A mom of three, a softball player, a waitress and a soon-to-be teacher, Jessica doesn’t have much extra time on her hands. Yet, she enjoys using her few spare moments to candidly share her journey of addiction and recovery. She’s faced some tough challenges – foster care, grief, addiction – but despite it all, has recently completed her Associate degree in education and has two years to go before being awarded her full degree. She freely admits her story is still in-progress, but her life looks drastically different than it did five years ago.
Q: Looking back, what led to your addiction?
A: I was exposed to drugs from a young age. My parents struggled with addiction, and I hated drugs because of what they did to our family. After my mom had a brain injury, I took care of my nine younger brothers and sisters. But once my dad was arrested, my brothers and sisters were put in foster care. That’s when it all started for me. I struggled to cope with the loss of my family, and I learned that I was on my own in foster care. When I was 14, I hurt my knee while at work and needed surgery. I was prescribed Percocet. At first I needed the medicine for the pain, but it also helped me cope with the tough situations that were going on.
Marijuana and opiates were the start of using for me. They made the pain of losing my brothers and sisters more manageable. You don’t notice [addiction] until you do – and then it’s too late. I just thought about surviving, not living. I lost my hope and my dreams.
Q: What changed? Was there a lightbulb moment or series of moments?
A: I had a few lightbulb moments. I first knew I had a problem when I saw my boyfriend had a problem. I was a teenager and he started stealing from me and lying to me. I was shocked. You don’t think people will do that who care about you. Then other things started falling apart, including school. I asked for help, but I didn’t get it at that point. In 2012, my children’s father and I were caught dealing drugs. Honestly, it saved my life. I wanted to quit, but couldn’t. I was pregnant when I was arrested, and I ended up coming to Meta House. I was 22 years old. At first, I didn’t want to do the work, but I wanted to be clean. I wanted to use and be happy somehow. But that’s not the way it works. The problems were still there after using.
The biggest lightbulb moment came later on. I realized that I had started using to cope with the loss of my family and that I was throwing away my future because I was looking back at the past. I realized that life wasn’t perfect — that I went through some tough times that I couldn’t change and didn’t have control over. But what I did have control over in that moment was my life and my children’s lives. I really think my recovery journey became easier at that point.
Q: What were some challenges you faced in treatment?
A: Starting treatment was hard because I wasn’t used to a routine. But once I got into the routine, it just became normal. One of the biggest challenges was letting go of control and thinking that I knew best – I didn’t. I had to trust the process. And being sober and looking at the challenges ahead and wondering how to fix it all was tough. When overwhelmed, I would focus on one to three of the most important things at the time and go from there.
Q: What was particularly helpful to you when you were at Meta House?
A: Meta House is an amazing place that too often people don’t know about. The program comes at your addiction from all angles. They don’t just worry about your addiction, but what got you there. They figure out problems like, ‘how are we going to get your kids back or how are we going to teach you to be a good parent?’ Because a lot of people who have addictions, had parents who had addictions. What I really like, is that [Meta House] gives you the tools you need to be successful. They believe in you and they work just as hard as you do. They hold you accountable. My counselor was really helpful – at times she told me things that I didn’t want to hear, but after I had a second to sit and really think about them, they were true. You have to look at every part of yourself.
Q: What motivates you now?
A: Of course my kids motivate me, but it’s not always about other people – it’s also about yourself. I want a better life for me and my kids. And by doing that and being successful and overcoming addiction, I can help other people. Not everyone makes it. And being someone who encourages others and show them that they can do it, gives other people hope. And that’s what people need – just a little bit of hope and faith that recovery can happen. I went through treatment and learned about addiction, but also learned so much about myself and how I could become a better person.
Q: How does being in recovery translate to your desire to be a teacher?
A: I don’t think I would be here today and going to school now, if not for my 5th grade teacher. She was in recovery and had been clean for five years when I had her. She was an amazing teacher – strict but I learned so much from her. There are so many kids that are underprivileged and come from broken homes like I did. I can help them believe in themselves and teach them about self-worth before it gets to the point of addiction.
Q: What would you like people to learn from you?
A: Recovery is possible. Even if you’ve been through messed up stuff, it doesn’t make you a messed up person. What you’ve been through doesn’t define you. You define you. You can build your own life – set your goals high and go for them. Everyone deserves it and they don’t always know that. I want people to believe in themselves and know that they have the strength within them – even when they don’t feel it or know it.