At age 37, after 20 years of battling the disease of addiction, Karen McGinnis found a reason to make a change and make it work: the birth of her son.
"I’m a single, independent, fully self-supporting woman today. And it’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever experienced because there was a time in my life where I took advantage of the system. And I have overcome all of that."
+ Read Full Transcript
You know they say that the disease of addiction is greater than the love that a mother has for her child. I intellectually understood that, but I didn’t feel it until it was happening to me.
But at the age of 35, God said to me, “I have carried you through some storms. I’ve put angels around you to protect you all those nights that you were driving in a blackout and you were walking the streets homeless. You’ve had one DUI, you’ve had two DUI’s, you’ve had three DUI’s. You’ve lost great jobs, you’ve lost your soul, you’ve lost your family. You’ve -- you are going to kill yourself. Or you’ve going to end up in prison. So I’m about to do something for you. It’s going to be very tangible. And it’s going to give you a reason to want to live.”
So I had my first child when I was 36 years old. By the time Owen was a couple months old, DCF stepped in – the Department of Children and Families. I was an unfit mother. So he was removed from my care. And I was left with an opportunity to go into the drug courts and work on Karen so I could get my son back.
I was headed down that spiral for 20 years. I started drinking alcohol at the age of 14. The alcohol led to street drugs. The street drugs led to opioids and doctor shopping and -- I had for 10 years already been in and out of treatment centers, and halfway houses, and structured living, and jail and .. you know, so what was so different this time? Because I was still addicted to drugs and alcohol and I still loved my alcohol and drugs more than I loved this beautiful little child that God had blessed me with.
I kicked and screamed and finally went into treatment for a good solid 6 months of inpatient and a couple months of outpatient. And I did everything I could to get Owen back. I fixed the outside. I went and got a great job. I got insurance. I got a nice, fancy Camaro. And it looked real pretty on the outside because I wanted my son back.
And I got him back. But what I failed to do is, I failed to work on Karen. I failed to take a look at what was really going on. What is causing me to continually and insanely – knowing that there is going to be significant consequences, whether it’s loss of marriage, loss of child, loss of job, arrest – still continue to pick up that substance and start the cycle all over again?
I did not do a lick of work on Karen. I did not work a 12-step program. I didn’t reach out to my higher power. I didn’t build a network. I -- I just fixed everything real pretty on the outside, got my son back, went back to work, and before you know it, life started showing up. I started getting stressed out at work. I was stressed out being a single mother, a lot of resentment still towards Owen’s father, a lot of anger. Before I knew it, I found myself at the liquor store.
One is too many, a thousand is never enough. When I put that substance of whatever it is in my system, it sets off a chemical reaction within me and I start the obsession and the compulsion and I want more. Trying to fill that void, trying to find that high.
You know within a couple of days I was a no-call no-show at work. My parents ended up coming to my apartment and found me, naked on the couch with empty bottles of Crown Royal. And my father called DCF again. And Owen was removed from me.
So now we are at Owen is not quite even two years old yet and DCF has already removed him from my care twice. That wasn’t enough to stop me. How did this happen? I was so guilty and shameful, I was off on a mission to really kill myself for the next three months, drinking and overdosing and driving drunk and…
Finally, my parents stepped in and here in the state of Florida we have what’s called a Marchman Act. If you have a loved one that is using substances and you know that they are a threat to themselves or the community, you can take it down to the courthouse and get the law involved. And the law did get involved.
Judge Espinoza who is our drug court judge here in Tampa, he ordered me to go back into treatment. I knew that was my saving grace. That, hey you know what? My parents do still care about me. They care enough about me that they were willing to go down to the courthouse to save my life. They might not be talking to me right now, and I might think that they hate me but they love me. And they saved my life by doing that.
This works if you work it. Recovery is possible. There is hope.
I wanted to start from a fresh clean slate at 37 years old because Owen was the only thing I’ve ever done perfect in my life. And I refuse to let the disease of addiction take that from me too.
And I went back into treatment and I started following suggestions. You know we learn from behaviors over, over time on how to get what we want as addicts. And someone had told me, “Karen, if you could just use those skill sets in a positive way, you will be amazing.”
A large part of recovering is being surrounded by people who are like-minded; people that have gone through what you’ve gone through. Yes, we come from all very diverse backgrounds, and some of us are tall and short and fat and skinny. And some of us are Hispanic and Caucasian and African-American and Chinese but we all have one common thread: the disease of addiction. You know, I think it’s so important for us to come together and, and build those relationships with other people that know what we’re going through so we can feel like hey, you’re not alone, you’re not different, you’re not unique.
And that is one of the reasons that I work in the field that I work in. Because I can empathize with what you, ma’am, are going through, sitting on my couch in my admissions office. I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there 15 times, sitting on that couch with my mom and dad or my husband sitting over there so I understand what you, husband and mother and father are going through.
I do this because life is rich. And life is a gift. And we have to stay in the present. This is a wonderful life.
I’m a single, independent, fully self-supporting woman today. And it’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever experienced because there was a time in my life where I took advantage of the system. I took advantage of Medicaid. I took advantage of food stamps. I took advantage of my mother and father. I took advantage of men. I took advantage of people to get what Karen wanted. And I have overcome all of that.
Never did I ever think at 12 years old, that I was going to be 40 years old, a single mom, and have lived the life that I live. And I’m so grateful, so grateful I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through to find what I found.
And I believe that God will allow us to go through that, to get to a point in our lives to where we have no other choice but to cry out for Him to help us.
And, and, I’ve – I’ve made a mess of my life and I believe that there is something greater than myself that can restore me back to sanity and give me the life that You always intended me to have.
And that is something to be grateful for.
My name is Karen McGinnis and this is my story.