My name is Jenna and I am a person in long term recovery and for me that means I haven’t used drugs or alcohol since I was 24. Recovery has helped me gain an awareness that I never had before. I am able to appreciate my surroundings. The little things, like watching the way the sun light illuminates the leaves on the trees or feeling a warm breeze on my face, I appreciate everything life has to offer and am able to live in the moment. I am able to be an active participant in my own life and I am no longer just existing.
It wasn’t always like that. There was a time when all I wanted to do was run away from life, not be a part of it. When I was 13, 2 days after Christmas, there was a knock on my door. The police were standing there and they told me there had been an accident and to call my mom. What I soon found out was that my dad had committed suicide. At that very moment the world as I knew it changed. I didn’t want to feel the pain of that event so I started doing anything I could to escape from reality. That escape came in the form of drugs and alcohol.
It started with drinking beer and smoking marijuana but it didn’t stop there. Over the years I tried many different substances to help me deal with life. The progression led me to Percocet which I thought were the answer to all of my problems. I took one little pill and magically everything seemed ok.
It got to the point that I was lying and stealing to be able to support my tremendous habit. What started as just one little pill, became a 2-300$ a day Percocet habit. I became a monster. My mom used to sleep with her purse under her pillow so I couldn’t come in and steal money from her in the middle of the night.
One day the task of scamming and robbing to get what I needed felt so monumental. The person I was with said that we could get 1 bag of heroin, just this once and be ok all day. At first I was appalled by the idea. I thought, “I’m not a heroin addict”; “I’m not a junkie like these other people.” But I was so sick I was willing to do anything to feel better. So I did. Before long I had become an IV heroin user, hanging out in neighborhoods I didn’t belong in, getting arrested, and hurting everyone that came in my path.
Fortunately, someone was looking out for me. My mom drug me to court one day because she had posted bail and wanted to make sure she got it back. The judge said 3 words that changed my life yet again. “Incarceration without bail.” Just like the day my dad died, my world stopped. Everything got quiet. All I could think of was running. This time I couldn’t run. I had to face the person I had become. It was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.
Today I am so grateful to that judge. He saved my life. He helped me to see that I was worth it. From my jail cell I started to see hope. I had a moment of clarity and in that moment I didn’t want to die a using addict with a needle in my arm. From jail I was given the opportunity to enter a program called drug court and they sent me to a 90 day inpatient rehabilitation program. In those 90 days I learned so much about myself and how to face life head on and walk through it without having to put a drink or a drug in my body.
In 2010 I graduated from the Drug Court program. After Drug Court I realized I could do anything I put my mind to. So I returned to college and in May 2012 I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. I decided to continue with my education and this fall will be my first semester as a graduate student. Since coming into this process I realized that I have a purpose. I have been given the opportunity to give back to the community and use the experiences I have had to help others.
I started to build healthy relationships in recovery. Today all of the people who used to run the other way when they saw me coming, want me to be a part of their lives. I’ve been a bridesmaid in their weddings, attended graduations and baby showers. I am able to show up for them.
I’ve developed healthy hobbies too. In recovery I started running. Right now I am training for my first full marathon in November. It’s amazing to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. Now I’m not running away from something, I’m running towards a finish line.
I know that anything is possible. By doing the next right thing and putting one foot in front of the other, I will cross that finish line. I’ve had people ask me if I regret the past. But I don’t. The experiences I have had have made me the person I am today. I am so proud of the person I have become. Today I am proud to say that I am a person in long term recovery.
Jenna spoke at the National Press conference that kicked off this years Recovery Month at the National Press Club in DC with a fellow YPR member Daniel LaPointe. Their lives in recovery, like many more just like them, are helping make America Recovery Ready. By increasing access to effective treatment, education, employment services and secure housing we are helping make the decision to live a life of wellness that much easier to make. Jenna is pictured here with the former Miss America Tara O’Connor (herself a woman in recovery).