Angie was the Heroes in Recovery Award Recipient at Moments of Change Conference 2013.
How did you begin your journey to recovery?
I was intervened on by law enforcement. I don’t know how to tell my story but one way. I started drinking when I was 12. I come from a family of alcoholics and addicts, so that was pretty normal. That is just what I kind of thought people did. I had a lot of abuse in my background, all kinds of abuse. I was already hurting and broken, and, when I found alcohol, it was relief. Alcohol was my best friend from that day, until I was 32. Alcohol was there. I partied a lot during high school, and I always hung out with the group of people who were doing drugs. I constantly compared my inside to everybody else’s outside, and I never measured up. Alcohol leveled the playing field for me. I felt like I was a part of something, and all my insecurities went away. But alcohol led to other things. Harder drugs like marijuana, cocaine and eventually crystal methamphetamine, which stole my soul.
I had gotten in trouble with the law a couple of times and had a couple of drug arrests. My sister was a police officer, and my brother-in-law was a narcotics agent, so they enabled me unknowingly. They thought, “We don’t want her to have a felony on her record,” so they pulled strings and got me out of trouble, until the third time I got in trouble. I called my sister from jail, and she said to me, “Someone told me that I was loving you to death. It is very hard for me to say no to you. I am just not going to be able to take your phone calls anymore.”
I was devastated. I felt rejected, and then I was angry. Who told her that? But this was probably the beginning of the end. My sister was the last enabler for me. And instead of realizing, “Okay, I’ve run everybody away,” I kind of threw my hands up and said, “What’s the use?” I went really hard for another year, until my final arrest, which was a possession charge, when I was looking at eight years in prison. I was suicidal, I had lost custody of my children and I had been kicked out of school. I had worked eight years to get into this physical therapy program, and, because I was in jail and missed class, I got kicked out. I just felt like I had lost everything. I was living in a storage building. I couldn’t go within 500 ft. of my children or their schools or my own home.
I went to treatment, because I thought it would keep me out of jail or would at least look good when I went to court. I knew I was going to have to go to court. I went to a small treatment center with a 12-step based program. I stayed there for 94 days. All I can say is, the miracle happened. I went there to stay out of trouble, and what I got was so much more. I had had this estranged relationship with God. I think growing up my idea of God was a police-officer God. He was waiting for you to mess up, so he could strike you down. I don’t even know where I got that idea. I had gone to all different kinds of churches. Growing up I always felt like there was something wrong with me. I had some sexual abuse, and I somehow saw that as my responsibility, and I felt like I was evil. I went to probably five or six different churches and different denominations of churches hoping to get it right, to figure it out, and I got baptized at all of them. Because I wanted to make sure I did it the right way. I kept thinking if I did that, then I would somehow earn God’s approval.
While I was in treatment, there was a gentleman who would come on Sundays and do a devotion with clients. I had already had a spark of hope from outside people who had come into the treatment center and told their story. Initially I would hear people tell their story, and I would think to myself, “I’m really glad this worked out for you, but you’re not as bad as me. You just don’t understand my story.” Then this guy came in who has six years clean, and he told his story and the only difference was our drug of choice.
Mine was crystal methamphetamine, and his was crack. He had ended up living in a storage building. That got my attention! He, maybe, was as bad as me. He had six years clean, and that was hope for me. The 12-step people coming in and telling their story in our treatment center was really what gave me that mustard seed of hope, and then this guy came on Sundays. It was voluntary. We didn’t have to go, but I did, because I didn’t have anything else going on on a Sunday. It was entertaining to listen to him play his guitar and sing too. He did this whole piece on forgiveness. He asked if any of us wanted to stay afterward and talk to him about forgiveness. I had been working on resentments. I had been talking a lot to my counselor about abuse, and I knew there were people that I needed to stop resenting. If I didn’t, I could relapse over that. So I stayed after to try to talk to this man, and I told him I have some forgiveness issues I need to deal with. He wanted to pray with me. He started to pray about MY forgiveness. I opened my eyes and said, “No. I am not talking about MY forgiveness, I’m talking about how I need to forgive other people.”
I wasn’t close with God at all. I just didn’t have the concept of God-loves-me-no-matter-what, although someone at the treatment center did eventually tell me that. About a week later I was called to the front, and I was told someone had left a gift for me. It was that gentleman, and he had come back and dropped off a book. It was Max Lucado’s “In the Grip of Grace.” I read the book, and it explained grace. I didn’t know what grace was, but I finally got it. I didn’t have to do anything. I could just be me. There was forgiveness for that. Huge relief came with that knowledge, and I prayed for the first time. The last time I had prayed to God, I was asking Him to NOT let me wake up. I woke up angry, pissed at God because he was going to make me live. That day everything changed. I don’t know how to explain it. I think Christians call it “getting saved.” I am a Christian, and I am a baby Christian. I know there was a paradigm shift. I felt safe enough that day to turn my life over to a power greater than me and hopefully greater than crystal meth. I had had faith. I just put it in the wrong things. I put it in Jim Beam and crystal meth, but I wanted to find something more powerful than crystal meth, and I thought maybe God was that something.
After discovering God the colors were more vivid. I noticed things like which the direction the birds were flying and that there were birds in the sky at all. I paid attention to things. I realized I had been walking through a gray existence, and it all changed that day.
While I was in class one day, I thought about how many people outside of that treatment center just did not understand me or addiction and how unfortunate it was. The people in this treatment center were not highly-paid people. They were doing this because they cared, and I knew that. I just remember sitting there thinking, “If I can stay clean, when I leave here I hope that I can be one of those people. I hope that I can be someone who helps people like me, because I am so grateful that there was someone there to help me.” So I went to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
I started working at a treatment center, and I was the vice president of operations over its three programs. However I was not working with addicts at all. I enjoyed my work, and I was good at it, but I was missing something. It wasn’t what I came into this field to do. I was offered a job as an interventionist. It was a big leap of faith, because interventions are feast or famine. I had a nice salary coming in, and that felt secure to me, but, if there is anything I have learned in recovery, it is that when something feels secure it’s often a false sense of security. I hold on to things out of a false sense of security. Letting go allows me to exercise my faith, so I let go of that job and started doing interventions. Now I work with addicts, and I am right in the trenches, and I love it!
What about your children?
After treatment I immediately got custody of my children. My children’s great-grandmother, my ex-husband’s grandmother, started taking them to a local church that I became a part of when I got out. This was really good, because I lived in the same area as the drug addicts I had been associated with. My new stomping grounds became church and 12-step meetings.
I didn’t have a close relationship with my mom growing up. I moved out of my house, when I was 14. I didn’t have a lot of domestic skills., so I had to find some humility and talk to the women both in my support group meetings. I don’t know how to cook. I am terrible at cleaning my house. I am not really sure how to be a mother, except I kind of know what NOT to do. I had to let them know that I needed some guidance. I was so blessed to have this group of women who really surrounded me and sort of tucked me under their wing and held me up through the first few years of my early recovery.
My children’s father is also an alcoholic. He went to treatment when I got home but relapsed and continued to drink. At that point my choice was to stay married or to stay clean. I had been married for 14 years. I chose to stay clean. We got a divorce, I got the kids and my children are beautiful. At that time my son was 12, and he is now about to turn 20. My girls are 14 and 11, happy and healthy. They have asked me to speak at a drug awareness event for their school. I really thought my children would be ashamed of me or embarrassed of my background, but instead they see my story as a wonderful, beautiful example of what God can do, and it’s incredible. I am very grateful. I feel like my children were preserved by the hand of God.
My recovery continues. I have been in therapy since 2009 and probably always will be. I am always growing and always finding something new to work on.
If you were to impart words to someone who has not yet found recovery or is early in their recovery what would you tell them?
I think, for someone who is trying to find recovery, the thing I would tell them first is, “You are worth it!” I have never met an addict who knew they were worth it. Usually when I tell them they’re worth it, it brings tears to their eyes. It is really hard for them to accept that, and, if they don’t believe that, I tell them to keep doing the next right thing and you’ll believe it eventually. The more right things you do, the more you can feel good about yourself. They’re not upset about the drugs they’ve done. They’re upset about the things they did while they were on drugs. I always point out that what you do and who you are are two completely separate things. We are not the things we do. We are who we are, and we are beautiful people. The things that we do are just a symptom of our illness. I share my story, because that is what worked for me. Sharing your story, throwing it all out there and walking past the shame is the best way to give hope to someone struggling with addiction.
For people who are already in recovery, things come up. We have spent a lifetime coping with life in unhealthy ways, so when we get clean we still have to learn coping skills. Something that has been very beneficial to me has been intensive. Recovery is so much more than staying clean. It’s about learning to accept life on life’s terms. I am not good at that. If I am not okay inside, I am not okay period. I don’t treat people the same. I am overly critical. I am judgmental. I know when that starts to happen to me that it’s not about them, it’s about me. The only time I need to put other people down is when I’m feeling really small and I’m trying to make myself bigger. When I start to notice those behaviors in myself, I know it is time to work.
Trauma work for me has been a big piece. That has to be done in a safe environment, when the issue starts to arise. I think they bubble up when God knows we are ready to deal with them.