I first smoked crack on a cold winter day when I was 19. At the time I was feeling desperate. I’d heard that crack would make me feel no pain, and it did. What pulled me in was the tinge, the suspense, the thrill and the numbness.
I’m 30 now, and for the past 11 years I’ve struggled to break my addiction and be a mother to my children. I have four girls—three are in foster care and my youngest is with me. We’re living in a shelter and nothing feels easy. But I want to succeed in making a life for myself.
My story is about a confused young woman trying to handle her fear, pain and loneliness the only way she knew how. A girl looking for love in the wrong places. A mother trying to find her way home. A scared person who found that the love she was looking for was right there the whole time. It’s about finding myself and realizing that I am not alone.
When I was young I lived with my parents, my older sister and my younger sister. Then things with my mother and father became rocky. My sisters and I watched them tear apart.
By the time I was 12, my mom was going through problems with addiction and my sisters and I were living with my grandmother in kinship foster care. That was also the year that my cousin started to molest me. When I told my grandmother and his mother, I wasn’t believed.
At 16, I felt angry and alone. I didn’t feel loved by my own family, especially my mom.
I began skipping school, hanging out late, getting in trouble. I also started having sex for favors and money. The money gave me a feeling of control after being used for sex. Then I went to Florida with an older guy. I thought he was my boyfriend but he made me prostitute on the street. I was also abducted, raped and tortured for a week. Finally I called my father for help. By then I was pregnant.
When I got home to my father and stepmother, I told my stepmother what happened. She immediately took me to the hospital. I went through counseling, the whole nine yards. The therapy was a relief—I could finally be open and learn to feel again. Still, I had nightmares. At times, I flashed back to the bad moments, or couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t stop blaming myself. I was so ashamed.
I was 17 when I gave birth to a baby girl named Tashia. I enrolled back into school and got a job to support my daughter. From my father, stepmother and daughter I could now feel a sense of love that I’d never felt. I felt happy as hell for that. I also felt overwhelmed, though. Working and being a mother while carrying so much in my mind was too much.
Within a year, everything good ended. I got in an argument with my stepmother. My father brought me back to my mother. It was my 18th birthday. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was begging them not to leave me with my mother. I was asking myself, “Why didn’t I just listen and follow the rules?”
Desperate for love and family, I soon got married, but once again, I didn’t find the stability and connection I craved. It wasn’t long before my marriage went downhill.
Separated From the World
Over the next five years, my life was a mess. I lost Tashia to the system when she was 6 years old. I had two more little girls—Tyniah and Toteana—and lost them, too. Three times I went back and forth between getting high and then getting my life back together and being a mother.
For a while in 2008 I was living in my own 2-bedroom apartment, doing whatever the system asked me to do: give urine and go to an outpatient program. I had three hours each week with my girls at the agency. But waiting for my two daughters to be returned felt like the longest wait ever.
When my loneliness and hopelessness kicked in, I started looking for friends. I didn’t want to ask my stable family for help. I felt so betrayed and hurt by them, and ashamed. Finally I had my mom stay over because I needed the company. Soon she smoked in my house and that was it. In less than 18 months, I was in the street again.
I would get so caught up in getting high. Crack made me feel like I was on top and nothing could get between that. When I wasn’t high, I felt weird—lonely, confused and even separated from the world.
‘We Missed You!’
Finally, two years ago, when I was 4 months pregnant with my youngest, I knew that I needed to try again with my family. I called my sister and asked her if I could stay with her and she said yes.
Going to my sister’s, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I would be yelled at or blamed. But the moment my foot hit the doorstep, it was hugs, kisses and love. It was, “We missed you!” and cries, something I had missed.
When the children went to sleep, I thought my sister and I would argue about the times I was missing, but not at all. It was, “How are you doing? Are you hungry? What do you want to watch?” This is what I had longed for.
Drugs or Life?
My sister allowed me to stay at her house for several months. I was very grateful. But when I gave birth to Teliah, she was removed from me. To get her back, I needed to enter a drug treatment program. The time had come for me to make a final decision: Drugs or life?
Luckily, I was able to go to Odyssey House’s mother-child program, and Teliah was released to me 40 days later. I didn’t let anyone touch her. She’d left me once and wasn’t going to leave me again.
A New Beginning
I’m proud to say I’ve learned to cope without using drugs. My focus right now is staying stopped. To do that, I’m working on opening up. On taking the risk to talk to my family about what is going through my mind. What my fears are. Not lying. Because being alone is what led me to use.
Teliah and I live in a shelter and I work at the Parks Department. I wake up racing time every day, traveling borough to borough to get my daughter to preschool and finish all my programs. Much of the time it feels like I’m not getting anywhere. Program to program, train to train, walking late in the cold. I’m not saying my life is supposed to get better at the snap of a finger but damn! I didn’t think it would be this hard.
I keep reminding myself that I was willing to do anything for drugs. If it was raining, sleet, or snow, I made it my business to buy my drugs.
Sometimes I feel like a child going through a tantrum. I feel like I’m working hard and I’m not being rewarded. Other times, I’m angry at myself for thinking like that. Teliah is my reward. I should be thankful I even have the chance to start over.
I visit friends and family who encourage my recovery. I call on my step-mother, my mom’s mother and my sister when things get complicated. I feel loved, because when I tell them I can’t handle something, they don’t throw things in my face about my past life. They fill the space that I used to think was empty.
Still, now that I’m clean, it hurts to think about all the things I have lost. I have lost three of my children. I remember when my oldest were home with me—their smiles in the morning, the sound of them fighting over which show to watch first, where we should go that weekend.
It’s very depressing at times that Teliah looks like my second oldest daughter, Tyniah, who is now 7. Tyniah showed me the same attachment, the smile, the concern for attention. Day after day it sinks in more: I wish I’d realized earlier my desire to be a parent. Until now, though, I really didn’t understand all my hurt, what I’ve been through, and how my past is still hurting me.
My daughter is putting me on my feet every day. When I get frustrated, I try to remember that there is nothing better than enjoying the growth that I have accomplished, and that she is the reason why I’ve changed. I like singing with my daughter, playing doctor, playing hide-and-go-seek, and most of all, “fashion hall.” We change into different outfits and walk. That is the fun part of my day.