Carol's Bright Story: How My Journey Back to Recovery Reshaped Who I Am
It was in February of 1994 when I found myself homeless once again, living on the streets after a long night of binging on heroin and crack. I eventually crashed at a spot where most “drug addicts” landed before going on a mission of begging, stealing, and selling their bodies to get the next fix.
After passing out, I woke up in a cold sweat from a horrible dream that I was pregnant. Sadly, it was true. I really wished I could have been happy about it, but all I could do was cry. I tried to shut out the voices in my head telling me how disgusting I was.
The days turned into months of day-to-day use and I never made it to the clinic to check on the baby until I feared I had miscarried. What I really feared was how the doctor was going to treat me for being an “addict.” Would they realize how horrible I felt about what I was doing to my unborn child? Did they know that if I could, I would stop on my own? Or that if there was inpatient treatment for pregnant women, I would go?
I went for prenatal visits, but not consistently. I eventually got on methadone, just so I could get through the pregnancy and the times when I was too tired to run the streets. Because this wasn’t just my life at stake anymore, I had to think of him.
Sadly, even though I was taking methadone, I continued to use.
On the morning of September 21,1994, after getting my dose of methadone, I bought some crack on the way home. After taking a hit, I remembered crying out in anger and feeling disgusted with myself, then I felt a sharp pain in my belly. It was time. I was in labor.
I didn’t have a phone and could barely walk, so I found myself crawling into the hallway of my building screaming in pain. Finally, a neighbor called 911. In the ambulance I could hear the attendant say, “Well I guess we have another one, it’s a damn shame.”
That evening, I gave birth to a 6lb, 13oz boy, who I named Raymond, as he was a “ray of hope” for our future. When they laid him across my chest, all I could think was how am I ever going to take care of you? He shook from withdrawals, which scared me, so I called out to the nurse to take him.
After my son spent four days in the hospital, the Department of Children and Families allowed me to bring him home under one condition: I had to enter outpatient treatment for women and children. When I entered my apartment, my mother, sister, and niece had cleaned it and organized the baby’s room. Raymond wasn’t home for two days, when I gave into my disease. I just couldn’t stop myself.
I realize today, I was triggered by the overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame.
I was getting high in the bathroom when suddenly, I heard a screeching cry, as if someone was taking my baby from his crib. I hesitated to move, rippled with paranoia, but eventually found myself at the threshold of his room. He stopped crying—as if he knew I was there. I slowly walked into the room, stood by his crib, then fell to my knees while holding onto the railing.
He looked so peaceful, then ever so gently turned his head towards me. Our eyes met for what felt like an eternity. It was then his eyes spoke to me, and I heard a soft voice say:
“Mommy, please stop. I need you.”
Something changed in me at that very moment, I emerged a different person. It was then I began my journey back to recovery. I started to uncover and discover who I am and understand why I am still here.
With immense gratitude, I have embraced being a woman in recovery, a woman of mixed-race, a mom raising a Black man in America, a wife, a peer advocate and coach, and activist that embodies social justice and social change. In my current role as the Recovery Advocacy Project Inclusivity Caucus Chair, I am committed to liberate and change the face of the recovery movement. Our mission is to co-create and strengthen safe spaces for people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, languages, socio-economic status, ages, and abilities; to end discrimination, disparities in care, and remove systemic barriers to all who seek support.
Carol Cruz (she/her/hers) is a woman in long-term recovery since 1994, and a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist/Coach/Facilitator. She is the founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit R.E.A.C.H. OUT Project and the owner of Carol Cruz Coaching, located in Connecticut. Carol is a Connecticut Organizer for the Recovery Advocacy Project and Chair for the Inclusivity Caucus, a new initiative launched at Mobilize Recovery 2020.
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