By: Tina Cook
I think my own life is the easiest and most accurate narrative I can give of someone who has been positively transformed by the power of God and the influence of others. Though this will be far from in-depth, I will hit enough of the highlights to make apparent the darkness I was surrounded by and the guiding light that set me free.
At age 15, I began smoking cigarettes, drinking, drugging, cheating, lying, and living a life of promiscuity. I also became pregnant and had an abortion. At age 16, I attempted suicide and was sent to a Psychiatric Ward for the summer. At age 18, I went into my first rehab and age 19 presented my first arrest; later arrests included 2 counts of robbery, burglary, and theft with a $200,000 bond. This resulted in my first felony conviction of 2nd degree theft because I only knew about the crime after it was committed. I could have beaten the charge if I had only told on the ones who actually did it. However, I was entangled in a screwed-up sense of loyalty for the wrong people while I left the right people hanging time and time again. So, at age 20, I was branded a convicted felon which has followed me throughout my entire adult life.
I had always been free-spirited and full of life. Those changed from assets to liabilities making me a runner — from place to place and person to person. I even hitchhiked to California to be with a man who almost beat me to death more than once…or twice. My disease progressed till I finally walked completely out on my life — apartment, possessions, job, school, car, and family…everything! From age 27 to 32, I was a slave to cocaine, streets, and repeated arrests and short-term jail time in Miami and Orlando, Florida. After becoming ensnared in a cult and making it out alive, I returned home to Alabama at age 32 and made my first honest attempt to live sober.
In 2007 at age 42, I relapsed. I was totally exhausted from the effort of trying to change myself. When I took that first hit of cocaine after 10 years, I remember thinking, “Now I can finally stop trying to please everyone else and be the best at everything!” The cycle of drugs, street life, and then the return to jail over and over began again. This time, I traveled from North Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee, then down to the west coast of Florida. When I arrived there in 2010, I had acquired a year clean from a stay in jail. It didn’t take me long to relapse and hit the streets of Bradenton wide open. They were ready for me…and hit back in several ways. I was arrested 4 times between December 2010 and October 2011.
When I was released after that 4th time in May 2012, I was not the same woman who arrived there 6 months prior. I had made decisions and began practicing them while in jail. I did not make these choices joyfully, nor was I able to flesh them out alone. They were the result of many Christian volunteers coming each day on a weekly basis to share hope, love, encouragement, belief, and redemption with me.
Perhaps the best decision I made was to have someone from a homeless ministry pick me up at the gate when I was released. The hardest truth I had faced about myself was that I was indeed homeless and needed to begin my journey from where I qualified. I didn’t need to try to skip vital steps in the process which is known in 12-Step meetings as the ‘easier, softer way’ that always leads to relapse. After 3 weeks, the ministry folded due to a successful attack by the enemy. I refused to go back to the streets which were calling me in their familiarity and comfort. After many heart-wrenching and desperate phone calls, I finally found a place that would give me a chance: Chrysalis House, a faith-based 12-step recovery home. I was at once surrounded by a strong group of spiritual and uplifting people. I began to reconnect with my mentors from the jail whom I still needed to walk alongside me to keep me encouraged. With my network around me, I was able to make wise decisions like not to run from life anymore…to do things differently even if I made some mistakes, at least they would be mistakes made in the process of going the right direction…a commitment to God to honor myself and my body in all ways.
I was given the opportunity to grow up because that is what happens when you don’t run away. I would not have chosen the life I began living. Instead of a prestigious job befitting my business skills, I started out with a mundane hourly job in not-so-pleasant conditions making minimum wage. And yet, I always had enough money…even enough to share with those who had less than me. I have been given the priceless gift of discovering that to be a positive light in the life of others is worth far more than money or things. I learned this at the job I did not want, the only one that wanted me based on my criminal addict background.
Since then, my family who couldn’t tolerate the pain I caused anymore because of my detrimental lifestyle invited me back home. I was able to spend the last 6 weeks of my mother’s life as her caregiver before she died from ovarian cancer. I held her hand and sang her favorite hymn (Amazing Grace) to her as she left this world to meet Jesus. My sister and I are best friends again; I have a car, a home, friends, and added another network of people supporting me in addition to those I still call on in Florida. I also have a career that allows me to help people just like I once was: homeless, hopeless, and lost in a world of strongholds. I have graduated from City Vision University and now serve on their Advisory Board. I remained on-track after college and am a Certified Addiction Counselor both in Alabama and nationally.
I will end this by stating that I always remember that inside me there is a monster. My disease is alive and well and sleeping within. I know because it slept silently within me for the better part of 10 years. Then I took that first mood-altering chemical, and it woke up extremely angry and demanding to be fed. I never want to wake that monster again. Instead, I will continue to starve it by feeding my spirit, not my disease. I do this by following suggestions made by people who are more mature and wise than I am, maintaining a strong relationship with God, going to meetings, actively doing step work, and practicing a new way to live so I can walk safely through life no matter what challenges I face. I will keep my eye on the prize so I can be of maximum service to those whose lives I might lead out of the grave and into LIFE!
By: Tina Cook
Director, Athens-Limestone County Family Resource Center