When people go through difficult times and experience traumatic events, they’re not always reluctant to tell their story for everyone to hear. It’s possible they feel embarrassed and ashamed or want to avoid remembering how they felt at the time. I’ve met quite a few people during my time at the Damiano Center who safeguard their personal history like this, and out of respect to them, I leave it alone. However, my friend Christina has a different perspective. I first met Christina when I observed a couple Health Realization sessions on Wednesday nights at the Damiano. She was helping lead the sessions and doing readings for the group. Without a doubt, she is one of the kindest and most selfless people I have ever gotten to meet. When I wanted to do another blog on a guest, I was told Christina had a very interesting story. As soon as I asked her, she was thrilled at the idea! “I think it’s important to tell stories of the struggle and then the success,” Christina told me, “then people can see that it can actually happen.”
Christina is a born and raised Duluthian, but moved to Missouri with the guy she was dating at the time. It was a great city. Being a baseball lover, she loved going to Kansas City Royals games as much as she could. They felt a little homesick after a while and after six months, decided they wanted to be with family and moved back to Duluth. It wasn’t long after the transition back to life in Duluth that they ended their relationship. It was a rough time for both of them. He eventually got a job at a nearby railroad, but Christina continued to struggle. Hanging around the wrong people, she experimented with drugs. Her drug of choice- meth, the life-ruiner. It was a slow decline and then it was rock bottom. “First it’s just something to do on Friday, then Friday and Saturday. Then it’s Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then it’s seven days a week,” Christina described.
Christina ended up homeless. Staying at shelters or sleeping on couches, she refused to go home to her parents. They welcomed her with open arms and wanted her to come home. Although she loved them very much, she was too proud and ashamed of herself. Things only got worse when she and her boyfriend at the time impulsively went to Las Vegas to elope. For Christina, this is when her life began to spiral into a scary and chaotic lifestyle. She and her new, abusive husband began selling drugs by the pound. It became all she knew. Everywhere she went, she had a backpack with her, full of anything she was selling. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before she was arrested and taken to jail for 10.5 months. She served the full sentence and got high two hours within being released. “It was comfort in familiarity. I knew I was going to go back to jail, so I used that as my reasoning to get high again.”
She went back to jail on a charge where she was guilty by association for 1st degree burglary of weapons. Originally, she was supposed to be in there for 44 months, but luckily got out in a year. This year was a time of reflection for Christina. In prison, she got a lot of time to think. She thought about how close she was to a bad ending. She thought about what she did to her family. She thought about the people she had wronged. When her year was finally up, she stepped into the world as a different person and she knew she had to work on herself.
Working her way back to her life, Christina went to Bethel in January of 2018. She started taking classes for recovery and other skills. Quite a few people use programs like NA and AA when they get out of prison. Christina, on the other hand, doesn’t like to look behind her. “Those groups talk a lot about the past, but I wanted to focus on the future.” Then, her life took a turn for the better when she found a program that was exactly what she was looking for- Health Realization. She came reluctantly at first, but after a few times, she loved it and was very inspired by Richard, the program’s coordinator. Christina felt welcomed when he would say, “You’re not addicts anymore, because you’re not using right now.” Each time, she would feel connected to the readings and wanted to participate. She used to sit in the back, but now would sit right next to Mike, who conducted the meetings. Health Realization became something she was excited for every week. If she missed the meeting, she felt off balance. Now she was one of the key people.
Throughout this time, Christina worked at Goodwill to make some money and get back into the routine of working. She worked very hard, but sensed that they didn’t trust her as much as the other employees. Management would give her the work and responsibilities of a manager, but they would never give her the title, keys or wage for it. It was pretty discouraging for her to work so hard for something, but be held back by her past. Just when she thought she hit a road block, Health Realization helped her again. “Richard, who became one of my best friends, asked me to lead a women-only Health Realization meeting! I got keys to the building and it felt so great and I felt so trusted at the Damiano. He had no doubts or worries about me.”
Christina has done so much to mend the relationships with the people she wronged and she’s cut out 90% of the people she knew while she was dealing and using. The connection she held with her family has strengthened immensely.
“Even at my worst, none of my family turned their back on me. They never asked me not to come home, because a lot of people that come out of prison have nowhere to go. I remember getting out; calling my mom to ask her if I could stay there. She told me, ‘Of course you can, this is your home. You live here.’ She was so happy to see me get better. My mom would stay up many nights until she knew I was okay, waiting for that call from the police. I remember when she put the meth poem in my backpack. When I found it, I was so angry, but I look back on it now in a reflective manner.”
Today, Christina has taken on the challenge of helping raise kids by being a nanny. In fact, she’s a nanny for the man she used to date and moved with to Missouri! She also spends a lot of time with her nephew who is 2.5 years old. She especially loves being able to spend time with him, because when he was born, she was using heavily. In her free time, you can usually find her reading. It’s basically all she does now, since she did it a lot in prison. She is a huge Jim Butcher fan and also loves reading Harry Potter and Stephen King. Christina’s super excited to see the new chapter of IT, and loved to watch Game of Thrones. From time to time, she’ll still have small moods where she wants to throw it all away, but decides it’s just not what she wants. Her health has improved greatly and she hasn’t had seizures since she quit.
Christina’s experience is not one that people would ever want to go through. She hates what she did to her family and the people that she loved and what they went through. However, she is happy that she gets the opportunity to look back in a reflective way instead of a very bad ending. “I like to look at the future now. I want to ‘Keep on keepin’ on’,” she says. “I want to find a fulfilling career, find a home to work in and give back, or maybe do some drug counseling. But most importantly, I am just happy that I’m healthy and happy right now.”