My name is Annette M. and my sobriety date 6/16/2016.
First off let me take a minute to thank Fellowship RCO for awarding me the Recovery Hero for the month of August 2023. Such an honor!
My story begins with being born into generational substance abuse, trauma, and high recidivism. As young as I can remember I suffered abuse, abandonment, and neglect intertwined with moments of love. My father was an over-the-road truck driver which meant that we moved often. I lived in about a dozen states before the age of 12 (bad for education). I would randomly get shipped to my grandmother’s home in Long Island, New York where I lived with my aunt and uncle both of whom suffered from schizophrenia and loved me dearly but contributed to my distorted world view.
When my family finally landed in South Florida, I was around 11 years old. Shortly after my father was sent to prison for trafficking. My mother went to work as a waitress during the evening leaving me unattended in a small hotel room with my three older half-brothers who were heavily into substance abuse and very abusive and neglectful towards me. By the age of 12, I ran away. Dropping out of the 6th grade and working odd jobs here and there and couch surfing to get by. When my father came out of prison about 3 years later, he tried to reconnect with me, but I had already been “surviving” on my own for so long I did not want to leave my new normal. At the age of 15, I became pregnant with my first child. Unfortunately, my son’s father was a very violent alcoholic. I gathered up the courage to escape that relationship with my son. I was without “good role models” in my life and tried to pull from individuals I felt were “good examples”. My son was 3 years old when I finally reconnected with my family and shortly after my father died from HIV due to sharing needles during intravenous substance use.
Something in me snapped, I had never experienced a loss at this level before and it was so final. I had zero coping skills and leaned heavily on substance use to escape my reality. I disconnected again from my family, and it was around 8 years later that I reconnected with my mother. She completely changed her life and was now a librarian working with disadvantaged children helping them get connected to books. Unfortunately, about a year after reconnecting with my mother, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I would go on to become her caregiver for the next 6 years while she lost her battle with cancer. During this time, I gained a lot of closure and came to understand that she and my father raised me the best they knew how. My mother became my best friend and the hardest thing I ever had to do was say goodbye again.
After some years of sobriety, I suffered an immense amount of trauma in a very short 3-month time. I missed my mom, my uncle died (who I was close to growing up and stayed in contact with), my brother died (who apologized for submitting me to years of abuse) my two oldest grandchildren were kidnapped by their mother after being with me for 5 years, I was divorcing my husband and my children were not in my home full time any longer due to time sharing. Needless to say, I couldn’t cope and reverted back to my old way of coping through substance use. At some point, I decided that my children would be better off without me (the lies we tell ourselves) and I left home and did not return.
Fast Forward a year and a half later and I am sitting in jail preparing to go in front of my drug court judge when I looked at a resource book in the county jail and came across Fellowship RCO’s Women’s Recovery Residence. I was continuing my family’s generational substance abuse, trauma, and high recidivism and was surely passing it on now to my own children. I knew I needed help, and I also knew that my drug court judge was going to see to it that I got it! I made the call to Fellowship RCO and they answered (from jail)! They listened to me as I told them through tears my situation. They agreed to accept me even though I had no idea what my life was going to look like. I was broken. The judge didn’t trust me and ordered me to be delivered to Fellowship by police transport. I arrived with the clothes on my back and nothing more.
I was told a set of guidelines that I had to adhere to and was given a clean room, food, clothes, hygiene items, and a journal. I had to commit to working a 12-step program, getting a sponsor within two weeks (I still have her to this day), and attend 90 meetings in 90 days. I also had to write in my journal daily, get a job and say hi to other women on the property. Additionally, I had to attend my court ordered IOP. I was taken to my room, and left to settle in. Shortly after it all began to sink in. Firstly, I was safe, no one could come into my room and hurt me! Secondly, how am I ever going to handle all of these obligations? I had no money, no car. How was I going to manage? I went to the house manager crying and said I can’t do this, it’s too hard! I was calmly told to look around and see all of the others who have come before me and HAVE done it! They went on to say is it going to be difficult? YES, but can you do it YES! All you need is to be open-minded, honest, and willing! Okay, I said to myself, I can try.
I started taking suggestions and before I knew it, I had a routine. It was hard, feelings are hard! Unresolved trauma is hard! Facing the consequences of my actions was hard! I began to listen to other women’s stories and learned that I could 100% reinvent myself into a life beyond my wildest dreams. The promises are promises, not maybes! I was seeing it happen over and over again with others who committed to their program of recovery. Then one day I heard my house manager’s story and how she had many parallels to mine but overcame them and was on a path of higher education. I thought to myself could I do that? Could I be like her? I knew through my IOP that the more I learned the more I changed. I began to realize that when people know better, they do better. So, I started on my healing journey.
While at Fellowship RCO’s Women’s Recovery Residence I enrolled in classes at Broward College with a focus on psychology. I wanted to figure out what was wrong with me! Going from a 6th-grade education to enrolling in college took a lot of hard work and determination. I would spend hours studying and learning how to apply what I learned to my life. I was learning from scratch and giving it my all. I had to believe in myself, and I did!
I signed up for recovery coach classes that Fellowship RCO offered and decided I wanted to focus on addiction studies. I completed 13 months at Fellowship and at this time my drug court requirements had ended successfully. I found myself at a crossroads. My ex husband who owed me over 100,000 dollars in back child support decided to give me a lump sum settlement. I had a choice, go back to my old way of living OR continue on my path of recovery and higher education. I liked the accountability of a structured environment and went on to another sober living that was less restrictive but still kept me accountable. Shortly after I became the house manager and spent another 3 ½ years in sober living. For some that may seem like an excessive amount of time to spend in sober living (4 ½ years total) but I felt like I needed it, I wanted the accountability and I had a lot to heal.
I connected myself to strong women in recovery who had what I wanted. I became a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist (CRPS) which led me back to Fellowship providing experience, strength, and hope to women early in their recovery. There is something to be said about walking beside someone on their path of recovery. The rewards are immeasurable. Since then, I have focused my education on addiction studies, switched my major to social work and graduated with my master’s. I have taken and passed the state boards for Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and am pending my exam for a Master Certified Addiction Professional (MCAP). I am in the process of becoming certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) because I believe addiction is oftentimes rooted in trauma. I now work as a therapist with individuals who suffer from the disease of addiction and or mental health disorders and come from a place of years of lived experience. I take with me the kind of empathy and compassion that is needed during such vulnerable times in individuals’ lives. I share the tools I have learned to guide individuals on their paths of recovery. .
I am a huge advocate for higher education and have assisted hundreds of individuals enroll in college. Oftentimes, when someone has a criminal record, as I do, they think they can never do anything other than a minimum wage job. I am living proof that that’s not the case, just as my Fellowship RCO house manager once was for me. I choose to remain community-based working primarily with the underserved population.
My children supported me through my process and were with me since day one of my recovery journey. I reconnected with my grandchildren who had been kidnapped and recently flew to Oregon to see them for the first time in 9 years. Then flew them to Florida to see their father, my son, so the healing process could begin. I live by the motto that my family is my motivation and I choose daily to make a living amends. The ripple effect is infinite. Fellowship RCO touched my life which in turn made an impact on my children’s lives, my grandchildren’s lives, my friend’s lives, the community I live in, and the individuals I serve. Guiding individuals to create their own ripple effect in the world and to break the cycles of substance abuse, trauma, and recidivism. My disease is insidious, and I have to put my recovery first every day. This is a one-day-at-a-time program and tomorrow is not guaranteed. I work in the same streets where I suffered so much trauma and have daily reminders of what it was like for me and my family. I know I cannot keep what I have unless I give it away!
Thanks to the foundation I was provided by Fellowship RCO, I have a routine that keeps me grounded, which includes being immersed in my recovery program and connected daily if not hourly to my higher power whom I call God. Thank you Fellowship!