On January 9, 1990, I entered treatment. I had finally come face to face with the fact that I was a drug addict.
I had three children and no place to call home. I had been living in abandoned buildings. I had no job, no prospects and no education.
At my lowest point, I begged, borrowed and stole just to fulfill the yearning and urges that came with using cocaine. Begging, borrowing or stealing weren’t enough on some days to fulfill the need to get high. When there was nothing left in the house to sell, I sold myself.
My father took me to the place in Chicago where I would be questioned and examined and finally taken to another place where I would spend the next six months of my life reshaping and finally learning who Berneita really was.
Long before that cold day in January when my father carried me in his grey Chevy an hour from our house in Kankakee, Illinois I looked in the mirror and didn’t like who I saw. I also didn’t like the reflection of myself that I saw in other’s eyes. I could see the hurt in my parents’ faces when they looked at me but I didn’t feel like I could do anything about it.
From 1983 through 1989, my life was a constant rollercoaster of highs and lows associated with drug usage. I had good days and not so good days. I had no self respect and no self esteem. I saw hurt in the eyes of people who meant a great deal to me but I didn’t know how to stop. I didn’t pray and I didn’t go to church. I just existed. Towards the end of 1989, I began a downward spiral that I knew I had to reach the bottom of in order to make it back to the top. By the time I made it to treatment in January, I pretty much had lost everything except my mother’s love.
During those last days, my oldest child went to live with my mother and my son went to live with his father. I only had my youngest daughter. Then one day she didn’t come home from school. I was terrified. Later, I found out that my oldest child had called the Department of Children and Family Services and told them that I was doing drugs and the authorities picked my baby up from school. My mother was given custody. new it was time to do something different but also felt like whatever was that path was on had to get to very end of it. gave mother custody. his seems like the turning point where you decided you needed help? Was this the wake up call that made you realize you needed to seek help? Was it ordered by the court?)
In late October I went on a waiting list for Brandon House, a treatment center (in Manteno?). I kept wondering how soon they would call me with a bed. I made it through Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. The person in my life who I thought was my life had gone to jail .
Finally I got the call to be in Chicago on January 9. It was all arranged. Dad would pick me up at 5a.m. I was relieved, excited and scared all at once. I went out the night before with a couple of friends to celebrate before my early morning departure. My stay was going to be six months although I really had not decided if I was going to actually stay that long. I just wanted to stop using cocaine. I figured I could still smoke a joint or drink a beer every now and then.
That was the last night that I would use cocaine or alcohol ever again.
The Power of a Mother’s Love
In my mind, people who got hooked on drugs were people from underprivileged homes. They were not people who had mothers and fathers that worked. Now I know that drugs and alcohol are not the problem but only a mere symptom which complicates the true underlying issue. I also understand that I was living in a place called denial about a lot of things. I understand that I was seeking the approval of others and that I needed to go through all I went through in order to become who I am now.
I was not neglected as a child. I was not underprivileged. Both of my parents worked hard to provide the family with all the things we needed. We were always clean and never hungry. We were never in the dark and never cold. We went to church every Sunday.
You could not live in my mother’s house and not go to church on Sunday morning. If you woke up and you were too sick to go, rest assured that you would spend the entire day in the house.
The first eight years of my life was spent in a household where I was the only girl. I learned early on that there were a lot of things that girls can’t do. I loved running, but running was for boys. Girls were to sit and be seen—no loud talking and laughing. I was restricted to the confines of the front porch. Even as a child, I was responsible for my younger siblings while my parents were at work.
As a teenager, I spent countless hours washing dishes, ironing clothes and playing with my younger siblings. By the time I graduated from high school, I had five brothers and two sisters and I felt like I was just lost in the crowd.
Those feelings of inadequacy were compounded by the fact that I had gotten pregnant at 17 and brought a baby into the household. I don’t quite remember when I was placed on the pedestal. But having a baby definitely had knocked me off of it. I was kicked out of the choir at church. I was banned from teaching Sunday School and I could no longer work in the church’s radio ministry. I went from being an honor student to an embarrassment.
My next encounter with the opposite sex came in the form of an older man who proceeded to make a fool of me despite my insisting that it just wasn’t like that. Much later I would discover that I was merely an object of sex, used and then tossed to the side.
Now my self esteem was really at an all time low. Several years later I was introduced to marijuana by a man. This relationship would result in my having another child and marrying the father. The relationship didn’t last but my habit of smoking marijuana remained. Smoking weed gave me a nice feeling and the only problem I thought then was that it always left me with a hungry feeling.
The next man in my life was handsome and charming and I found myself in love again and pregnant. He was also unemployed and abusive. His way of getting his point across when we disagreed was with his fist. I went to the police station and when the time came I went to court. He got the proverbial slap on the wrist and was sent on his way. And I was now twenty-something with three children, no husband, no job, no prospects of a job, living on public aid and too dumb to know that I wasn’t supposed to be happy. Silly me, I thought I was. So what happens at this point in my life?
I met another man who said he would protect me from the last man who hit me. He ended up abusing me and introducing me to cocaine. We shared in the thrills of using together. But using together also came with a price and the thrill was soon gone. Because I loved him, there was nothing that I wouldn’t do for him even if it meant neglecting my children and selling my body so he could use the money to drink and get high. Getting a real job was out of the question. He knocked in my front teeth and I still have a knot on the right side of my face that no one knows is there except me, him and God.
During my whole life I have always had a mother who loved all of her children and who prayed mightily for them. I know my mother prayed many a day and night for me during my career as a practicing user of drugs. She prayed for me as well as the safety of my children who I was quite proficient at neglecting.
I only hope and pray that as my life changed in the beginning of 1990, that I made up for some of the hurt and the disappointment that I brought into her life. I only hope that before she died, that she knew how much I appreciated my childhood and that I was sorry I had to get ‘grown’ in order to realize that life wasn’t so bad as a kid and it could have even been worse.
Today, I am a 56 year old woman who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in addiction studies. I haven’t used any drugs or alcohol in more than 20 years. I still don’t always understand all the things but I do understand that as long as I maintain my relationship with God, that no matter what I have to face, no matter what I have to deal with, there is no problem too big or too small for God to handle.