“That’s the power of recovery—giving that person a chance and showing them that everything is going to be okay.”
My name is Honesty Liller. I’m a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is I haven’t used drugs and alcohol for over eight years. What recovery has given me is an amazing life that I’d never thought, in a million years, that I would have in active addiction. I was a very, kind of, country girl. I lived out in a county not too far from here, Hanover County. I grew up with two sisters in my home. My parents definitely, after my little sister was born, began to fight a lot. My mother had a chemical imbalance, so it just affected the household as a whole because she was sick. A lot of things that I remember as a kid weren’t so great. I remember a couple of good times, but a lot of it was fighting and yelling and screaming and just not really sanity.
I did start using at a very young age. I was twelve years old when I started using. I was hanging with all older people. My best friend at the time, she had an older sister, so I would hang out with all of their friends. I started using weed and drinking and LSD. I was this little hippie chick. I would go to Phish shows. I would pretty much never leave the parking lot because I would be so high. That’s just who I was. I still went to the local school. I got good grades but I still kept that addiction going on a day-to-day basis.
Starting at twelve to about sixteen all I did was drink and hang out and go to shows and go to parties. I’m just this little girl doing all these things. I just thought that that was the normal thing to do. I felt like it was a way to cope with what was going on at home, and it was also a way of feeling accepted and like they’re going to like me and I’m going to have friends if I do this, this and this.
At age sixteen I started doing different drugs and started hanging with different people. It was basically just coke and crack. With that I kind of lost all the hippie friends. They were there but they didn’t really want to be a part of that scene. I was a chameleon at that point and just kind of went from one group to another to whoever had whatever. I did graduate high school when I was sixteen years old. I wanted to get out of school and work full time to have more money. My parents didn’t have money. We had everything that we needed but weren’t well off or anything, so I had to support my own drug habit. That’s when the lying, the cheating, the stealing, all that started at a very young age, and manipulating and stuff like that.
At age sixteen, I don’t know how I even still remember this day. It feels like a hundred yeas ago now. I was smoking crack and it was called a ‘jum’ back then, I don’t know what they call it now, it was a blunt with marijuana and crack in it. I will never forget, I was on the stoop at my parents’ house and a fellow that I was hanging out with told me in order to not geek or have withdrawals from the uppers, take a hit of this heroin. I swore to myself, because I had already lost two people on an overdose at such a young age on heroin, I swore I would never use heroin. Not me, that’s not going to happen to me. I did it. I did it that day and I never used an upper again.
At first it felt good and it was great and I was hanging out with the same people. They were using it. When I was seventeen I ended up overdosing on heroin and other drugs, so I was told. I went into a complete blackout. I was in a house with people, they were all on probation, [and] they had drugs in the house. Earlier that day, there’s a concert series here in Richmond called Friday Cheers, [where] I saw an old friend I used to have sleepovers and stuff with before I turned into a drug addict. We exchanged numbers and her phone number was in my pocket. This is all coming from her. I didn’t know I did any of this. The house that I overdosed in, they did not want to call 911 because they had drugs. They were dragging me around the room. They didn’t know, like the Good Samaritan Law, there was no such thing back then.
She said I called her and told her I was dying. She came to that house that night and she called 911. She pretty much said, “Forget all of you. I don’t care, she is dying.” I died for like two minutes. It was an off duty cop or rescue squad. He had his walkie-talkie on in his home right down the road and he came and gave me mouth to mouth until the ambulance came and they gave me Narcan and revived me. That’s when my family found out I was a drug addict. I was underage so they called my family.
That was my first dose of recovery. I did go to a couple of twelve-step meetings when I was seventeen and I got on some medication to detox me off of the heroin. I just wasn’t ready to give up the lifestyle. I wasn’t ready to give up the people, places and things. You know, most of us aren’t at such an early age. I was like, “I’ll be fine, I’ll be okay.” That lasted for maybe… I would still smoke weed and stuff, but I did stay off of the opiates for probably about a month or so and then there it is right in front of you. My brain just took over and it told me, “You got it this time. You’re not going to overdose again. You can handle it. You’ve been through an overdose and God saved you,” and blah, blah, blah.
I used for a couple more years and I met a boy. I was nineteen and he was seventeen. I could get drugs and he couldn’t and then we hooked up a couple of nights later. We stayed together for six long, miserable years. Through those six years and that process it was just disgusting as far as the stuff that I did, just what I put my family through, what I put myself through. That definitely just degraded any moral values that I had at all, if any. They were just gone. Through those six years I thought I loved the fellow. I really wanted to, but it was just my partner. It was my partner to get drugs. Who could get money and who couldn’t and put our money together and who’d lie, cheat and steal. We stole so much. I really could be in jail for lots of years for all the crimes I did commit.
During that, I was twenty-one years old and I had my daughter in active addiction. I thought, through all those years, from twelve to twenty-one, I just couldn’t stop using. I thought, ‘God is putting a baby, another human being, in my womb.’ I thought that that would be it. ‘God wouldn’t do this. He wouldn’t have a baby born in active addiction. I’m going to be healed now.’ I’m going to be okay. I was on a methadone clinic at that time when I found out I was pregnant and they wanted me to stay on methadone through the whole pregnancy. So, my smart brain was like, ‘No, I’m not going to stay on methadone my whole pregnancy,’ so I left and within a week I’m using heroin, so that was smart.
I thought I knew everything. I thought I could do it here and there. For me, with heroin, that just isn’t reality. It takes over your whole body. The things that I did, being pregnant, and just looking back and thinking about the insanity of my disease, jumping out of windows, just the insanity because I was so addicted to drugs and the drugs had taken me over, again. Here we go again.
I had my daughter in active addiction. She had to be in the hospital for a couple of weeks to detox basically. Social services came and they checked out where we lived and made me get on methadone in order to keep her. I went to another methadone clinic and I was on that clinic for two years. I did not use opiates but I was on methadone and I used everything else I could. I did whatever I could to pass a drug test. I could get into detail, but it was insane just so I could smoke weed or take pills. The stuff I did so I could pass these tests was just insanity.
I was never a mother to my child. From pregnancy until I finally got into recovery this last time. I just didn’t know how to be one because I didn’t really have that role model as a child. I started using as a child and I just had to learn how to grow up quickly, kind of, through myself and the people I was with, which were all users.
I’ll never forget this day either and I don’t know how I remember all of this. I guess my brain cells are coming back. I successfully completed that methadone program and they wrote my little paperwork. I completed it and within a week, I guess, the boy, the baby daddy or whatever, we were living together. I knew he was using. I could tell. I know the difference between a methadone nod and a heroin nod. I found heroin on my floor and I put it in my pocket and I kind of made him struggle him for a minute. I made him worry and freak out, which was kind of fun because I was so mad. Within a couple of hours I was in my bathroom using it again. It was just like that. No thinking about it. No, “Should I or should I not?” I just did it. Basically, that started another whole exhausting cycle of just stealing and lying and panhandling and doing whatever I had to do.
My daughter, she was brought up in all of this. The people she saw, the places I took her, were not safe whatsoever. Thank God she was so young. She really doesn’t remember any of that today, which I’m very fortunate of that.
My family eventually found out again because I was stealing from them. They shipped me away. They did a rapid detox on me at a local doctor here. The insanity again, and I keep using this word because this is crazy. I got my tax check and my parents are paying thousands of dollars for this detox. I am getting the baby daddy to sneak me heroin. Even though, “Yeah I want to be a good mamma. I want to be in recovery.” Sure, pay thousands of dollars to do this detox, I’m still using heroin during the detox.
Ultimately, the fourth day they shoot [me] up with Narcan. I got so sick and it was horrible. I kind of blacked out for two days. My family informs me of everything that happened those two days but I don’t remember them. They took me to a place in Winchester and dropped me off, filled out some paperwork and left me. It was a twenty-eight-day program. After a couple of days there I kind of woke up and put on a little eyeliner and took a shower. I loved the program. I loved everything about it. It was cold and we had to walk to twelve-step meetings. That part I did not love. I fell in love with a new boy. I had left the father of my daughter, in rehab, over a pay phone. I told him, “It’s done. I have to figure out what’s wrong with me,” yada, yada, yada. Then, I fell in love with another boy—you know, the rehab romances.
When I came home after the twenty-eight days here back to Richmond, my car, my kid, my job and my apartment were all waiting for me. All that was being held the twenty-eight days for me. For me, twenty-eight days just wasn’t enough. Twenty-eight days and then here, go to meetings when you get back to Richmond and here’s your whole entire life back. I did well for a few months and then the boy that I met in rehab wanted to move to Richmond.
Against the advice of the women in my life, telling me that’s probably not a good idea, he came to Richmond. We did well for a couple of months, went to meetings and definitely stayed in recovery. Then, he stopped going to meetings and I’m like, “Okay, then I can stop. We have a life, we’re working.” Within a couple of months, a few months of him moving here we both started using because we were using behind each other’s back, different things. Why not use our drug of choice, which his was heroin as well, together?
That was the worst relapse of my whole entire addiction history. The stuff that I did just to everyone around me, to my body, to my soul, to my spirit, to strangers, to the community. The only word I ever describe it as really is disgusting. I was a disgusting human being walking on this planet. I left my daughter with my mom—that wasn’t very stable—because I didn’t care. The only time I would see her was if I was stealing money or stealing food from my mom or whatever I could get from my mom. We do what we got to do to survive.
Thankfully, for me, my family found out. They knew. They weren’t dumb by this point. I was strung out looking. I was saying my car was broke down every two days. The stuff we do. They knew. I won’t forget this either. My stepmother, I call her Mom, she knew John, the President of the McShin Foundation. They’re friends and she told me about this place, McShin. I was like, “Okay.” I came up to this office. I was high. I don’t remember any of it, none of the conversation. Then, I left because the boy was still using and I just wasn’t ready and I’m a big baby with opiate withdrawal. I would beat my head in walls. I’m sure a lot of people are but I was insane. He could sleep and I’d be like, “What?” I’d want to stab him with butcher knives because, “How can he sleep and I’m going off the wall?”
I did get on medication to detox but before that I came to McShin for a day. I went to the hospital before I could get the medicine and they gave me a half an Ativan and, “See ya,” because the stigma’s so huge, “Who cares about this drug addict?” I stayed at McShin for one night and the boy came the next day that I met at the other rehab that was using with me. John gave him a chance but then we both left. I ran down that road right there to get my car and we left for about four days. We were practically living out of my car. We got evicted from our apartment but the cops or nothing ever came. It was three months of eviction. We sold everything. There was nothing in our apartment. People just gave us twenty bucks for our kitchen table. We would just leave our apartment unlocked. We were living off of hot cocoa mix. That was all that was in our cabinets when I did finally come to McShin.
John took me back. The boy, Adam, he went to another recovery program because we weren’t going to make it if we were both in this program, there’s no way we would have made it. I went back to that apartment. I packed up a couple of trash bags of clothes and my photo albums. For some reason, because I’m clearly into pictures, my photo albums, even through active addiction, I always had photos. I always had a Tupperware of photo albums everywhere I moved to, I always kept those. I don’t know what that is but I just like seeing people around me, I guess, all the time.
When I came to McShin and finally got on some medicine to detox me, my plan was to detox and probably leave after a couple of weeks because I just wanted to breathe. I wanted to not have to worry about having it, money or drugs, and just kind of live for a minute and just chill and just stop. Those two weeks turned into five months of living in the female program. I’ve been through different therapy and medication and twelve-step and all of that, but I’ve never lived in a community where everyone around you is in recovery. Everyone is in recovery. I didn’t know how to stop using drugs, literally every drug, not just opiates but every drug. How do I stop using drugs period? How can I be in a healthy relationship with my daughter and humans in general? My name is Honesty but I was the biggest liar in the world. It’s a joke now because I live by honesty now, but then it was just insane how much I lied.
Living in the house for five months, I didn’t like some of the rules because it’s a very structured program. I didn’t like some of the girls, that’s for sure. I didn’t like a lot of things but I learned how to develop who I was. An individual that was executive director, Daniel, at the time of McShin, he had his own small business and he took a chance on me and hired me. I was doing landscaping. John taught me how to paint houses. All of these skills that I never in a million years thought I could do and then Daniel entrusted me to watch their son. He was one-year-old and I’m like, “Okay.” It was just weird because I didn’t have my own daughter and you’re trusting me to watch your son. That’s the power of recovery—giving that person a chance and showing them that everything is going to be okay.
I would complain about the physical labor but I would show up the next day with my little pink cooler. He would pick us up out here and then eventually I would just start driving all the guys around because some people in early recovery don’t have a driver’s license—they’ve got a lot of charges and stuff. But I did, fortunately, I still had my driver’s license. I had a Jeep that was on a car title loan though that my father and the boy, even though we weren’t together, helped me pay off.
When I came to McShin I did leave the boy I met in rehab. We were together for about a year. I just told him, “I need to figure out what is wrong with me. I’ve been using for fourteen years of my life. I got clean and in recovery when I was twenty-six and I need to figure out what is going on. How do I not use? How do I just go to the bathroom without shooting dope? How do I do this? I just can’t do that with you.” He accepted it but he was super cute. He would ride his little bike to places I was at just so he would be in the same place.
I got very, very, very involved in recovery and that was the difference. I was willing to change everything. I didn’t like everything to change but I had to do whatever it took. Stuff just started happening as far as getting a job and paying bills and just helping others. Early recovery was just a roller coaster of emotions and just crying and yelling and just all kinds of stuff that came with early recovery.
Me and the boy, we got back together after four months. We both were in recovery. We slowly started dating. We actually had money to go to movies and dinner, like real stuff and not a dollar McChicken or a Zebra cake. Gosh, them Zebra cakes. I still will not eat one to this day because that’s all we could afford. We lived off of them. We started dating, against a lot of people’s suggestions. We were sneaking around at first because the relationship piece, you’re not supposed to get in one. I did not tell people that whatsoever. I didn’t listen to that. Me and his life was exhausting and complete hell, to be honest, for about a year.
I moved out of the recovery house at five months. My older sister took me and my daughter in. I got my daughter back. I had to. It was just time. She was just about five. I had to be a mommy and I didn’t know how the hell to be a mommy. I had no idea. I had no clue how to be there emotionally for another human being let alone my human being. We lived in with my sister. I got her enrolled in kindergarten, daycare. I had a job to pay for daycare. I could do all that. When I got a year in recovery Adam wanted to move the relationship farther so we got a little apartment, me, him and my daughter, Destiny.
Being in a relationship is hard but being in a relationship with someone in recovery too is even harder because, and this is my take on it, especially even just being a newcomer. Everyone has different definitions, but a year clean still isn’t good communication skills. We definitely had our struggles living together because now we have more bills because I wasn’t paying that much to my sister and he wasn’t paying that much at the recovery house he was living in. Stuff is in our name now. This is adult reality now and then we had Destiny. He took her in and became her father because her biological father was in prison and has been in and out of prison still to this day. I think he’s in a homeless shelter now, a recovery one, so I hope he’s doing well. Adam kind of just filled that role.
We’re both trying to figure out how to be parents and then the relationship piece and everything. Basically we weren’t doing well. We were going to break up but then I got pregnant with my son. Things started to change. We both were in recovery. We both tried our hardest to separate our recovery and still there was so much I had to learn on how to communicate with individuals. John told me this when I came here, “One of you will grow quicker than the other,” and he was right.
Basically I had surgery and my husband ended up taking one of my pain meds, which was a relapse between him and his sponsor because he wasn’t spiritually involved enough in recovery as far as service work and doing all the stuff and not just being in recovery. There’s a lot more, too, than just stop using drugs and alcohol. With that came a lot of emotions and a lot of pain. Thank God it was just that one pill and it didn’t escalate from there. We had a lot to work on. We did. There were still resentments there though that I had to work on. He couldn’t really help me with that.
We moved out of that apartment and we got a little house. Then we got a dog. Our family was growing. We got married. First, I had my son, Wyatt, and then we got married when he was almost a year old. With that came the house. I’ve been working at McShin since I was six months in recovery. I thought that life was pretty awesome. You just keep moving on and you keep going and you keep doing the next right thing every day. My job was growing, I was growing in my recovery.
Then, we moved to a bigger house. I say all this because we went from practically my Jeep to a tiny little apartment to a tiny house to a bigger house. We don’t own. It’s definitely a bigger house with a huge backyard for my kids. With that though we’ve had some other struggles, some other marriage struggles in our relationship. You’ve got to think about it. We met in rehab and so we never really, I mean, we got the four months in us of separating, but we never really gave ourselves time to completely heal and completely work on ourselves. We’ve had struggles for sure in our marriage. I’ve had struggles working here at McShin. You deal with people. You deal with the disease of addiction every day. It is very emotional and it takes a toll on you. It really does.
Last year was probably the worst year of my recovery. I do my years by my clean date, not January first. It was the worst year of my recovery, the stuff that I went through in my marriage that I never thought I would go through. My daughter turned a teenager so that’s a whole another world and ball game. I learned so much about myself. I went to this other program and just had to get away for a few days.
What recovery has taught me and what I’m learning having eight years in recovery is it is so different than the first year in recovery. You evolve in your recovery and it’s peaks and valleys in your recovery.
What I’ve learned is to try to live my life the best I can and be the happiest person I can on a day to day basis. I was trying to control so much, my daughter from using because I used at her age, my husband from looking at other women, and so I got this obsession in my head, just all these obsessions would come up, especially working out. I felt like I had to work out every single day because I needed to look this certain way. I had to take a look at that. I’ve been in recovery for years. Life is amazing. I was just in this, hitting this wall at eight years, well, right before eight years. I’ve never hit those walls before in recovery and I didn’t know. I was just kind of stuck.
Now, from working on some stuff about myself, life is just a lot easier today because I’m not trying to control the outcomes of everything. You kind of have to revamp your recovery sometimes. That’s something that I really had to work on because I felt like I was doing everything but I really wasn’t spiritually doing everything that I needed to do. That’s what has changed so much. Probably in the past six to eight months I’ve changed tremendously as far as not immediately reacting and letting things go. I’m a very organized person, so not having structure and not having a plan and lists, ugh, them lists, and calendars and this, this and this.
Today I’m pretty chill. I have my moments but it’s just really important to be present today. That’s something that I have evolved to in this process of recovery. To be able to be present and not just helping others and stuff, but just be present with my children, with my husband, with my family. Like this, shut my computer when people come and talk to me. The littlest things I took for granted. I’m too busy, I’m too busy, I’m too busy. She’s always busy, which I am busy, that is true because I do wear a lot of hats.
I’ve just learned to appreciate what I have today because we’re not promised tomorrow. It’s really important for me to fight for recovery and fight for those in recovery because that’s why I’m still here today working here. Again, it can be stressful. We do a lot and seeing people die and seeing families cry and that piece to it is a very emotional journey and I’m working really hard not to take that home with me. That is something that I have changed because I used to take it home.
Phone off, Facebook app is deleted from my phone. I just noticed I was angry when I’m on my phone and my child, my six-year-old child is asking me to do something or something and I’m on my phone looking at, I don’t know, “Sarah lost her tooth today.” Who cares? I don’t know. I care but I really don’t. It’s just important for me to be able to be present with my kids today and I want to be the mother I know I was put here to be. I’m not a perfect one but I know I’m a good one.
I know I’m a great wife and sister and all the hats we wear in recovery because in active addiction I was not any of those. I didn’t show up for anything for anyone. I didn’t care what you were doing. If I did show up I was high or stealing money from you. It feels really good today to be able to show up for people and listen to them and be that face and voice of recovery at all times and not just in this building or nine to five. I live and breathe it and everywhere I go it’s important for me to get the message of recovery across, if it needs to.
Like I said, we’re not promised tomorrow so I feel like those fourteen years of active addiction got me to where I am today and where I am today is I love myself today and it’s taken me years to say those words. It’s taken me to a place where I’m making a difference today and I am helping others today and I’m saving lives today. I never thought, even walking in to McShin eight years ago, I never thought I’d be running the place and being the CEO and doing what I do here. Recovery can give you the most amazing gifts, not just material whatsoever, the amazing gifts of learning to love yourself and to respect yourself. Recovery is just a way of life for me now. It’s everyday for me. I don’t stop for really anything because it’s integrated. My kids were raised around here. My husband’s in recovery.
Recovery is my life. I wouldn’t be here and have the things I do have without it. McShin’s a huge part of that. Yes, I work here but I didn’t have anything when I came here. I think my family gave them a couple of hundred dollars or something. If they didn’t open McShin I don’t know where I would be, to be honest. I have no idea, probably dead. This place is my heart and I protect this place. I definitely wear McShin on my sleeve because this is who I am and this is what I do.
Photographs taken in Richmond, Virginia at the McShin Foundation, where Honesty is CEO.