When I first came into this program, I couldn’t stay sober to save my life! I was what they call a chronic relapser, a retread, whatever you want to call me, that’s what I was. But this program was always there. Every time I came back all torn up and beat up, they were always there, welcoming me with open arms like, “Let’s do this again!” Never once was I ever beaten down by others, only by myself.

So, what happened, what it was like, what it’s like now? What happened was I love crystal meth. I am a tweaker from back in the 90’s. That tells you how old I am. I tried crystal meth for the first time when I was 20 years old.

I got married really young when I was 17. Now you know you’re doing something wrong when your parents need to sign for you! So I got married because I’m Hispanic, and I was pregnant, and my dad was like, “You’re getting married.” So that’s what I did. Before I was even old enough to drink, I had two kids, was married, and miserable.

At 20 years old, I tried crystal meth for the first time and unfortunately, for me, it was like, “I have arrived!” It was my saving grace. It was that one thing that was just like a free-for-all. But the problem was, I had two kids, was married, and my husband was not having it. He was so not having it. My son was two and my daughter was six months old. My ex-husband is Hopi Indian, so he took my son and went back to the reservation and left me my daughter. She was still in one of those carrier things. Anyway, I just couldn’t do it. So I left her off at the nursery downtown. I was really going to go back and get her. I really was. But I didn’t.

Today, I can tell you, the things I did to my children kept me sick for a really long time. I never allowed myself to be happy. I never allowed myself to smile. I never had any joy because of what I did to my kids. I hate to tell you this, but I didn’t see my daughter again until she was 16 and I didn’t see my son until he was 18 or 19.

So it was a long tortuous drug life, the life that goes along with being a drug addict. It’s a really hard life, but I did it and I did it for a really long time. The problem with me using crystal meth is that I don’t know how to do it without getting in trouble, so there were consequences immediately. That meant that I spent a lot of time in jail. I can’t even tell you how many times that I spent in the county jail.

I was one of those who would go in for 10 months here, and 6 months there; whatever the time was, I did. But every time I went in I would say, “I’m not gonna do this anymore!” And if you would have given me a stack of bibles, I would have meant it with every fiber in my body. “I’m not gonna do this again!” I can’t tell you how many times I got out and was high the same day. One time I got out of jail after 10 months in the tents and my boyfriend at the time picked me up in a stolen car. I ended up going back to jail the same day wearing the same clothes, high as hell.

So that was just the way that I lived. The Big Book talks about how our addict life or alcoholic life is the only life we know. That’s just our norm. I’m just gonna die a tweaker, right? And it says “We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.” So for me, that’s like sitting in the back of the police car thinking, “I did it again, here I go again,” and really, really in my heart of hearts, saying, “I’m not gonna do this anymore.” But once I get released and those gates are opened, I can’t remember what it was like in that police car and I can’t remember what it was like telling myself, and probably even praying, “God please help me,” like a foxhole prayer.

The first time I went to prison I did five years, and at that point, right before I went to prison, I had been on the streets, homeless for three or four years. I was in Sunnyslope, 5th Avenue and Hatcher, right behind the carniceria, that was my spot. No family, nobody wanted to have anything to do with me. I was just miserable, broken, and lost. So when I got arrested, I knew I was going to prison and I remember feeling this feeling like “just take a break!” I remember thinking, “I’m gonna go do this time, I’m gonna get out, nobody’s going to remember me, and I can just start my life over again.”

So here I go, I do my five years in prison, and let me tell you, I’m not proud of it, but I can do some prison time. I did five years and didn’t get one ticket. I can be a good little inmate, but when I get out, I really don’t know how to act.

I decide if they’re going to take five years of my life, I’m going to go to school. So I go to school and I work in the automotive program for my last three years there and get all these certifications.

I got released and went home to live with my dad and went to work in the automotive field, which I can tell you is a very hard industry to work in for a woman. I stayed sober for a while, not because I had any program, I was just abstinent. I think the fear of going back to prison was my motivating factor.

That year, I met my husband and got married, I had a family and I wasn’t using. But then things got tough for me. We found my 18-year old niece dead in her bed from a heroin overdose. She had just graduated high school. It was really tough! That was in February and right before Father’s Day that year, my mom passed away from cancer—she’d been battling it for a long time.

What happened then is “life.” And that’s the reality of it. “Life” started to happen. I was on probation because I left with the tail and when I didn’t know how to deal with life, what I did was pick up and use. I relapsed in July.

My husband is an alcoholic, but he didn’t know the life of a tweaker. I dragged him through the mud! He kept saying “Where are you going? Why are you gone all the time?” I was like, “I want to be the good little housewife and good mom to my stepson, but I want to go smoke meth in the bathroom or I want to stay out all night and dumpster dive.” He couldn’t understand that.

Six months later, where am I? I’m in the back of a police car getting busted again. That’s the pattern of my life. I’m sitting in the back of the police car and the cops ask, “Who do you want to call?” I said, “I don’t care who you call, just do not call my husband.” How selfish of me? I’m not coming home after work and he’s going to be worried sick and I’m just thinking about me and my pride and my ego and I don’t want to face this. So Selfish! But the guys at the shop called my husband and said, “Hey you’re wife’s getting arrested.”

So he gets me out of jail, gets me a lawyer and the lawyer tells me, “You probably should get some help.” For me, getting help means, “Let’s go back to prison.” That’s my rehab, that’s my “get straight,” my “get clean.” My lawyer tells me I should probably check myself into somewhere. And that’s what I did. That was my first taste of recovery.

I went to a halfway house. That halfway house was my foundation. It was a sacred place for me. That’s where I first developed relationships with women. I started going to meetings and building a network of women around me that were super genuine. When you’re living out on the streets and you’re living my life, you don’t trust women. They either want your clothes or your boyfriend. But these women were like, “How are you doing?” and they really meant it, they really cared.

I loved it there and took days off from work just to hang out and sit on the patio and smoke cigarettes and talk. Then a couple of days before I got out of there and got my certificate, I went to court and they gave me what they call a super-mitigated sentence which is one-tenth of an original sentence.

We go back to prison, I say “we” because my husband ended up living in a “prison” too. I did about seven and a half months, and it was harder than the whole five years I did before. My husband was there every single Saturday. I remember him coming to visitation and thinking, “Man, I got to stop doing this to this guy, he’s a good guy, and we got a good life.” There’s no reason I should be out doing what I was doing and getting high.

It wasn’t until then that I realized I suffer from a disease! I get this obsession and I get this feeling that I just want more. It’s like I have this little guy in my head that tells me I don’t deserve this good life. “You know what you want to do, go back and do what you do, cause that’s what you do good and all of this is for somebody else, it looks good on them, but not on you.” That’s what my head tells me.

When I get out of prison this time, I go back to meetings. That’s one thing: I never stopped coming back, never stopped walking through those doors and picking up that 24-hour chip so many times! I get sober, I do my steps in like 60 days and I’m taking women to meetings and sponsoring a couple of women. I get about a year sober and I get this great job working in recovery. What people told me not to do is exactly what I did. They said, “Don’t make that job your recovery.” And that’s exactly what I did. I quit going to meetings, I was too busy to take phone calls from sponsees, I hadn’t talked to my sponsor in weeks, and I can’t even tell you the last time I’d gone to meetings because I was too busy.

When you stop having that connection with your Higher Power, you stop praying, you stop doing all those things you did to get your foundation, you lose it and that’s what I did—I lost it. I thought one day that getting loaded was a great idea and I did.

Trying to work in the field of recovery and getting loaded is the worst feeling I ever felt in my life—being such a hypocrite and a liar and just dying inside, torturing myself. I did that for a couple of months. My husband kicked me out of the house for three days and I’m living and using in my car and, again, I have no reason why I should be getting loaded, but that obsession to use was back. I woke that monkey up and fed that demon and I couldn’t let him go.

I believe this is when I really had my First Step experience of having every reason in the world not to use, sitting there crying as I’m using and just not being able to stop! I know I have to and I want to, but I just can’t stop. I lived that agony a good solid two days. I get what they talk about in Step One of being absolutely powerless.

I went to sleep one night and had a dream that I was back in prison standing on the yard looking at the razor wire knowing that I’m there for a really long time and telling myself, “If you only would have stopped you wouldn’t be here right now.” I woke up the next morning and thought, “Oh, that was just a dream,” and continued using. The next night I had the same dream! I believe in my heart of hearts that God was talking to me, telling me that if you don’t stop using, something bad, bad, bad is going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. I woke up the next morning and told my husband, “I’m done!”

I was so full of fear, not just because that dream freaked me out, but because I was so scared that I was never going to use crystal meth again. What is my life going to look like when I really don’t ever have to use crystal meth again? For an addict like me that’s scary as hell!

When I told my husband I was done, he said, “You know what you have to do and who you have to call.” I called my sponsor and told her I had been using and she said, “I know.” I said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” She said, “Would it have mattered?” She’s right. I would have lied. I would have lied right to her face.

I haven’t looked back since. I did my steps with my sponsor. I really feel I had a First Step experience with those dreams. I believe in my Second Step that it was God talking to me. When we were working on my Third Step she said one of my character defects is that I care what people think about me. So my sponsor made me pray in public on my knees and every time I did, I had to take a picture of where I was and send it to her. She said, “It doesn’t really matter what anybody thinks, it’s none of your business what people think about you.” So that was one of my character defects that I had to work on.

I dove again into recovery and got busy. But this time I didn’t come back to CMA, I went to meetings in another fellowship. I did that because of the guilt and shame over something I had done in CMA. I have to share this whenever I share because it’s important to my recovery. This is one of those secrets that we talk about in the Fourth and Fifth Step. The ones we think we will take to the grave. For me it was like deny, deny, deny!

When I had a little bit of sobriety and was involved in CMA, I was chairing a meeting. I was the chair, secretary and the treasurer and the meeting died. I got loaded and stopped going so nobody was there to chair it and the meeting died. I took the money from the meeting. It was $72. I never told anybody and I never put it on my Fourth Step. I never even told my sponsor.
When I was a few months sober I went to a CMA convention because somebody asked me to go to a marathon meeting to hear him speak. I creeped into this little marathon meeting. I hadn’t been to CMA since I got sober and I just sat there. All of a sudden, I just felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and I just started crying at that meeting. There were five or six people at the meeting and they were like, “Why’s she crying?”

This guy spoke, everybody shared a little bit and they said, “Irene, do you want to share?” and I said, “Nope!” “We think you really should.” I said, “I owe this fellowship an amends.” “Oh my God, I can’t believe I just did that,” I thought. I didn’t know at the time that the head of security was at the meeting and he went to get the chair of the convention. I knew this guy, Brian from before. He’s been a huge part of my recovery.

I said, “Brian, I owe this fellowship an amends, I stole money when I chaired a meeting.” It was $72 and I had $60 in my pocket and I said, “What can I do to make it right?” He said, “We want you back in service, we want you back in this fellowship.” And I can tell you I haven’t stopped. That was in 2014 and I knew that day, leaving that convention, I was going to be okay. I was really going to be okay.

It wasn’t like I felt, “I got this.” But I felt this peace inside my heart. I knew that God had me walk through that experience and the obsession to use has been lifted from me. I don’t know if it was that day, but I know I felt a sense of ease and comfort. It was the feeling the Big Book talks about when we first take a drink. I felt this ease and comfort that I’m in the right place where I’m at today in my recovery. I felt a sense of connection to my Higher Power that I never had before.

So what does my life look like today? This past year I got voted to be the chair of this year’s convention. And talk about coming full circle: I do a prison meeting every other Saturday, back on the same yard that I rolled out of. I’ve been jail-badged for two years now. I go to the jail every Wednesday and Monday—the same jail! I speak to those women like they are one of me. Other than the color of their clothes, I am them.

The lady that I go into the prison with asked me, “Where did you used to sleep?” and I said, “You see that bunk where those two girls are sharing a TV? I slept there for three years.” Talk about coming full circle and doing the work that this program requires!

I try to talk honestly, from my heart, with these women. I’ve watched them come in and spend months and months, get out, come back and do it again. I feel like right now, I’m the solid that they have. I’m always going to be there for them. Even if they get out and they don’t call me or I don’t see them in a meeting and they come back, I’m always going to be there. They’re going to pick the pieces up and do this again.

You know, it’s really crazy! I stole that money, I made it right and I’m making my amends to this fellowship. And wouldn’t you know it, for the first year, I’m the treasurer! I’m like, “Do you guys know? Have you heard my story?” They’re like “That’s okay we already know.” I’m honored and grateful that they trust me. That’s a testament to this program, to this fellowship, of getting that connection with a Higher Power. He carries me on when I feel like there are times I just can’t do this anymore.

I’m struggling right now. I have a sister out there doing the most, and I want to save her so bad! But I can’t. I can help all these women that I don’t even know but I can’t even help my sister. It hurts, but I know she’s got to have her own experience and not my experience. I just pray for her every single day. I answer the phone. I take her food when she needs it. I don’t give her any money and I just pray for her. Now I understand what my dad went through all those years with me running around and not being in contact with him. I watch the news and hear about a dead body and I think, “Text my sister and make sure she answers.” I get it now, I totally get it.

I don’t ever want to live that life. And if you’re new, we do recover! We do have fun! We have fun in this program, trust me. I’m a tweaker and if I couldn’t keep busy and do stuff I would not stay. I love this program and I love the people here. CMA rocks!