in Recovery

When I entered FIRP I had hope that I could rebuild my life.  Being in treatment with my children was hard.  I felt like the worst person in the world.  I was ashamed that I had chosen drugs over my children.  Days at FIRP were long.  Every minute of the day was structured and planned out for me.  I could go on for pages about my experience at FIRP.  I remember pushing my newborn in the stroller, with my two children at my side through snowstorms to go to meetings.  I was told that I needed to go to any lengths to stay clean just as I had gone to any lengths to get high.  I needed that because I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I learned that I had a disease and that I wasn’t a bad person.  I learned that addiction is so powerful that it overrides a mother’s maternal instinct.  The staff cared which was big for me because I didn’t feel worthy of anything.  They helped me with things that I didn’t have the confidence or ability to take care of.  I no longer trusted myself to make good decisions.  Drugs had crept into my life and taken over and I was scared that it could happen again.  I felt safe at FIRP.  I felt safe from myself and knew that the drugs couldn’t get me there.  That may sound funny but that’s how I felt.  I thought that the drugs would get me.  We had a feelings group once a week.  I hated that group because we had to talk about feelings.  I cried every time because I felt like I had destroyed my life and my children.  The good thing about that group was that I learned that I wasn’t alone.  I learned about forgiveness and gained strength from the other women to not give up on myself.  Slowly I began to feel better about myself, and things started to come together.

Recovery: Life After Treatment

I looked forward to going to aftercare because I knew that they knew who I was, understood me, and my struggles.  It was like going home- I felt reassured that people cared about me and supported me.  Life after FIRP continued to be hard but nothing seemed as hard as the road I had traveled thus far.  I started working again and went back to college.  In 1999 I got a job at FIRP as a case manager. In 2000 I graduated from Gateway Community College and became certified as a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Counselor.  I continued to work at FIRP as a counselor.

In 2003 I was offered a job in Richmond, Virginia, to manage a Women with Children Treatment Program.   When I went to Virginia to tour the program I was overcome with sadness towards the quality of treatment that the women with children were receiving and realized how fortunate I had been at FIRP.  I struggled with what I should do.  FIRP was my home however I had learned over the years that things happen for a reason and there must be a reason that this opportunity had been presented to me.  I moved to Virginia with the man who is now my husband and our seven children.

When I sit and reflect on my journey thus far I am amazed at my life today.  It has exceeded anything that I could have imagined when I entered treatment.  I have had the opportunity to be present in my children and grandchildren’s lives, to be treated like a princess by a great husband, to own my own home, to return to college, and to witness the spark of hope and success in the women I work with as their lives transform.   It is my hope that I have been able to provide the same love, hope, and belief in the mothers who struggle with addiction in Virginia that I received at FIRP.

Although the journey has been difficult and continues to present with life challenges I wouldn’t change a thing about it.  I must admit that sometimes I am so overwhelmed with awe and gratitude towards my life that I almost can’t believe it is what it is.  That empty, lonely void that I carried inside of me is no longer there and has been replaced with a sense of never really being alone, surrounded by love and miracles in the people that continue to touch my life and heart with so much hope and strength.

My name is Joy and I’m a recovering addict. Everything I know and who I am all started at FIRP.  I carry it all with me daily and there are no words that could describe the gratitude I carry in my heart for the journey that I have had the opportunity to travel.