Rochelle - Before and After
1. Can you share some of your addiction story?
I started using drugs at 13 to escape my pain, a pain I had no idea how to explain. My parents divorced shortly after my 7-year-old brother passed away from cancer. He had been the glue that held my family together. My father struggled with an addiction and my mom had become an alcoholic. I was lost, confused and angry. I didn’t have the ability to understand the grief of losing my brother and my mother, after she left.
I was raised In an Apostolic church and knew God. I had a strong Godly Uncle and Grandparents, but I was angry at the world. Instead of seeking love and acceptance, I chose to act out and get lost in a fast spiral of destruction. Everyone had tried to help me cope and change the path I was taking but I had lost hope and no longer cared what happened to me. I would run away for days; I was out of control.
I was emancipated when I was 15 and became pregnant at the age of 16. After I had my baby, I was still using here and there but I had calmed down. Then I met a man and my life changed. I had access to whatever drug I wanted, and my life quickly turned into a double life.
To those around me I had a family, a home, and a husband, a life that seemed like it was going well.
Behind closed doors, there was emotional and physical abuse, lies and deception. My addiction spiraled out of control. I sold drugs and used more, which resulted in my arrest. I was five months pregnant with my third child and only 21 years old. Grief and pain consumed my life.
I lost my kids, and my addiction ruled my life.
I was sentenced to ten years in prison, but I modified out after 15 months. My kids were in Mexico with their grandparents, and once again, I was lost and grieving.
I went back into my addiction within two months. When they say you pick up right where you left off—that was true for me. Seven months later, I was on my way back to prison with a seven-year sentence and was three months pregnant.
I was never offered a treatment program outside of prison.
I gave birth to my son at Indiana Woman’s Prison. They had an 18-month program for moms with wee ones, but since I had a seven-year sentence, I gave temporary custody to a family member. I didn’t want him to go into the system.
I was released from prison when my son was 19 months old. Ashamed and full of guilt, I did not know how to be his mother when he had already been so attached to the only mother he knew. I didn’t feel like I was good enough to be his mom. I struggled with the thought of how I could be a mother to him when my other kids did not have a mother. Negative self-talk and the need to escape my pain led me right back into addiction and an abusive relationship.
I got pregnant shortly after with my daughter. I went into labor at 25 weeks (about 5 and a half months). Two days later, I finally got to a phone to get to the hospital. It was too late for them to stop my labor. She lived for 15 minutes. Again, I had failed and no longer wanted to live. I put myself into dangerous situations, and my life no longer mattered to me. I was selling drugs to feed my habit, which resulted in my arrest again and sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.
Upon my release, I went into work release, got a job and did well until I returned into the same abusive relationship. I didn’t know my worth. I felt alone and made a horrible decision. He was actively using, and I thought I was strong enough that I would not fall back. I was wrong. I was right back where I left off.
I had experienced two close people passing away, my dad and brother went to prison, and I felt hopeless. I didn’t know how to get out of the relationship I was in. My addiction got worse, and I had a new addiction on top of Meth.
I was addicted to downers. I’d get sick, unable to function. It was by far the worst of my addiction. I isolated myself completely from my family and my kids. I was ashamed of who I was and where I had allowed myself to end up. I suffered a neck fracture from my abusive friend, and went through ACDF surgery, but afterward, I returned to the abuse.
Finally, he was arrested, and I was able to break free, which left me homeless and alone and nothing to turn to but to continue the lifestyle of addiction and surviving the only way I knew how. I quickly got married and felt a sense of security.
I was finally in a different chapter, but we were both in addiction and not doing well. We had our ups and down and crazy lifestyle.
True change began when we were arrested. I know prison and jail are not always the answers but this time I knew it was my last. I did every class and every program in the county jail and when I got to prison, I went through the RWI program while my husband went to work release, got a job, and remained sober.
I was able to get a Job at Televerde, which is a Second Chance program in the prison for woman. I learned skills, took college classes, and finally found my worth, learned what my morals and values are and became the woman I had promised my family I would be. I was able to continue my employment when I was released. I still have that job and have been substance-free and in recovery since April 12, 2019. Change is possible, and we do recover!
2. What prompted you to get into recovery?
I hit the bottom of my rock-bottom on April 12th, 2019. I was arrested again, and I was relieved. That is when I knew I had to make some changes. I would either change my life, end up in a prison cell for the rest of my life, or put my family through my funeral. I was done with living a life of uncertainty and insanity. I had become someone I did not like.
3. Why did you choose to become a recovery coach? Because the system failed me. I was never provided with treatment or any resources. I do not want to see that happen to others, and I wanted to make a difference in others' lives and give back to my community. I prayed often and decided to reach out to my Oak Lawn counselor about my options. That’s when I asked how to become a recovery coach. The stigma and lack of resources can be a major factor in the success of someone struggling with SUD. During my training, I knew this is where God wanted me to be.
Which program did you go through? Oaklawn provided me with tickets to the training, which was led by two instructors from Mental Health America and Pace Indy. Vineyard Community Church helped me pay for my exam and certification, and I have been doing volunteer work there since. I have grown so much in my own recovery by helping others. I plan to expand my knowledge and training; I want to eventually be certified in trauma informed care and MAT (medically assisted treatment) and go back to school to be an addictions counselor.
4. How did you connect with LITE? Or was it Tammy Cotton first?
I was searching for resources one night and came across LITE on Facebook. I emailed them and asked, “How I can help give back and be a part of the solution to such a huge problem in our community?”
5. What do you do for LITE now?
I exchange resources and go to events and once the recovery café opens, I will be helping with that. I hope to continue to grow with LITE and help Tammy to make a difference in people's lives and change the way those recovering and re-entering into society are treated.
6. If you could change something about how addicted loved ones are treated, what would you change?
Stigma, we are not a lost cause. We have the right to housing and treatment. Prison is not always the answer. Most individuals that are struggling with SUD have underlining trauma that was never addressed. It’s often the reason they use –to mask the pain. I think focusing on the person's mental health and reason for the usage is more important than the charge or their SUD.
7. What has been the most difficult part of recovery?
Mending broken relationships. My loved ones have heard me say for years that I was going to change, but my actions spoke otherwise. Today, I have a relationship with my kids, and I can see the change in the way everyone feels about me. They believe in me because my actions have backed up my words. I am still not reunited with my three older kids that reside in Mexico, and we are still struggling to get them home, but I will not give up, and they now know that and trust me.
8. Was your family a part of your TEAM when you got into recovery? How did they 'help' you instead of 'enable' you?
In a way, yes, my husband and mother-in-law were my biggest support. They encouraged me and stood by me when I was having rough days but did not allow me to stay there. It has taken some time and mending to gain the trust and support of the rest of my family. I have hurt them so much in the past that my words did not mean much. Now, I can say they believe in me and support me and the path I have chosen to take.
9. How do you see the future of LITE growing?
I think that LITE is going to be something that changes the way people look, feel, and treat individuals that are involved in the justice system and that are struggling with SUD. LITE is making an impact in the community just by advocating for change and reducing stigma. That means something to individuals who feel hopeless and fear change. LITE is an inspiration and motivation that provides Hope.
10. What is your 'why?'
I have been asked this question several times. The reason I’m involved in LITE is to be an example and an inspiration that change is possible. I know what it feels like to feel hopeless, but I found my purpose and it has been a great rewarding journey to be able to help someone else along their road to recovery.
Also, my family and children have been impacted by my addiction, and I still have family that are in active addiction. I want to give them hope too.
11. What is/was your favorite addiction recovery book that helped you heal?
Battlefield of the Mind, by Joyce Meyers.
The Captivity Series: The Key to Your Expected End, by Katie Souza
Also, I am now on my second round of the Celebrate Recovery 12 steps and continue to learn about myself and who I want to be.