Sometimes one defining moment changes the course of your life. It motivates you to make a change to ensure the trajectory you’re on doesn’t result in a repeat of that moment. For Arlene, this moment was the tragic death of her brother. He overdosed on fentanyl. We hear about it on the news every day — the rate of Fentanyl overdoses is climbing at a staggering pace across the country, in California, in San Bernardino County…, and then it happened in Arlene’s family. This was the final straw. She knew she couldn’t risk her own life anymore. She couldn’t risk another tragedy in her family. And she certainly couldn’t risk her children losing their mother. This tragic overdose was her motivation to stay clean and sober.
Arlene was raised by her grandparents because her own parents suffered with addiction. After her grandmother’s death, 19-year-old Arlene felt a deep loneliness and began making misguided decisions. She starting spending time with cousins and friends who used drugs, which led to her own experimentation with different types of substances. At 21, she gave birth to her son and moved in with other relatives. She said, “I started using again there. I always found another crowd. It got worse and worse.”
By the time her son was two years old, Arlene had gotten involved in a new relationship and moved into what she called a “drug house.” That’s where she said she “got hooked every day.” They were kicked out of that home and moved back in with her cousins. She entered into a new, abusive relationship that worsened her situation even more. She struggled with the knowledge that her son was witnessing all of this trauma.
Finally, CPS got involved. When a friend she thought she could rely on failed to bring her son to school as promised, the police went looking for them. She said, “I was too scared to face the cops because I knew I had a warrant.” She knew the only way they would leave is if she met them with her son. She said, “They saw I was under the influence. My six-year-old son saw the cops take me away to jail.”
Her son ended up being removed from the home where he was staying with family. As soon as Arlene got out of jail, she went straight to the CPS office. She said, “They told me what I had to do. I tried outpatient, but I just couldn’t stop using (meth).”
She was also in another unhealthy relationship. He had lost his kids, too, and was still using. She got a bed at another residential rehab facility but didn’t have success with intake. Her boyfriend discouraged her from going and encouraged her to use the night before.
She said, “It was more out of fear that I called Cedar House. When I saw my son at CPS, I saw the hurt in his eyes.” She knew the only way to get her son back was to get clean.
Her ex-boyfriend was also working on getting clean and dropped her off at Cedar House. She said, “I was scared at first. When I first got there, it was a scary feeling. I started second guessing myself. I had it in my mind that I wanted to leave.”
Then she had a powerful conversation with her case managers. They shared with her the harsh reality that staying in treatment would be the only way to reunite with her son. She said, “After that, I started to realize that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture.” When she started treatment, her justification was only her desire to get her son back. After that honest conversation, she said, “It finally clicked. You’ve got to make a change for yourself first.”
She started to accept the fact that she was an addict, and she did want to stop using. At that point, she said, “I started listening, doing the packets and opening up.”
Leaving Cedar House was overwhelming for Arlene. Her new friends supported her and showed her how to manage every-day tasks like laundry so she could feel confident with her life skills. She moved into sober living and nervously began her new life. She said, “I had never worked a day in my life. I struggled to find a job.” Despite the anxiety and self-doubt caused by her job hunt, CPS visits, and continuing outpatient treatment, Arlene persevered and began to find comfort in her new life. She found a job at a warehouse packaging food and stayed in her sober living home for 2 years.
She is proud to say that her son is back living with her, and she is now working at Stater Bros in the service deli. They live with her aunt who helps with her son, and Arlene is able to contribute to their household.
She said, “I think the big game changer was learning to put myself first to make a change.” Of course, she wanted a better life for her family, and is now able to provide that. She gives credit to “a lot of things that (my case manager) Virginia taught me. She gave us all a lot of hope that we don’t have to live like that. It’s up to us.”
Arlene’s experience at Cedar House changed her life. She said that her brother’s death motivated her to stay strong in her recovery, and she is incredibly grateful.