"I deserve a good life. I deserve to be happy.”
How Lisa Turned her Life Around
Substance abuse can affect everyone. Throughout her life, Lisa was in unhealthy relationships that led to addiction, alcohol abuse and losing custody of her four children. Luckily, with the help of a trusted friend and United Way, Lisa was able to reclaim her life.
Even though Lisa was often left to fend for herself as a child, she successfully completed high school. She then attended cosmetology school and became a hair stylist. It was during this time that she began doing cocaine. She left her family and moved to Texas with her boyfriend, who was also an addict.
When Lisa realized that her addiction was out of her control, she quit cocaine cold turkey. She broke up with her boyfriend and started working in a salon. However, she met another man, Jason, and entered into an abusive relationship with him. This was also when Lisa started using opioids recreationally.
“I had gotten myself off cocaine without rehab, so I thought it would be okay to start taking opioid pills on occasion with Jason to have fun,” Lisa explains with chagrin. “I thought I could just quit on my own. With opioid addiction, you can’t even stand up. You are physically throwing up. You can’t shake off an opioid addiction.”
Lisa’s mom was unaware of the situation and pressured Lisa – who was pregnant at the time - to marry Jason. It turned out that the local drug task force had been following Jason and had built a case against him. While Lisa was at work, the police raided the house with a search warrant and found a slew of drugs. Lisa lost custody of her children.
“I was completely devastated,” Lisa says. “That was the worst time of my whole life, the darkest time. I can’t even describe the guilt, the shame. Just knowing how I had let my children down. I was supposed to be taking care of them, and I had completely failed at that.”
With Jason serving jail time on drug charges, Lisa was able to work with her doctor to reduce her opioid use. After Jason was released, they both sought treatment for their addiction. Lisa earned back custody of her children and was able to get benefits to enroll them in school.
Through the kids’ school, Lisa met Vicki, and a true friendship grew out of their connection. Vicki helped Lisa keep her daughter in school when she lost her benefits. Perhaps the most important thing Vicki did, however, was help Lisa realize that Jason was holding her back.
“From my perspective,” says Vicki, “what I saw was Lisa being held down by Jason. He wasn’t helping, in any kind of way—monetarily, as a father, as a partner, nothing. But because she was reporting his income, it was keeping her from being able to access resources that she needed.”
Vicki asked Lisa if this life was the example she wanted to set for her kids. That message clicked for Lisa. Seeing Jason’s behavior from her kids’ point of view suddenly made it unacceptable. “I was trying to take care of him, too,” Lisa explains. “I was trying to save him, and he didn’t want to be saved. He was poisoning my life and my kids’ lives. Being able to cut that off and presenting that opportunity to be able to change my life where I didn’t have to be dependent on this poison—that was a pivotal moment for me.”
From then on, Lisa turned her life around. Vicki has helped her keep her kids in school and start attending financial literacy classes that will help her and her children stay safe and healthy.
It’s been a long journey to sobriety, emotional balance and financial stability, but Lisa and her kids have finally turned a corner. Lisa is working toward short-term goals: paying down debt, opening her own salon again, and buying a house. But her long-term dreams are all focused on her kids.
“I’ve been in some bad places in my life,” she admits. “I’ve made a lot of bad choices that negatively affected not just me, but my kids. I am really trying hard to get back on track so that they have a good life and are not too affected now by what I put them through in the past.”
Lisa’s mistakes upended her family’s life like she never could have imagined. But with the help of compassionate people and United Way, she has been able to climb out of the hole. And she’s finally starting to forgive herself.
“I am just starting to be proud of myself, just recently,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t deserve all the benefits I’ve been given. I know my kids do, but I guess I do too. I deserve a good life. I deserve to be happy.”