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Recovery Happens
Personal stories of hope, resilience and recovery

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Each Recovery Month, we highlight the incredible journeys of individuals from all walks of life who have found recovery. They are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and show that treatment is effective and people do recover.  We hope these stories encourage others to seek help – and to know that recovery is always possible.

Janice 

It has been such a long and tedious journey. I stayed in the darkness for so long, I did not think I would ever be able to see the light. It was no one’s fault but my own. I was comfortable, so I chose to stay there, falling deeper and deeper into seclusion. I had no idea that I could live any other way – and be happy at that! It felt impossible. Then one day, 25 years ago, it happened. On November 11, 1992 God allowed me one more chance to get it right.

I grew up in San Mateo with four brothers, one sister and great parents who both worked and were able to afford a nice neighborhood for us to live in, good schools, and a fairly decent childhood. We did everything as a family – camping, fishing, bowling, and getaways.

I loved reading and did pretty well in school. I kept to myself most times. It wasn’t until I got into high school that I decided I wanted to be a part of the “in” crowd. I started hanging out with students who were cutting class, drinking, smoking pot and dropping acid. I slacked off and my grades and attendance began to decline. I did not like the way drinking and smoking pot made me feel, so I tried snorting cocaine. I loved the way it allowed me to escape into someone other than myself. I believe this was when my addiction started, though I had no idea at the time. I was only 17 years old.

I got hooked fast, and my life truly changed for the worst. I started drinking on a regular basis and using cocaine daily. My days became nights and my nights became days. I slept during the day and ran the streets at night looking for someone – anyone - to get some drugs.

As my addiction began to spin out of control, I got sloppy. I made stupid choices that had me cycling in and out of jail. This kept up for years until I was sentenced to three years in the women’s prison in Frontera, CA. There, I decided that I better take the time to find out who I really was and what I was going to do upon my release. If being locked up for 19 months taught me anything, it’s that your freedom is a precious gift from God, and not to allow anything or anyone to take it away from you.

After being released, I abided by the laws, started looking for work and made some great changes in my life, but there was still a void in my life, and I was not sure how to fill it. I went right back to the same circle of friends, and immediately started the downward spiral again.

I ended up getting arrested again and was given the choice to either go back to prison or seek some type of inpatient treatment, and I chose the latter. I entered Hope House Drug program on November 11, 1992, and this is where my wellness began.

Through the program I was able to find out who I was, and gained coping skills to get me through life. I found out how to love myself, without the use of drugs and alcohol, and I love me today.

I have come to realize that no matter what happens along the life journey, it is important that we step back, pause and think about it, pray that we make the right decision for ourselves.  I have a good life. Have there been struggles?  Absolutely, but I work through them and move on. Today, I am blessed.

Danny

How I Feel When I Am Well

So, when I feel well I guess you can say I’m on top of my game.
When I feel well, you can say I am at peace with myself.
Being well lets me show up, and suit up and attack life on life’s terms.
Being well lets me be a son to my mom and family man.
When I’m well I’m connected with my God. When I’m well I take my meds on time.
When I’m well I’m a team player.
When I’m well I give back to my community.

Rosemary

I am a 23 year-old woman. My story began before I was born. I know nothing of my biological father except his name, that he was a drug addict and a kleptomaniac. My biological mother was also addicted to hard drugs, which they did together even while she was pregnant. They had a meth lab that burnt down the home we lived in when I was a baby. After that we lived in a storage shed and she fed me and my brother newspaper. At 18 months old, I was adopted by my uncle, who himself struggled with substance use issues.

My uncle, who I now call father, raised me on the streets from the time I was 7, and we did what we could to survive. Though my uncle taught me how to use knives and fight to protect myself, I quickly learned that a young girl was fresh meat to predatory men. I fell victim to rape several times.

I became fiercer as I grew older. I first smoked weed at 8 years old and became a daily user by the time I was 12. I was also addicted to cigarettes, and I started drinking and trying other drugs. I had a cocaine problem for a while. I had a meth problem as well. I had run-ins with the law for possession and theft. Each time I was placed at a group home or foster home I ran away and skipped school. I didn’t care. I felt misunderstood and abandoned. This behavior was hardwired in my DNA and it was so hard to break free.

But I did. I found myself pregnant, facing five years in prison for robbery. This was my rock bottom. The thought of having my son taken at birth was frightening. I ended up getting 4 years of probation and 6 months in a treatment facility, Hope House, where I was able to keep my son and have visitation with his father.

I am now the proud mother of a beautiful 1 1/2 year-old boy. I’ve been in a stable place for three years now and, I’m in a loving and happy relationship. I am clean and happy.

This didn’t happen overnight. I worked so hard to get here. I wanted to change so badly. Something in my DNA said, you are meant for more. I didn’t want to die in the streets like so many of my friends. I’m forever grateful for everything I’ve been through – good and bad -because I love who I am today.

My uncle has gotten clean and become a grandfather to my son. His ex-wife has become like a mother to me. She has become a wonderful and supportive mother and grandmother to my son and I. I learned to trust again, thanks to my boyfriend, therapist and counselors. I truly know happiness and love now.

I held on to every scrap of hope I could in my darkest state. I’ve been torn completely apart by this world and reconstructed into a new state of being and way of thinking. My mind is clearer and I am wiser. I stay out of trouble because I want my son to have good role models.

No matter how deep you are in the pit of drugs and alcohol, and no matter how hardwired your body and mind is to use, you can fight it. I am living proof. I want my story to be shared. Maybe it will help someone live to fight another day.

John

Life had slipped away from me.
With a drink in my hand, the day turned to a night of fevered dreams.
A partition would unfold and refold repeatedly in my mind every day.
Everything separated from me, my brain sated with alcohol.

My fiancé and I did have a very romantic courtship,
constantly writing love letters to each other through the days.
That warmth came over me when I held and kissed her.
Our eyes sharing our souls in a glance.

That later changed.
But during our marriage I met a good drinking companion and 
friend in business.
I was a wandering derelict with alcohol as my bedmate.
I mislaid true human passion.
Lost hold of all those loving feelings.

I had once written my daughter long letters during the time she lived away in Europe with her mom.
I searched for the cutest clothes and gifts to send her.
I wondered who she was and what her far-away life was like.

With my daughter back in the U.S. around age 8,
being near her was an amazing experience, at first.
Learning about this charming girl.
Astonished with all she would say.
 

The dark clouds of alcohol came over those times, too.
I became distant from this precious girl.
I no longer knew how to be around her.

All that past I have grieved over with turmoil in my gut.
Those things were not to be set right.
Because both my wife and my daughter were taken from my life.
My wife to some unknown place.
My daughter in the arms of the angel of death.

To not regret the past nor shut the door on it.
A time came when I made decisions and sought out change.

There is a fresh atmosphere of air to breathe now.
Alcohol is no longer my faithful mistress.
I do not, today, dream of those distant, hollow times with drink.

Time is renewed today knowing the amazing men and woman of Alcoholics Anonymous.
My experiences at the South County Mental Health Clinic are very real and profound.
These people are the most curing medications.
Feeling at home in myself
A peace in the valley of my soul.

Recovery is only a distant dream if you refuse to love yourself,
take a breath, and make the first step to wholeness.
This is how my world began anew.

Michael 

I should be dead. I have survived 44 emergency room visits, 13 medical detoxes, 4 hospitalizations – all for pancreatitis, 4 intensive outpatient rehabs, and five 30-day inpatient rehabs. I experienced 3 grand mal seizures, one of which left me with 15 staples in my head. I should be dead, but I’m not.

I’m eight-months sober.  I’ve had many bottoms, but when I woke up in the gutter next to my van that I was living in, water running down the street over my head, soaking wet, I knew that I was done. I still had the business card from a man I met in the hospital from the Integrated Medicated Assisted Treatment (IMAT) team. I called him and asked him to help me. He got me cleared by the hospital to go to detox. From there he got me into a rehab program at Our Common Ground that is changing my life. 

The director of Our Common Ground spoke in a group my very first day. He asked us to understand that the emotions we were going to feel would make us uncomfortable. He said to tell ourselves that this wouldn’t be easy – that it would be the hardest thing we would ever have to do.

That is what I did I. I grappled with so many emotions every day, leaning on staff for support.  We participated in support groups for six hours every day. We learned about our thoughts and how they played with our emotions. We learned about personal boundaries, anger management, grounding skills, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

 Although the 12-step model works for millions of people worldwide, it never worked for me. All the other rehabs I went to use the 12-step model where I tried for 20 years and could not stay sober.

It was about four months into residential treatment at Our Common Ground that I started to pay attention to my thinking and how it made my mood change. That was the game changer. 

Thinking about my thinking, helped me change my thinking.

Out of nowhere my depression and anxiety levels went from a 10 to a 4. I was able to sit down in group, happy, with no worries, anxiety or depression. For the first time in my life I was not in fight or flight mode. I was content. I am very happy with myself and how far I’ve come. Today I am seven months sober, and I see a bright future.

Christina 

My name is Christina, and I am a woman committed to my long-term recovery.

What that means for me is that I am a daughter, a niece, a reliable friend and a productive member of society today.

Not long ago, I found myself at rock bottom. It was as if my life had blown up, leaving me surrounded by the tattered remains. Still, I knew that rock bottom was the perfect place to build a foundation. I began the process of cleaning up and taking personal responsibility for the life I had created, but was left with so many questions.

How does someone in recovery get a job with a resume with five-year gaps, under-the-table jobs and a criminal record? Where can I find help, but forgo the formalities of clinicians, titles and appointment times? Who is going to be willing to sit with me while I fumble through Google drive, excel spreadsheets, timecards and monthly reports? Who is going to give me a chance?

I found the answer in Voices of Recovery San Mateo County (VORSMC), a community-based recovery organization that is welcome to all. We provide a unique and invaluable service: peer to peer support. 

VORSMC and HealthRight360 taught me how to make a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). They taught me to set goals, identify my triggers and advocate for myself. They taught me what wellness looks like for me.

It’s the magic of peer-to-peer counseling that kept me going. Talking to someone with lived experience made the difference that talking to a counselor or doctor never did for me. They told me about how they were thriving now, and how I could too. In helping me, they practiced one of the most important principles of recovery: contributing value to the society that you once depended on. Now I’ve learned to do the same.

I am now a Recovery Coach and WRAP facilitator at Total Wellness, a county funded program for clients with a serious mental illness. I have the privilege of exercising with clients.

You would be amazed to see the spirit of someone with co-occurring disorders, like myself, absolutely light up as we saunter along comfortably, sunny and safe.

We talk about a wide range of things from difficulties with medication, to the importance of showering, to the joys of having friends, respect and dignity. So far, these are some of the accomplishments that I am proudest of. If I stick with Voices I know there will be many more to come.

I am so excited about my newfound life. Thanks to Voices of Recovery I was able to find my own voice again. I want to continue spreading the message that it is possible to recover from active addiction and become a healthy addition to our society. I want this message to be easily accessible, so that the voices of recovery can be heard not just through the county, but across the nation and the world.

Gilbert

It all began at the young age of six when I was in Catholic school. School was not fun for me. I had an undiagnosed learning disability and trouble understanding vocabulary and numbers. The teachers, who were nuns, were not encouraging at all. They held me back in first grade and again in third. My first grade teacher indicated that every quarter I was not up to grade.

To make matters worse, my peers would taunt me, calling me stupid for being held back. My third grade teacher was very kind to me, but the other students became jealous of the attention I was receiving.

In time, I was told that I had a learning disability. I went to high school, where my mental health issues emerged. I felt like an outsider looking in, so I started to hang out with the wrong people.

I partied with these people, drinking and doing drugs. I didn’t have much support from my parents at this time. I was stubborn and didn’t want to listen to them. At 21, I was fed up of dealing with my parents and moved out to find my own job and apartment.

That didn’t last long. For 8 long years, I struggled to retain a job and apartment. My credit cards were maxed out, and I had troubled paying bills. At the lowest point in my life, I felt like a lost dog. Then things got worse.

I had a bad situation occur a grocery store in 1994, where I was very paranoid. My friends and employer during this time tried to persuade me to see a doctor, but I was too paranoid. So much so that I thought the CIA was after me. My employer was compassionate enough to give me one year to get well. Unfortunately, it took me more than a year to get well, and I lost my job.

One night, my sister came over to my house and told me she was taking me to the hospital.  During my hospitalization, I saw a psychiatrist who said I had bipolar disorder. I told my parents about my illness. I remember being stressed and depressed during that time.

For years, my undiagnosed and untreated illness took its toll on my life. I started doing a lot of research about bipolar, working on my coping skills and going to treatment.

I made lifestyle changes, like improving my nutrition and began exercising and took health and wellness classes through Central County Mental Health Total Wellness. I received Peer to Peer certification from the College of San Mateo and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I traveled to Europe and other countries. I read many self-help books. I have continued to go to support groups and see my psychiatrist and social worker regularly. I take my medication on time.

One day I hope to have a family and earn a degree in business. Today I am healthy, take care of myself and am gainfully employed. I am blessed to be where I am, but grateful for the struggles that made me the strong man I am today.

Eduardo 

When I first started using drugs and alcohol at the age of 13, it was like living the dream vacation that we all have. I was transported to a place where the sun was out, the birds were singing, everything was wonderful. But it was just a matter of time until that dream vacation turned into a kidnapping.

I was kidnapped by the streets. I was kidnapped by low self-respect. I was kidnapped by the disease of addiction.

Eventually my kidnappers turned me into a willing participant. I was using daily. My relationship with my parents changed. My school attendance suffered. B’s turned into C’s, C’s turned into D’s and D’s turned into F’s. I was suspended, then expelled. It felt like my life started falling apart as soon as addiction had its grip on me, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Keep an eye out for Eduardo’s full recovery story this month on facebook.com/SMCHealth.

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