Keeping faith in recovery

By Ernie Brown

Patricia Hawkins-Smith recently celebrated the 10th year of her new life.

The Struthers woman and Youngstown East High School graduate is actually 54. And she’s been divorced twice.

So why do I say she’s celebrating her new life?

Pat is a recovering crack-cocaine addict, and she’s been clean for a decade.

I asked Pat to share her story, and she was more than willing to do so, saying it might help others.

Pat had heard about this new drug that could produce “the best high you could ever have.”

“People said you could get instantly addicted,” Pat said. “I did it and didn’t really notice any problems.”

The problems, however, began with her first divorce.

“I felt bad, depressed. Crack then became an outlet” to deal with the bad feelings and the depression, she said.

She started regularly doing the drug in 1989 when she was nearly 35. It also was around the time her mother died. Her world was crumbling around her. She had lost her mother; her marriage was over. She had lost her self-esteem. Her only out, she said, was crack.

Crack is an evil, jealous mistress. It convinces you no one or no thing is as important. Pat’s son already had left for military service, and she had to “get rid of my daughter.” She sent her to stay with her brother in Georgia.

She thought she was free, but she actually was a slave to her addiction. The results were predictable.

“I was homeless, and ended up in Akron at a homeless shelter,” Pat said. She eventually returned to Youngstown, and stayed four years in the city’s housing projects. All that time, “it was all about the drugs,” she said.

She eventually got a job, but she wasn’t working for a future. She was working to support her addiction.

“I was always seeking that first high [like] the first time I tried the drug,” Pat said. “But I never got it again. I was chasing a ghost.”

In July 1998, the tide began to turn. She received a letter from her brother Chuck. In that letter, he stated he didn’t see Pat as his sister. “He saw me with a demon inside that couldn’t get out, and what would our mother have said if she saw me that way,” Pat recalled.

Her brother gave her the names of treatment centers in Youngstown. One of them was the Donofrio Women’s Shelter.

Pat had reached bottom, and all she could do was look up.

“I said, ‘God please help me,’” Pat said. Her prayer was answered.

Originally she couldn’t get into Donofrio. The staff there told her to come to recovery meetings. But, on Aug. 26, 1998, the staff told her they had a bed for her. She reported to Donofrio the next day. She was there 90 days, then went to a halfway house for a year.

She got a job, a car, her own apartment, and started working in treatment centers helping others find their way back.

“I told them about my life, how I reached the depths of hell and how people had prayed me into that [treatment] program,” Pat said.

The way back, however, was not smooth. Her niece was killed by a drunken driver; her father died of a heart attack a week after her niece died.

But Pat had devoted the last five years of her life establishing a relationship with God. She knew only God could pull her out. She was tempted many times to return to crack, but her faith and the help of sponsors and support groups allowed her to remain sober.

Her advice is simple: Don’t start using drugs. But for those who are hooked, she says, “Call out to God and seek help through treatment centers.”

Pat still faces more challenges. She’s jobless now and went through her second divorce in May. But she’s enrolled as a freshman at Youngstown State University, where she is majoring in social work.

She is working with a group at her church that helps people overcome addiction, and she also is working with some women in a 12-step recovery program.

Pat said she continues to look to heaven “from where my strength comes.”

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