“Everything was just handed to me before, but working for this ’92 Toyota Camry, that thing was like a Ferrari to me because I worked for it and I earned it. I would cry tears of joy riding past the bus stop just knowing, ‘This is what it feels like to earn something.'”
Hi, I’m Jenni. I am a person in long-term recovery that has been clean and sober since February 13th, 2008. That gives me a little bit over seven-and-a-half years of recovery. My journey started in Louisville, Kentucky, an only child with a wonderful family given everything I needed and most of what I wanted. I went to private school. [We were] Baptists. We went to church every week.
I was put in a private Baptist school. [I] started in day care and never knew any other school, so [I was] kind of sheltered a little bit. I had an awesome family, but my parents did love to drink and party. It wasn’t excessive when I was young, but I did notice that at my Baptist school, it was not acceptable to drink or smoke or curse or gamble, and yet at home, I was seeing things of that nature. It kind of put me in a dilemma where I was like, “Well, what’s right and wrong here?”
I was taught right and wrong. I always knew right from wrong. Straight A student, Beta Club, cheerleading, all of that, upper middle class. It was just a great life. Great, happy, joyous. I remember just feeling that innocence, when I was a little girl at church, and being loved. I didn’t feel different. I actually always felt like I fit in. I hear a lot of times in people’s stories where something just wasn’t right until they picked up the first one, and that just wasn’t me. I never felt like that. I always was a part of. My problem was I wanted to be a part of so much, and liked so much, that I would get into the wrong crowds. That’s what started in probably eighth, ninth grade. It started, of course, with the drinking, sneaking my parents’ alcohol, and even pretending like I was drinking it, sometimes just acting. I was very dramatic and would stumble everywhere, and I really hadn’t even drank the bottle. It was more for attention. Part of my disease is attention-seeking and motives that I just really can’t pinpoint, but it definitely was to get a reaction from other people.
Then the marijuana came in and that was the first love of my life. I thought I was going to smoke pot the rest of my life and, “This is awesome,” but I definitely felt the obsession. Even though they say marijuana is not physically addictive, that’s all I thought about. I couldn’t go to the mall without smoking a blunt. I couldn’t go to the movies without smoking a blunt. Life was not fun unless I got high on marijuana. I was starting to get in trouble at home, coming in after smoking pot, and getting caught and getting grounded and that sort of thing.
I did graduate high school, I did enroll in college. That summer between high school and freshman year, I discovered cocaine for the first time. That was actually in my mother’s purse. I had no idea that she did drugs. I thought it was just alcohol. So I was getting grounded for smoking pot and lo and behold, my mom’s got this serious cocaine addiction that she was hiding from my father.
That put me in another predicament, where I was told to keep secrets and sell her drugs later on in life, and just an unhealthy relationship there. Mistrust, lack of respect. Any time I was in trouble, I would always, with the rest of the family, “Well, look at my mom,” and throw her under the bus to get the attention off of me. You know, “Well, she’s worse, you know.” Even though I started getting arrested at eighteen, taking marijuana possession charges for my boyfriend at the time. Then charges kept coming and I kept having court dates and, this little private school girl was just losing her mind.
Then I found my next drug of choice, which was Xanax, and that just made me feel invincible, absolutely like “conquer the world, you can’t touch me.” That was a constant, probably senior year, all throughout my addiction. That was probably the love of my life. Mixing that would give me some effects that I just really enjoyed. It got to the point where I was getting in trouble a lot at home, and so at eighteen my dad said, “Well maybe you should go and live in one of our rental properties, closer to the local college,” because I was going to the University of Louisville.
[I] did that with three of my best girl friends. Before I knew it, it was just party central. More charges came and more drugs came and it was chaos. I tried a geographical change. Around 2003, I moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, which is about two hours away. I took myself with me, so in Bowling Green, Kentucky, before I knew it, I was dropping out of school at Western Kentucky University. I was having my apartment raided by the Feds. They found a loaded gun, digital scales, you know, all that fun stuff.
I look back and I believe it’s a miracle now that I never signed the lease so they couldn’t pin any of that to me, but I could have gone away for a long time for those charges. I was on the run. I just couldn’t see how unmanageable and insane my life was becoming.
Went back to Louisville. During this time I probably had twenty different restaurant jobs, just hopping here and there and getting fired and quitting and just could not hold a job for anything. Obviously, school wasn’t working because my mind was on the next one.
So I believe 2005, 2006, I met a man. Another constant is relationships, addiction to relationships. I was twenty-three and this guy was thirty-two. He, I found out, was cooking up cocaine and smoking it. I had done crack a little bit before, but nothing like this, where it was just an unlimited supply with this nice-looking man that sold drugs. I mean it was just like a free for all, so I moved in. I moved in and, you know, funny, it’s actually in a pretty nice area of the city. That’s where I eventually hit my bottom was in the East End of Louisville, Kentucky. Been smoking crack for about a year and a half straight, and I wanted to die. I could not leave that apartment. We couldn’t pay rent. The abuse was insane, and I was not innocent in that. I would throw the first punch, because of course, the Xanax and the crack and the wine would make me violent and again, just, I felt invincible.
I left one day before the crack ran out. That’s how bad I felt about myself, my life. Meanwhile, I still had a serving job. I still had a Jeep Wrangler my dad was letting me drive. I still had a place to live, but my bottom was emotional. I wanted to die; I had actually taken a knife to my wrists a month before. Just all of the things in my past that I was not proud of was coming in full feature, and the paranoia was completely insane.
So I left that apartment; I drove to my home. My parents were out at the bar. I called my grandmother and my aunt, and I, for the first time, got honest. The first time in a long time, I got that taste of honesty, and was like, “Look, it’s gotten bad. This is what’s going on.”
I just remember my grandma saying, “Do you need help?” And I could honestly say, “Yeah, I need help.” I had maybe tried like a month or so with just smoking pot, or whatever, but that obsession had gotten to the point where I could not stop. I knew that that power was greater than myself, like the disease had taken full flight in my body. So I said, “Yes, I need help.” The next week I was on a plane to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, into a treatment center. What I thought was going to be thirty days, and I’ll be right back, and I ended up staying in South Florida for six years.
Now I didn’t stay clean and sober the entire time. I was the poster child for the treatment center at first. I did everything that they asked me to do. I followed all the rules, for the first time in a long time, because I’m not okay with authority for the most part, or I wasn’t before. The next thing I knew, my complete focus had switched, when this young, hot boy came into the treatment center. Of course all the counselors said, “Stay away from him. We’ve seen him before; he’s bad news.” That was just ammo for me, “Well, I can fix him, and I’ll mold him into what I want him to be.” That’s my control and that part of my defects.
Well, that didn’t happen as I’d planned, and just as all the counselors in the treatment center told me, I was kicked out of the treatment center almost ninety days into treatment for relations that I was not supposed to have. Went to a halfway house, because he was going to the halfway house, and pursued recovery on my terms. I went to meetings. I got a job. I lived in a halfway house. I paid rent. I thought I was doing everything right, because I did not want to drink or use. I wanted this man, who had become my new drug.
Five months into it, I had gotten kicked out of the halfway for sneaking out. Wasn’t following the rules. Lying, manipulating, and everyone around me could see that I was in relapse mode, except for me. That was evident when, at five months, the opportunity presented itself and I got high. Thank god it was just a weekend in a crack hotel in Hollywood, Florida. I had the women from my halfway house calling and just really worried about me and genuinely concerned for my well being.
I’d never had that before. All my relationships in my addiction, were very surface, very, “What can I get from you?” type of thing. I don’t know if it was that, or God, or what, but I was able to come right back after maybe three days. I paid the deposit again for the halfway house. I had a surrender. Sometimes we have to surrender to the process, which I was not surrendered before. I found out that I had to go through that experience to realize what I needed to do differently this time around.
I had a sponsor. I was calling her every day, but we hadn’t really started any work on myself yet. That’s really when the process happened. I started to see changes when I started doing some work on myself with the sponsor. I just remember my perspective changing, like my whole outlook on life. Meanwhile, this is the first time in my life I haven’t had a vehicle, so I’m walking, and waiting tables at diners. After the relapse, I got fired from the diner, so I have to ride the bus in Fort Lauderdale.
After working some steps, I was grateful to get up early, hear the birds sing, walk in South Florida, see the palm trees, feel the wind on my face, ride the bus down to the beach, wait tables. Every moment was a gift. I truly believe that that’s the psychic change that happened, during that process. I was so happy living, and happy with everything that I owned fitting into like one little dresser drawer. I had two other women in my room, and I realized that happiness comes from the inside and it wasn’t all this outside stuff, and it didn’t matter what people thought of me. It was me doing the right thing for the right reason and getting the results from the work I was doing.
I realized just putting one foot in front of the other and doing the right thing when nobody was looking, and the next thing I knew, I was being promoted to management in the restaurant. I had a key; I had the code to the safe. I had saved up after about nine months and bought my own car for the first time, which was unheard of, because I was such a spoiled brat.
Everything was just handed to me before, but working for this ’92 Toyota Camry, that thing was like a Ferrari to me, because I worked for it and I earned it. I would cry tears of joy riding past the bus stop, just knowing, “This is what it feels like to earn something.”
That was just everything, like a parable for my recovery because I was earning it. I was earning the self-respect I was gaining. I was earning respect from others and helping to wipe my reputation that I thought had been completely severed back home. People were actually proud of me and looking up to me. I was proud of myself. I didn’t have the guilt, shame and remorse that I did for so long.
I think when I had a little bit over a year, I got a picture message from my parents back home in Kentucky, and they were holding thirty-day chips, so they had actually been going to meetings for thirty days. I was so happy. I couldn’t believe it, because of course, they didn’t have the bottoms that I did and what most people did, but just the fact though, that they could see that something was changing in me and maybe they wanted that for themselves. I credited it to God, of course, because definitely it wasn’t anything I did.
That process started, and at about a year and a half, I had given myself some time to be single, and I met this guy at the local clubhouse. It was like love at first sight, but he had only like two months sober; I had a year and a half. He was living at the Salvation Army. He didn’t have a phone or anything and [was] definitely a career felon, so he was definitely my type. I pursued that, and about a year later, we were pregnant.
He was now hired on at the Salvation Army, but also living there. We didn’t even move in together until I was like eight months pregnant, and getting ready to pop. Finally found a place, so we had Adriana Grace, March 10th, 2011. She was perfect, and life was just as I had envisioned it. We were all recovered; we were going to recovery Bible study. We’re going to church; we’re active members of the Salvation Army ministry there, its adult rehabilitation center in Fort Lauderdale. I’m actually hired on as the eBay coordinator for them. Love my job.
The next thing I knew, her dad had relapsed. I come to find out he had actually taken her as an infant to Miami to cop heroin and put her in danger. I had love goggles, blinders on, denial ran so deep that I didn’t see any of that until it smacked me in the face. Sent him off to treatment; we actually have health insurance. Go figure. Got the money to take him for the fifty percent of the health insurance cost that they paid.
He did pretty good for a while, or so I thought. Maybe six months or so went by. He was able to keep his job, but he had like a wisdom tooth that was impacted and he got the prescription filled for the opiates, and you know, that’s his drug of choice, so again, he’s off. This time he loses the job and he is kicked out of our house. I don’t know what I’m going to do. My reality was crashing. My dream of having this perfect little family, by that time, we were engaged and thinking of marriage and our future and he had been going to school.
Again, I gave him another chance. He got another job, and again, six months later, it was just devastation. Being on the other side of addiction, it is the most painful, powerless feeling. Then I understood what my family was going through with me. You just feel like your heart’s being ripped out of your chest. Then seeing him with my daughter and hearing that “But I just love you, Daddy,” that wasn’t enough. That was not enough for him to get clean. I made the decision to move my daughter and I to Louisville, Kentucky, where my home is. My parents, at the time, they had sponsees of their own.
Today, my mom has five years, my dad has six years and, again, I have seven. That’s really cool. I was broken when I moved here. I had five years of sobriety and moving to a new city and changing fellowships and just trying to meet people in recovery. It’s not easy, but it was so worth it, because today, I’m getting ready to just start a radiologic technology program next week. That’s going to be two years and then I’ll come out being able to support myself and my daughter.
It was humbling moving in with my parents at thirty years old with a little girl, after I had been fully self-supporting for five, six years in Florida. It’s been humbling, and sometimes God kind of knocks us down to realize, like, “Hey, your ego needs checked. Let me do this for you.” That’s how I saw it.
My daughter is so happy here. She has all the love and attention I could ever hope for. We do see his family and travel to Florida. He is now incarcerated. He’s been in for about a year. That’s what our addiction doe is jails, institutions and death, so he’s got about five more months, and then he’ll go back to the Salvation Army program. I have hopes, but the damage has been done. I have to say that I’ll probably move on with my life as far as he and I are concerned.
I would love him, because he was a great dad when he was clean. It was just a matter of being on the beam and off the beam. If you’re in recovery, I want to be in your life, but it’s obvious when people like us are not in recovery, and trying to live a lie. I have zero tolerance for that today.
Today, my life is amazing. We’re having a huge recovery bonfire party this Saturday. I feel we can give back to the community and show people that it is fun to live. We can have parties without drinking and drugging and how amazing that is to wake up the next day and not regret anything and actually remember all the music and the laughs, and the conversations, and to live your life in HD, you know, because there was at least five years I just really can’t remember; it was all a blur.
I don’t want that for my life anymore. I want to be a good mom. That little girl deserves that, so she’s another reason why I’ve continued this process, but mainly it’s because I’m happy. Why would I even try to take a drink today, when I never really liked to drink? I’m not going to risk my happiness today on taking any substance in any form. I believe a peace that surpasses all understanding, and that can only come from God. That’s my story.
Photographs taken at Jenni’s home in Louisville, Kentucky.