Sheila and her great niece McKinley
Sheila, a 54-year-old native of Hawaii, has long been haunted by her younger brother’s untimely death at 18—something for which she blames herself. She has cowered under a shadow of whiskey and methamphetamine—a darkness that took control of her life for nearly 40 years before she found Saint John’s Program for Real Change.
Sheila’s self-destructive behavior began in her teens. As a young addict, she dropped out of high school joined by an abusive boyfriend. She earned money as a hula dancer until her dependencies cost her the job. Sheila’s family intervened, convincing her to move in with relatives living in Las Vegas.
Despite the move, Sheila’s life continued to unravel. She was in an out of jobs and in and out of co-dependent partnerships. She stole, lied and manipulated to fuel her habits. And like many addicts, she refused to acknowledge her addictive behavior and her destructive relationships—blind to the consequences of both.
Weakened by substance abuse, Sheila was diagnosed with acute pneumonia and hospitalized. But that evidently wasn’t the wake-up call she needed; the day Sheila walked out of the hospital, she scored drugs and got high.
The next morning, Sheila called her mother and siblings, now living in Sacramento. They loved her, took her home, and nurtured her, but she didn’t change. Heavy with shame and continued feelings of unworthiness, she shut them out and moved out on her own.
Sheila found a job, earning just enough to rent an apartment and support her habit. So preoccupied with her addiction, she was fired for being habitually late—and this snowballed into an eviction. Sheila was forced to couch-surf for a while and then found herself homeless.
Sheila with her mother and sister
Then she met JJ, a lost and adorable black Chihuahua needing love. Sheila adopted him and the two became inseparable. They lived in a tent on the banks of the American River, sleeping during the day and dumpster-diving during the night—making enough for drugs and alcohol and just barely enough for food.
When JJ died in a brush fire, Sheila finally conceded that she was emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. She turned to her faith for a sign that would help her retake control of her life. She was lucky this time—first detox, then rehab and now the gift of Saint John’s Program for Real Change for the support she needs to live a more positive, purposeful and sober life.
Today, six months at Saint John’s and nine months sober, Sheila is proudly working towards earning her high school diploma through Saint John’s partnership with Highlands Community Charter School. Her goal is to find work within a busy restaurant. She loves working in the kitchen…food prep, cooking and plating, inventory and even the cleaning! Nearing the completion of her job training component, she is eager to begin job readiness and employability classes and having her first job interview.
Sheila’s family Thanksgiving 2016
But she has already experienced a few firsts…Thanksgiving with her family this year was the first holiday function she attended without drugs or alcohol in over 25 years! In her honor, family members vowed to have a “dry” holiday. Sheila played ping pong and at least 40 games of “Go Fish” with her 6 year old niece and 8 year old nephew. This brought her so much joy. Throughout the day she exchanged photos with her “Saint John’s Sisters” and they shared special blessings of encouragement.
Grateful to feel so fully alive, Sheila is thankful for sobriety, her family, and for the dedicated and structured time at Saint John’s to change her life. Out of the darkness that once shrouded her, she now walks in the light— filled with purpose and hope.
Written by Laura Wendel,
Saint John’s Community Supporter
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