UNC Health Talk

‘I was a mom again’: Women of Horizons share their stories of recovery

When you knock on the door of a nondescript apartment building tucked away in the heart of Chapel Hill, you might be lucky enough to be greeted by Luna, a lively and precocious 5-year-old who proclaims—in a joyful way that only a 5-year-old can—that she “can finally get some work done” as she scribbles with marker on a schedule and peppers passersby with questions.

It’s her spring break from kindergarten, so Luna’s there with her mom Lucy, a petite brunette with a kind, welcoming voice and a genuine smile, who, as lead resident advisor, oversees staff, scheduling and general administration in the UNC Horizons’ residential program. The doting mom answers the phone cheerily and smiles wide at Luna as the youngster retells the story of going to see her mom and her four-month-old sister, Juniper, at the hospital.

Though she’s only 5 years old, Luna is a veteran of sorts and a familiar face at Horizons.

She was born one month after Lucy arrived at Horizons for treatment of substance use disorder in 2011.

Lucy’s downward spiral into substance use disorder began in college, when she was given narcotics after having her wisdom teeth removed.

“I didn’t like them at first,” she says. They made me tired and I didn’t like the way I felt,” she said. “But, then, about a year later, someone asked me, ‘why don’t you sell it?’ So I did that. Then someone asked, ‘why don’t you try it?’ So I did that, too.

“By my senior year I was using daily and dropped out of school.”

“That was my junior year of college. By my senior year I was using daily and dropped out of school. I just couldn’t go to class anymore and function without using.”

Lucy continued to use. She moved often because she couldn’t pay her bills. Any money she did have was spent on pills.

“I got a handful of larceny charges and theft charges trying to feed my addiction,” Lucy said. “I went to jail for a month when I stole my mother’s credit card and she pressed charges against me.”

But then Lucy’s mom, the prosecutor, and a judge agreed she didn’t belong in jail. Lucy needed to be in treatment. That’s when her mom found UNC Horizons, and Lucy and Luna’s lives changed forever.

“This wasn’t my first treatment program,” Lucy said. “I always had this idea that I would quit doing pills, but I’ll still drink, or I’ll just cut down. Somehow, being in treatment and working on personal issues in therapy and going at night to recovery meetings and working on my addiction issues really helped me build a strong foundation for the rest of my life.

“Working with the mother-child dyad was important.”

“Working with the mother-child dyad was important—being able to come here as a pregnant woman who was going to be a first-time parent and learn the coping skills to get through all of those trying moments.

“Parenting is tough enough without an addiction. When I was using drugs, I knew I could cover up feelings of fear or insecurity. Taking that away was a really scary thought, the idea of being new in recovery. But at Horizons, learning how to handle those tough situations and learning how to let things go was really helpful for me,” Lucy said.

In June, Lucy will celebrate being substance-free for six years.

“It was so amazing how being open about my addiction upfront led all of these people to open up to me and maintain my clean time.”

“I’m always going to have moments throughout my life where I think how nice it would be to have a glass of wine,” Lucy said. “I just had a C-section and I was prescribed pain medication. Luckily for me I have a great support network, and I was able to talk about everything going into it and have a plan of action. But when I was in the hospital, I thought, ‘you know what, it’s so painful, I really could take more of this.’ It was so amazing how being open about my addiction upfront led all of these people to open up to me and maintain my clean time.”

Recovery and religion

For Condra Jones, known as C.J. at Horizons, it was a long, slow, painful spiral down to the bottom that began when she tried crack cocaine while in college. For 20-some years, she was a functioning addict. She held down good jobs and paid her bills.

“In the last three or four years before I came to Horizons, things got ugly,” C.J. said. “I started getting into legal trouble. I was doing shameful things to support my habit. In 2006, I lost my job. I went to live with my father and got to be reckless and free with no responsibilities. My disease escalated and things got out of control. I was stealing, getting probation violations.

“I finally got to the point where I was humble, desperate and willing to get help. People have different bottoms. But for me it was the lowest of the low and I was finally ready to get help.”

When C.J. came to Horizons, her daughter was 18 months old. For her daughter’s entire young life up until that point she lived with a neighbor so C.J. was free to chase her addiction, and all the horror that entailed.

For her, it was her desire to be a Jehovah’s Witness that made her realize she was finally ready to seek treatment.

“It was scary. I’m coming here to get clean and I’m raising my daughter full-time for the first time,” C.J. said about when she arrived at Horizons.

“During the process of my recovery, I got baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness,” she said. “My religion and my recovery process—going to meetings and working the program—have helped me to stay substance-free seven years later.”

Today, C.J. is a resident advisor at Horizons and is also a N.C. Certified Peer Support Specialist.

“I do not think I would be here without my religion and without Horizons.”

“I do not think I would be here without my religion and without Horizons,” she said. “Addiction does not discriminate. This is a program that keeps families together.”

Escaping the cycle of substance use disorder

Dawn Haywood, a graduate and residential advisor, was terrified when she arrived at Horizons. It’s not that she was scared of her safety. It was the opposite. For 18 years, she used drugs and alcohol. Substance use and addiction were all she had even known before she came to Horizons. She grew up a home where abuse was prevalent and she thought she would die at the hands of an abuser.

The unknown of being in a safe and stable place for the first time in her life was terrifying until she finally realized she was in the right place.

“I knew that if I stayed where I was, I was going to die—either the addiction would kill me or my husband would,” Dawn said of her decision to come to Horizons. “Child protective services had been involved in the past, so I knew it was not going to be long until someone took my child from me.

“I was finally ready for a different life.”

“I was finally ready for a different life. My childhood was very turbulent and unstable. My parents were addicts. I didn’t want my kids to be raised by addicts. They’re amazing kids, and they deserve best.”

Dawn came to Horizons with her four-year-old son and was pregnant with another boy. Two months into her stay, she knew it was the best decision she had ever made.

“They took all the women and the kids on an outing to Pullen Park in Raleigh,” Dawn recalled. “I had my four-year-old son with me and after being there for a while, watching him so happy and knowing that tomorrow and next week and next month and next year, I’m going to remember this, and to see how happy he was to spend quality time me and to have a normal mom who was attentive and caring—I just broke down in tears in the middle of Pullen Park.

“I was a mom again.”