Chapter 5 from the book, Dare to be a Difference Maker
One day, after eighteen years of trudging through the ditches of addiction, my mind woke up and began to think. The only problem was that when my mind finally woke up, I was in prison for first degree felony drug charges. I found myself in a place where all freedoms and luxuries were lost to me. After being awakened at 4:00 AM for breakfast, I went to work in the prison laundry as a seamstress, and then later in the library as a librarian. This was not the freedom I sought all those years I used drugs and drank alcohol.
After completing thirteen months in prison and two months in a halfway house I was allowed to find my own place to live. It was at this time that I began to realize life would be more difficult than I expected. I went to several apartment complexes only to be turned down. They didn’t want a drug dealer living on their property. I couldn’t blame them. I wouldn’t want a drug dealer living on my property either.
I didn’t want much from life other than to just exist in this world. I had the belief that no one would want to be my friend or even ask me on a date because I had been in prison. Little did I know that I was selling myself short with that small belief. God had big plans for me! And those plans would come to fruition as long as I did His work and did it well.
Small, good things began to happen. I found a job at Whataburger and became the best drive through employee I could be. I went to twelve-step meetings, got a sponsor, and began working through my life with a caring woman, my sponsor. And most importantly, I joined the Cowboy Church in Brazoria, Texas where I found acceptance, love, and a gracious God that had a plan for my life.
I discovered a new-found power that had been within me all the time—God. I was able to walk through a lifetime of pain, abandonment, confusion, domestic violence, and a drug addiction that nearly took my life. I had no idea that writing about my life and reviewing it with another human being would give me the freedom I so desired.
When I did sit down to write my story and discuss it with my sponsor, I wrote about growing up poor with parents who did the best they knew how, but who, I felt, thought I was never good enough. I grew up believing what I was told—that I was an idiot and stupid. I don’t remember much physical affection like hugs or being told that I was important. That’s not to say it wasn’t there, I just don’t remember it.
My mom has been the only constant in my life. Everyone else has either gone away or come into my life at some point. So, it’s only reasonable to say that some of my struggles have been around trying to be my mom’s caregiver. I always wanted to protect her from the emotional abuse we lived with. I didn’t know how to fix my own pain inside, so I focused on trying to make my mom better. I thought, “If I can make my mom okay and have her feel happy then I’ll be happy.” I have felt this way most of my life about my mom. But, I was never able to control her feelings or make them better.
Because of the enmeshment, every attempt failed and the self-hate and self-harm became worse. This helped feed my addiction and negative sense of self for many years. Today, I know that my mom’s
life and her feelings are not my problem. Only she can make them better for herself. I felt like I didn’t give my mom enough credit before for who she is today!
Both my mom and step-dad, who raised me, drank, and it was not uncommon for me to take sips of their alcoholic drinks. I was drunk for the first time by age seven at my grandfather’s Potentate Ball for the Shriners. There were several men at the event who thought it was “cute” to give me glasses of champagne. Keep in mind this was in the 1970’s and it was not as taboo as it is today. This was the first time that I didn’t have to feel the effects of being who I truly was, a little girl in a family where I felt like I didn’t exist.
I went to two junior high schools and six high schools, and had a hard time fitting in. Also, I always chose the wrong crowd to be with. I was unable to understand many of the classes that I had to take because every time I moved the classes were different. I had a sixth grade education in math, yet I was able to complete high school.
At age 14 my biological father and I were reunited and I was asked to go and live with him and my step mom and two sisters, one of which I had never met before. I soon came to find that my dad was a man of integrity and that he had always loved me. I felt sad that he wasn’t in my life, but very glad I was given the chance to get to know him. My dad didn’t always agree with my decisions but one thing I knew was that he loved me.
After high school I went to college to be a court reporter. I completed court reporting school after three attempts at it. I then went on to take the state board exams. I passed the written exam, but could not complete the machine portion of the exam because I was too high on drugs to transcribe my notes. Feeling defeated, I left the exam and never looked back. The downward spiral of drug addiction
went to an all new level after this.
During my recovery, I worked through issues of no self-worth and feeling not good enough. The biggest question was—what am I to do now? Two others and I started a new twelve-step meeting in Freeport, Texas called the Freedom Group and this is where my life really began to change. I was finally serving other people and it felt good. I was making a difference for good, for the first time.
After being down on the coast for one year, I came home to Plano, Texas and continued my journey of helping others. I attended my local twelve-step meetings and sponsored many women through a twelve-step program. I had this desire to help women even more and open a house where they could recover together as a community. And after being home for two years, I made my dreams a reality. In January 2008, I founded a non-profit organization to help women in recovery from substance use disorders, Recovery Inn.
We now have six homes in the Dallas metropolis and have helped over six hundred women on their journey to freedom from addiction and alcoholism. I can’t even imagine how many ripples in the water we’ve created that have now touched thousands. We help them with life skills and coping skills, which is what they lack the most. We also help them with spirituality, budgeting, cooking, gardening, and many other skills where they need help.
Recovery Inn has given mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters back to their families. Our goal is to reignite and fuel the passion inside each woman suffering from substance use disorders.
We’re not successful with all women who come through our doors because some are not ready. Our current success rate is in the 70% range. The best part for me though, is knowing that they can choose to change if they become willing and honest, because I know it’s possible. If I could do it, so can they.
It’s amazing to look at the progress I’ve made personally and professionally. I understand who I am as a child of God today. With worth that comes from within that shines outward. I’ve taken responsibility for my actions and my past addiction. I’ve learned that serving others takes the focus off myself and no longer allows me to live in self-pity. I will spend the rest of my days assisting others find the way out of self-pity, self-harm, and into the perfect love of Christ that casts out all fear.
Last year, I was able to attend SMU for a non-profit leadership program where I learned how to grow and sustain a non-profit organization. I am eight years free from any mind or mood altering substances and continue my personal journey as a person in long-term recovery.
In 2010, I co-founded the National Alliance for Recovery Residences, a national association that supports people in early recovery from alcohol and other drug use. We accomplish this by creating, evaluating, and improving recovery residence standards and quality measures. NARR provides a uniform nomenclature for recovery residences, a forum for exchanging ideas, technical assistance, problem-solving, training, and public policy development. We currently represent 27 states, 2,500 providers, and 30,000 beds nationwide. This was a passion of mine because I believe if you care for one, then you care about them all. I will continue to dedicate my life to those in recovery from substance use disorders.
I’ve learned through this journey called life that we all have struggles and we all have joys. They come at all stages of life and come in many different packages. Peace comes when we accept that all things are exactly as they’re meant to be. I no longer fight with this world as I know I’m only passing through. I know that everything happens for a reason, and I am thankful for everything I’ve experienced. I honor the part of me that chose to use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope because I made it out alive. I also honor the choices I continue to make that allow me to live a life that is beyond my expectations.
I am free, free at last!
May God’s grace abound in your life today as it has so much in mine!
Michelle Adams is the Founder and Executive Director of Recovery Inn, a women’s recovery program that is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, the owner of Bentley Place, a men’s recovery program in Plano, TX, and the owner of Intensive Integration Outpatient Corporation. She is 40 years old and resides in Texas.
She has served on the board of directors at City House, a shelter for children and currently serves on the board of directors for the National Alliance for Recovery Residences. Her passion is helping others in recovery reach their full potential and stop the battle with drugs and alcohol.
Michelle has been featured in Plano Profile Magazine, Advocate Magazine, Dallas Morning News—Neighbors Go, Plano Star Courier, featured in several blogs, and was the “Texan with Character” for Channel 11 News.