How one woman went from middle class mom, to addict, prison, and Executive Director of Dinami House in Cleveland, Ohio - a home for women leaving prison.
Sometimes we get to see miracles. The kinds of miracles you read about, but rarely see with your own eyes.
But some days, without fanfare, a woman will come to a new awareness and her pain is transformed into a light bright enough to light the path of others. One of these miracles happen this week.
Terese was born addicted. In group, she wept describing her mom who died from a heroin overdose. Since she was born, she had longed for a mom who asked her about school; who cooked a meal, or braided her hair.
Terese had none of these things. Her mom had been an addict all her life. Now she was dead. There would be no better mother-daughter times ahead.
In group, she spoke of the futility of her own life; the pain of being the daughter of a junkie. But slowly, with the help of clinical care and a circle of sisters, she found a new story.
Last week, Terese began sharing her story with young moms on the unit. She talked with them about the pain of being an addict's daughter. Of the damage done to her self-esteem, her sense of trust, her self-loathing because addiction robbed her of a mother. She told them she always knew her mother loved drugs more than anything, or anyone. She spoke of suicide attempts, and the chronic self-loathing that dogged her days and robbed her sleep at night.
The moms listened. They thanked her and said she inspired them to stay sober one more day.
In group, Teresa said she had found a purpose for her pain. "Maybe my life matters," she said. "Maybe I can help keep a mom from turning her kids into me. Maybe the pain of being an addicts daughter wasn't for nothing."
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All they wanted was a pair of rounded scissors. I had two pairs in my bag, but I couldn’t bring them out. Those are the rules. No scissors; no sharp objects. We were gathered with women rebuilding their lives. They came from residential treatment facilities, homeless shelters, halfway houses - to join us for a Recovery Retreat facilitated by MiddleWay.
The women love expressive arts and sometimes that's creating a "vision board". Our theme this day was "I want my life to look like..." Each woman created a collage which represented their lives post-treatment, post-homelessness, post acute addiction. This is an inexpensive but potent therapy. The women spent time using art supplies to engage in 'play therapy' to represent their deepest desires, working with color pencils, chalk, clippings, crayons, and glue sticks - such simple things - to build a picture of their best lives.
Working with homeless, abused, and extremely poor women allows us to witness how they take the slimmest opportunities and transform them into such big life changes: from dropout to high school graduate, from unemployed to employee, from addict to woman in recovery, from surviving to thriving. And they do it all on a shoestring, a hope, a 'vision-board' of their future, and a hand reaching out to grab theirs.
We stand in awe.
The women who come to Recovery Retreats remind us of the words of Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in LA, the largest gang-intervention program in the United States. Fr. Greg says, "May we stand in awe at the weight of the burden carried by the poor, instead of criticizing the way they carry it."
We stand in awe today, marveling at the resiliency of the women who are creating lives they want to live in side by side with women from across the county with hope and torn paper.