CODAC Recovery Stories

Bonnie W. – Molding a Beautiful Life

Broken Pieces

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 hang nail,” 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

Friends and business partners Al and Bonnie started a new business called "The Art Project" where artists in recovery can have a safe and empowering space to create.

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.

John H. rents space at Bonnie's business where he enjoys creating abstract art with acrylic paint.
John H. rents space at Bonnie's business where he enjoys creating abstract art with acrylic paint.

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

BrittanyFor 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-Picnic-Table-300x208Frances 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

Jackie-SJackie S. has been living an ongoing cycle of emotional high and lows since she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder nearly 20 years ago.

“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-and-Ruzenka-lq-1024x682Jass 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 T.

Jay-T-1024x729“I was a fighter all my life,” said Jay T., a 34-year-old CODAC member.

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.

Jay-T-Standing-921x1024“[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.

Martin M. – Working with What Life has to Offer

Martin-at-Comin-Home-1024x707Just a few short years ago, Martin M.’s routine consisted of waking up to his wife and three dogs in his home in Waco, Texas. He would routinely turn on National Public Radio (NPR), brew his coffee, and head outdoors to work on landscaping. He imagined growing old, sitting in a rocking chair in the place he called home.

He never anticipated all of the changes that were to be thrown his way in the few short months to come.

Martin had gained years of experience working as an x-ray technician in the U.S. Army. After he was out, he expanded his professional skills as an ultrasound technician where he has acquired over 15 years of experience.

In the fall of 2011, Martin was offered a position as an ultrasound technician at St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson.

“I received a call from someone that I had worked with in the past… He asked if I needed work and I did, so I showed up here,” said Martin.

The job at St. Mary’s Hospital fell through shortly after Martin’s move. It was the first in a series of unfortunate events that would impact Martin’s life.

“Exactly one week later, I got a call from my wife notifying me that she was asking for a divorce,” Martin shared.

Before he had time to comprehend the loss of a job and a marriage, Martin received a letter in the mail stating that his best friend had died from cancer. Blow by blow, Martin absorbed the shocking news.

“Within just three weeks, everything I had come to know as my life was gone…My whole identity had been snatched away,” he said somberly.

Martin recalled living alone in a bare apartment without any friends, family, or income. Depression and uncertainty settled in.  “I remember being all alone in this apartment and stewing over everything that had just happened. I was an emotional wreck,” he confided.

With money quickly draining, Martin didn’t know where to turn. At the prompting of his brother, Martin enlisted support from the Veteran’s Administration.

“I was envisioning myself walking up and down the streets without knowing where I was going to go or how I was going to manage this,” he said. Martin had received a notice of eviction from his apartment complex, and without any income, was about to be homeless.

It was by chance that Martin came across a flyer for Comin’ Home, transitional and supported housing for homeless veterans. It was a Monday that he placed the call inquiring about the services, and on that Wednesday, Martin became the newest resident.

The timing worked out that Martin did not have to experience homelessness on the streets or in a shelter. However, for many homeless veterans, months are spent on the streets typically in conjunction with substance abuse, poverty, and— for some— criminal backgrounds.

Many military occupations and training do not transfer into civilian life and place veterans at a disadvantage when looking for work.

“This was all new territory,” said Martin when reflecting on his transition to Comin’ Home.

The facility has housing units available for up to 52 individuals, and on average, most veterans stay for six months to one year. While at Comin’ Home, they receive assistance with medical, behavioral health, education, and job skills resources.

Three months after moving to Comin’ Home, Martin faced a rare health concern with his eyes. Though this was yet another setback, Martin viewed it as an opportunity. “It was time for me to start getting out and to try to move forward.”

Martin is learning how to read Braille at SAAVI where he is participating in vocational rehabilitation so he can find work.

Martin was connected with Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired (SAAVI) an organization that offers rehabilitative services for individuals with visual impairments. “I am working to develop skills, gain adaptive resources and options for future work.”

He hopes that with the proper rehabilitative training, and adaptive visual devices, he can find work as an ultrasound technician again.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Martin said. With the right resources and his optimistic outlook, he will soon be back on track. “I am a survivor by nature.”

Martin still brews his coffee every morning as NPR pours in through the speaker in his bedroom. He still tends to his plants; though these ones reside on the window sill of his shared two-bedroom apartment. And he now goes outside every morning to smoke a cigarette with other veterans where they exchange wisdom and war stories before going on with their days.

When asked about the biggest obstacle he faces in the future, Martin admits that it could be age related. “I’m no spring chicken,” said Martin, “But I can do what I can do.” He hopes that at sixty years old, his age doesn’t present a barrier for his goal of working again.

Martin shared a metaphor that he heard on the radio about a violinist preparing to play a live concerto. He said that the violinist was prepared to begin their performance when one of the strings on the instrument broke. Instead of replacing the instrument or the string, the violinist announced he would still make beautiful music with what he had left. “I just thought was profound,” said Martin. He adopts this metaphor into his life – working with what he has left.

Martin says that despite the setbacks he has encountered in his recent past, he is still fortunate.

“This is a place where if you make the effort and seek out the resources that are available, then you can find a way to get back on your feet and move forward in a positive way.”

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.

MelissaMelissa 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-and-Blue-1024x865Sandie's rescued pit-bull, Blue, has been therapeutic in her recovery.

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.

Sandi-and-daughter-756x1024Sandie 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.