September is National Recovery Month, a time in which we celebrate the achievements and milestones of those in recovery from substance use and mental health. In lieu of National Recovery Month, Eleanor Health is sharing employee recovery stories to reinforce the message that nobody is ever alone in their journey. In this post, we would like to share and honor the recovery journey of our very own Shelby Smith, the Access Team Supervisor for our North Carolina, New Jersey, and Texas locations.
Addiction and mental health concerns run very deep in my family. My mother and father had an ongoing addiction to alcohol, and my father liked to toy around with different substances throughout my childhood and adulthood. This caused both mental and physical abuse to each other and extended to myself and my older brother throughout our childhood and young adulthood. By the time I was thirteen years old, I was ready to “escape” the everyday worry of what was going to take place in my home and the fact that I could never have friends stay with me because of the ongoing fear of what they would see and how they would see me. I started hanging out with different crowds, and before I knew it, I was smoking marijuana and doing cocaine at the young age of thirteen. By the age of fourteen, I quit school and was working weekends and my substance use evolved into many other addictions. This continued throughout my young teen years, and I stopped all substance use when I got pregnant with my son at seventeen. I focused on being pregnant and doing my best to be the mom he needed. A few years later, I took my focus off of my son and started going out with friends. I was nineteen and met a guy I thought would be with me forever….lol. Substance use came back into my life, and this time it increased to many other things. I developed a heavy addiction to marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy. I got married while in the thick of my addiction, got into trouble with the law, and experienced times of homelessness. I did not have my son with me as I did have the knowledge that this was not a lifestyle for a little boy. My parents helped out with my son, and I did not have to worry about him seeing what his mother was doing. However, I did not think about the fact that I was leaving him in the very home that caused me so much trauma.
I left my husband at the age of twenty-one. I had so much debt to pay for the years of interactions with the law. I was tired and sat with my son one day; it just hit me that this little boy loved me unconditionally. He watched my every move. He deserved so much more than I was giving him, and there would never be anyone that loved him as much as I did. I started working towards gaining recovery though I knew this could be an uphill battle as I had to move back in with my parents for financial support, and they were still the same people they always were. I worked and started seeking out an outpatient program as I knew I could not go inpatient while working and taking care of my son. He needed to be my primary focus. I attended weekly group meetings and separated myself from everyone I once thought were my friends. By 2004 I stopped all substances. I was twenty-three years old, and I put it in my head right then that I would never return to that lifestyle. Though I know that relapse is real and this does happen, I was so headstrong that I would never let this happen to me again.
I got my own place and met my now husband. In 2005 my brother overdosed, which sent him into a psychotic break. I watched as my brother lay on the ground having seizures, which seemed like forever before the EMT got there to help. Police were concerned about the many substances my brother had in his home, and I informed them that I would take full responsibility for them if that helped to get him the help he needed. He was hospitalized, and due to the psychotic break, he was sent to Butner Behavioral Health Hospital, where he spent eight months. When he came home, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was not the same person he had always been growing up. He was paranoid and just different. During these years, I did not really know how to help him, and I separated myself from him and my family to continue to focus on my recovery journey. I went back to school and got my diploma, and started figuring out how to help my family as I wanted them to gain recovery as well. I supported my mother in getting into a recovery program, and she stopped all alcohol use and has been in recovery for ten years.
I gained my certification as a Peer Support Specialist and started working more with mental health. In 2012 my stepson reached out for support and disclosed that he had been using heroin and needed help. My husband and I worked so hard to support him in getting into recovery. He went to multiple treatment centers and was never offered MAT medication, so relapse seemed to happen shortly after leaving the detox centers. He was blessed with a baby boy in 2015 and started going to the methadone clinic. I was happy that he was no longer using opiates, but I still did not feel like he was gaining recovery by taking something daily. I was not educated at the time on how MAT would save someone’s life. There was an active CPS case with his baby boy due to the substances he and his girlfriend used. CPS worked with my husband and me, and we primarily kept our grandson. After working on their case, they could take him home, and we kept him while they worked. They were doing well.
Then tragedy hit, and my stepson lost his son in 2016 to SIDS. This was a devastating time for our family. I stayed as strong as possible through this, and I dug deep to support our son. He increased his benzo use during these times and then relapsed on opiates. We had to have our son involuntarily committed to try to save his life. He went to a center away from our hometown, started back on Methadone for MAT, and got into an Oxford House. He started gaining recovery and has been in recovery now for 5 years. I continued to work with my brother throughout the years to reduce the occurrences of his psychotic breaks related to his schizophrenia. Still, with the heavy opiate use, this was always a battle. My brother never attended a treatment center for support, and he would go in and out of recovery. He lost his life in a car accident last year. Though I am still broken from losing my brother, I am happy that he is no longer suffering from his increased mental health symptoms and his addiction that would not let him go.
I have supported my brother-in-law through his addiction to alcohol. I continue to offer my support and guidance to anyone in my community that has a need. So many things have gone on in my life that should have broken me and sent me spiraling back into a life of addiction. I do have to say that my faith has kept me strong and where I am today. I know that I could not have handled everything I had alone. I have a husband that supports my journey, I have faith that God has always been with me, and I continue to dive deep into the addiction world to help others gain that recovery that is just so special. Helping the people we help is so rewarding, and that alone keeps me grounded in my recovery.
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If you need help with your substance use disorder, we are here to help you build your confidence and momentum towards the future you want. We provide treatment services for adults with alcohol, opioid, and other substance use disorders. We are currently located in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.