Play the Tape Through

Try playing the tape through. When an addict’s desire to abuse drugs or alcohol strikes, they recall the full experience of what it means to get high – from beginning to end – from the moment of desire to euphoria, all the way through to the dark, ugly path it leads them on. They play the tape through as a strategy to get past the struggle of that longing.

When Leilani began to play her tape through, she witnessed the severity of her addiction. She saw that what would begin as an urgent need for a shred of happiness that she felt could only come from a pipe would quickly become a desperate search for a way to hide what she had done.

Growing up in the foster system, Leilani had a traumatic upbringing. At eighteen, she emancipated from the system and moved into a transitional living home where she was first introduced to meth. Meth became an escape from the trauma, and at the time she thought it filled the hole in her heart where she wanted the love of a family to be. 

She met a young man who had also grown up in the foster system and battled his own addiction to alcohol. Despite their substance abuse, they wanted to start a family together. Leilani convinced herself that she was staying clean when she stopped using meth and began using prescription opioids. After the birth of her son, Leilani continued using prescription drugs. Five years later, she and his father broke up, and she went back to meth. She started using so heavily that she let go of her son and began living on the street. This destructive path continued until her son’s father tragically died in a car accident.

“I was in jail when I found out, but I knew I had to step up for my son.”

For four years, Leilani bounced around from home to home, using needles to get high, dealing with toxic relationships and, all the while, trying to raise her son in that unstable environment.  By the age of nine, he had attended six different schools, while Leilani continued to find ways to dodge the system and keep her son with her. 

“My biggest fear was my son being taken away.”

When his father’s friends that were helping out finally tired of Leilani running around at night while they cared for the child, they called CPS. She devised a plan to test clean and meet someone with a pipe in the parking lot as soon as she finished. The plan derailed, and Leilani was caught using. 

“I finally just surrendered. I thought, ‘How am I going to put my son through what I went through in the foster system.’”

It turned out to be exactly what both mother and son needed. Her son was relieved to have a stable place to stay while Leilani met the system’s requirement to call an outpatient rehab program. For a month she visited her son on Fridays, got loaded on weekends and then stopped for a couple of days each week just long enough to test clean on Fridays for her visits. This was the lowest point.

“I wrote a suicide letter to my son. I thought I’d jump off a building, hang myself… I played around with a shotgun. Then I tried but couldn’t do it.”

Then she had an appointment at Cedar House Life Change Center

“I was convinced it wasn’t going to work. I got high in the parking lot before going in. I was so terrified of not having drugs.”

With that attitude and a steadfast belief that she could not recover, Leilani began her treatment. It wasn’t until the first panel she attended that she began to open her mind to the idea of recovery.

“The panel was so amazing. It opened up my heart, and I saw hope. I realized I was a good person; I was just broken.”

One of the most influential parts of her Cedar House treatment was her counselor Michelle who taught her to “walk and talk with love in your heart” and always reminded her about the importance of these four components of recovery: going to meetings, finding a sponsor, working the steps, and being of service.

When she completed the program, Leilani was relieved to learn there was a bed available at Steps 4 Life sober living. She rode her bike six miles everyday to work at a warehouse in Redlands. She attended NA meetings and got a sponsor. In April she was able to reunite with her son and close the CPS case. 


“The beautiful part was that the attorney that helped me was the same woman who helped me as a child. She told me, ‘Look, you are free from this place. You don’t ever need to come here again.’”

Step 4 of the program meant that Leilani had to dig deep to uncover some of the trauma of her childhood. She had to tread lightly and work through it in increments, but she managed. In the 6th step, she got her son back and, for the first time, garnered the items required for adult life – a license, registration, insurance and a credit card. She was able to save money in the transitional home to become self-sufficient to move into her own home with her son. He is proud to say that he is now safe and happy, surrounded by friends in a comfortable environment.

Anytime she feels triggered, Leilani remembers that it’s okay to reach out for help. She recalls her counselor Michelle’s advice to always, “Be honest in all your affairs.” She is excited to begin work as a Client Care Specialist at Cedar House where she can apply this and all the organization’s E.P.I.C. core values, and she’ll have an opportunity to pass on these lessons to others in need.

When in doubt, she remembers to “play the tape through.” Her story reminds us there is always hope in recovery, especially when you “walk and talk with love in your heart.”