Simona’s Story

Jan. 2016 – Simona had hit rock bottom—emotionally and financially. The crash was painful. Over the course of 16 days, she had left an abusive boyfriend and watched her father take his last breath. Then she did what she had always thought was elusive, she stopped drinking.

Simona finally faced herself brutally and honestly. She wanted change and is now five months (as of Dec. 2017) into Saint John’s Program for Real Change – a program she believes is helping her to be who she “should have been a long time ago.” Strong, confident, in control and expressive.


Simona and her older sister grew up in Sacramento, daughters of a disciplined Vietnam War vet, now postman, and a mother who worked as a waitress. Her parents were present, but absent – unemotionally unavailable. They drank, argued and divorced when Simona was 11 years old.

A young girl who had been taught to withhold her emotions, Simona found solace in alcohol and marijuana following her parents’ divorce. She stole from her mom to nourish her cravings. She used money provided by her dad to further support her alcohol dependence.

Simona felt unloved. She was angry and confused. She clashed with classmates, arguments turned into fistfights, fistfights led to expulsions from school after school, and dismissals precipitated Juvenile Hall. At 16, she became a ward of the court, facing court-ordered mental health evaluation and anti-anxiety drugs. Simona spent the next two years in residential group homes. When she turned 18, she signed herself out as an adult.

In 1999, Simona moved back with her mother, strip dancing at night, fueled by alcohol and pot, and sleeping during the day. Much of her existence blurred by her addictions. She made enough to get by, supplemented with cash handouts from her emotionally detached dad.

Strip teasing led to prostitution. Simona would often travel in and out of California with a controlling pimp and his so-called stable of women. He was charming; she felt protected. He was manipulative; she thought he cared. She knew she was living on the edge. She did not care; she wanted to die, even hoping that her next “trick” would end violently. It almost did, in Texas, when a prospective trick beat her with a pistol until she threw herself out of his moving vehicle, breaking her shoulder and bruising much of her body. She scrambled into the bushes to avoid police, moving in and out of consciousness until her pimp found her. Simona no longer wanted to die. She just wanted to stop hurting.

But Simona felt trapped. She had severed relationships with her mom and sister, and her pimp wouldn’t let her just walk away. That is, until he broke her jaw and she fled, back to Sacramento and her dad.

The drinking was becoming considerable. One night in a drunken stupor, she wandered onto a catwalk overlooking a busy road. She again contemplated death, and yet at the same time, prayed for someone to show her a purpose to stay on this earth. Police found her, leading to an involuntary hospitalized 72-hour mental health evaluation. When Simona was released, she found comfort again in drink. A one-night stand left her pregnant; her daughter now 11 years old.

Simona also turned back to her profession of choice, prostitution, until she was arrested in 2009 on related charges. While this was her 57th arrest, she had only served one-night stints in jail. This time Simona faced 18 months behind bars.

The judge was lenient. In lieu of jail time, he ordered Simona to undergo out-patient mental health services. She had a therapist and medication, and she found a night shift as a package handler, until an argument with a co-worker cost her the job.

Simona had a second child, a boy, with an on-again, off-again boyfriend. Alcohol was still her best friend. Later a new boyfriend, a batterer, who in an outburst one evening also battered their shared rental home.

Within days, Simona’s dad died. It was her day of reckoning. She felt his loss, his love, despite the emotional void, and surprisingly she stopped drinking, largely a result of taking Wellbutron (a drug that makes you sick if you ingest alcohol) prescribed by her therapist.

Simona still needed healing and positive coping mechanisms.

With Saint John’s guidance, Simona is slowly discovering the woman and mother, sister and daughter she can be. She is learning to be honest with herself and with others and is accepting a newfound trust that she can rise above her deepest, darkest hours. Her relationship with her family is healing.

And in tribute to her late father, Simona hopes to join the Air Force Reserves, giving her children stability and a hope for their future.

Laura Wendel Picture

Blog by Guest Writer Laura Wendel,
Saint John’s Program for Real Change volunteer

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