Getting a Second Chance on Life
When you walk into Karen’s two bedroom apartment in Stamford, the first thing you notice is how happy she is to be there. “This is a good place; it’s very secure,” said Karen. The second thing you notice is Julianna, her two-year-old daughter, with long, dark curly hair and a lot of energy. She is very verbal and eager to show off her small pile of books.
Karen and Julianna have been living in their apartment just over a year. They have made friends in the building and enjoy living close to downtown Stamford. “From where I was, to where I am now, I would have never guessed it. I would have never believed it was possible,” said Karen. “I have my own place, my own bills. It’s been a blessing to live here. Everything is getting better.”
What’s not obvious when you meet Karen and Julianna is the long journey they have taken to get to where they are – which is being together in a safe, stable, and healthy environment. Just two years earlier, Julianna had been placed through the state child protection agency, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), into foster care, and a judge had told Karen she needed to enter a drug detoxification program before she could get her back.
Rather than seeing her situation as one of loss and defeat, Karen saw it as a ray of hope and support. “After 27 years of using, I was done,” said Karen. “It wasn’t fun anymore. I had Julianna. I was done. I surrendered.”
Karen’s struggle with addiction first began with alcohol when she was in junior high school. Karen, who will soon turn 42, was born and raised in Fairfield, CT. Her mother was a school teacher and her father owned a shoe store.
“Dad was very ‘old school’ and hard on his kids. I rebelled,” she said. “I was very social and hung out with older kids who liked to party. I started to smoke marijuana. I loved the feeling of not feeling.” In high school she found cocaine. “We used to sneak into bars,” said Karen. “That is when I found cocaine. Every weekend I’d use alcohol and cocaine.”
After graduating from high school and realizing that college was no longer an option, she started to work. “Everything was drug-related,” she recalls. “I worked in bars and became addicted to the lifestyle. Doing cocaine and clubbing was the thing.” She soon landed a job working in retail and found a boyfriend. “I always had a boyfriend; I went from one boyfriend to the other. It was a fast lifestyle.”
In 1995, at age 28, Karen decided it was time to make a change and moved to California. “I got sick of everything. I thought I was going to turn a new leaf.” Her break from drugs lasted only seven months.
Over the next couple of years, she met her husband and got married. “He didn’t know that I was an addict. I’d use it at work,” she said. Her career then took off. “I was doing very well at my job; I made record sales, I landed huge clients and made a lot of money.” However, as a result of her chronic drug use, her marriage ultimately broke up. “I lost everything. I lost my job. I spent my 401(k) and my inheritance on attorney’s fees.”
In 2004, she decided it was time to get help. “I went into an extensive outpatient program. It cost $10, 000,” she said. “I did this for one-and-a- half years and couldn’t understand why everyone else’s life was getting better and not mine. It was because I was still using. I thought I could buy my way to recovery.”
In 2006, she was homeless and with a new boyfriend when she learned she was pregnant. “One day I called home. I told them I was pregnant and I wanted to come home. They said I could come home and take care of my mother who had been diagnosed with cancer.”
In 2007, she returned to Connecticut. “I left crystal meth behind. I was five months pregnant and became my mom’s primary care giver.” Four days later, Karen gave birth to Julianna.
It was then that Karen realized that she needed to surrender and put her life into someone else’s hands. She says that she was blessed with a “phenomenal” DCF worker who helped her get into the Liberation program, a nonprofit substance abuse program in Stamford. “People there really cared,” said Karen. “I spent my 40th birthday in rehab. It’s not what you aspire to when you are young, but it was reality. Life wasn’t how it was supposed to be.”
While in the program, she regained custody of Julianna but had nowhere to live. “Finding a home was really hard,” said Karen. Her DCF caseworker finally connected her to Family & Children’s Agency’s Supportive Housing for Families program in Bridgeport.
“Our goal is to keep children unified with their families by helping them secure safe, stable, and affordable housing,” said Yubany Cruz, a case manager for Family & Children’s Agency. “When Karen came in, we did an assessment, talked about her status in life, and her goals while in the program. In Karen’s case, those goals were to obtain housing, continue her substance abuse treatment, and keep her daughter.
“Since moving into her home, Karen’s life has stabilized, and she has remained drug free. “Karen and Julianna have made a lot of progress since I’ve know them,” said Yubany, who continues to visit Karen weekly. “Her case with DCF was closed shortly after she received housing. She continues to be compliant with her recovery program, she helps other women who are in recovery, and Julianna has blossomed into a very adorable little girl.”
“I have no regrets; it’s what’s got me to this point.” said Karen. I’ve learned how to live. I’ve learned how to be a mother and a friend. I’ve learned that I can live without drugs. I’ve been given a second chance on life.”