Nearly ten years ago, I stood in a doorway with nothing but a couple trash bags of clothes, a Jeep on a car title loan, and a decision to make. Behind me were fourteen years of obsession and insanity surrounding drugs and whatever I had to do to get them. Fourteen years of putting those things in front of my family, my daughter and myself. In front of me was an opportunity for help that I wasn’t sure I even wanted. It was a small office, with a large, loud man trying to talk to me when all I could think about was the withdrawal that I knew was coming. But I was at a point of absolute devastation and desperation. I had been evicted from my apartment and didn’t have my daughter. I had nowhere to go and no one left to help me if I didn’t take this offer. So I picked up the trash bags of clothes, and I moved forward.
My first experience with drugs was at twelve years old. I was a hippie chick who tried weed and loved the way it made me feel. I progressed to alcohol and LSD at thirteen. After five years of parties, concerts and experimenting with the way these substances made me feel, I discovered my favorite escape of them all: heroin. I was seventeen years old and had no idea that that feeling, that drug, and that lifestyle would completely consume and control my life for the next nine years.
The life I had started to go down hill pretty quickly. Nothing was important to me except using drugs. I was surrounded by darkness, and I believed that heroin was my light. My family found out about my drug use when I overdosed. They tried everything they could think of to help me. I rotated through various medications, therapies, and 12-step meetings. Never really grasping on to anything. I thought I knew everything and that I had my life under control.
For nine more years, I was addicted to heroin and other opiates. During this whirlwind of using and being sick and looking for help and using again, I became pregnant with my daughter. I hoped that my pregnancy and caring for her would be the end of my struggle. I really thought God had given me a gift, a way out of the endless battle with heroin and opiates. However, even my daughter growing inside me could not keep me from using, the pull was too strong. She was born addicted to heroin, and I thought witnessing her go through that pain and discomfort would be the final straw. I told myself over and over, “This is it. I can’t do this anymore.”
However, my resolution to change didn’t last long, and I continued my cycle of using, treatment centers and pain. I could see my parents and family starting to give up after countless years of trying to “fix” me. They were exhausted by my desperate phone calls, lies and manipulation. Considering the hell I put them through, especially my daughter, I didn’t blame them at all. All I cared about was using and finding ways to get money to use. No one could stand in my way of doing so.
In the end of my addiction career, I was evicted from my apartment, in a relationship that revolved around drugs, did not have my daughter, and was completely hopeless. My step-mom showed up at that apartment with one last offer to help me. She had a friend, John Shinholser, who was the President and Co-Founder of The McShin Foundation in Richmond, VA. I had no clue who he was or what McShin was all about. I went to meet him and I thought, “What in the world, this dude is a trip.” He had the biggest personality and said exactly what I didn’t want to hear. I had never met anyone like him. I left after a day because I still wasn’t ready. Heroin withdrawal was my enemy and I couldn’t even attempt to hear what recovery was without being out of withdrawal.
I returned the next day and found myself standing in that doorway, faced with the decision to return to the mental, physical and spiritual pain I knew, or to choose to have a different kind of life. I moved forward.
John helped me access a doctor so I could detox without the full symptoms of a heroin withdrawal, and I started my recovery journey that day, May 27th, 2007. McShin took me back in with practically nothing. No daughter, no money, no hope, no life worth living.
McShin is Virginia’s leading peer-to-peer Recovery Community Organization (RCO) that helps those with substance use disorders and their families. John and his wife Carol McDaid opened McShin in 2004 when they got frustrated that an addict/alcoholic had to wait at least sixty days for a bed anywhere to get help. Before meeting John, I had no clue what an RCO was and how it could save my life.
I moved into a recovery house where I lived with other women in a structured environment with an intense, daily focus on recovery. The house became my safe haven. Instead of the negativity and darkness I had grown accustomed to, I found myself in a place of hope and change. The women in the house were discovering the freedom that came from a life without drugs, and it radiated from each of them. That atmosphere changed my life. Seeing people just like me trying to stay drug free every day was so powerful, and I wanted to follow their example.
I lived in the women’s recovery house for five months, learning how to live day to day without drugs and about who I was underneath those years of use. My family could see the change in me. I wanted so badly to do anything it took to stay in recovery, so I did whatever was asked of me. Eventually, I took the huge step to get my daughter back. I moved out of the recovery house and in with my sister, where I was able to raise my daughter and begin rebuilding that relationship.
I stayed involved with McShin and became a peer leader to the women who entered the program. John saw something in me, took a chance, and trusted me enough to give me a job. The years of torment and agony I so badly wanted to forget were the exact experiences that qualified me for the job. I grew in my recovery, reaching out to women around me to ask for help and suggestions. I was making the right decisions, being a productive member of society, and developing a sense of spirituality for the first time in my life. I discovered that my lived experience I had in addiction along with my growth and determination in recovery is crucial to the McShin model of peer-to-peer recovery. From starting my job at McShin with five months in recovery to now almost ten years later, I have turned my lived experience into a rewarding career helping people.
As CEO of McShin, I am fortunate to work around new people in recovery on a daily basis. I can empathize with them and show them compassion. I can tell them that I’ve been in that exact same situation; so desperate for a change that you are willing to do anything it takes. So broken and tired that you don’t know if you’ll be able to make it through the next hour, let alone the whole day. I can show them that from that starting point, I’ve built a life that I am proud of. I have become a woman that others are proud to know. I share my experience with those new to recovery in an effort to instill in them to just hold on, don’t use no matter what, and to develop a real, honest love for themselves.
I believe my career in the recovery field is truly a calling for me, and I use my passion for the work I do to help as many people as I can. Not only am I able to be an individual in recovery, bettering my own life each day, but also my journey and my career give me the opportunity to advocate for those who have no clue what recovery is, but desperately need it.
It is my personal mission to be a face, voice, and light of hope for recovery every day I am on this earth. Recovery has changed my life around completely, and that is a message I am passionate about sharing with others. I am a mommy, wife, sister, daughter, friend, and homeowner who can look in the mirror and be genuinely happy with who she sees. My daughter is now fifteen years old, and our relationship is something I never even dreamed would be possible. I am very fortunate to have an amazing husband who is also in recovery. We have been together for eleven years now, met at rehab, used drugs together, and now share our life in recovery. Having a partner in this life that I can truly be blessed and happy with is priceless. We have a seven-year-old son who has never had to see me use.
To have inner peace and acceptance of who I am gives me the most amazing sense of satisfaction and serenity. Along my recovery journey, I have discovered how to trust in my God, love others, love myself and be present in the moment. I lived for so long not appreciating my life, so today I am grateful for each and every moment. You are only promised one life, why not live it?
Coming into recovery is my biggest accomplishment in life. Nearly ten years ago, standing in that doorway of The McShin Foundation, holding trash bags full of clothes, I could have never imagined the life I have today. This amazing, beautiful, blessed life is possible because of recovery. It is possible because of my decision to move forward.