“I had no voice as a child, and I thought the world was just a dark place.” Imagine feeling like that as a little one … no one really caring, no one paying any attention, feeling “invisible.” No father in the home, a mother battling depression, no teacher acknowledgement, and seemingly no reason to work for anything because no one would care anyway. You are a ghost in the world.
This was the early life of Alicia, a soon-to-be Saint John’s Employment Training Program graduate. A lonely and lost child who dropped out of school at age 16 and lived on her own in Las Vegas. Alicia dove deep into addiction to methamphetamines and abusive relationships. Pregnant at 18 with the child of a man who physically and mentally abused her, and still using drugs, Alicia made what she says was the difficult decision to leave him and move back home to Sacramento to live with her mother. Temporarily off drugs, Alicia began to try to raise her son, Kioni (now seven), but found that she had none of the skills needed to be a good mother. Ironically, it was her mother (who’d not been the mother Alicia needed), who helped care for Kioni in those early months.
Soon, Alicia was back on drugs, but amazingly able to hold down a job at McDonald’s and other retail stores. As her addiction intensified, she continued to choose drugs over rent payments, food and care for Kioni. She was evicted from her apartment and then took Kioni down to live with her … on the river. He was four years old.
It was then that Alicia’s older sister took Kioni and called CPS to report her as an unfit mother. And indeed, this was true. Alicia understands now, that call was the start to helping her eventually climb out of a life getting darker and deeper into addiction. Losing her son was hard, but Alicia spent another two years living in a tent in various places along the American River without him. Finding and using drugs was her only motivation. Alicia says it was constant chaos in her life with the lack of plumbing, moving from place to place, extreme heat or cold rain, and drug use – then, it was finally too much for her. Two years of life on the river came to an end when “something finally snapped” and she couldn’t take it anymore. She checked herself into Alpha Oaks Rehab Center, and after 90 days, was clean and sober for the first time in many years. She then entered Saint John’s Program for Real Change, and found the resources she needed to change her life for good.
Alicia has been drug-free for 17 months with no relapses; she has her son back and loves being his mom. She has a full-time job that makes her happy, has earned her high school diploma, and will graduate from Saint John’s Employment Training Program at the December 5 Guest Chef Dinner and Graduation Ceremony.
What has she learned, how did she manage to turn her life around, what are her hopes and fears?
She credits Saint John’s with many things: helping her to be a role model and a good mother to her son, learning to trust people and discovering that there are good men in the world, learning that she can be patient and not treat anger with anger, realizing that she’s a hard worker (“I always bring my ‘A-game’ to work now”), and finally, knowing that she is a strong woman. Alicia seemed surprised when I told her that she must be a strong person in order to change her life completely, but she admits, humbly, that she must be indeed. Her biggest smile came when she said that she has actually been an inspiration to others throughout her journey. What a transformation from the “invisible ghost without a voice” to a leader and a woman who “knows happiness now.” Her only real worry is that she will miss her sisters here at Saint John’s … a testament to this community and what it offers women like Alicia who are willing to make the Real Change necessary to live a full and happy life.
By Ellen Gemma, Guest Blogger and Volunteer, Former Assit. Principal, Jesuit High School, Former Principal, St. John the Evangelist School