I stared at the pages for a moment as the world around me began spinning. When I brought my gaze back up to Det. Sherlin, she was smiling.
“The thing about criminals is, they aren’t the smartest, right?” She asked, as if I were supposed to agree with her.
“For example; you. A girl who thinks she’s smarter than everyone else. A girl who shares a phone plan with her Deputy boyfriend, a girl who has spent the past 2 years leading a double life, a girl who sends texts to known drug dealers saying things like, “Hey, I’ve got the AK 47, I can bring it by tonight?” and “Can I get some blues, I’m desperate?” Criminals, like yourself, always slip up, eventually.”
I looked at the transcript of my phone records on the table in front of me. Lazarus and I’s messages were highlighted in yellow. The details of all of the things I’d done, right there in black and white for everyone to see.
I knew that it was over.
“Now let’s start over. I’m Deputy Sherlin, and I’ve got some questions about the day of November 22nd. The day before we sent 8 uniformed officers to your home to dust for fingerprints and investigate a crime that you, yourself committed,” She said, pointing at me with her pen. “The day you offered theses officers pizza, and soda as they wasted their time and resources to find a criminal, a criminal that was standing 2 feet away from them the entire time. Why don’t you start from there.” She leaned back into her chair and crossed her arms across her chest, and I could feel my face flush with embarrassment.
There were a small group of deputies, “friends” of mine, gathered outside the door to watch the show. It was over. Life as I knew it had come to an end. The lies I’d fought so hard to keep juggled in the air suddenly came crashing down all around me. I felt naked, exposed and ashamed, and now everyone was about to know what a monster I truly am.
I had no choice, I had to tell the truth.
I took a deep breath, peered up at the camera in the corner of the room, and released everything. The tears, the guilt, the shame all of it came pouring out at once.
“I’m a drug addict. I’ve always been a drug addict. I went to rehab in 2009 and fooled everyone to thinking I was fine, that I was healed. But I wasn’t, I was never fine. I was so terrified of disappointing my family and … Chuck.” My eyes fell to the floor when I remembered, Chuck was watching from outside.
“When him and I first met in the bar that night, I had been clean from pills for a few months. He was so sweet, not like other guys. He was different and made me feel, special. When I found out he was a cop, a part of me thought that it was perfect. His profession would keep me from using again. I thought that his love was all I needed, but I was wrong. My addiction snuck in, and tricked me into thinking I could manage it but I couldn’t. It was too strong, and things got out of hand so fast…”
My voice trailed off as I sobbed, and Deputy Sherlin stood up without saying a word and exited the room. I followed her with my eyes and when the door swung open I saw the crowd gathered around the interrogation room viewing the camera feed, appearing stunned.
She returned almost immediately, with a box of tissues and another cigarette. I could see that her expression had softened. I’m still not sure if this was a tactic used to make me feel comfortable and open up, or whether it was her genuinely realizing I had a problem. Either way I continued speaking, because the more I said out loud, the more free, I began to feel.
“Some asshole from my past was threatening to release an inappropriate video of me if I didn’t pay him the money I owed him—“
“Who is he?” she interrupted.
“I’d…I’d rather not say.”
“Well I need you to tell me. If there is any chance of us showing that you were being threatened, I need his information.”
“It doesn’t matter. I did it. I owed him the money. I made the tape. I put myself in these situations. I am going to take responsibility for it and move on with my life.
She shook her head and scribbled something on her notepad before looking back at me. “So, you were being “threatened”, and then what?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. It was like, I knew that I was on a downward spiral, so nothing mattered anymore. I didn’t care. I just wanted to stay high, try to get myself out of the hole I’d dug, and hopefully overdose in the process. I wanted to die, and the only reason I didn’t take myself out of this… Hell, is because I didn’t want to Chuck to have to come home and find my head splattered on the headboard. If it wasn’t for that I’d be long gone.”
“I need you to tell me about the guns,” She said as I reached for a tissue with my free hand.
“The longer that they are out there in the hands of the wrong person, the more danger people are in. You put an assault rifle in the hands of a ruthless drug dealer, and we need to find them, like, now.”
I furiously shook my head. “I don’t want to get him in trouble. He will kill me. “
“We already know who he is. We have your phone records, we have deputy witnesses stating that they saw Chuck’s vehicle parked in front of a known dealer’s house. I just need you to confirm what happened so that we can safely get the guns back into Chucks possession. So please, tell me the truth.” She said
I wanted to run far, far away. I wanted to go back in time, before all this happened and never take that first drug. I wanted to disappear. But as I looked around the room, I knew there was nowhere to go. I was trapped, and the truth was the only thing that was going to set me free.
“When I took the things from Chuck’s parent’s house, it was as if I reached a new low. The guilt was worse than it usually was, and I couldn’t handle the negative feelings, the way it made me feel. I didn’t know how. I needed to numb them, to get high, but I needed money to do that.”
I paused for a moment and took a drag of my cigarette, I nervously glanced up at the camera once more, wondering how Chuck was going to react to this next part.
“I needed to take the money out of his wallet that was on the counter. But I him and I were the only ones there, so in order to shift the blame from myself I… I staged a burglary in our home.”
I could here mumbles coming from the hallway, and I saw Det. Sherlin trying her best to hide her disgust.
“How did you do that, Tiffany?”
“I broke the back door, to make it look like someone forced their way inside. I took the entire wallet, but it wasn’t until I was in the car driving to Lazarus’ that I realized his wallet had his ID’s and credit cards and…his badge.”
I could see the muscles in her jaw clench.
“I…I didn’t want him to have to replace all that stuff, I felt bad…”
“You felt bad?” She laughed and rolled her eyes, and I could feel my walls going back up from her reaction. I was afraid that the more I told her, the angrier she would become. I ignored her and continued.
“I turned my car around and hopped out, to tuck the wallet under some leaves by a tree at the end of the yard. I wanted them to find it, so they could return it to him. I wanted him to have his things back I just… I needed the money.” I said feeling unbearably ashamed.
“And what did you use the money for?” She asked, although I had a feeling she already knew the answer.
“Drugs. I, I had less than 24 hours to come up with $1,000.00. I was feeling sick and knew it was almost over, I just needed to get high so I could think straight to make a plan to get the money. So, I went to get the pills and while I was there my guy-”
“Lazarus Bishop.” She interjected.
“I asked Lazarus if he knew how I could get money. He said no at first, but as I was leaving asked if I had any way to get a gun. I was desperate. I thought I could sell him the gun and then buy it back once I was sure that Jake was off my back. I didn’t…I didn’t think it all the way through.”
“Clearly.” She retorted.
I ignored her patronizing comment and continued, “I rushed home and got the guns and brought them to Lazarus. He picked the ones he wanted and in exchange gave me the money I needed to pay Jake off. I paid Jake yesterday. You guys woke me up out of bed today. It’s ironic, actually. I fought so hard to keep Chuck from finding out, I did so many things to make it so I could pay Jake and move on, and my very first day of being relieved of the burden of owing Jake money; you guys show up and bring me here.”
Det. Sherlin didn’t say a word. She stared at me for a moment, as if trying to process everything I’d just said. I could tell she was struggling to find the words. What I had done was shocking, it was personal, it happened to someone she knew.
Just then a man dressed in full S.W.A.T. uniform burst through the door of the interrogation room and grabbed one of the empty chairs at the table. I watched Det. Sherlin exit, as he slid it over to where I was and sat down, leaning forward until his face was uncomfortably close to mine.
“Are you shooting these things?” He asked menacingly.
“I’ve shot the AK before but I don’t think of shot the other two—“
“Not the guns, you f***ing idiot. The pills, are you shooting the pills?”
“Oh. Yes. I am.” I admitted, pulling my sleeves up to show him the scars.
“You do realize that you probably gave my buddy out there a disease, he’s currently getting a test to check and see if your selfish ass gave him Hep. C.”
The man’s words made me feel filthy, like a mangy dog that nobody wanted. “I didn’t give him anything, okay? I haven’t been shooting up for that long and I was always careful.”
“Well, you better hope so. That’s all I have to say about that.” He slammed the chair into the table and left the room, revealing that the majority of the spectators outside the door had left. I was alone in this room, all of my secrets had been released into the universe and I was no longer in control.
I’d failed. I’d failed my parents, Chuck, and I’d failed myself.
I laid on the floor feeling completely empty. A pile of useless skin and bones, a mistake that should never have been conceived.
I laid there for an hour before anyone entered the room again.
“Okay, let’s go.” A deputy I hadn’t seen before said, motioning for me to stand up. He was careful to avoid eye contact. “What happens now?” I asked quietly.
“Now… You go to jail.” He said, just as 3 uniformed officers walked into the room with shackles.
“And that was it. I was charged with like 20 something felonies and here I am.” I exhaled, bringing my eyes up to Kelly. She wasn’t laughing this time, instead, tears streamed down her face and I watched as her chin began to quiver.
She closed her eyes and began to slowly shake her head. “Wow, Tiffany. Wow.” She said standing up to sit next to me.
“I am so sorry. I’m sorry for you, for Chuck, for his family… I’m just so sorry.” She reached out to hug me, and the moment I rested my chin on her shoulder, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I drew in a deep breath, and it felt as if I’d finally closed a book that I had been forced to read over and over, every day, for over 6 months.
For the first time, in a long time – I was free.
Now that I had emptied the two-ton suitcase of shame I’d been lugging around, it was time for me to move on and figure out why I chose to pick up the suitcase to begin with. My brain is f***ed up, there’s no question about that, now I needed to figure out how to fix it.
The moment I stepped outside of Kelly’s office, I was met by a cool breeze. I closed my eyes and felt the wind dance across my skin and I couldn’t help but think that it was the Universe’s way of giving me hug, and letting me know that everything was going to be okay. Something inside me had shifted, I knew that after today big changes were coming, I just had no idea how big these changes were going to be.
I spent 4 more months at Leap of Faith. Those months were filled with joy, defeat, happiness, frustration. Moments of wanting to run out the door and shoot dope, and moments of rejoicing in my recovery. There was laughter, and many, many tears. I made a few mistakes, but I never gave up.
My time at the rehab had changed me as a person, I was able to look inward, and spend time examining the the real issues, without the distraction of the outside world. I knew that the time was going to pass anyway, so I chose to make every single moment count and get the most out of the program while I was there. I acquired a sponsor, and she helped walk me through the 12 – steps. And in doing those steps, I found out who I really was.
All of the issues in my childhood and resentments I’d been carrying for years were exposed. I was dissected, examined, and put back together as a new creation. Those steps saved my life.
I attended every class – and listened intently as the instructor educated me on what I needed to do to stay clean. I learned different ways to cope with my feelings, instead of turning to drugs to numb them the moment they popped up. I focused on doing the right thing, every chance I got – even when no one was looking. I practiced honesty, and patience, both of which had been completely foreign to me prior.
Each day that passed where I didn’t stick a needle in my arm, I felt more alive. Like I was a part of the world, instead of just floating through it. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want to die, because I felt like I had purpose that had yet to be fulfilled.
There were times when I wanted to give up, but I learned to do the opposite of what I used to do. So when I wanted to give up, I stayed. When I wanted to use, I prayed. And when I felt afraid, I instead chose to be brave.
Once I had a taste of recovery, once I belly-laughed in a room full of women, once I laid my head on my pillow at night completely at peace with myself, I knew that even my best day high – would pale in comparison to my worst day clean. Life without drugs was just too good to go back.
I emerged from Leap of Faith as a new creation.
But, my journey wasn’t over just yet.
The ‘clunk’ of my high-heeled shoes hitting the wooden floors echoed through the hallway as I headed toward the front desk. I smiled at a woman wearing a name badge and rocking an infant as I passed her in the corridor. “Sorry.” I mouthed quietly, and began walking on my tiptoes to keep from waking the baby. “It’s okay, you’re fine.” She whispered giving me a friendly smile.
A young woman with glasses and bouncy curls smiled sweetly as I approached the front desk.
“Hello, I’m Tiffany, I’m here to see the girls.” I said, glancing around the office.
“Sure, just sign in here.” She said, handing me a clipboard. I quickly scribbled my name and set it on the counter before heading to a seat in the waiting room. Before I could sit, a woman emerged from the double doors to my right and held her hand out to shake mine. “Hi, you must be Tiffany.” She said.
“Yes, Hi.” I replied.
“Come on back, we are ready for you.” She said, waving me toward the door. The ‘clunk’ of my heels was drowned out only by the sound of my heart banging around in my chest. I had done this so many times, but it never got easier on my nerves.
As I entered the room, I was greeted by the sound of squeals and cries. As the doors slammed behind me,all of conversation the women were having suddenly ceased, and they all turned to face me. I smiled nervously as I passed them and headed to the empty chair at the front of the room.
I sat down in the chair and watched the women whisper to one another before lazily sauntering over to fill the empty seats facing me. The women were at all different stages of their pregnancy, some had small bumps while others looked like they were ready to explode at any second. Each of them looked exhausted, and they seemed annoyed by my presence.
Once everyone was seated, and the room fell silent, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the small, pink, worry stone I always carried with me. It was a gift my father had given me before he passed away 2 years ago.
He had fought long and hard, and unlike when my mother passed, I was able to be there for him and the family as we said our final goodbye. My father and I had gotten sober 15 days apart, and 2 months after leaving rehab, him and I got to walk up on stage together to collect our one-year medallions. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
“Hello everyone, my name is Tiffany, and I’m an addict.” I said.
“Hi, Tiffany.” The women replied in unison.
“I know you guys are exhausted, and the last thing you probably want to do is sit in these shitty plastic chairs and listen to some weird lady lecture you,” A few women chuckled, giving me a renewed sense of confidence.
“But if you will give me 30 minutes of your time, I’ll never bother you again.” I said. I looked around at their tired faces and realized they would rather be changing dirty diapers than sitting here with me, but it was okay, because I wasn’t only here for them. I was here for me.
I took a breath, and began.
“I spent over 10 years of my life doing drugs. I lied, cheated, stole, manipulated and deceived everyone I’d ever known. I destroyed my life, and the life of those around me. I wanted to die – I tried to die, but for some reason, I couldn’t even do that right.”
I rubbed the stone and cleared my throat, before continuing. “Now before I go any further, I just want to take a second and tell each and every one of you – how f***ing proud I am of you.” I paused for a moment to swallow back the sobs as the tears began filling my eyes.
“You all could be anywhere in the world; an alley, a trap house, the streets. But you’re here, you’re here in a treatment facility getting help for yourselves, and giving the babies in those rooms and inside your bellies a shot at life, and that’s a f***ing miracle. So give yourselves a round of applause because you deserve it.”
Applause rang out through the building and the women turned to each other and smiled proudly.
“In case nobody has told you today, you guys f***ing rock.” I yelled over their claps. It was like all of the guilt they had felt about being in a residential treatment center for pregnant women and children had momentarily lifted.
Once the applause had settled and the women adjusted themselves back into their seats, I continued.
“As far as being an addict goes, my story is no different. The only thing separating you guys and myself is that I happened to be dating a cop during my active addiction.” I said.
The women let out audible gasps and their eyes grew wide. A girl turned to her friend and whispered something and I noticed a shift in the room. The women were on the edge of their seats, they were interested now.
“We can get into that later, but for now, I’d like to tell you what brings me here to Family Ties Treatment Center. After I left rehab, I moved into a Halfway House. I knew I was ready to be out in the real world, but I was also aware that I wasn’t prepared to dive in head-first. I needed accountability. The halfway house rules were simple; get a job, attend 1 meeting a day, no drinking or using and curfew is midnight. It was an amazing way for me to meet people in recovery, and being surrounded by strong, independent women everyday really motivated me and gave me a sense of true friendship I had never experienced before.”
A baby began crying in the distance and one woman jumped to her feet and headed toward the sound.
“Shortly after moving into the halfway house I met someone. Now, I don’t recommend this, because it’s important to focus on yourself for a while once you get clean. But me, being the rebel that I am figured that it was okay, because I had 10 months clean.”
“Him and I began dating and right from the beginning I was completely honest with him about my past, and he accepted me and supported where I was in my journey. Plus, he was super- hot.” I laughed. A few of the girls chuckled and nodded.
“I found out I was pregnant in the bathroom of a halfway house.” I said to a stunned room.
“The moment I saw the 2 pink lines, I collapsed into a ball on the floor and began sobbing. This was not how things were supposed to happen. He and I had only been dating for 2 months. I didn’t have a job, a car, and only a garbage bag’s worth of belongings to my name. Clearly I was in no shape to be a mother.”
“I paced the length of the small bathroom for about an hour,” I continued. “Unsure of what to do, I called my sister, who basically said ‘you’re an idiot.’ Which was completely different than I envisioned my pregnancy announcement going as I was growing up. I decided to tell him, my boyfriend, that night. So, I hopped on my bicycle, and peddled over to his house to break the news.”
“What did he say?” Someone in the back row asked eagerly.
“Well, he said… ‘This is wonderful’. And that was about the time I started freaking out and told him ‘hell no, we can’t do this, we need to get an abortion’. I mean think about it, I had nothing. Nothing. I was just beginning to find out who I was, there was no way I could have a child at this point in my life, it would have been foolish.”
I watched as their faces began to drop. A moment ago they loved me, and now they looked disgusted about the fact that I was going to terminate the pregnancy.
“Listen, it would have been a huge risk for me to have a baby while jobless and homeless. What was I gonna do, have a baby in a halfway house? I was terrified. What if I relapsed?” I said, looking around pleadingly. The women couldn’t even look at me, they were shaking their heads and looking away. Telling a room full of pregnant women in rehab that the ‘circumstances weren’t right’ for me to have a child probably wasn’t the smartest idea.
“I don’t know about you guys,” I began. “But I believe that a higher power restored me to sanity. My higher power knows what’s best for me, even when I don’t. I went against my better judgement and listened to my higher power this time… And my son was born on September 22nd, 2014. He was born on my birthday.” I smiled.
Chills covered my body as the women began to cheer.
“I busted my ass, got a job, got a car, and 4 months after finding I was pregnant, finally moved out of the halfway house and in with my boyfriend. I never gave up, even when I wanted to. The boy growing inside me was now a part of me, and I knew I would do whatever it took to give him a wonderful life.”
“I am now married to the father of my son, and he is also the father of my daughter, born 16 months after my son. We now have his other daughter from a previous relationship full time as well. So, in the span of 2 & ½ years I went from being a single woman living in a halfway house, to a married mother of 3.”
The women looked stunned and amazed.
“So why am I telling you all of this? I’m telling you because there was once a point in my recovery when I wanted to give up. I wanted to get high, I wanted to throw it all away. But just because I wanted to get high, doesn’t mean I had to. So, I didn’t, no matter how hard it got. I kept going because I knew wonderful things were waiting for me. There are times now, where I will be sitting in the living room of our beautiful 4 bedroom house, and I’ll hear my kids giggling in the other room. In that moment I’ll think back to the times I laid in bed twisting and turning in agony from withdrawal, the times I overdosed and almost died and I think– “Holy shit, I almost missed this.”
“Each and every one of you sitting in here right now, has an unbelievable life waiting for you just down the road, a life better than you can dream. All you have to do, is keep walking. No matter how bumpy the road gets, or how many unexpected detours you come across. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep f***ing walking, because the blessings are there, you just have to stick around long enough to receive them.
“You know, there was a time when I couldn’t go longer than 5 minutes without being high. But with the help of my sponsor, my higher power, friends in the fellowship and a very vivid memory of what life was like during my addiction, today, I have 5 years clean and sober from drugs and alcohol.” Once again, the chills covered my body as the women cheered and applauded. It felt so good to be able to say those words. “I have 5 years clean.”
“It is possible to have an amazing, fun, purposeful life after addiction. It really is. Addiction is not the end. Life is fleeting, and it will be over before you know it. You have an opportunity to say right here, and right now… That addiction, is not how my story is going to end…”
As the women stood to their feet and furiously clapped their hands, I closed my eyes and thought about my parents in Heaven. I’m sure that wherever they are, they are clapping right along with the people in this room. I thought about jail, and how desperately I wanted to die. How angry I was that they found me and saved me after my attempted suicide. Suddenly, in this moment, everything made sense. My higher power knew before I did that my work here on earth wasn’t done. When I couldn’t see a future for myself, he already knew I’d be standing here tonight.
As I looked out at all of the hopeful smiling faces in this room, just beginning their journey in recovery, tears of gratitude filled my eyes. I am grateful to have gotten clean, grateful that I got my sister back and grateful that I was able to make some sober memories with my father before he passed. I’m grateful to the beautiful children waiting for me at home and grateful to my wonderful husband for sticking around and being a father, when he could have easily run.
I am grateful that Chuck has such a beautifully, forgiving heart, and that he is happy with a new love, that will treat him with the dignity and respect that he deserves.
I am grateful that no one gave up on me, that no one wrote me off or let me die. Because there is no such thing as a lost cause, and it’s never too late to start over. All you need is willingness, and a desire to change and you can create a brand new life for yourself. I’m living proof.
A Flicker of hope in one’s heart, is capable of lighting the path to a new destiny.