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Stories of Hope
Inspirational Stories of Recovery

Article

The sharing of a personal story can be self-reflective, educational, de-stigmatizing and incredibly empowering. The following stories of hope, resilience and recovery are from those who have experienced mental health and substance use issues. These individuals are sharing their stories in the hope that others will be inspired to seek help, and join them on the path to recovery.

Yoshie

I first experienced mental health stigma at age 4 when my mother had a psychotic break and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. As a 4-year old, I couldn’t understand why Mama suddenly threw away my favorite toys or started yelling at the radio as if they could hear her in Japan. She was convinced she was going home. When I saw her being taken away, no one explained to me what had just happened. Even if they would have tried, how could a 4-year-old understand schizophrenia?  In my young mind, I reasoned that something I did or didn’t do caused Mama to go away. She was committed to a mental institution.

My sister and I were taken in by my father’s parents during Mama’s two-year hospital stay.  Whenever my mother was mentioned, it was whispered with shame that she was “mental,” accompanied by the screwy-finger-to-the-temple gesture. Mama’s condition was never openly discussed.  There was a double stigma of the psychiatric diagnosis and the fact that she was shunned as a Japanese war bride.

When our family was reunited, I remember my mother being heavily drugged, and experiencing psychotic episodes.  Mama’s angry outbursts were terrifying when I became the focus of her bewildering rage. She would scream and say things like I was a mistake, she hated me, and that I should never have been born. I was instructed by my father not to speak about Mama outside our family. And I didn’t.  I’d sometimes go for a week at a time, not uttering a word to anyone.   As a bi-racial child who looked Asian, I was prey to racially-charged bullying taunts, being beat up, and spat on by other kids.  To feel so unwanted, inadequate, and rejected was unbearable, so I decided to stop feeling emotions. It just hurt too much. I became a numb hermit, knowing that I saw things others did not see, and hearing things others did not hear. There was no counseling or support for me to work through my feelings or the ramifications of our family’s terrible secret.  I trusted no one. I realized as an adult that I had been deeply depressed since childhood.

I turned to alcohol for relief. My self-stigma was so ingrained that I preferred to be considered an alcoholic than to be mentally ill.

I harbored deep distrust of psychiatrists, who never were able to help my mother. I tried many times to get sober, but it was not until I addressed my mental health that I achieved long-term sobriety. Landing in the psych ward after an alcohol-fueled suicide attempt was my moment of surrender and willingness to accept help. Homelessness and what I thought was “end-of the-road rock-bottom” became the foundation of my recovery.  The self-examination I dreaded, actually was not so scary. In fact, it was liberating. I connected with a newly-found peer community and found a sense of belonging, empathy, and purpose. I was hired at a peer support agency. I learned even more about myself in Peer Counseling Specialist training.

I am now more than 10-years sober.

The deeper I went into myself, the more universal my understanding and empathy became. I was finally able to weep for Mama when I realized that she had not chosen to be that way. How lonely, sad, and bewildered she must have been in that hospital. I believe the trauma of living in wartime Japan during WWII made her especially fragile and vulnerable.

Today, my wellness includes: the ability to deeply feel the full range of my emotions; resilience in the face of setbacks; stable relationships; self-awareness; a safe home, stable employment, economic self-sufficiency; creative self-expression; and giving back to my community.

Velisha

I experienced a broken childhood: abandoned by my parents at birth and raised by my grandparents.  I grew up in a drug and alcohol infested home where daily drug transactions were the norm. I never really “fit in” because my skin color was lighter than others and I was always bullied as a child.  I couldn’t concentrate in school, so I checked out at an early age.  Growing up, I lived with depression, drugs, crime and abuse. I just never felt good enough. 

At 13, I entered an abusive relationship. He kept me from my friends and family and wouldn’t let me go out. Eventually, I moved to another state to escape my miserable circumstances.

But, my life spiraled when I came back to East Palo Alto at 27-years-old and was introduced to crack cocaine.  I became addicted and started selling drugs to make money to support my drug habit.  When I wasn’t on drugs I was depressed. 

I never thought to get any mental health treatment, I just took drugs to fix my problems and to feel better.

Whatever it took to get drugs – I did it.  Shoplifting became a daily routine and I became known as the “liquor lady”, as that’s what I stole and illegally sold to fund my drug habit.

Between the ages of 28 to 50, I was in and out of jail and prison 36 times. My grandmother eventually moved away from East Palo Alto down to Fresno so whenever I got out of jail, I had nowhere to go and was homeless.  I moved to Fresno to get clean but that was short-lived.

When I eventually returned to East Palo Alto from Fresno, I went to the BHRS mental health clinic where I was placed on medication.  The meds worked as long as I didn’t take drugs, but I couldn’t stay clean.  I was eventually referred to Telecare Full Service Partnership because I wasn’t compliant and needed more intensive treatment for both my mental health and substance use issues.

In 2012, I was arrested yet again and decided to enter the Pathways program. I didn’t take it seriously and saw it as a get-out-of-jail-free card.  I figured out how to manipulate the system and found ways to keep using. I was dealing with many demons, all of which I couldn’t control.  At the time, drugs seemed to be the answer, not medicine or therapy. 

During my last arrest in 2013, I found myself in jail with kids younger than my own. I despised them calling me “grandma” and “auntie”. By then, I was 51-years-old, homeless and tired. At that moment, I told myself,  “I am not going to do this anymore.”  With the help of Pathways, Telecare and HealthRight 360’s Women’s Recovery Association, I began to see that there was another way to live. The staff at these organizations believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.  I learned how to take care of myself by allowing other people to help me and I started to figure out who I am.

Nowadays, as long as I am drug free and med compliant, I can stay well.  I am no longer homeless. With the help of Telecare, I am now living in my own apartment.  I have a passion for helping people and to keep learning every day.  I volunteer at this awesome place (Telecare) that helped me get my life back on track and support my peers. I also volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank.  Every week, I attend the Pathways alumni event and the Pathways and Drug Court monthly events to help provide inspiration to others.

I am grateful everyday for all the help and support I received.  Today, I am present and have become someone I love.

Lucas

I was raised in Burlingame for the first nine years of my life by my mom and stepfather. Autism was not very well known in the mid 90’s and I had many problems learning how to control my disabilities.  I would throw tantrums and my parents would mostly give in to my demands. Other times, they would either get upset with me or ignore me. In retrospect, it felt like I would just have money thrown at me whenever I would be in distress. Eventually, their patience ran out and I got my first dose of tough love.

At the age of 9, I was sent to my first group home. I felt nervous, confused and anxious. A staff lady asked me what I thought when I went to visit.  “I don’t know, it’s nice and all but I think I would be more comfortable at home with my family,” I replied.   “Well, you don’t really have a choice,” she said and then laughed with others nearby. It was in that moment that I started to realize I had really messed up.

Over the next several years, I found myself in dark places.  I was discriminated against; physically, emotionally and mentally abused; and moved from place to place. When I was 15 and hospitalized in a psych unit, my mom told me she was pregnant and there was no room for me in her home anymore. I had been abandoned. I was later sent to a foster home where I was very unhappy. Fortunately, my grandparents called me and asked me to come live with them.  A weight was lifted from my shoulders. I moved back to California and thought, “this is the start of my good life.” If only that were true. I had a hard time adjusting back into society. My life at school was horrible. I would act up and run away.

I was sent to another residential facility and ran away within the first 30 minutes. I called my grandma and told her if she didn’t take me back, I would kill myself. I was quickly surrounded by cops and when I pulled out a cap gun that looked real,  they pulled their guns out and pointed them at me. I could see lasers covering my body. The cops yelled at me to drop my weapon. Their voices faded as my life quickly flashed before me. I thought to myself, “I’ve come so far and suffered so much. Would it really do me justice to end it all here – shot up in a gutter?”. “Arghhh…fine..I’ll do this just one last time,”.

I graduated high school two years later, but I struggled to fit in and find good friends. I began hanging out with a crowd that led me to the party scene with plenty of drugs. I soon became a slave to my vices with a constant need for escape. Many people I thought were my friends would abuse, steal, trick and use me. I was constantly going between different housing units and then back to my grandparents’ house.

I got fired from my job and would roam the streets looking for people who could get me high. I found myself hooked on meth until I suffered brain damage. I tried to go back to just smoking weed but it was too late.

I started to hear voices and my mind was filled with flashes of morbid imagery. I thought people were trying to follow me.  I was in and out of psych emergency rooms due to paranoid delusions and my grandparents were on the brink of divorce.

One day, while listening to some quotes from Robin Williams, I realized I had to turn my life around. I went to get help in as many places as I could. I tried different hobbies as an outlet for stress and discomfort. I started working as a dog walker and found the company of animals to be therapeutic.  It was hard to deal with the symptoms of my other disabilities without weed. The mood swings of my bipolar and PSTD were bad. The night terrors would shake me now and then. And, the anxiety from my autism had no way of being mended. Then, I tried CBD (cannabidiol).  This did wonders for me in my mental health recovery, along with all the good people who helped me and didn’t give up on me.

With a job and newly discovered coping skills, I moved out of my grandparents’ house into the best group home I’ve ever been in, with people who really give disabled people like me the tools to succeed. I am amazed and delighted to say that I think the worse is behind me. I have a web of support. I have a great girl in my life. My family is happy and proud. I own a business I love. And, now I get to be part of support groups that help people, which gives my life purpose. If you ever feel like you’re at the end of your rope, remember that as long as you have people who want to help, there is always hope.

Daniel

I lived in fear, anguish, anger and despair for a long time. I was addicted to drugs and living on the streets, in seedy hotels, or wherever I could find a spot to lay my weary head. Of course, my life didn’t start out that way.

I had a good home and a fairly happy childhood.  I started smoking and drinking beer at age 12 and moved on to bigger and better things as I grew up. By the age of 18, I was using cocaine, speed and needles. By 25, I had been on heroin for a few years. I spent 16 months in residential treatment after being arrested for selling. I couldn’t envision a lifetime off drugs and I was worse than I’d ever been. I lived in the ghettos, and drugs, violence and crime were my way of life for the next eight or so years. I was a miserable, dangerous and deranged man that lived in fear and anguish.

My inner world was dark, cold and lonely and I used drugs to cope with the feelings of failure and depression, believing it had ruined my life and was beyond redemption or salvation.  Those years were the darkest and most dismal years of my life.

I was arrested in 1989 and was looking at five years in prison. I wanted to change, so I pushed for the chance to do treatment and the judge agreed. That was the real beginning of my life today. It was a slow and daunting climb out of that pit of despair, but it was the moment I started to return to life and could begin to believe I had a choice to live in a new and better way.

Today, I am happy.  My world is no longer a dark and lonely place devoid of hope, nor am I living a life I feel trapped in.  I struggled for years with failure and relapse until I was diagnosed in 2000 with bipolar and post traumatic stress disorder. The last 18 years were still hard but it’s gotten better since I finally understand why I relapsed so often before.

The last few years have come easily and quickly. I no longer use drugs, and the cravings and obsession to use is finally gone.  I am living happy, safe, stable and sober. There were many times I felt like giving up, and sometimes I did for a while. But, I always regained hope and battled on.  If I were to give any advice, it would be to “never give up, never give in.”

Ana

I lived with undiagnosed depression and anxiety that began when I was a child until I decompensated (fell apart) and developed psychotic features (depression along with loss of touch with reality) including thoughts that others can read my mind, fear, and visual hallucinations. Thanks to the help of medication, therapy, my family and friends, and God, I recovered (although not completely).  I decompensated two other times when I stopped taking my medication and luckily with the mentioned resources, I am 80% recovered and I am now living my dream life with a job, a family, and a relatively healthy mental state. Remember: speak up, seek help, don’t give up, live intensely, and God loves you.

Commands