Stories of Hope
Personal Recovery Stories
Storytelling can be educational, destigmatizing and incredibly empowering. The following are stories of hope, resilience and recovery from those who have experienced mental health and substance use issues. These individuals are sharing their stories in the hopes that others will be encouraged to seek help, and join them on the path to recovery.
Look at me. I stopped growing when I was 12 years old.
The first time I saw a therapist, when the session was over, he said, “You’ve been depressed your whole life.”
It was a shocking revelation. Depressed? My entire life?
You see, my notion of depression made that impossible because I thought depression was a choice (to give up, let go, check out, not be responsible.)
I would say to myself, “Girl, you don’t have time to be depressed, to give in to your feelings! You’ve got children to raise. You need to work.” I was not going to give myself permission to be depressed!
My mother died when I was 12; my father, when I was 14. I, of course, continued to grow physically, but mentally and emotionally, I was stuck. Nowadays, someone might ask, “Do you think the kids need to talk to someone? Should we get them some help?” But that wasn’t done back then. “Mental health” was not a topic of discussion. Not in the African American community. Truthfully, it still isn’t widely discussed.
Fast forward to four years ago. I had a stroke and, in conjunction with my physical rehab, I started seeing a therapist. It is that therapy that started me on the path to change; to finally grow up. For the first time in my life, I was talking about me.
We think of stigma as coming at us, but stigma can start with yourself. In many ways, stigma comes from ignorance – from what we don’t know or don’t understand about mental health issues – which is why we need to talk about it. I brought my own stigma to depression, with my own thoughts about it being under my control when it wasn’t. Just talking about it can make so much difference.
Now the medication, therapy and relationships that I’ve been forging, keep me on the right path. My birthday is the day after Christmas. A couple years ago I sent a text to my friends saying, “This has been the happiest birthday ever!” Not because of anything I’ve received, but because of how much I’ve learned about me. Things I wouldn’t have learned without my medication and therapy.
I was fearful of talking with people about my “stuff” and overwhelmed by thoughts of how much I had to change. But I’d like to leave you with the following words of wisdom, although I have no idea where they came from: growth is painful, change is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.
Fear has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run. Or Face Everything And Rise.
“Jesus, John, take a pill!”
I was having an argument with Fred, my co-worker, but this time it led to yelling and shoving.
Most of the night crew didn’t even care anymore.
“It’s just John goofing off again,” they would say.
I learned while spending time drinking beer and smoking dope with them, how they’d try to forget the state I was in when I first began this job at a Menlo Park grocery store.
I got the job because of my wife. She knew a guy close to the owners who agreed to recommend me. My suicidal episode a month earlier left me a wreck. My wife had to manage everything. I knew she could not understand, because I didn’t even know what the hell was happening myself.
When my first night on the job arrived, I was emotionally raw and couldn’t find the courage to face the night crew I was joining. I called in sick for several nights. My wife was unsure what to say when the store manager called asking when I’d get there.
When I finally showed up, I could tell they all knew how screwed up I was. Even with me sharing beers and dope with the guys, it was years before I became part of the night crew in every way.
When my daughter died some time later, alcohol and dope pushed me over the edge. I was lost and crippled. I did not know my place in this world. Going on permanent disability was my only option.
My substance use issues continued through the years. Miserable and weak – my thoughts condemned me.
I entered South County clinic in 1988. The psychiatrists and clinic staff offered all the compassion and services I needed, but it was years before I realized how genuine and sincerely helpful they were.
My psychiatrist encouraged me to attend clinic recovery groups. I made a close connection with a man on staff. He helped me see that I had value. I stayed on my medications through it all. Eventually, I broke through my mental chaos.
I have discovered ways to recover my life, like completing the Lived Experience Academy. Still, I do not regret the past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it.
I now have hope.
As a child I was told by my parents that I was to be seen and not heard. It made me feel like I had nothing to say that was worth listening to. I knew if I didn’t sit down and shut up, I would get the belt when my father came home.
I was the youngest of four children. My older siblings talked over me, interrupted and bullied me. They made me feel unwanted. In elementary school, I was teased for being “fat,” called names, picked last for all the games and more. Everything I was going through made it tempting to try something that would take me outside of myself and out of the moment.
I smoked my first joint at 13, and from the very first hit, my addiction was alive and kicking. When I was getting high, people seemed to find me more acceptable because I could make them laugh. This continued through high school. Getting high on weed made me want to eat more, so I gained weight.
After having children, I gained even more weight. A “friend” of mine offered me a way to lose weight that had worked for them. The solution they offered was “crank,” or meth.
I started using at 22 and it quickly became an out of control habit. I was somehow able to keep my job even though I was sure everyone knew I had a problem. I stopped on my own at age 34 and abstained from drugs until I was 46.
I found myself in an abusive relationship and followed him down a path of drug use. The abuse only escalated. One day he slammed my head on the edge of a desk, leaving me with 25 stitches in my forehead. He threatened to kill me if I reported him, so I did not call the police.
Homeless, with no idea how to survive on the streets, I felt forced to stay with the person who was abusing me to survive.
After 6 months of homelessness and abuse, I was offered an opportunity to go into a recovery program. I jumped at the opportunity and entered a recovery home. As a woman in long term recovery, I am now a Peer Recovery Coach at Voices of Recovery San Mateo County, a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Facilitator and a Peer Mentor. I share my lived experience to give hope to those dealing with similar experiences. I have even facilitated WRAP groups at the same program I completed here in San Mateo County.
It makes a huge impact to be able to help clients who are sitting in the very seat I was in just a short time ago. I am living proof that recovery does work!
Melissa is a Peer Mentor with the HOPE program. Read more about HOPE here.
My story starts in Philadelphia. Long before my addiction to drugs or alcohol, I was addicted to self-will. I was spoiled and felt neglected once my sisters came into my life and my dad left our family. I acted out in many ways.
As a child, I felt unseen and powerless. I was never good enough for anyone and I did whatever it took to change the way I felt. My reckless behavior almost cost me my life. I nearly drowned. I was kidnapped. I was hit by a car. What really tore me up was being molested. My mother did her best to fill the role of a father, but she wasn’t able to relate to me the way a father could to a son. Eventually she took me to a psychiatrist, who said that I was just a growing boy.
I attended white Catholic schools, where I was outnumbered and bullied. My lack of trust for the people around me led me to become a thief and a liar. I couldn’t stand my skin color, my hair, the fact that we were living in poverty – I hated everything and everyone, especially myself.
I experimented with drugs to change the way I felt. I smoked my first marijuana joint, and coupled with that first drink it had me off and running! Weed, cocaine, heroin – it didn’t matter to me. When I was chasing the high, I felt like I was finally able to love myself, even if nobody else did.
My drug use continued throughout the years. I did anything I could to get drugs. My addiction made me feel crazy. I cycled through rehab and multiple treatment programs, but wouldn’t follow through on the necessary steps towards recovery.
April 25, 1995 was my first day being clean for 24 hours. I finally had enough. I had sold everything to buy drugs, but I found a quarter to make a call from a pay phone to Palm Avenue Detox in San Mateo, where they had a bed available. They told me to come in at 6 a.m. I was there by 4. I stayed in Palm Avenue for over 90 days, and then entered treatment at Project Ninety. Last week I celebrated 21 years being clean and sober. Only by the grace of God am I here to tell my story.
Jeffrey is a Peer Mentor with the HOPE program. Read more about HOPE here.
My name is Darryl, and I have an addictive personality. I truly hope that sharing my journey may help someone learn they are not alone. Change is possible, even with foot soldiers in our heads that keep us company. For me, these foot soldiers marched relentlessly in my head, pounding loudly, demonstrating powerfully and orchestrating consistently even when I tried to refuse them from doing so.
Wellness did not come overnight nor did my addiction, but through my doubts, fears and intolerance to the pain my behaviors caused, I changed. For people like me, living life on impulse, not on instinct, we believe we are well. Wellness is about doing satisfying work, having harmonious relationships and a purpose driven life.
After years of trying to quit alcohol, the memories of my prior attempts were horrifying. I was mentally and physically addicted. My body could only function for so long without alcohol. Each time I went beyond that time constraint, my body could no longer endure and I would have seizures. My scariest experience was when I had a seizure as I strolled across a busy intersection. I came to that afternoon next to some bushes, realizing that not one person had stopped to help me. My last seizure did not come soon enough, and I was whisked to the hospital where I was medically detoxed. I did not even know that was an option.
Once I was abstinent, I met an extremely talented and caring psychiatrist that prescribed medications to combat my addictions and the foot soldiers in my head. Many addicts, including myself, need to replace what is damaging with something positive to remain abstinent. The result is a wellness filled lifestyle with variety and purpose. I am now a member of the Total Wellness Consumer Advisory Committee.
Going back to school was not easy due to the mental damage caused by my substance use, the foot soldiers and numerous falls. I had to learn how to learn again and how to stand up after so many falls. Today, I am on my way to earning a master’s degree.
We are our own worst critics, and that rhetoric may not go away completely. Take the skills learned from the past and use them to catapult yourself into your purpose with a strong wellness program (in my case, the Total Wellness program), that works for you.