My name is Prudence. I am a woman in long-term recovery, and what that means to me is I have not found it necessary to put a drink or drug in my body since November 28, 2017. A few things about me… I was born on an army base in Newport News, Virginia, in September 1978. I have one older brother who was my first best friend. He taught me how to be the toughest tomboy around. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood were riding bikes, playing in the dirt, and climbing trees. When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a teacher. I never dreamed that I would grow up to be a drug addict.
My parents divorced when I was five-years-old and my brother was six. My brother went to live with my dad, and I stayed with my mom. From then on, my childhood was plagued with dysfunction and traumatic events. My mom started drinking every day, working in bars and was hardly ever home. She re-married four more times, and I moved all over the place from Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, and then to Tennessee when I was 12. No matter where I moved, I always felt like I did not fit in or belong. I was bullied a lot for being the new kid at school, because my name is Prudence, and because I had a mole on my face and the back of my neck that was very big and noticeable. Even after I had the surgery to remove the moles in third grade, I still had a large scar on my lip, and the back of my neck that made me feel defective.
I had to grow up quickly, and I learned a lot of things the hard way. By the age of 12, I had been sexually assaulted three times by three different men. I began smoking cigarettes and weed, drinking, and spending all my time with kids much older than I was. I was starting to get noticed by men, and in my dysfunctional idea of what I thought love was, I enjoyed their attention. At 12-years-old, I became sexually active and was very promiscuous. When I was 14-years-old, I got pregnant from a one-night stand, and at 15-years-old, I gave birth to my son. I quit school and worked one full-time job and two part-time jobs to support him. I stopped using drugs, quit drinking, and tried to be the best mom I could be to him.
I met my oldest daughter’s father about a year later. We dated for a short time, moved in together, and three months later, I became pregnant with my oldest daughter. He and I were relatively happy for seven and a half years. He supported our family financially, and I was able to stay home with the kids. From the outside looking in, it seemed like we had a perfect life. But on the inside, there were cracks. I started smoking pot, and we both started drinking more and more. Toward the end of our relationship, we started using cocaine. It was when he became physically abusive toward me that I made up my mind to leave him.
About a year later, I met my youngest daughter’s father. Like my previous relationship, we dated for a short time, moved in together, and three months later, I was pregnant. This relationship did not even last through my pregnancy. At 25-years-old, I was a single mom of a 10-year-old, an 8-year-old, and a newborn. I tried my best to support us all on my own, but by the time my youngest daughter was one, I was struggling to make ends meet. I sold most of our stuff, packed up the rest in a U-Haul, and moved my kids and me to Michigan to stay with my mom.
Shortly after we moved to MI, I started having debilitating pelvic pain and was diagnosed with endometriosis. The doctors told me I needed a hysterectomy, but because I was so young, they wanted to try different hormonal treatments first. In the meantime, they prescribed me pain pills to help me manage my pain. For two years, I took the pain pills every day to manage my pain. I took them one at a time, the way my prescription told me to take them. To my surprise, after I had my surgery, I was still in a great deal of pain. It was then I understood that I was addicted to the pain pills.
For the next 10 years, I tried every way I could to quit taking the pain pills. I quit cold turkey a few times, I tried drinking instead of taking pain pills, I tried using Suboxone treatment, and I even tried geographical change. No matter how long I stopped taking the pain pills, as soon as I would go around other people who were using them or knew someone who had them, I was back off to the races again.
In the summer of 2012, while my kids were visiting my mom for summer break, I started hanging out with the wrong kinds of people and doing the wrong kinds of things. My drug use and drinking were out of control. I was making a lot of bad decisions, breaking the law, and I went to jail for the first time for accessory after the fact. One of the guys I was using with, and who I barely knew, turned out to be a dangerous person. One day after I gave him a ride, he took the keys out of my ignition and my phone out of my purse. When I got out and tried to retrieve them, he beat me almost to death. I was able to get away from him, but I knew I was in a bad situation that I did not know how I could get out of it. He was affiliated and had dirt on me, so I knew I could not go to the police for help. I decided to go to my boss’s house and stayed there for about a week. Then I devised a plan. I figured I could go back to my house, pack up all my stuff, and move someplace where he could not find me. Before I left, I asked my boss if he had a gun I could use, and he gave me a shotgun. I don’t like guns, and I had never shot a shotgun before. I just figured if I had a gun, I could protect myself, and then he would not be able to hurt me again.
About 10 days later, he came to my house at 3:30 am kicked in my front door. A friend of mine was staying with me, and when he saw him in my house, he went after him and started cutting him with a box cutter. I tried to call 911, but I was shaking so badly that I could not put in the password on my phone to unlock it. So, I picked up the gun, pointed it toward both of them, and shot it once. My friend fell towards me, and we ran outside the house and down the street. When we got far enough away to know that he was not chasing us, we started knocking on doors, asking for someone to call 911. They took my friend by ambulance to the hospital, to treat his injuries, and then they took me to the detective’s office. That is when they told me that I killed him, and that he died on my bedroom floor.
I never thought something like that would ever happen to me! I was overcome with guilt, shame, and sadness. I felt like all the darkness I had been living was being brought to the light, and everyone could see what an ugly person I was. My picture, and a picture of my house, was on the front page of the newspaper. Every news station in Middle Tennessee was camped in front of my house, asking people who did not even know me what they thought happened, and reporting it as if it were true. I wanted to die! I remember crying to God, asking him to forgive me, and asking him, why didn’t you take me instead?
I handled that situation the same way as I have always handled any other trauma in my life. I ran from it. I hid my feelings with drugs and alcohol and pretended like there was nothing wrong. For the next six years, my life continued to spiral out of control. I was in and out of jail, I could not hold down a job, and everywhere I went, there I was. I was in such denial about my drug addiction or any unmanageability in my life. I believed that everything in my life would be fine if only this, that, or the other would change. I blamed all my mess on everyone else but didn’t think any of it was my fault.
Both of my parents used drugs and drank with me, even when I was underage. I thought that all parents did this with their kids when they got to a certain age. When my son was 18, and my daughter was 16, I found out that they were both smoking pot and had even smoked pot with my dad, so I started smoking pot with them too. In 2015, my mother’s fifth husband suddenly died, so I moved her to Tennessee to live with me. At that time, my two oldest kids were 20 and 22, living together and on their own in Nashville. They were struggling to pay their rent, so we decided to get a place big enough for all of us to live together and we moved to Clarksville in January 2016.
A few weeks after we moved to Clarksville, I ran into an old friend I knew from middle school. She was using IV pain pills and meth. One day while I was withdrawing, I begged her to share some of her drugs with me, so she did. Within weeks, I went from never using these kinds of drugs to being a full-blown junkie. The only thing I cared about was finding ways and means to get more. I started dating the plug, and he started giving me as much meth as I wanted for free. I was sharing it with my mom and my two oldest kids. Not long after I started using IV drugs, my oldest daughter started using them too. Within six months, I lost everything that ever meant anything to me. We were evicted from our home and lost most of our possessions because we could not get it all moved out in the 10 days that we had to vacate the property. We stayed in a hotel for a short time but soon ran out of money. I took my youngest daughter to my father’s house for the summer, and my mom ended up moving back to Michigan. My two oldest kids and I were homeless, addicted, and living on the street.
I thought I had been through some tough times in my life. Some of those times, I felt like I had hit my bottom. I could not imagine my life getting any worse than it already was, but to my surprise, it continued to get worse and worse. After my mom moved back to Michigan, she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and told she only had six months to live. My son had an adverse reaction to using meth that caused the sac around his heart to fill with fluid, which in turn caused him to have a heart attack. At 23-years-old, he had to have open heart surgery to save his life. Because of my influence, my oldest daughter was now an IV drug user, and one night while she was driving in a car with a plug (that I introduced her to), they got pulled over. The guy had four different drugs and a gun, all of which were felony charges. Since he did not want to claim them as his, the police charged both of them with five felonies. Before she could get those charges dismissed, she got charged with two more simple possession of meth and two paraphernalia charges. She ended up missing court twice and was charged with two failures to appear. She got arrested and had to serve 90 days for the failures to appear.
During this time, I started running a fever of 105 that lasted for a week. I did not want to go to the hospital because I knew they would see the track marks on my arms and know I was an IV drug user. After a week, I could not move my arm anymore, and I had to go to the ER. After the doctors ran several tests, they discovered that I had MRSA (staph infection). The infection was was in my heart, meaning I had Endocarditis. Even though the doctors said I needed to stay in the hospital for eight weeks and that if I did not follow through with this treatment, I could die, I still checked myself out of the hospital after 22 days when the staph was gone. I went right back to using, and four months later, I started having bad pain in my back. Again, I did not want to go to the hospital, but after a week, I became paralyzed and could not walk anymore. I was transported by ambulance to the hospital and informed that the infection was back. This time it set up in the vertebra of my spine. This infection in my bone was more painful than anything I had ever felt before. They were giving me small doses of pain medicine to manage the pain, but it barely took the edge off, considering I was using much stronger pain pills on the street. This time I ended up staying in the hospital for the entire eight weeks.
It was December 2016. I was nearing my discharge date when the doctors suggested I go to detox to help me get off the pain medicine they prescribed me during my stay. So, I went to detox in Nashville. I was having myself a grand time there. I made a lot of new friends, had a lot of fun coloring cool pictures, and felt super comfortable getting my three doses of suboxone a day. On my fourth day there, they called me into a conference room. Inside were all the doctors and nurses who were over my care. They told me they needed to talk to me about my treatment plan, and they suggested that when I leave detox, that I go to a 30 day inpatient rehab. I politely told them I don’t think I need to go to an inpatient rehab after here. I think I will be fine taking my suboxone, and it will help me not to want to use IV drugs anymore. Then I reminded them Christmas is in two weeks! I have never missed Christmas with my kids before, and I can’t do that! Then suddenly, my doctor, who had been super sweet to me up until this point, stood up and screamed across the table, “Don’t you realize that you are not with your kids right now because you are an addict!?!” I was shocked, appalled, and I could not believe she had the nerve to call me an addict!!! I started crying so hard that I was practically hyperventilating as I replied to her. I told her, “I am not an addict!! I have just recently started shooting up, and I have not been doing this my whole life!!” Then she said, “I want you to go back to your room right now and write a letter to your kids!”
I cried all the way back to my room, and when I started thinking about everything she had said to me, the tears poured out of my eyes. I could not stop crying. I could not even write a letter to my kids! It hurt so bad to think about all pain I caused to the most beautiful gifts God had ever given me. That was the first time I was completely honest with myself, and I admitted that I was an addict. I could see for the first time that my life was crazy unmanageable, and that I had no control over my thoughts or desires to keep using. I wish I could say that was all it took for me. But just because I understood that I was an addict and that I suffered from the disease of addiction did not mean that I knew how to stop using or how to treat this disease.
I was able to spend Christmas 2016 with my kids, and I went to rehab for the first time shortly after. I was only there for 10 days when I told them that I didn’t want to be there, and then they told me to leave. I was arrogant and thought I had control over my disease. I thought I would be fine since I was 40 days clean. I started going to meetings every day, but soon after, I did not have time to go to meetings anymore. I did not get a sponsor, I did not work any steps, and I did not change my people, places, or things. When I had five months clean, I drank one 40oz beer. When I had six months clean, I smoked one joint. Then when I had seven and a half months clean, I went around people who were using, and the next thing I knew, I was sticking a needle back in my arm.
That was the beginning of the end for me. That relapse lasted for four months, and I hope I never forget how horrible those days of my life were. I was riddled inside with guilt and shame. I was so tired of trying, and I just wanted to give up. I felt like everything I tried so hard to overcome was all for nothing! I had failed my kids, my parents, my family and God! My life as I knew it was gone. I did not think I could ever regain all that I had lost, so there was no use in trying anymore. I felt like there was no purpose left for me on this earth and that it would be better for everyone if I were dead.
Then God Intervened. By that, I mean he intervened via several police officers. I repeatedly went to jail and caught my first drug charges. I had a sick feeling in my gut that God was trying to tell me that my time to get clean and do the right thing was running out.
I wanted to get clean and stay clean so bad, but I did not know how to do it. I tried everything they suggested, and none of it worked for me! But if I am being honest, I did not do EVERYTHING they told me I should do. I was working the program the way “I“ wanted to work the program, doing a little bit of this, and leaving out a little bit of that. Somewhere in my doubtful mind I found one little morsel of hope left. I wondered, what if I try this 12 Step fellowship stuff one more time, but this time I try doing ALL of the things that they suggest I do, and what if I do it just the way that they suggest I do it? Maybe then it could work for me too. I will never forget the feeling I had. It felt like I was on the very edge of a huge cliff and all I could see out in front of me was this empty space. In that space, there was all the love, and all the peace, and all the joy that I had always wanted. All I had to do was take a single step into the air and trust God that he would catch me. I wanted to take that step so badly, but I was so full of fear because I didn’t know anything about that kind of life. I didn’t know how to be honest, how to be vulnerable, how to trust God, or to ask for help.
I found a detox with a bed, but by the time I got a ride there, they ended up giving my bed away to someone else. It took them almost a whole day to find another place for me to go. By the time I got to the second detox and did all my paperwork, I was going into day two of my withdrawal without even a Tylenol to ease my pain. I could barely walk, and I was just so sick and tired of being sick and tired! Something deep in my heart hurt in a way that I had never hurt before. So, I did the only thing that I had left to do, I surrendered and cried out to God. I prayed to him with all my heart, and I told him, God, if you will help me get through this, I will do ANYTHING that you want me to do!
In the past, I had prayed to God and pleaded with him at certain times of my life. My prayers usually went like this, “God, please, get me out of the back of this cop car”, or “God, if you will change the situation around the way I want it to go, I will do anything”. But this prayer was different. It was the first time I think ever in my life, that I prayed to God and completely surrendered ALL my will, ALL my thoughts, and ALL the ideas of what I thought were the right things for me to do, and I turned it all over to him and his care.
Somehow, not knowing what all that meant at that moment, I was overcome with peace, and I could feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders. For the first time in a long time, I felt like no matter what, everything was going to be okay. I didn’t feel alone anymore, and I could feel that God was with me.
I completed my rehab after 40 days, and I did almost everything they suggested I do and just the way they suggested I do it. I went to meetings almost every day for the first year of my recovery. Somedays, I even went to two or three meetings a day. I was vulnerable, and I shared honestly at those meetings. I asked people I didn’t know for their phone numbers, and I called them when I needed help, even though I didn’t want to. I found a home group, and I took a service position at my home group. I got a sponsor, and I started working on the steps. I changed my people, places, and things, and I avoided them like they were the plague. Because to me, they equaled death. That meant I even had to stay away from some of my family and limit the time that I spent with them. I moved into sober living and stayed there for four and a half years. I still, till this day, wake up every morning, and before I do anything else, I hit my knees and thank God for giving me another day to live. I ask him every day to help me stay clean just for today, and he does.
None of the things that I thought would happen in my recovery happened the way I thought they would. They turned out even better than I could have ever dreamed. My mother lived a year and a half longer than the six months they gave her to live. I was able to go see her twice before she died, and she got to see me clean, living my life as the woman that God created me to be. My oldest daughter has been clean since 2017, and my son got clean shortly after her. They both are doing amazingly well and have made me a grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren. My youngest daughter came back to live with me, and she just graduated high school five months early! Today, I get to be the kind of mother to them that I have always wanted to be.
The sober living community I moved into in Nashville offered me a position as the Outreach Worker for Oxford House in Knoxville in 2019. Since 2019, I have opened 13 more Oxford Houses here in Knoxville, TN. Inside those 13 houses, 108 more beds have been made available for anyone seeking a safe, sober place to recover from alcohol and drugs. Four of those 13 houses are the first Women and Children Oxford Houses in Knoxville. These Women and Children Houses give mothers the opportunity to rebuild their relationships with their children in a safe and sober living environment. All these blessings and accomplishments I have attained in these last five years are amazing, but the most beautiful of them is the relationship I have today with God. He saved me from the pits of hell, and he filled the hole that was in my heart with his love. He turned my darkness into his light, and it shines so bright that everyone can see it. He found me out of the 99 and turned all my mess into my message. I owe everything to God, and I give him all the glory. I know now that he did not save me, for me. God saved me so that I could save others by sharing with them what God has done for me. It is now my passion and mission in life to love God with all my heart and to love others the way he loves me. I pray every day for him to use me, to give me the knowledge to live in his will, and to be the vessel for him that he created me to be.
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