Her skeleton frame began to tremble as she saw her reflection through the cracks in the grimy bathroom mirror, and she thought to herself, “How did I get here?”
Fast forward a few years, and she’s the person that welcomes new employees at the office. Her outgoing and bubbly personality is an instant source of comfort. She lights up every room she walks into with a beautiful and healthy smile that is as genuine as they come. And she always looks comfortable and natural. Her laugh echoes and invites others to join conversations. She has the biggest brightest eyes and breathes happiness. This is the girl I met. The only side of Mary [name changed] I knew. When I heard about her past, I was absolutely shocked. “Wait, you mean to tell me that she did drugs? You’re joking, right? Not Mary. No, no, no. She couldn’t have.”
Luckily for me, I got to know Mary better as we worked together for a few years before moving onto other chapters. She told me a bit more of her story, and I learned that she’s not afraid of her scars because she’s been healed. She loves to help others and has a heart of pure gold. She found a wonderful husband, and became a Mrs. while we worked together, and more recently she’s also become a mom. But not just any mom, an amazing mom that loves her sweet little girl with the cutest, chubby, rosy cheeks, blonde hair, and blue eyes. She’s committed to being the best mom she can be. And I got to thinking, now that is a beauty from ashes story, which I just love. So I asked Mary if she would let me share it [and obviously she agreed].
She knocked on my door, and I opened it to find the exact Mary I had come to love. She had on a San Francisco Giants sweatshirt, and her thick black-rimmed glasses, jeans, and sneakers. Her face always has this natural glow as she doesn’t wear much make-up, and she’s one of the few that can get away with it. She showed up early, and didn’t mind that my house was a total disaster. She even went outside and played on the swing set with my four-year-old while I put the baby down for his nap. We eventually got situated at my kitchen table with some peach tea, and the sun perfectly shining in on us from the back windows. We talked about the way we would share this together, and I was so eager to hear the whole story so I began:
Me: Describe your life growing up.
Mary: It was pretty normal. My parents did divorce when I was twelve, and my time was split, but there were really no traumatic events. My parents hardly even drank around us. I didn’t have any experience with drugs or really even know what they were. I wasn’t really into anything specific. I tried sports, but that didn’t really work out. I wasn’t good musically, and so I just didn’t pursue anything. I would try, but I would not be consistent and end up quitting. I grew up going to church youth group every Wednesday and church every Sunday. My dad even led a bible study at our house. I can’t really pinpoint the exact reason I started using. A lot of people do know what triggered it for them, but sometimes that’s also more of a scapegoat or an excuse.
Me: So how did you get into drugs?
Mary: When I was fifteen or sixteen, I started hanging out with people who drank and did drugs. I didn’t know about that lifestyle because I wasn’t around it. I was ignorant to it. I started partying and drinking and smoking pot occasionally. There were a couple of girls I really attached to. They accepted me and made me feel like I was a part of their group, and I hadn’t felt that close of a bond before. I felt different with them. They did a lot of drugs. One night a friend’s parents were gone for the weekend so a bunch of people from high school got together and tried many different drugs. They had coke, and I had tried it but didn’t care for it. I had done a bunch of Oxycontin at the time.
But from that night on, I was hooked.
I was on a prescribed antidepressant as well, and that night they said they had meth. I had no clue about meth. I had never been talked to about it. I figured it was probably just like anything else. But from that night on, I was hooked. I had a psychotic episode because of the mixture of antidepressants and other drugs being used. I took a couple of days to bounce back from that experience.
So near the end of that weekend, my mom came over to my friend’s house at about 7pm looking for me. She walked in with my brother and sister. It was a Sunday. I was sleeping for the first time that weekend. I thought it was 7am, and I was late for school. My mom realized something was terribly wrong. There was alcohol and drug paraphernalia everywhere.
After that I continued using meth for a while and ended up at a rehab center at seventeen-years-old. I got out and wanted to graduate, and by that time everyone at school was doing heroine. People were asking for more drugs so I started selling heroine to kids at school and dropped out again.
I used to disappear from my house for days on end, and my parents didn’t know what to do with me. They were at a loss. They would yell or threaten me, but it would happen all over again. They couldn’t control me so they let it go because they didn’t know what to do. They weren’t bad parents. They just didn’t know anything about drugs either. I went from 150 lbs to 90 lbs, and they were really concerned about me.
Me: Who were you when you were doing drugs?
Mary: I wanted the best most extreme high I could get ever since the day I started. I was all in. In my life I had never wanted to do anything to the best of my ability. It was hard for me to fully commit to something or be the best I could until I started doing drugs. Then I wanted to be the one that could do the biggest shot and blow the biggest cloud.
Me: What was your lowest point?
Mary: I had just started hanging out with a new boyfriend. We were in a shack downtown. There was one guy living in it. It had a dirt floor and a bathroom. I had been shooting up for a long time before I met him. By now I was nineteen or twenty-years-old. My boyfriend had used meth since he was twelve because his mom was an addict. He smoked it but hadn’t used any intravenous drug. I had recently gotten clean again, and then dropped out of college and was really skinny again- probably about 90 lbs. I was dehydrated and wanted to get high, but I didn’t have any veins.
I was frustrated but determined to get that high. My boyfriend looked at me and said, “I can’t watch you do this.”
I was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, which looked like it was in somebody’s shop because it was covered in dirt- and I was trying to shoot up. I had blood dripping from both arms because I could not hit a vein. I was frustrated but determined to get that high. My boyfriend looked at me and said, “I can’t watch you do this.” When a fellow drug addict is telling you something like that, that’s a sign. He left the bathroom. At this point I was physically in pain. I had poked myself like a pin cushion. I was mentally and physically craving a high. I looked in the mirror. It was dirty and cracked, but through it I saw myself. I looked like a skeleton covered in blood. I was so skinny my face was sunken in and my cheekbones were sticking out. I remember in that moment thinking, [Mary started to cry and then collected herself] “I wonder what my family is doing right now” and “I can’t believe this is my life”. I just felt despair. I can still feel the pain of looking at myself and being completely lost. But I just kept going. I thought, “I’m going to die like this. I’m going to die a junkie on someone’s couch. Selling drugs is all I will do with my life. I’m gonna do this as hard as I can until I die.” I was stealing and taking advantage of people, and this continued on until I got arrested a couple of years later.
Me: Tell me about that time. What changed?
Mary: A lot of really hard stuff took place between that and the time I got arrested. Once everyone I knew started getting arrested and going to prison, I started to realize I didn’t want that for my life. But I didn’t want to do it myself. I didn’t want to go home and withdraw on my own. In the meantime, a lot of federal agents knew who I was, and I was being followed. There was one in particular that really followed me. They would sometimes watch a girl and who she hangs out with. I was that girl. They had been to my house and talked to my dad so he knew my home life and knew I didn’t belong in that scene- not that anyone does. He would arrest me every so often and put me in jail for a misdemeanor. I would get out and go back to what I was doing before. He sticks out in my mind though. He told me to stop hanging around these dangerous people.
I was hanging out with a guy that was a drug dealer. He got arrested the day before I ended up getting arrested. Then his drug dealer got arrested. I had it coming to me. When I got arrested it was a super hot day in August. I was driving through town headed to a lady’s storage shed with her. I was proud of myself because I didn’t have any drugs on me. I had taken a step back. We were driving past a church when we got pulled over into the church parking lot. They wanted to search the car. I thought I wasn’t going to jail because I had nothing on me. The detective was a jerk to us, but I was talking back to him as well. He eventually pulled a backpack out of the car. Inside it he found drug paraphernalia and pills. It belonged to the lady driving the car. Her son was the one that got arrested the day before, and she started telling the detective it belonged to him.
He began to arrest me, and as he was fastening the handcuffs onto my hand, I looked up and saw a sign above the church that said something about “being free”.
I felt like I needed to defend her son because I felt a lot of responsibility for him so I said, “It’s my backpack.” Little did I know just all of the items they would find in it. At the time I didn’t care about the repercussions. He began to arrest me, and as he was fastening the handcuffs onto my hand, I looked up and saw a sign above the church that said something about “being free”. I remember that moment vividly. “This is it,” I thought, “I am never going back here again. No matter what. I’m changing my life.” I wasn’t spiritual at the time, but I felt like God was saying to me, “This is it. This is your time.”
So I went into jail, which was horrible. I stayed there from August until the week of my birthday near the end of October. I was relieved when I first got there. Then a day went by and I was coming down hard. I was on the phone with my dad every hour just begging him to get me out. I was cussing at him, and wanted him to end this cycle of despair. “I’m not bailing you out,” he said. He had never said that to me before. I had messed up a lot of big things, and he always fixed it, except for this time.
The judge ordered me to complete a class while I was in jail, and once I completed it, my dad bonded me out. I got out and surprisingly I did not go right back to drugs. I moved in with my dad right away. I didn’t have any friends or a community at the time so I leaned into my family big time. My dad and I would be up every morning at 6am and have coffee together. I was searching and reaching for anything I could grab onto. I did a devotional I did every day, and I didn’t know what it all meant, but I was just trying to get by. Awhile back, my mom had started volunteering at a Christ-centered transitional living center. Throughout my addiction, she was always asking me to join it; I would tell her I would, but then never show up. I was desperate for some life skills and structure. I didn’t know how to gain that myself. My court date was coming up, and I didn’t want to go to prison. In January of 2011, I started this program. That’s where I really started changing my life, and God took a hold of me, showing me so much about myself. This program protected me and helped me to form who I was, and more importantly, who I was in Jesus.
Me: What did your past teach you about life?
Mary: After coming out of that lifestyle, the biggest thing for me was knowing I needed to have something to rely on other than myself. I needed to know the tools in order to function in life. For example: pay bills, have normal relationships, be a part of a bible study, etc.
Me: Did you ever see yourself as a mom?
I had given up on the idea of being a mom.
Mary: [Her eyes lit up and a smile spread across her face as she excitedly answered] I did! Although I miscarried while using and felt like I didn’t deserve to be a mom anymore. I had given up on the idea of being a mom. I didn’t really feel worthy until I married my husband and had been healed from that situation. I’ve always wanted to be a mom.
Me: Do you feel worthy now?
Mary: I think for a long time I didn’t. My husband and I tried to get pregnant for about two years. When I finally did get pregnant, I thought, “Ok this is supposed to be. God has given me this child.” I’ve been redeemed and set free from that whole period in my life. Because I’d had a miscarriage and an abortion, I carried around a lot of guilt for that. During our time of infertility, I felt like I was punishing myself, and God was punishing me- which wasn’t true. When I finally was pregnant, I knew that was God’s will for me. I was going to be just what she needed as a mom, and she would be just what I would need as a daughter.
Me: I know you had a natural birth. Tell me about that.
I’m really proud of myself knowing I can overcome and persevere through pain and reach the end of it.
Mary: You know, it wasn’t as horrible as I thought. I’m thankful I did it. Would I do it again? [Mary laughed.] I don’t know. I went into it with an open mind. I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t use any drugs, but I also didn’t plan to have an epidural right when we walked through the door. My husband was praying over me the entire time I was in labor, and without that, I don’t think I would have made it through. It was an accomplishment. I felt good about myself, and we worked together as a team. My husband was there every step of the way. I’m really proud of myself knowing I can overcome and persevere through pain, and reach the end of it. It’s really rewarding.
Me: How has your story influenced you as a mom?
Mary: My past definitely influences me as a mom. I want to be really involved with her and truthful and honest with her about things, making sure she has a firm foundation and rooted with the Lord. I feel like that when you have that, and you have accountability around you, you are less inclined to waiver so drastically.
Me: What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?
Mary: [Mary thought for a second.] I love watching all the things she’s learning. She constantly learning. She’s a year old so I loved watching her learn to crawl, and pull herself up- she always looks at me and is so proud of herself and wants my approval. She knows I’m her mom and my husband is her dad. We’re the ones that take care of her and have given her a good life because we have sobriety. We are giving her a happy life. My husband and I both come from the same background. He knows the same things I know, and it’s not a barrier. God has changed us so drastically. I feel so removed from that life. It’s almost like it wasn’t me. My life is so different now that it seems like it was just a movie I watched.
Me: What words of wisdom can you pass on?
Mary: Don’t ever be afraid to reach out to someone or voice your concern or share about freedom in Jesus because you could be the one that plants that seed. If you don’t do that, that person could completely miss out. So many people did that for me.
You’re going to have to make big changes, and it’s going to be painful…
For a person that is in bondage- whether it’s drugs or whatever it may be, the biggest thing is that you do have to reach out and ask for help and humble yourself and know that the way you’re doing things isn’t right. You’re going to have to make big changes, and it’s going to be painful, but [Mary paused, and then the tears started to fall] if you would have asked me ten years ago what my life was going to be like I would have told you I’d be dead by the time I was twenty-five, and I’m just really thankful …. [she paused for a moment as tears streamed down her face] because nothing I have now would have been possible without God, and the people who spoke truth into my life and didn’t give up on me.
I think the world is a more beautiful place because of people like Mary that aren’t afraid to show their scars, ultimately revealing the glory of the one true Healer. Pain and tears are never wasted; they just turn into stories. Our scars don’t define us, but rather remind us that we survived- just not alone. Only The Creator can truly transform the filthiest of ashes in our lives into our own unique beauty.
“…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”