One of Many Discoveries
Sheri’s heart raced as she sat in the program’s lobby, filled with a curious mix of despair and defiance. Her throat and jaw tight with the strain of holding back tears, when one slipped past, it seemed a huge effort to lift her arm to brush it away. All her limbs felt limp with the exhaustion that comes from sleepless nights spent crying, wracked by anger and guilt… haunted by the shameful thought, “They’ve taken my baby.” No amount of alcohol or drugs could drown out the never-ending litany of “if onlys” and “should haves” that bounced relentlessly through her mind.
This young mother had been through this sort of thing before; she was all too familiar with the feelings associated with losing a child, she’d been estranged from her 13-year-old son, David, for several years. Sheri was referred to our MHS treatment program for women three years ago. She was there to meet the requirements of child welfare services as she attempted to regain custody of her four-year-old daughter, Monica.
By the time she arrived at our program, Sheri had struggled with alcohol dependence for 15 years. “My life was a twisted and lonely place,” she recalls, “I grew up in a home that was abusive in every way imaginable, I never really felt that I was loved or wanted. I learned at an early age that my value was in my body, and I often confused sex for love. I had many relationships with different men who were abusive and demeaning, and pretty soon the alcohol was just not enough to numb my feelings or my reality.”
Sheri held a couple of menial jobs here and there, but none that she could hold on to for more than just a few months. “As my alcoholism became worse, I wasn’t just unable to keep a job—I couldn’t even get one,” Sheri admits. It was at this point that Sheri was introduced to exotic dancing. “I quickly discovered that my drinking would not be an issue as an exotic dancer. With my new job, I also discovered Vicodin, which seemed to be used regularly by all the other girls. Finally, I had found a place that supported my alcoholic lifestyle. Unfortunately, it also helped convince me that my life was normal as I compared it to the lives of the people around me.”
For some time Sheri’s life continued on this way, spinning slowly out of control. Her lifestyle had already negatively affected her son David, who had gone to live with his Father. It wasn’t long before her four-year-daughter, Monica, also suffered; the police were called for a domestic disturbance that resulted in her removal from the home.
“I was completely devastated by the pain and guilt of losing yet another child as a result of my addiction, and the lifestyle that came with it.” Sheri admits, “Still, I couldn’t seem to stop drinking and taking the pills that gave me the empty promise of possible relief from the ghosts of past traumas that haunted me.”
During the course of the Child Welfare investigation, Sheri was asked to provide a urine sample, which came back positive for alcohol and Vicodin. Although she viewed it differently at the time, today Sheri says, “It was then that I was given the opportunity to learn a new way of life, because that was when I was referred to MHS.”
“One of the first of many things that I discovered at the program was that my life was not normal!” she declares. “I came to understand the process of addiction and learned to identify some core issues that motivated my addiction.”
Through continued substance abuse counseling and referral to address her traumatic childhood issues, Sheri discovered how to re-parent herself. “I learned to love and respect myself. I also learned to trust women and build solid lasting friendships that were based on real feelings.” She shares, “I spent 14 months at the program, where I was able to get the coping skills and relapse awareness that have led to me having more than three years of continued sobriety and clean time.”
Sheri has since transitioned from treatment and describes what her life is like today: “Well, first of all, I have my little girl back at home with me and my Child Welfare case has been closed!” she says, her face radiant. “I’m also in touch with my son, David again. We’re working on rebuilding our relationship.” She smiles, savoring this detail, then appears to sift through all that fills her days now and announces, “And when I’m not busy at home chasing and taking care of Monica, you can find me studying,” and explains, “I’m going to school full time to get my degree in business management.” Her pride is evident. “I know how much I have to be grateful for and I know not to take what I have lightly. I have to continue to work on myself,” her earnest eyes draw together thoughtfully. “I believe life is a continuous process of self-discovery and I need to keep growing. So I keep going to 12-step meetings and working with my 12-step sponsor on my 12-step work.”
Today, Sheri is also an active alumni of her program, and continues to gratefully engage in a constant cycle of empowerment. “I’m so grateful for my life today and I want to give back,” she explains. “It keeps me connected and it feels good to think I can help someone who is sitting in the same place where I once sat. So I go share my story with the women there. Hopefully, my personal journey—my experience, strength, and hope—can give them some strength and hope too.”
Courage conquers all things: it even gives strength to the body.