“When you’ve lost it all, that’s when you realize life is beautiful”.
I remember when I first got clean I literally had nothing. I was homeless, my family wanted nothing to do with me, I had a north face backpack (dirty as hell) filled with an extra change of clothes, and Nikki Stixx’s book ‘Heroin Dairies’ (which I haven’t even opened yet because, well who has time to read while running the streets).
I was so beaten down and out at this time in my life. You know that cliche, “Sick and tired of being sick and tired”, well that was me. This lifestyle will age you well past your years. So, I had my best friend pick me up and turn me in to do my prison bid that I’d spent the last 6 months of my life running from.
You know you are tired when you would rather be locked up in jail than to run another hour out on the streets.
Jail became such a ‘safe heaven’ for me — with the exception of that one time an inmate tried to kill me — but that’s a whole different kind of story. Walking through those doors was my way of giving up my will and my power, a way to free myself from active addiction. I had attended meetings before, when I went to prison in California, along the few I attended while I was on drug court, but I couldn’t have been taking them too seriously, I was snorting roxy’s in the bathroom after all.
To be honest I didn’t buy into any of it. At this time in my life I was living at such an animalistic level that being locked away was the only way I thought I could keep a needle out of my arm. I’d like to say this was my last visit to jail, but I found myself back in custody with a few years clean and serene (it happens, at least to me it did). This bid was the most influential period of my life. I had no court date, no lawyer come see me, no drug court asking questions, I was full on jailing and hustling because I just knew I was getting my original sentence of 10 years.
Now, let me explain something about jail, when someone who looks like me (a little girl/boy) walks into jail, I basically get waited on hand and foot. My bunk was always made, my commissary was always full, my dinner was always cooked for me. Jail was not all that bad, especially coming from where I just came from. Finally, after 6 months in max lock up, I get called down on the court list (on a Friday, which is sentencing day). I was fully prepared to have to deal with this 10 year sentence, and my head was in a place where I wasn’t willing to take parole, ISP, or any other type of program that they were willing to offer me. I was maxing out. I walked into the court and my judge (who had a daughter that was an addict) looked at me with a look of extreme disappointment. The drug court team diminished my character, the prosecutor said that there was no hope for me, I would never recover and all the paper work pointed to the judge handing down my original 10 year sentence.
Then something totally unexpected happened. The judge looked me in the eyes and said “I’m going against the better judgement of my entire team”. He ripped up his paper work.
If you can be strong enough to fight this war for your country in Iraq, you are fully capable of fighting this war on your life!
I’ll never forget that moment, that comment from the judge has stuck with me for many years now. After 5 sanctions, 4 programs (only one that I actually completed) and 6 months of running away, I was given another chance. A chance to prove myself, a chance to stay out of prison, a second chance on life.
When he brought up my tour in Iraq it mentally broke me down, I was still just a 17 year old girl, scared to death on a plane headed to Iraq. I remember the feeling of pride I felt for being courageous even though I was scared to fucking death. I was walking through the fear with my head held up high and I was proud, proud of the hero I was about to become. So why couldn’t I fight this war in my head with the same sense of courage? I could, and those words from that judge gave me the epiphany I needed, as strange as it might sound to the non-addict, that was the first time in my life I had thought that recovery was actually possible.
After court I went back to the jail and a week later I was released into the hands of “Straight and Narrow” in Patterson, NJ. Anyone whose been there knows you are right dead center in the middle of the city. You walked pass the dealers on the way to group, you see people shooting up right outside the dorms, and everyone who leaves the program ends up sleeping under the bridge you can see from the facility. Temptation is all around you. But this time was different for me, I remembered those words from the judge, I could succeed in this program and I gave myself a chance.
Towards the end of my stay, after almost a year of no communication with my family, they came to visit me. My niece (a baby at the time) was sleeping so I held her in my arms the entire visit. She woke up and flipped out because she didn’t even know who I was. I was so heart broken at that moment because anyone who knows me knows family is the most important thing in my life, and here is my first niece who no longer remembers who I am.
Along with the program the judge required I stay in a halfway house followed by a stay at a sober living (out of the county) there was in no way in hell I was allowed to move back to my county. So I graduated the program and moved into the Hansen House in South Jersey. I had over a year clean when I got there. I had collected a full wardrobe, sneakers, hats, colognes, everything that made me feel human again. That year locked up and in rehab I had belongings, things that were actually mine and not just my dingy north face back pack. I had so much fun in this halfway house and I really learned how to live a normal life without the use of drugs and alcohol. I was working everyday, on the weekends coming home on a home pass, going to meetings, hell I even took some suggestions and got a sponsor.
Sponsorship is when I realized what exactly this program of NA is really about. I walked out of this program with friends I’ve had now for almost 7 years.
My current roommate is someone I went through Straight and Narrow, Hansen House and the Oxford house with. She’s become one of my biggest supports in our recovery process. Since doing this whole “recovery” thing, I’ve found hope, I’ve found my laughter, I’ve found my personality, and in this process I’ve found what I had been looking for my entire life, a sense of peace and serenity.
Drugs and alcohol stole my soul, but recovery has given that back. Drugs and alcohol made me a cold heartless individual, which I’m really not. I am really a happy, strong, motivated individual, I just lost myself along the way (addiction tends to do that). I had so much fun between the half way house and oxford house that I could write on for hours (but I wont). After all, this story isn’t just for me, it’s for anyone who needs to hear, that recovery Is possible!
I remember being at The Oxford House when I first saw how beautiful life could be. I was free, working, paying my bills, doing step work with my sponsor, going to my home group every week and towards the end I was engaged to get married and looking to settle in to ‘our’ own place. We finally took that step. Life, beyond my wildest dreams, that’s what recovery has provided. Someone actually wanted to share their life with a savage life me. Only, I’m not that savage anymore, I was recovering, and I was living a life beyond anything I ever imagined (this was only the tip of the iceberg, more would be revealed) and life was INDEED beautiful.
Written by: Tara Bowers