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Angel Traynor -Recovery Housing

From her own experience, Angel Traynor knew that if you don’t give someone a structured place to go after treatment and send them back into their old environment instead, they are at a high risk to relapse.

So she stepped in with Serenity Sistas housing, a safe haven for up to 47 people in recovery.

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The last time I walked out of jail, I was 45 years old. I had been using opiates for about 11 years. I was absolutely convinced that I was never going to use again. I was never going to use. I was never going to go back to jail. I was never going to hurt my family. And I tried to do it on my own and that never worked for me.

So what that led to was for the next 9 months I used and I got to the point where I was homeless. I had pushed everybody away from me, except for the people that were doing the same things that I was doing.

And, Labor Day of 2007, I had been using for 9 months. I wanted to die. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. But I knew that I had to do something. I called a former counselor and said to her, “I need help.” And she got me a bed in a treatment center.

I was supposed to report the morning of September the 6th. When I came to that morning, I was so full of fear. I was afraid of failure, because I had failed so many times before, and I was also afraid of success, because if I succeeded even for a small amount of time, and then I failed, in my head, I was still a failure.

So being trapped in that fear on that last morning, my solution was easy. My final decision in active addiction was suicide.

By 7am that morning, the people that were in that room with me were reviving me.

I was just touched that day when I walked into rehab that I knew, I knew quickly within three days, I was willing to do whatever it took to never go back to using drugs.

And I’ve continued to do that for the last 11 years. I’ve not found it necessary to use drugs or alcohol since September 6, 2007.

I find it very important to share my story publicly. People need to hear that we can recover from our addictions.

I was an addict for 33 years which meant that I started when I was 13 years old. Through that time I was a teenage mom. I was a battered wife. I was a business owner. My business was successful. I owned a home. I raised not only my child but I raised two other children as well.

For the first 20 years, I really didn’t suffer any consequences. And about at year 21, I tried opiates and that was the beginning of the end for me.

The last time I walked into a rehab I had absolutely nothing. I had lost everything. I had lost my family, my business, my home. I was a three-time convicted felon. My dignity, my own self-respect. All of that was gone. So I really started from the very bottom.

I was 45 and three days later I celebrated my 46th birthday. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. I had half a backpack of clothes and nowhere to go. Gratefully, I had a friend that was willing to take me in and let me sleep on her couch and quickly I had to – not only did I have to learn to live without drugs and alcohol as my coping mechanism – I had to figure out what I was going to do with myself.

I got my GED. I went into college because I wanted to be an alcohol and drug counselor. And I started my – I started my journey.

If it hadn’t been for other people supporting me, I don’t know that I would have made it because what I’ve come to find out is that there is no way you can overcome an addiction yourself.

I guess about 5 years into my own personal recovery, I saw a lapse in housing for women, in my town. There was nothing in the town of Annapolis. So I decided to start doing recovery housing.

The recovering addict, specifically women in the beginning, they didn’t have anywhere to go after treatment. And if you didn’t give someone somewhere to go after treatment and you send them back into the same environment, I already knew from my own experience, they were at a high risk to relapse.

I decided to start the houses, Serenity Sistas. I think I had about $983 in the bank and that was it. Right before Christmas of 2011 I was shopping, I was shopping at Kmart, and I saw bedframes on sale, for bunk beds. I was like, “Oh, I need those. I’ll just put them on layaway!”

Three weeks later, I got a very tearful phone call from my mom. She said, “You’re never going to believe what happened. Layaway Angels went in and paid off your bunk beds!” Which to me was, to me it was a God shot. They paid the entire amount off.

Three weeks after that, I received an anonymous check for $3,000 with a letter that said, “Go out and buy your new mattresses, and go out and buy your new sheets for your house because everybody deserves fresh linens and new mattresses when they start a new life.”

That was in 2012 and we now currently have 6 locations – single women, single men, mothers and children’s, and then I have a location that I use for crisis beds, people who seek treatment through our safe stations here in Anne Arundel county. They go there seeking help but they’re not going to get into treatment for 4 or 5 days because you just don’t get in right away. So we house those people as well.

So on any given day, we house up to 47 people that are entering recovery. And residents anywhere from 18 years old to 77 years old – that was my oldest resident.

These individuals, they’re just like me. They come and they either have lost the skills that we need to get by, or at 18 years old, they never had them in the first place. And they can be as simple as doing your laundry or parking correctly in the driveway. But then there’s other things like resume-writing. You know, if you don’t have a good resume and you can’t get that out there, how will you get employed? And I think at the end of the day, that’s all any of us want – we just want to be happy, healthy, productive members of society.

Often I go out and I try to educate the community. There are things they don’t know or maybe they aren’t thought about. And I have been told on a regular basis that, “Addiction does not affect me. I don’t know anybody that suffers from addiction. Why should I care?”

I’ve had people say that to me, and thank goodness, I have gained a filter because in the beginning, it was a little -- I stated this a little differently.

But we are all impacted by addiction.

I personally went to rehab or detox on public funds, through medical assistance, so that increases everybody’s insurance rates. It puts our taxes up.

There are times that I wrecked cars and I was an uninsured motorist which means your insurance went up, your insurance rates went up.

Theft – that’s how I made my living for a while is I stole things from people which today I’m certainly not proud of that. That also raises the cost of living.

So if you are to say to me that you are not impacted by addiction, I’m sorry but you are.

You drive a car. You’re out on the road. There are people who are under the influence whether it be from drugs or alcohol. You’re, you’re at risk.

So everybody is impacted by addiction.

I got to hit my own personal rock bottom emotionally and physically. With what’s going on in our world today, people are not making it to rock bottom. They are dying and they’re dying young.

So we have young parents that are dying, so there’s a generation there, and then they’re leaving behind children that are severely impacted. I know families where the children in that family have lost both parents to the disease.

It’s a societal issue.

If I were to ask one thing of anybody that can hear me right now, I would ask that you get to know somebody in recovery because the people that I know that are in recovery are some of smartest, funniest, most hard-working people that I know.

And I think that that stems from -- I know for me that it stems from knowing that I took from my community for so long, I just want to give back. I want to balance the scales if you will, and make that right.

Mariel Hafnagel -Grace & Luck in Recovery

Mariel Hafnagel is the Executive Director of the Ammon Foundation. In longterm recovery since 2007, she knows the disease of addiction well. Grace and luck and a lot of compassionate support changed her life.

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I didn’t wake up when I was 17 and decide that I wanted to be a drug addict.

The trajectory of my life and how I began to manifest addiction was not a conscious decision. Was picking up alcohol and drugs a conscious decision? Absolutely – because I was in tremendous pain and I wanted to take that away.

My addiction progressed rapidly, leaving limited if not zero time for intervention, education, primary level care.

My name is Mariel Hufnagel. I’m a woman in long-term recovery which for me means that I’ve been alcohol and drug free since May 7, 2007, after an alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine addiction from the ages of 17 to 21.

There was nothing extraordinarily dysfunctional or out of order or catastrophic that happened in my childhood. From a very young age however, I always felt less than, different, and was constantly looking for a way to diminish those feelings.

I acted out. I stole. I was promiscuous. I threw temper tantrums. Anything I could do to get outside of me and to get some attention from you.

I do remember at a very young age experimenting with alcohol, alone, and I just think that is important because the reason why I used alcohol and drugs, the reason I acted out was because I was trying to self-medicate.

It’s very clear to me there was something off in my brain, and that there were mental health issues, underlying and untreated.

I didn’t start using anything regularly until I was about 17. And in literally a matter of months, if not weeks, I went from having a seemingly pretty normal life, you know, a beautiful house, a loving family, a decent GPA in school, friends, a boyfriend, etc. – to being homeless, a prostitute, living on the streets of Norwalk, Connecticut. I had a $1500 a day drug habit.

And what comes along with that lifestyle, as a 17, 18, 19 year old female, is a lot of trauma, a lot of sexual abuse, a lot of dangerous situations. All that does is it perpetuates the need and the desire to continue getting high. There was nothing I needed to do more than numb out so I could escape from all of that.

May 7, 2007, I was arrested and I was brought to jail. That was the beginning of my recovery story.

So often we talk about someone needing to have a willingness or a honest desire to enter and maintain their recovery. I was not willing or voluntarily brought to Volusia County Correctional Facility. But what that allowed is it allowed just enough time for me to get physically separated from alcohol and drugs that I could begin to have some clarity about my life. And it was through that clarity that I became willing to be an active participant in changing and addressing some things, so that I could be sober and live a life that was worth living.

Detoxing in jail, potentially in physical danger, unlike any other chronic disorder that would be medically addressed, addiction is not ,and was not, for me. And so I’m terrified and just kind of just left to fend for myself. Which is not loving and not medically appropriate for anybody.

So I ended up being in jail for about two months. And when I was released I needed to make a lot of changes and I needed to address a lot of things that I had been shoving down and unwilling to address for years at this point.

I got accepted into a halfway house and I was there for almost 9 months. It allowed me to have a safe place to live, get involved with peer-to-peer support. It allowed me time to look for employment, apply for Medicaid and food stamps, and social services. All of this was vital for that first year.

I also needed to get honest about how I was feeling, what I was thinking. And one of the most important things that I have found in my personal recovery is having people around me who hold me accountable and who I can be transparent with about what’s really going on. Recognizing that part of just the human condition is that we are broken and imperfect and that’s okay. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s okay to be who I am, in all its glory or in all its ugliness, and finding people who embrace me and love me and hold me up during those times. And had I not be able to kind of find that support, I don’t know if I would have been able to maintain my recovery.

I think it’s really important when we talk about recovery to talk about people being able to build meaningful, purposeful lives. Because without being crass – although I am crass -- if I can’t have a life worth living, why would I not want to be getting high?

Not saying that life needs to be perfect al of time. No one’s life is all of the time. However, when the bad times come, if there is purpose and meaning and love and connection in their life, it’s easier to weather those storms.

What happened when I was about five years in recovery is I realized there is a lot of discrimination against people like myself, and I became motivated to try to make a macro difference.

Oftentimes people ask me, what do I attribute my recovery to? And I say grace and luck.

Grace is defined as an unwarranted gift from God. And whatever you believe is your beliefs, but I believe that the universe is conspiring for our greatest good, all the time.

I believe that I’ve been put in the right place at the right time with the right people enough times to maintain my recovery and to become who I am today.

That’s also combined with luck. Luck for me is connected to privilege. It’s connected to the fact that I’m an upper middle class white female. Between the ages of 14 and 21, I was a repeat offender. I am now a convicted felon. I’m a sex-trafficking survivor, and I’m formerly homeless. Time after time, I was given second, third, fifth, a hundredth chances, by everybody – police, judges, by people who I just crossed paths with. I also experienced tremendous generosity because I was seemingly non-threatening. And, due to the socio-economic status of my family, I was able to access treatment, go back to school.

I was able to do all of these different things that are off-limits or much harder to attain than say my African-American female counterpart, my trans counterpart, my lower socio-economic counterpart.

My recovery should not be based on grace and luck. It should be based on the fact that I was given access to services, that barriers were removed, and that I was treated with compassion because I suffer from a brain disorder – and that’s why I should be able to have entered and maintained my recovery.

So since 2012 I have had the incredible ability to join what many people call the recovery advocacy movement. I have been able to work and live in a space where people are demanding what I like to consider the civil rights of people who suffer from a substance use disorder. And, you know, it started as a volunteer intern in 2012 and just six years later I have the distinct privilege of being the executive director of a foundation.

And that really is what recovery looks like, right. It looks like the fact that I got married. It looks like the fact that we rescued two dogs. We bought a house. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m an aunt. I’m a taxpayer. I’m an employer and an employee.

My story is not extraordinary. I just have been empowered to share it. There are thousands if not millions of others, just like me, living in recovery, a part of society who have overcome their own struggles with addiction. They have just not yet been empowered to share their story.

My name is Mariel Hufnagel and this is my story.

Jenny Beetz -Human Contact or Heroin? You Can't Have Both

Jenny Beetz loved how heroin made her feel but she appreciates the stability of her life without it.

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It’s very hard for me to pinpoint when exactly my addiction started, or even what started it. I would imagine I started doing drugs at around the age of 12, really. It just just always seemed to be part of my life. It wasn’t something I even thought about. Which has been an ongoing problem by the way. I’ve always missed that middle part where you maybe reflect and think, Well, should I do some drugs? As soon as that thought hits me, I’m already driving to go buy drugs.

By the age of 16, I had discovered opiates. The heroin. It was, This is my drug. I felt like I found finally my peace. And that is something that it has always given me is a sense of peace. And also a sense of wellbeing. A lot of people, it seems, when they do opiates, before you know it, they’re licking the floor, or their head is about a foot from the concrete. Contrary to that, I feel energy. It puts the skip in my step and I go around the house singing or humming.

Honestly, I have often felt it’s a financial problem more than a drug problem because when I have had plenty of money, gainfully employed and all that, it didn’t interfere in my life in any way. I wasn’t being arrested. I wasn’t crawling around half sick, trying to get my drug. But when it gets to that point, which it seems to for virtually everybody, that is the hell.

It feels like you’re missing a couple of layers of skin. And you’re jumping into rubbing alcohol. It’s hell.

But I took a long break and I thought that it was simply a passing phase. I had gone to college. I got a degree in philosophy. I thought philosophy was all Sartre and Camus, and all of that really great stuff. No! It’s this really boring analytical crap—Hegel, Heidegger -- oh my God, you know, that’s torture! They should use that at Guantanamo.

But I’m not sure what started me again, at all. A lot of my drug use has been because it’s just been right there in my face, most of my life. Every time I’d gone to New York City when I was younger, part of my visit there included good New York dope. So when I moved there, it was like Wow, I live in the land of good New York dope!

And it started out very slowly. I had a boyfriend who was not a drug addict and we started using together. I became a raging junkie and he stopped the first he got a habit. He was no, this is awful, this sucks. And I just kept going with it.

I spent pretty much all of my time in New York City being a heroin addict. In my 30’s, I went to a methadone program. I was very, very, very stubborn. I did heroin every day of my life for a least a year, knowing I’m not even going to get high because methadone has a blocker in it.

Again I was very stubborn. And I still am. I am on a methadone program now. I have a lot of resentment about it, in a way. In general, in life, I have a lot of resentment about my use or not use of heroin.

Why can’t I do my drug?

My friend for example, he – he gets drunk virtually every day, and it’s fine. You know, it’s socially acceptable, really. Well, to a degree. And, I’m not allowed to do my drug. It that pisses me off. It really does.

If I were to win the lottery, all bets are off. I’m, I’m buying land in Afghanistan. I’m going to marry Hamid Karzai, and I’m just going to have acres and acres of poppies. Drug lord, whatever, you know. I’m really looking forward to it, in fact. I mean, this is the sort of thing that comforts me.

But being a drug addict, weird things tend to comfort me, like Oh, I can always just kill myself! That’s a comforting thought to me. There’s always that option if I’m sick of this, I can always just, you know, do my last shot and be comfortable and …

What motivated me to go on a methadone program at all or even to consider quitting is I did lose that well-paying job, which by the way, was answering phones in a whorehouse. But I became homeless. Theoretically the methadone program, it’s there to help a person get off of opiates. Great! Wonderful! You can’t get addicted to methadone in two weeks. They would taper you off and then hopefully you have follow-up care.

Methadone maintenance? To me, it is solidly absurd. I have traded basically an illegal drug and illegal activities for a legal thing called methadone maintenance program.

I can’t get take-homes because I take Seroquel and that’s a whole other horrible – and that’s a -- by the way, a lot of mental illness mixed in with all of this. I am disabled, officially, with major depression. I’ve been hospitalized. And also with post-traumatic stress disorder. Like serious -- like my childhood was outrageous including kidnapping, gang rape. Just horrible things.

The benefits again are I’m not getting arrested two and three times a year. So now I’m on as low dose as I possibly be, and my life has been – it’s stable. I realized wow, I actually feel, both physically and mentally, I feel engaged in the world around me. And it’s pleasant.

And then I realize, and this is a strange way to realize it, somebody just rubbed my back in an affectionate gesture, and I realized I had had zero affection or anything like that, by choice. By choice. And it was again revelatory. It was like this is what I’m missing in my life. -- human contact.

And the less methadone I was on, the more engaged I became. And I got to a point where I was down to 10 mg of methadone, and that was great. My tits came back. I started fucking again which I enjoy a lot. But -- and you can’t have both. It’s human contact, and caring about people, and sex, and boobs and all that -- or it’s heroin addiction. You can’t have both. Heroin ends up being a kind of a boyfriend.

When I rejoined the living, I noticed all these benefits that I had not foreseen. And it’s good in a way. I really miss heroin. I do. And I feel jealousy when I see somebody licking the sidewalk out front – I feel jealous, actually. You know, it’s like, I want what she had!, you know.

I think this is definitely part of my nonuse rather than using, that my writing has exploded with regard to how much. But the quality as well is really good. And then, I started making collages. And I just started with one and now I think I have about one hundred and twenty. And I do them all by hand. And that’s been really great – the art work, you know.

I believe that from the day, the year, whatever age you are when you begin taking drugs, that’s pretty much when you stop maturing -- emotionally at least. And so, in a lot of ways, I’m this, you know, annoying, intellectual artist type. But also I am a, a 12-year old, you know. And if you start doing drugs at a very young age like I did, I mean you’re kind of fucked in a lot of ways, you know, being this 12 year old and negotiating the world supposedly as a 53 year old, you know.

I’m trying… I might cry. Yeah. I don’t know why that makes me cry but --

Because I’m the 12-year old for a second here, you know.

I’m Jenny Beetz and this is my story. Thank you for listening to my story.