We Have Lived: Lily Jenkins

August 16, 2023
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You know, I always think that I have an impactful story, until the time comes for me to put it on paper. The old fears creep in; I'm not good enough, I'm not articulate or smart enough; the words won't translate into how I really feel. That's an old voice, from another time. That's how I lived my life for years; years of paralyzing fear and doubt, so stricken with insecurity that I could barely speak to strangers, or sometimes even to people that I knew. 

I searched from a young age for that "thing"; that one missing piece that could make me understand what I was missing and why I didn't feel a part of the world. Was there something fundamentally wrong with me, and I would just never feel normal? When I was a young adult, I discovered pain pills and I thought that I had finally found what I was missing. Something clicked and suddenly, I could talk to people, I had "friends", and I was sure I had found out how to exist in the world.  

For 9 years, I thought I was controlling what was an obvious drug addiction. Along with my addiction to drugs, I suffered from an addiction to belonging, an addiction to meeting the expectations of others, an addiction to love and relationships and the things that I thought made me whole and worthwhile and would complete me. I was addicted to my own secrets and the web of lies I created. Pills stopped being enough. I could no longer get enough of them to replicate the feeling that I had had initially. No amount of any substance could silence the person inside of me that was screaming. Thirty milligrams a day turned into 180 milligrams, pills turned into heroin, I turned into a shell of a human being. Every day was a never-ending effort to glue everything in place so I wouldn't fall apart. I was like a china-doll balancing on a ledge, seconds from shattering into a million tiny pieces; seconds from oblivion or death. 

 After a time in an emotionally abusive relationship with a severely mentally ill man, my drug use increased exponentially. I had stolen everything there was to steal from the people I knew. I stole jewelry, I stole money, I stole food, I stole everything that wasn't nailed down. I sold my body, I sold everything that I had of value, and I sold everything that my kids had of value. I wanted to die. I would lay my head down at night and beg to not wake up the next morning. 

 I distinctly remember the moment that I gave up, and finally admitted that drugs were stronger than me. I was 7 months pregnant with my 4th child, my little boy had just turned 1 year old, and he had had a birthday party with a pinata hanging from a big oak tree in front of his great-grandma's house. I left my kids with grandma, took all the money out of my little boy's birthday cards and went off to find whatever would numb the pain of what I had just done, if only for just an hour.  

As I drove back to get the kids that night, I saw the rope used to hang the pinata, still attached to the tree and looking eerily like a noose. I knew it was there for me. The universe was trying to send me a message that I would never get to be a mom, I could never be a good daughter, that no one loved me. I was un-loveable, and the fundamental things that make someone loved would never be anything that I could have or would even deserve. I deserved to die, I should just stop delaying the inevitable. I got a chair and walked over to the rope and climbed up to it, I tied the knot tighter. Just as I was about to slip the rope over my head, the second the rope touched the top of my head I heard a deep, booming, earth-shattering voice in my head yell "NO!!!!" 

I was so scared that I fell backward onto the ground, got up and ran to my car. I drove to O'Bleness, walked into the emergency room, and told the first nurse that I saw, " I'm a drug addict, I wish I were dead, I can't stop using and I'm going to die, but first, can you keep me somewhere until I deliver my baby so he can live?" That night I went to Appalachian Behavioral Health. In the morning I woke and met a guy named Lucas. He had previously had two years clean but had relapsed and simultaneously overdosed the night before. He knew he was going to die so he stumbled to his local firehouse. A firefighter rounded the corner to answer the door and just before Lucas fell to the ground and blacked out, he yelled, "NO!!!!"  

He woke up in Appalachian Behavioral Health where he met me. He taught me everything he knew about addiction, and recovery and meetings. He told me there wasn't anything fundamentally wrong with me. He taught me that I was a drug addict and gave me an Alcoholics Anonymous book. He told me about a treatment center for women and children, and sat next to me while I made the phone call to get in. He never tried to touch me or hit on me, nor did he ask me for anything in return. He and I left ABH on the same day. I went to Stepping Stones in Portsmouth and he went to the Salvation Army in Dayton.  

When all my secrets had been spilled, all my lies exposed and everyone I loved knew what I had become, I was suddenly free of all my fears. At the end of the road, I finally understood what grace meant. Grace was not created for those who think they're "good enough" who are able to check every item on a list of the qualities required to be a good person. Grace was for people like me, imperfect people who have nothing to offer the world and come seeking grace completely empty-handed. I wanted to know who God was and why a voice had intervened to save ME of all people. God was certainly not who I had been led to believe. I started out not even knowing what to pray so I would simply wake up every morning and begin by saying "please," and end each day with "thank you". I didn't have a plan, and I had no idea how to exist in the world without substances. I began to submit my life each day to God's will and do the next right thing. I found that even in the hard times, there were extraordinarily valuable lessons to be learned. My recovery became a lifestyle, and I became a living apology for the devastation that I had caused. My son was born, and I named him Lucas as a reminder of the first person put in my path along this journey.  

When I got the job at Integrated Services, I thought I would burst with gratitude. I would finally be able to do something purposeful with my life and impact other people like me. They were going to give me a laptop and a computer, and eventually a CAR??? What? Surely, they must be mistaken in trusting a felon and a recovering addict with those things. When Terri took me to see the big blue house for the first time, and they told me it was going to be a recovery house, I knew they had really gone overboard. We couldn't get in the door open to get inside initially, and Terri leaned over and whispered that she wouldn't mind if I used my special "skills". We both laughed so for so long that it gave Kim Dement time to get there and let us in. 

Though I didn't get to show off my breaking and entering skills that day, Integrated Services did end up letting me build what is now Groundwork Residences, a Level II Ohio Recovery Housing program. I get to help women like me who need that person who is placed in their path for a time, to help them to the next step along their recovery journey. It's my honor and privilege to make a difference, however big or small in their experience as mothers and daughters and to help them become people who feel like they belong in this world. Today my heart is so full. I am so grateful that I can look in the mirror and know that even though I'm not perfect, and some of my days hit like a string of bleeped out cusswords, I can still have gratitude for the smallest things. I can look at the sky, and the grass and all the green and growing things around me and I feel the warmth of the sun. I can witness the laughter of all my children surrounding me at the dinner table, and I can be a part of all the milestones that I would've missed had I given way to the fear and dereliction of my addiction, and I know without any doubt that I was meant to be their mother. I don't ever have to be the poor, hopeless person who doubts my humble place on this earth:  who wants to die. I get to be part of the continuing story of one who has truly lived. 


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