Former addict tells of 'long road back'

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

Hers is a story of recovery and redemption, a harrowing true-life tale that stirred emotions among those who attended a fund-raising reception for The RESTORE Foundation June 3.

The event, held at Lelli's Inn in Farmington Hills, drew scores of supporters of the drug court program in Oakland County, which since 2008 has received critical funding help from RESTORE, a nonprofit organization formed to assist juveniles and adults caught in the grips of substance abuse.

"Shea," the keynote speaker at the June 3 reception, was one such teen as a senior in high school when she began experimenting with drugs and alcohol while "hanging out with the wrong crowd" despite growing up in a "very loving family" of upper middle class means. Her odyssey through the drug culture began with pot and LSD, moving systematically to ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin.

"I knew the first time I used heroin that I was addicted," she said bluntly. "It was something that made me feel like I had never felt before. It gave me self-esteem."

Before long it also would turn her into a thief to support her growing drug habit.

"It took over my life," she said, admitting that "I was shooting up during my lunch break" at work.

"But as any drug addict usually does, I was unable to support my habit on my income alone, so I began to steal," she said, mainly by pilfering credit card numbers.

A series of arrests would follow, sending her down a road where "I lost everything in my life--I lost my family; I lost my friends except those that would use with me.

"Towards the end I was living on the street, living in my car. I couldn't hold a job. I had gotten fired from every job I had and I was only 21 years old."

She also was wasting away, falling to an emaciated 95 pounds, the picture of ill health.

"I didn't look human any more," she acknowledged.

Then, on a late spring day in 2002, she was arrested again after committing yet another felony.

"I'll never forget the car ride on the way to jail," she related. "I was looking out the window and thinking my life is over. I'm going to be in prison forever. I think that ended up being my 10th felony, but I lost track after awhile."

Despite her troubled past, she was given the opportunity to participate in the county's fledgling drug court program, which had begun earlier that year with funds provided by state and federal grants. She "jumped" at the chance to enroll in the adult treatment court, considering it her "get out of jail free card." In reality, it "gave me so much more," she said.

The treatment program, designed to hold participants accountable for their actions and to give them the tools and support to succeed in life, proved to be a life-saver for her.

"I was able to get sober. They gave me hope. They gave me strength. They believed in me. I always say they believed in me when I didn't believe in myself," she said with a sense of amazement.

"They cared for me and they gave me the strength to keep going every day, and it was really, really hard in the beginning," she added. "My family still wouldn't speak to me. I had burned a lot of bridges. I had no friends still. With that kind of a record, I was barely able to get a waitressing job."

But she persevered, returning to school, earning a 4.0 grade point in college. She then was accepted to a master's program to become a physician assistant, once again excelling academically with a 4.0 GPA. Upon graduation, she landed a job as a physician assistant and has worked in cardiac surgery for the past 3-1/2 years.

"The biggest blessing was meeting my husband," she said. "We had a child last January, and I'm so blessed to be able to be a mom," she said, choking back tears. "It is the greatest gift in the entire world. I owe it to being sober and I owe it to the drug court and all the people who supported me."

Retired Circuit Court Judge Edward Sosnick, now the director of The RESTORE Foundation, said her success story is a testimony to the value of "therapeutic jurisprudence," which is at the heart of the drug court concept. The "team approach," he said, is "rooted in the idea that we can solve societal problems by working together" in an effort to "create generations of healthy people" not saddled with the scourge of substance abuse.

Those interested in supporting RESTORE can visit its website at www.therestorefoundation.org.

Published: Thu, Jun 20, 2013

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