Terri Jones’s journey from crack addict to drug counselor was not an easy one. However, since rediscovering her faith and conquering her own addiction, she has a lot to say about what works and what doesn’t.
Even though she’d successfully completed college, she was still addicted and found herself in prison at the age 31, having spent 14 years in active addiction. Growing up in Racine County, she had met her husband, also a crack addict. Together they engaged in various criminal activities, a time in her life she is proud to have put behind her.
AN EDUCATION IS NO BARRIER TO ADDICTION
One thing people may find surprising is her college education even while addicted. Most people assume once you complete college, you move on to a better life, get a good job and all of that. Terri actually found her addiction got worse after graduation.
People often think of drug addicts living on the streets, perhaps poor and without any education. But this is only part of the story. It has, of course, been well-documented that college is also the place where excessive drug abuse happens, but it’s often thought people will leave this behind. As Terri’s story illustrates, this is not necessarily the case.
Addiction can affect any level of education, life stage, or income level. It may just reveal itself in different ways.
FAITH WAS HER SAVIOR
While Terri understands that different people find recovery in different ways, for her, it was all about Jesus. She says, “I’m strictly spiritually based. I went through a 12-step program in 93 and 94. I went, but it really started to come through me in my church. I was raised in church and went to Catholic schools all my life. Jesus and my Bible were my answers.”
She continues, “Drug addiction was an aspect of me being spiritually bankrupt. I had my kids and my college degree, but something was missing. When I conquered this, I humbled myself and opened myself up to God and let the strength within me shine. I have a very good relationship with my higher power.”
For Terri, finding a path to spirituality is an absolute must if you want to stay in recovery. “I see people, as individuals, need to find their own path to spirituality. That is what’s going to save their ass. I know there is only one way to stay sober. The common denominator of a good recovery program is a spiritual foundation,” she states bluntly.
For her, that higher power is definitely God, but she admits it doesn’t have to be. Each person has to find their own way as recovery must be part of your own personal journey.
THE PATH TO SAVING OTHERS
After rediscovering her faith and the saving power of Jesus, her sponsor came to her and suggested she become an alcohol and drug counselor. So she started applying for jobs from social worker to counselor.
As with most choices in her life, she listened to her higher power, which resulted in her working for Genesis on a Department of Corrections contract from 1995-2002. She worked at the House of Shears with women coming out of prison who were dealing with addiction. It was a perfect fit given her previous experience of walking in their shoes.
Then the DOC ended that contract, so she found herself laid off in ’02, after which she went to work at a methadone clinic for 3 years. While working there as Director, she also went back to school and got her Masters in psychotherapy. A few years later, she got a 2nd Masters in mental health counseling.
She fell in love with psychotherapy and realized addiction was so much more than addiction, it was part and parcel of a whole host of other issues. So, with that background she went on to work at Renew Counseling in Milwaukee for 10 years.
GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS
Terri and her husband decided to make a move to warmer climes, down to Orlando, Florida.
After only 9 months there, they went back to Wisconsin for a family reunion and the unexpected happened, changing their life course once again.
Her husband was involved in a bad car accident and became disabled. He’s now in a wheelchair. This changed everything.
As she explains, “That was February of this year (2017). I just prayed about it. God, do you want me to stay here or move back to Florida? My higher power said we had to stay here in Milwaukee.”
At first, she started back with her old employer, Genesis. But that’s when she met Peter and heard about WisHope Recovery and Housing. She knew it was a good fit and started with us in January.
WHAT TRENDS HAS SHE SEEN WITH ADDICTION IN THE WAUKESHA AND MILWAUKEE AREA?
She says, “In 95 it was only crack and cocaine. However, even back then, I did start to see the shift in prescription drugs to opiates and drugs on the street.”
Her first experience with drugs, and for most of those around her, were their early 20s. But she says she’s seeing addicts at much younger ages nowadays, even as early as middle school.
She sees our reliance on drugs for a whole range of mental health issues and behaviors as an important element in this shift. She explains, “I’m hearing a lot of the stories about young adults now using ADHD drugs. I can see an evolution of children, 2nd and 3rd grade, on this ADHD medication and then moving into high school and starting on something else.”
She’s even heard of teachers who refuse to accept children back into their class without some kind of proof of a prescription. That’s a big part of the issue, Terri says. Kids start selling their ADHD or whatever medication in junior high and high school.
With drug use, even if it’s legal drug use, becoming normative for many children, it’s easy for them to shift to illicit use. As a licensed psychologist, she takes a very serious look at which kids actually need medication and which could just benefit from some counseling or different structures at home and school.
SO HOW DO WE SOLVE THIS?
Terri says it needs to start at the physician level. “A lot of these doctors don’t have substance abuse training,” she says. She knows many doctors were given incentives to hand out medications, but were not educated on the consequences of sustained use. From her perspective, this is one of the first things that needs to change.
She also sees a cultural shift with more and more children actually being born into addiction. As she puts it, “We’re birthing a whole generation of children into the addictive world because they were addicted before they were even born.”
Of course, poverty is always a strong predictor of addiction as well. With its toxic stress, lack of access to resources or support, and a culture where witnessing drug use can be more regular, it’s usually the number one factor in driving addiction.
However, she says that, while this was a big part of her experience at many of the places she’s worked in the field, it’s not what she sees mostly at WisHope.
ADULT CHILDREN WITH ADDICTIONS COMING FROM FAMILIES OF COMFORT IS A NEW TREND
WisHope has many more “adult children” coming from a family of comfort, generally middle to upper-class. They somehow disengage from the family unit, usually starting drugs or alcohol in junior high. Most have started before the age of 13. By the time they’re 19 or 20, they’ve progressed to heroin.
“One of the most familiar stories I’ve heard is kids stealing medication from parents.” Mollies and K2 are very popular now. Maybe parents are using or, more often, the parents are using some form of prescription meds, then they try it from parents.
So many families are supportive, but also enablers. They didn’t intervene in teenage years and then addiction progressed too far. A lot of times you get caught up with parents enabling children. This is one way she sees addiction existing within a family and why family involvement is so essential for strong recovery.
Everyone suffers from addiction when one member of the family is addicted, even if the others aren’t using themselves. It really needs to be a holistic healing process for everyone, and this is something WisHope takes very seriously.
A big difference from my previous roles is that many suffering from addiction here have families who are well off, so they have opportunity to get money for drugs rather than steal and get involved in criminal activities. Or stealing is confined to their family, so usually doesn’t get reported.
In the end, addiction is a multi-faceted problem that needs to be addressed at multiple levels. There’s no one overarching cause, but a whole host of interrelated issues that need to be addressed to both treat current addicts and prevent others from becoming addicted.
Looking to connect with Terri or see how WisHope Recovery and Housing can help you? Get in touch through the confidential form on our website or just give us a call.