CODAC Recovery Stories
Mark E.'s journey has been a difficult one. But he has worked hard at his recovery. His journey and success story only get better.
Mark says that he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, depression and alcoholism. For years, Mark says he had no idea he had mental illnesses. The way Mark dealt with everything was to self-medicate by drinking. When Mark drank, he says he would end up using drugs, too. While Mark shares these memories, he shakes his head and says, "I used just about everything under the sun and moon."
Mark says he struggled with alcoholism the most. He didn't do drugs, unless he drank and was around other people who used drugs. Mark says he would feel depressed and paranoid, so he would go to the store and get a 12-pack of beer and just drank and smoked.
Mark decided to stop using alcohol and drugs, because his depression got worse and worse. Mark says he couldn't keep a job. Then, Mark got two DUIs. The fines took most of his money. Mark ended up homeless, but he kept drinking.
It was time to do something.
Mark joined CODAC in 2014. CODAC's behavioral health team did a psychological evaluation and determined he has serious mental illnesses. Mark says he also went to La Frontera, where they helped Mark apply for all of the benefits he could qualify for. Mark received food stamps, housing and disability benefits.
Mark hasn't drank or used drugs in nearly three years! Motivation has really helped him. Mark says he's attended recovery groups since 2015. Mark also takes medication on a regular basis.
Mark says he sometimes has the temptation to drink, but he goes on walks instead. He also visits the library or rides his bike. Mark has changed the friends he hangs out with, as well. He now surrounds himself with people whom he can talk to if he has a bad day.
Why is Mark a success story?
"I think staying sober and being able to accomplish things, being motivated is what makes me a success story," he says. "Get help. Life is too short. Things get better day-by-day."
Remember, success is a journey, not the end of the story.
I started out living the hard life.
In-and-out of foster homes, jail, and mental state hospitals, with very little family support.
By the age of 7, I was introduced to the worst humanity has to offer. I grew up feeling alone, abandoned, unwanted and unloved.
By 16, I had already experimented with multiple drugs and other illegal activities, as I tried to fill a big void. At that age, I also learned I was pregnant. Unlike my parents, I wanted to love and care for my child. Unfortunately, love is all I could offer. So, I gave my little girl up for adoption.
Since my younger years, I have strived to better myself.
I am still in the process of learning to love myself and take care of myself. I now have a good job. I have stayed sober, and have my own apartment. I also regularly attend CODAC groups and I'm enrolled in school to learn more skills.
I still have a hard time with life, but learning coping skills and making healthy choices has improved my life so much. I am grateful for life now and grateful for the support I'm surrounded with.
I would suggest to anyone to work on loving yourself and being the best you can be.
Brittany C. began her recovery journey with CODAC after being released from the Crisis Response Center for suicidal thoughts in 2006. Her mental health and substance use history had her cycling in and out of treatment facilities and feeling depressed, angry and isolated.
"I was a mess and I refused to admit that there was anything wrong with me," she shares.
For a long time, Brittany struggled to figure out exactly what was going on with her mind and emotions. Eventually she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder that she had been attempting to manage through drug use.
Brittany began treatment at Las Amigas, CODAC's Residential Treatment Program for women with substance use disorders. With the right combination of medications, therapy and support, she began to feel more stable.
"The staff made me feel cared for as a person. My recovery coach helped me find resources, held me accountable and saw something in me that I didn't know was there," she says. With the guidance from her Recovery Coach, Brittany was provided tools to better manage her life. These included bus passes (to get to her to treatment sites, appointments, and to find employment), support finding a job, and even permanent housing.
"Setbacks, like the threat of eviction, really held me back and sometimes caused me to relapse," shares Brittany.
"It's so much easier to stay sober when you have help keeping a roof over your head."
Brittany is feeling more confident as she moves forward in her life. She is now employed at a local fast food restaurant and regularly attends outpatient support groups and therapy. She is navigating the next steps to regain custody of her oldest daughter and just recently gave birth to her second child.
"CODAC has wrapped their arms around me and supported me with primary care, case management, medication management, family and job support. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me and it's been a long time since I have felt hope," she says.
"When I think of myself before I was sober, I remember feeling disgusted, ashamed, lonely, and exhausted," shares Jack M. a member with CODAC.
Jack's drug use began with recreational pills use and escalated to daily heroin use after a bad break up.
Since June of 2015, as part of probation requirements, Jack attended support groups, individual therapy and received medication-assisted addiction treatment to support his recovery from opiate addiction.
For a long time, Jack's struggle with addiction was back and forth from relapse to sobriety.
It wasn't until he realized the reality of the consequences of his addiction, that he found the focus and strength needed to work on himself and move forward in reaching sobriety.
"If I continued to relapse, I knew I was going to end up in prison," he says.
When Jack first began treatment and support services with CODAC, he was in an intensive program; he attended ten groups per week for six months.
"I began to notice a change within those first few months," he says. "I began completing all my assignments and really absorbing the tools I was given. I started gaining weight and getting positive feedback from others. I began to feel proud."
As things continued to positively change, Jack had a renewed outlook on life. "I didn't have to worry about drugs, which was all I use to think about from morning till night," he shares.
Support groups provide useful tools for coping with addiction triggers. Jack learned to change his routine to establish new and healthy behaviors and also learned to identify and pay attention to his thoughts and feelings. Working alongside other men who understand addiction has been helpful for him.
"I think that the male partnerships and fellowships are a big part of recovery. Having the guys here is like going and hanging out with people who understand."
Therapy was also a big help in Jack's recovery. "The opportunity to work with someone one-on-one and really connect to deep core issues is really important, especially as a man," says Jack.
Jack explains that, for men, it can be hard to admit that they have issues to work through and even harder to ask for help. He credits his success in his recovery not only to his treatment but also to the many meaningful activities that fill up his days. When he isn't working, Jack attends community recovery groups, goes to church and coaches little league baseball.
Jack is now sought out as a mentor within the program and staff send new members to Jack as a peer who can share his positive successes in recovery with others.
"CODAC has definitely been a miracle for me."
Edward B. - Finding Hope Again
Edward B. worked successfully in a high-stress and fast-paced job as a dispatcher for the Tucson Fire Department while juggling the demands of being a husband and father to two young children.
In 2014, his marriage began to crumble and the added stress took a toll on his mental health.
Edward stopped taking his medication, stopped meeting with a therapist, wasn’t sleeping and felt like he was losing his grip on life.
“I thought I could manage everything by myself, but things began to spiral out of control.”
The crushing weight of anxiety and depression were controlling his life, keeping him confined to his house. Days melted into weeks which blurred into two years of essentially no social interaction and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.
“There were days where I wouldn’t even leave the bedroom or go outside,” he shares.
One evening in 2015, after taking a prescribed sleep medication, Edward accidentally drove his vehicle through a neighbor’s wall. He has no memory of the crash; he was charged with criminal damage and sentenced to probation. This offense was the first and only mark on Edward’s record. As part of his probation guidelines, he was ordered to take his medications, attend therapy and find work.
“This was my rock bottom,” he says. “Everything in my life had been turned upside down.”
With the gentle nudge of a few friends and colleagues, Edward was ready to admit to himself that he really did need some support. He was ready to actively seek help.
Edward found his way to CODAC where he participates in individual therapy and attends support groups. Edward also uses CODAC’s Employment Service Center to help him develop the skills he needs to find a job.
“I had to start all over again,” says Edward. “I had no job, a lot of anxiety and I was scared of everything.”
One place he always feels safe is CODAC. Edward shares that every part of his experience with CODAC has been warm and welcoming.
“I was at CODAC every day and I felt like I mattered. The staff at the front desk greeted me by name. Cristina [my therapist] listened to me and I didn’t feel judged; Pam [my employment specialist] provided support for me to start over and get through my barriers.”
With the ongoing support of Employment Specialist Pamela Taggart, Edward was able to rediscover the skills he felt that he lost. Pam worked with Edward on his resume, practiced interviews, and empowered him to find the self-worth that he didn’t see was there.
“I wasn’t going to allow him to give up,” shares Pamela.
Pamela’s shared experience of overcoming challenges in life in recovery offered encouragement and hope to Edward. She became a support he could lean on and a coach to help him navigate the challenges of finding a job while coping with mental illness.
“I was often told that I was overqualified for some jobs and then was rejected for others because of my record. This was a hindrance and a barrier for me that was really challenging to deal with. Pam was able to help me understand that it is okay to start over,” he says.
Just recently, Edward accepted a position at a local grocery store. He is motivated by his team at CODAC and the desire to prove that he is an exceptional employee. Edwards’s new job is one of many positive steps taken towards putting the pieces back together. He plans to stay active in his treatment to maintain his recovery.
Pam is proud of this accomplishment in Edward’s life but knows there is far more in store for him.
“His story is certainly not over, but it is off to great new start,” she says.
“If I look back on where I was, I didn’t think I would be able to get a job or even leave the house. I thought that my life was over and was hopeless. I am extremely grateful and indebted to CODAC.”
Ron H. - Rooted in Recovery
For a tree to grow, it must have two basic requirements: nourishment and a strong foundation.
Both adaptable and resilient, trees thrive under harsh conditions and renew themselves as time passes - just as Ron has.
“My whole life has been nothing but bad roots and bad soil,” shares Ron H., a 36-year-old CODAC member.
“The roots of addiction take hold of you from the inside and do not want to let go,” he says, relating his metaphor to a past that has been tainted with trauma, anger and low self-worth.
Ron has been a member of CODAC since he was sixteen years old. As a teenager, he was getting into trouble for selling drugs at school and running away. As an adult, he struggled to manage his anger and impulses to use drugs. It took an open case with the Department of Child Safety (DCS), burglary charges and the likelihood of time in prison to open his eyes to the reality of the direction his life was headed.
With the support of CODAC’s Men’s Recovery Services team, Ron entered CODAC’s Intensive Outpatient programs and moved into the men’s transitional living facility referred to as 20th Street House. He attended therapy and support groups, participated in individual therapy, and reevaluated the kind of person he wanted to be.
“Stress was lifted from all of the things I was overwhelmed with,” he says. Ron explains that when residents of the 20th Street House don’t have to worry about the basics of living such as food and rent, it opens up space for the men to focus on their recovery.
“Throughout my whole life, I have only focused on one thing at a time... I was never able to maintain family, recovery and other responsibilities all at once. I knew that in order for me to be successful, I needed to handle all of them.”
Ron credits a large part of his recovery to the Peer Support Specialists at CODAC.
“These men have been through the wringer and are where I aspire to be someday,” Ron says.
Peer Support Specialists play an important role in supporting the recovery and independence of members. They act as advocates and mentors to people living with substance abuse and mental health disorders.
“When I talk to someone who knows how I feel, who has shared my experience, it gives me hope that I can also be like them one day.”
Today, Ron has over a year of sobriety under his belt. His DCS case is closed and he spends time with his children on a regular basis. He has found employment with the support of CODAC’s employment specialists. Ron is focused, passionate and determined to keep moving forward in his recovery and in achieving his goals.
“The experiences I have lived can help me understand where others are coming from. I can relate and use my experience to guide them in the right direction... That’s what CODAC has done for me,” says Ron.
“I have been able to peel away all of that bark, the bad parts, and let it die off. I am growing new leaves now.”
Kristy S. - Breaking Up with her Best Friend
“Drugs were my best friend,” says Kristy as she reflects on her 25-year long struggle with addiction.
Her harmful relationship with drugs ended when Kristy, a mother of four, entered treatment at CODAC’s Las Amigas residential treatment program three years ago.
“I was in a desperate place in my life, and I just fell to my knees and prayed for help,” she shares. Kristy was homeless and had an open Department of Child Safety (DCS) case that risked custody of her children.
“I didn’t want to lose my kids; they mean more to me than [drugs].”
Kristy’s call for help was answered when she saw a CODAC sign across the street from where she stood. With tears in her eyes, she knocked on the door and was greeted by a staff member who guided her through the next steps towards sobriety. Kristy was informed about Las Amigas, CODAC’s residential treatment center for women living with an addiction disorder.
Kristy’s first week at Las Amigas consisted mostly of sleep. Common side effects of withdrawal from methamphetamine include decreased energy, lethargy, and depression.
Once she had overcome the hurdle of withdrawal, Kristy was able to focus on her recovery. She actively participated in one-on-one and group therapy sessions, learned relapse prevention techniques, developed healthy parenting skills, and learned how to heal from past trauma.
“I was able to learn about why I used drugs and realize things about myself that I wasn’t aware of.” Kristy shares that, through her therapy, sessions she was able to realize that part of her drug use was linked to poor self-worth and depression.
“Now I know the importance of believing the positive things about myself, because when you believe those things, they really take root.”
Kristy’s life is proof of this. Since completing her treatment program at Las Amigas, Kristy has maintained employment, completed her GED, lives in her own apartment with her kids, closed her DCS case and is seeking a career as a Peer Support Specialist.
“My experiences in life can be used to help other people. I have been in the pits of bad places, both mentally and physically, and have overcome it. I found hope — and that is what I want to share — hope.”
A Father's Motivation for Recovery
“There is no explanation to describe the love for your child,” says Paul W.
Paul sits amidst an apartment full of toddlers’ toys. Behind him lies a stack of stuffed animals, dolls, a tricycle and many family photos. His three-year-old daughter smiles shyly from behind her mom and introduces the tiny black kitten that her parents recently adopted for her.
Paul’s relationship with his three-year-old daughter, Hazel, is the focus of his life.
He never imagined that she would be taken from him as a consequence of his addiction to opiate drugs.
After being hurt in a car accident, Paul was prescribed pain medications for a span of several months. When the refills ran out, Paul experienced the harsh and uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.
“I never knew what addiction was or felt like,” shares Paul. He knew that to feel “normal” and to avoid feeling sick, he had to find more pills. Buying pills off of the streets satisfied his need for some time, but when it started costing too much, he turned to a cheaper and even more addictive drug — heroin.
Paul’s daily drug use became his main priority, ranking above being a responsible father for his daughter.
“My life became a roller coaster with no brakes.”
The wake-up call that Paul needed happened when the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) took Hazel.
Paul was referred to CODAC’s Men’s Recovery Services for treatment so he could have a chance to reunite with his daughter. This intensive outpatient treatment program provides specialized addiction services for men, including case management, peer support, psychiatric care, and individual, couples, family and group therapy.
“I remember walking in [to CODAC] and hearing the other guys share their stories of getting their kids back, closing their [DCS] cases, and thinking that I would never get there.”
As part of the program, Paul attended support groups related to addiction, relapse prevention, parenting, and more to keep his sobriety on track and to learn to be a healthy father again.
Paul became a role model among the other program participants for his determination to stay sober, for himself and his family. ““As Paul has learned and grown, he has been unafraid to help other members by sharing his experience, strength and hope,” says Dan Krepps, Program Coordinator for Men’s Recovery Services.
“I came to CODAC because I was told I had to. But after going to a couple classes, I ended up seeing the real reason I was there. I was able to see what I needed to work on within myself.”
Paul has done just that. He now possesses the skills to stay sober and to be a healthy parent and partner. On October 20, 2015, Paul’s DCS case was closed early and he and Hazel were reunited for good. He now has over a year of sobriety under his belt.
Paul assigns the success in his recovery in part to his daughter, but also to the unconditional support he received from the staff and other members in CODAC’s Men’s Recovery Services.
“They are always here for you - If you’re feeling down, need a friend to talk to, not feeling yourself, you can go there and always find the support you need,” Paul says.
Dan shares that Paul‘s sense of purpose and diligence to his recovery is an encouragement for others who might be seeking help for the same reasons.
“Seeing him change as he worked the program and worked with staff to remove the barriers to his recovery was heartening… [Paul] was able to get his daughter back early and has proven to himself, the courts, and his daughter, that he could change.”
Bonnie W. – Molding a Beautiful Life
Until recently, Bonnie W. lived with a broken spirit and shattered self-esteem. Her feelings and outlook on life paralleled the fragility of the delicate ceramic pieces she creates.
Years of trauma, loss and emotional and physical abuse left her feeling vulnerable and alone.
“When I think about the trauma in my life, it’s not like it’s just a hangnail,” Bonnie shares.
“It’s the house burning down, the loss of a child, and multiple divorces…,” she says as she lists traumatic experiences that molded her life.
“Whenever something good happened to me, I would just wait because I knew the other shoe would drop not long after.”
After enduring more than eight years in an abusive relationship, Bonnie fled to Tucson from Missouri with the help of her son, Michael.
For many victims of domestic violence, the decision to leave an abusive relationship can be incredibly challenging. There are many reasons why it can be hard for people to leave abusive relationships, but Bonnie had the support of her son, and was ready.
Even while living hundreds of miles away, Bonnie feared that her husband would find her. This fear consumed her life and fueled a quickly escalating depression.
“I remember crying so much, that I didn’t think I would ever stop,” says Bonnie tearfully.
Her depression was severe enough that, more than once, she attempted suicide.
Mending the Soul
With the gentle support of an encouraging neighbor, Bonnie sought help from Emerge!, a local agency that provides services and treatment for victims of domestic violence.
“When I learned that there were other women who have gone through what I have, I didn’t feel alone anymore.”
Bonnie showed up to support groups and, many times, would just listen and absorb the shared stories of other survivors of domestic violence. Emerge! connected Bonnie with behavioral health services at CODAC where she actively participated in groups, therapy, and received medication support to aid in her recovery.
Over time, Bonnie became more self-confident, learned how to identify warning signs in relationships and how to recognize her own positive self-worth.
While receiving services at CODAC, Bonnie’s Care Manager referred her to PSA Art Awakenings to complement her care. Art Awakenings is an art program that promotes recovery through creative expression and, for Bonnie, was the most influential component of recovery.
The referral to PSA Art Awakenings “saved my life,” she emphasizes. Bonnie found comfort in creating art in a space that is safe, comfortable and empowering.
“When I was with my abuser, I had no voice and no sense of worth. As time passed, I blossomed and began building my self-esteem back.”
Upon completion of her program at PSA Art Awakenings, Bonnie grew increasingly uneasy of what she would do next.
She felt comfortable among her peers and enjoyed having a creative, safe place with social support. Her talent as an artist had been nurtured and Bonnie had further developed her abilities in ceramics, painting, and graphic design among, other skills.
“Art saved my life and I wanted the opportunity to share that with others and offer a way for other artists to keep their recoveries going, too.”
Bonnie brainstormed with her close friend Al Alvarez and together, they created a business proposal to offer a space for artists in recovery to create art. Nearly two years of planning later, Bonnie’s dream has taken shape. She and Al have opened a business called “The Art Project” where artists can do just that.
Through Bonnie’s testimony we learn, that as she says, “the thing about clay —and life— is that you can remold it and rework it until you create something beautiful.”
Brittany Z. – New Life Brings New Hope for Mother in Recovery
For over a year, Brittany Z. and her boyfriend Steven lived in poverty, coping with addiction. The two survived, thanks to the good will of others. Their beds were in tunnels; their meals stolen from convenience stores. Oftentimes, the two would go weeks without an opportunity to bathe.
“It was absolutely terrible to be in that situation,” said Brittany, a soft-spoken 23 year old.
Brittany is now embracing more than two years of sobriety and recalls her past with a heavy heart. Though it was painful to endure, she is thankful for the difficult lessons learned during her years of use.
Brittany first began using drugs at 18 years old. Her past consisted of risk factors that, for some, can lead to addiction: depression, sexual abuse, and a family history of drug abuse.
The first time she used, Brittany gave in to peer pressure.
“[Heroin] was like an immediate escape,” she said. From that moment on, she was dependent on the drug.
Within one month, her habit quickly escalated from occasional to daily, from smoking to injection.
Very quickly, things began to fall apart for Brittany. She lost her job as a hospital housekeeper and could no longer afford her apartment. All she had left was her relationship with Steven and her dependence on drugs.
As her addiction continued, fear of withdrawal symptoms discouraged Brittany from attempting to quit.
“I would tell myself I have to keep using so that I don’t get sick,” she said. “Eventually, though, Steven and I grew tired of having to hustle for our habit.”
Steven explained to Brittany there was a program that could help. The two began services through CODAC’s Medication Assisted Addiction Treatment Program.
Life was still hard. There were still cravings and troubles within her relationship. Brittany desperately needed something to happen and make this struggle easier.
“I would pray every single day for something to change… I needed change.”
One month later, Brittany found out she was pregnant.
“I did not want my child to have the life that I lived growing up. I knew that I was going to stop using completely.”
With the help of medication, therapy, and ongoing support groups, Brittany has been able to manage her difficult journey.
“Medication during this process helped me to keep my mind straight and in the right place. I have the support of the staff here and an amazing counselor who is my encouragement.”
Brittany has been drug-free for over two years now. “I feel better than ever. I feel like I am my old self again.”
Since becoming actively involved in her treatment, Brittany has gained supported housing with her boyfriend, and is participating in a parenting skills class to learn to be a healthy mom.
“I want a better life for my little girl,” she emphasized.
Brittany continues treatment with CODAC and is in the process of slowly tapering off of her dosage so she can eventually be sober without medication. With her daughter as her motivation, Brittany aspires to one day have a career in the medical field to provide for her family.
“My life is completely turned around and I couldn't have done it without my daughter.”
Taking Control of Thoughts, Taking Control of Life with CBT
Frances T. was all smiles on the day she graduated from Mental Health Diversion Court. She had officially wiped her slate clean of a criminal charge through her hard work and enthusiasm at required treatment groups.
Having never been involved with the criminal justice system before, Frances was uncertain and fearful of what was to come of her unintentional run-in with the law. However, through 12 sessions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy groups at CODAC, she learned valuable tools that have influenced her thoughts and behavior ever since.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the role of thoughts and thinking in everyday life. This form of treatment supports the concept that thoughts cause our feelings and moods, not external factors like situations or events.
“CBT is a way to restructure negative thought patterns and beliefs that you have about yourself or other situations,” said CODAC Therapist, Alanna Boyd, MA, LPC., who utilizes CBT in many groups and individual sessions.
Frances T. is one of many people to benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy offered at CODAC.
In her groups at CODAC, Frances participated in a CBT-based group called, “Thinking for a Change,” where members who have been charged with non-violent crimes, learn how to gain control of their thoughts to avoid acting in such a way that could get them in trouble in the future.
“The motto of the group is: Our thinking controls our behavior. By taking control of our thinking, we can take control of our lives,” explained Gabrielle Danaher, Care Manager and group facilitator to Frances at CODAC’s Downtown site.
“One of the biggest things we talk about in group is learning from past experiences,” said Gabrielle. “Mistakes happen and you just have to learn from it. When we recognize what situations make us feel stressed or scared, for example, we can practice positive thinking to help us better cope in those times.”
CBT is threaded through many treatment options at CODAC. In addition to groups, CBT is offered in individual settings with a therapist who can tailor it to best suit the needs of a person. In many instances, CBT focuses on changing thoughts and perceptions based on becoming aware of negative, false, or inaccurate thoughts as they happen.
CODAC member Kristi C. shared that, for her, the CBT approach and a trusting relationship with her therapist have helped her cope with stress and depression in her daily life.
“When I get anxious or worried, I now know how to focus on positive things…I know how to move forward and not get stuck in that mindset,” she said.
“You can measure if CBT is working for someone when they notice that their challenging thoughts decrease and the inaccurate feelings or negative thoughts dissipate,” Alanna added. “It’s excellent that CODAC offers its members like Frances and Kristi, opportunities to take control of their lives through their thoughts. It really works for many people.”
An Emotional Roller Coaster: Living with Bipolar Disorder
“My mania would start with me getting agitated and aggressive. I would often go days without sleeping,” she said.
For many with bipolar disorder, periods of mania result from the brain creating a surge of chemicals making a person feel euphoric and sometimes irritable and angry.
Bipolar disorder affects approximately two million adults in the United States each year according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The disorder causes unusual and severe shifts in mood and energy and can impact the ability to manage routine tasks like going to work. Manic episodes can also result in impulsive behaviors.
Though the experience of living with bipolar disorder differs for each person, Jackie compares it to an emotional roller coaster. After waves of excessive spending, compulsively lying and hoarding food, there was the all-too-familiar downhill plummet. “When you come down, you crash,” Jackie emphasized.
Jackie lived on this bipolar ride for years, trying to escape by using cocaine and alcohol. Her symptoms got so bad that she could no longer work.
Life hit an all-time low. Not knowing where else to turn, Jackie considered suicide.
“It’s the scariest part of being bipolar. The depression that hits you at the bottom is unreal,” she said.
Jackie was taken by a friend to the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation (SAMHC) where individuals experiencing a mental health crisis can receive immediate care. It was there that she met Dr. Nelson, an on-call physician who she later followed to CODAC.
Since coming to CODAC in 1996, Jackie has learned tools to better manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. With medication, peer support and therapy, Jackie sees life differently than when she was a young adult.
Jackie hand crafts unique gourd birdhouses that are sold at the Tucson Botanical Gardens where she regularly volunteers.
“My recovery is a day-to-day process,” she said. “It involves hope, staying active, and surrounding myself with a good support system.”
“Learning to develop a strong foundation for support is part of the process of coming to terms with a mental illness.”
Jackie is very involved in various support groups and wellness activities offered at CODAC and in the community. She finds peace in creative expression through art and volunteers her time at the Tucson Botanical Gardens where she co-facilitates a horticultural therapy group for others in recovery from physical and mental health disorders.
Jackie has learned skills to cope with her symptoms and understands the significance in both receiving and giving support.
“I have more than 18 years of recovery under my belt now, and with that I can advocate for myself and others,” she said.
In reflecting on her experience with bipolar disorder, one of the most important lessons that Jackie has learned is self-acceptance.
“I would like my brain to be different, but I know it’s not. I have learned to accept myself for who I am and that this experience has made me the person I am today.”
Jackie’s mental illness is no longer a turbulent ride, but a life-long journey to embrace.
Jass S. – From Despair to Determination
Jass S. ranked at the top of his class during his senior year of high school, only months shy of graduating with honors. His future looked promising, but no one could have predicted how quickly things would change.
Without warning, Jass experienced the death of his father, developed mental health concerns, and started having problems with drugs and crime.
In 2007, Jass sought support at CODAC to manage the grief of losing his dad. He participated in groups that taught him skills for how to cope and release the blame that families often feel when a loved one completes suicide.
Shortly after his father’s death, Jass started hearing voices and developed paranoia. These were the first symptoms of what was later diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder, a mental health condition in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and mania or depression.
Jass was getting into trouble. It was difficult for him to control symptoms, which resulted in several conflicts with police and an escalating drug dependency.
“The police knew who I was,” Jass recalls. “Once, when I wasn't on my meds, I couldn't be controlled,” he shares, describing an altercation at a grocery store that landed him in restraints and on his way to jail for assault.
For Jass, jail is what ultimately motivated him to get his life back on track.
CODAC members involved with law enforcement receive support from a specialized team known as the Criminal Justice Team who coordinate services between CODAC, courts, and probation officers.
“Jail really helped me to calm down and put me in a place where I wanted to be,” he says. “It has now been two years since all of that, and I know that I am in a much better place now.”
Jass’ team of CODAC staff, along with his probation officer, provided structure and collaboratively developed a plan that worked.
He participated in groups such as anger management courses, which taught him the skills he needed to keep things under control.
“The classes here have really helped me… I am done being in trouble,” says Jass as he reflects on how his involvement with law enforcement has ultimately been a positive experience.
While in jail, isolated from his mom and brother, Jass was able to reflect on life and learned to value what was most important to him: family.
“If I wouldn't have had the support of my mom and brother, I don’t know what I would have done.”
The unconditional guidance and love provided by Jass’ mother, Ruzenka, and his brother, Damir, helped him to move past very challenging times.
Jass is thankful for the support of his mother, Ruzenka, who has been influential in his recovery.
“When he was on probation, it was like our whole family was on probation,” says Ruzenka. “This was a very hard time for our family.”
After release from jail, Jass’ mother set firm boundaries and expectations, which included a zero-tolerance policy for drugs in their shared home.
“Even though we are tough on him, we push him because we love him,” she adds.
“If I mess up, I will get kicked out of the house,” he says jokingly.
In these past seven years, Jass has made many changes and is determined to continue improving his life.
“I left all of my old friends. I knew that I could not hang out with all of the people that I used to— it just ended in trouble.”
Jass has actively eliminated unhealthy and triggering situations from his life including poor friendships, drugs and alcohol. Currently, he is finishing courses to obtain his GED and hopes to explore career options so he can find a stable job that he is passionate about.
“CODAC has really helped me. All of the people here have taken care of me from case managers to nurses to doctors.”
“I am very proud of my son,” says Ruzenka. “It has been our family goal to put him on the right path and forget everything that has happened. We have a new beginning for him and our family now.”
Jay has faced more obstacles than most do in a lifetime. At the young age of two, Jay lost his brother to meningitis, nearly dying from it himself. That same year, his biological father died from a massive heart attack.
Jay was born prematurely with a genetic chromosomal deficiency which impacted his development and daily functioning in many ways.
“I am hearing impaired and I have a lot of genetic disorders,” said Jay. The chromosomal deficiency affects his mental health too; he lives with depression and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder as a young man.
“I didn’t really like myself for who I was,” admitted Jay. “I tended to think one way or the other, there was no middle ground.”
“I had a very low self-esteem and was hurting myself in very serious ways.”
Jay did not feel that he could communicate his hurt to anyone. Instead, he turned to self-harm as a coping mechanism. “It served as a release of pain because I was feeling a lot of pain and hurt towards myself.”
His treatment for these harmful behaviors began while living in Michigan. “I was going to the hospital nearly every other month,” Jay disclosed.
In 2004, Jay moved to Tucson with his family. He began treatment at CODAC. Jay’s therapist, Susan Berg, MA, LPC, LISAC, played an instrumental role from the very beginning.
“[Susan] was able to help me by listening to what I had to say and not judging me,” Jay noted. “In the beginning, I didn’t want to focus on my issues and I used to get up and run out. But Susan helped me get out of my black and white thinking and helped me really dig into what those issues were.”
“People who are diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder tend to see things either all good or all bad,” said Susan. To assist in changing this way of thinking, Susan implemented use of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). “DBT is the considered the best practice for working with any person diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder or self-harming behaviors,” said Susan.
Therapy was one component of Jay’s care, “It was a team effort to keep Jay healthy,” explained Susan in reference to the collaborative effort of CODAC staff.
In addition to therapy and the right mental health medications, Jay also enlisted the faith-based support of the Celebrate Recovery program at his church and has volunteered over 3000 hours at the Northwest Women’s Center. This strong foundation of encouragement has certainly added to Jay’s recovery.
“I now feel like I have a lot of joy,” said Jay. “I have accomplished a lot and the staff at CODAC has really helped me in getting to where I am today.”
“Jay has come such a long way in his recovery,” said Susan. “There is a reason we [at CODAC] do what we do, and if you ever question that, you can look at Jay and see why.”
“Jay has gone beyond my hopes. He is stable, he seems to be happy, and he has learned to like himself more.” Susan said.
When asked what advice he had for others who are in their recovery journey, Jay said, “Just keep going. You will fall or stumble sometimes, but pick yourself up because this journey is not going to end, it’s just the beginning,” he assured.
Jay’s journey hasn't been easy. The process of his recovery has taken years of hard work and dedication. He has learned self-acceptance and has found an abundance of joy where there was previously very little. He truly is a fighter.
Melissa F. – Taking Recovery One Step at a Time
“Trauma takes a great toll on the way you look at yourself, the way you see the world, and the way you think the world looks at you,” said 22-year-old
Melissa F., client of CODAC’s Young Adult Team.
Melissa didn't have the opportunity to experience childhood the way most children do. In place of carefree, playful days, she experienced abuse and neglect. She adopted the role of parent to her siblings at a very young age. Both her mother and father struggled with addiction.
Growing up, Melissa was responsible for most household responsibilities. She was the person to cook, clean, and help her siblings with schoolwork. “I took care of my little brother and sister and saw them more as my children than my siblings.”
At the age of 14, Melissa’s father died from a drug overdose. At the time, she and her siblings were living with him in Alaska. As a result, she and her siblings had no choice but to move back to Tucson to live with extended family: a transition that was difficult for them all.
In the years that followed, Melissa began to slip into risky behavior patterns. She started skipping class to drink and do drugs. Though her drinking was slowly escalating, Melissa didn’t see it as a problem. “At the time, I never really thought it was a serious issue or that it would affect my life,” she said.
Ready for a change, Melissa eagerly anticipated going to Hampshire College in Massachusetts where she received a full-ride scholarship. What she didn’t anticipate was the even further escalation of her addiction to alcohol.
She started drinking nearly an entire large handle of vodka every weekend. Occasionally, she would mix alcohol with benzodiazepines, a sedative used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
“I did it to cope. I had developed this cycle of finding myself very comfortable when I was drunk,” she said. “As long as I stayed drunk, there were no real feelings.” This pattern eventually landed Melissa in a life threatening situation where she was found lying in a bathroom unconscious by a friend. “I almost died,” she recalled.
It was then that Melissa realized that she had been carrying the burden of emotional and traumatic events for a long time. Everything was beginning to surface.
“I had always been the caretaker to everyone in my life. I had been a wall to lean on… I never thought I would be the kind of person who fell apart and got sick.”
With slipping grades and many absences, the University’s Assistant Dean gave her two choices: go to rehab or risk being expelled. Fearing for her future, she entered treatment.
Melissa was in inpatient rehab for an entire month for her alcohol addiction followed by inpatient treatment for an eating disorder. Throughout this process, she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety and PTSD along with bulimia and alcohol addiction.
Melissa felt relief after receiving these diagnoses. “Just knowing that I had a diagnosis let me know that at least there is something that I can start working on.”
Depression is something she experienced throughout her life, but it was always brushed under the rug. “Buck up,” her family would say. “If I had dealt with some of those problems when I was younger, a lot less damage would have happened as an adult,” she stated.
After her treatment and out of school, Melissa moved back to Tucson. She experienced what many recovering from addiction do: relapse.
“This period of my life was a very negative experience for me. I was not around a lot of positive influences and most of that time is a blur,” she shared.
When Melissa turned 20, she went to visit her primary care physician and discussed her symptoms of anxiety. She was referred to CODAC and after explaining her needs to a care manager, she was referred to CODAC’s Young Adult Team (YAT).
Young Adult Services at CODAC provides intensive outpatient services for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders geared specifically for ages 18-21.
“I did not expect for things to be as life changing as they were going to be,” said Melissa. The one-on-one approach that the Young Adult Team provides is exactly the type of intervention she needed.
“YAT helped me take small steps to pull things together, which was really good for me because I was at a point in my life where I felt like I was going to die… like my father.”
It took time, but slowly things started to improve in Melissa’s life. “Things started to get progressively more positive because of the more positive outlook I was gaining from going to groups and talking to [my care manager].”
Recovery has been a continual process of self-discovery and self-acceptance. She has learned that even if she has set-backs, she will still have the support of CODAC staff who will guide her through. “YAT gives you a place to go where you can rethink your goals and what it takes to do the right thing,”
This mixed media piece titled "Speak," won a prize at the Community Mental Health Arts Show last year.
As Melissa looks towards her future, she plans to return to school to study child psychology. She is in the process of applying for the Recovery Support Specialist Institute where she can serve as mentor to others in recovery from mental illness and substance use disorders.
“I think I can use those negative experiences to be someone with a lot more insight and strength,” she said in reference to helping others in a similar situation.
She continues to promote the message of self-acceptance through art, a passion she has had since childhood. “Art is a release of a lot of emotional tension,” said Melissa.
Though she didn’t initially have confidence in her work, the YAT nurtured her creativity and encouraged Melissa to enter her work into the 13th Annual Community Mental Health Arts Show where two of her pieces won prizes.
Melissa continues to work on her recovery daily and utilizes the tools she has been taught to live a healthier life. She hopes to one day do the same for others in her career and through artwork.
Sandie B. - Honesty is the Best Policy
Sandie tasted her first sip of alcohol at the age of nine. The alcohol was provided by an adult family friend. Not long after, she was given marijuana by her stepfather; she was barely in the sixth grade.
Perhaps they didn’t realize the potential impact of their seemingly small gesture. These were among the first encounters of what was to become Sandie’s twenty-five year-long struggle with drug addiction.
Sandie’s drug use only intensified. By the time she was in high school, she had tried LSD, cocaine, mushrooms, and more. It was by chance that she discovered the drug that truly trapped her.
“I was looking for cocaine with some guys I was hanging out with,” said Sandie as she recalled her first high from methamphetamine in her early twenties. Instead of using cocaine though, they supplied her with her first dose of crystal meth.
After trying the drug just once, it immediately became her drug of choice. “Meth was what I had been looking for. It took the pain away,” said Sandie. Sandie’s past includes years of trauma and abuse from previous relationships.
“The first thought that crossed my mind was that anyone could say anything to me, and it wouldn’t make me cry.” The numbing affects that methamphetamine had on her was something she will never forget, and for years, it was something she craved. The drug took control of her life.
Sandie was arrested multiple times because of her substance use, but it didn’t stop her from using. “The first thing on my mind when I would get out is that I am going to get high,” recalled Sandie.
Sandie is the mother for four: one boy and three girls. She doesn’t have custody of her children, and CPS is involved with all. She was never interested in stopping her drug use until the birth of her youngest daughter, Casey.
“I was sitting at my friend’s house with my newborn,” Sandie recalled. “She was using [meth] and she was holding my baby. When she offered me drugs, I told her no. I didn’t want to raise any more babies around that drug.”
It was then that Sandie chose to follow up with her initial intake appointment at CODAC. Walking up to the door at Mother’s Caring About Self (MCAS), an intensive outpatient treatment facility, was one of the most intimidating moments in her life.
When there was no immediate answer after ringing the doorbell, she contemplated turning back. Just before she did, a friendly staff person answered the door. “I am here for my intake,” Sandie said bravely.
Sandie has now been a member with MCAS for nine months. Her recovery has had a few setbacks but those are far outweighed by her self-growth and dedication.
“Learning how to be honest and trust the treatment process was the hardest part,” she explained. “For me, lying goes hand in hand with my drug use, but MCAS made it feel very safe for me to be honest.”
It is through honesty that Sandie has experienced a breakthrough in her journey of sobriety. Relapse oftentimes happens in recovery, and when Sandie relapsed and used meth for three days in September of 2012, she had the opportunity to lie.
However, when she walked back through the doors of MCAS with her husband, Sandie was greeted, not by judgment, but with genuine care.
“All of the sudden, the whole staff team came running out and I never felt so cared about and like I meant so much before,” said Sandie. “They simply asked me if I was ok and I began to cry.”
Sandie confessed that she had relapsed and was comforted in knowing that she will still have the support she needs for treatment. “I learned that [the staff] isn’t going to attack me and that they are here to guide me through this. I really love MCAS,” said Sandie.
She revealed that her greatest support comes from the team at MCAS, not only from the staff, but from the women there as well. Sandie has formed deep friendships with others in recovery who have endured similar life experiences. She has many goals for herself and her recovery and she knows that it will take hard work to accomplish them.
Sandie celebrates her commencement from the Mothers Caring About Self program with her daughter.
“I want to get my children back in my life,” she said. “But, I don’t want them back in my life if I am not an honest and sober parent. I have to change, not just for them, but for me, in my heart.”
Even if Sandie doesn’t get her children back, she still vows to choose a life of sobriety. “I didn’t know what it meant to be in recovery until MCAS. I’ve learned to trust the people that are working with me and that they really do care.”
Sandie is currently in the process of applying for a job in the veterinary field. She has a passion and love for animals.
Her own dog — a pit-bull named Blue has been therapeutic for Sandie. “She has helped me deal with some PTSD resulting from my previous relationship. She is comforting and safe and makes me want to be a better person.”
Both Sandie and Blue share similar stories. Blue was rescued by Sandie from an abusive owner. They have helped each other heal from a traumatic past.
Sandie hopes to one day have her own dog rescue where she can assist in the recovery of animals while she continues on with her own recovery journey.