Former addict dedicates life to helping people
S ociety sometimes views the life of an addict as a lost cause, but with the help of dedicated family members and intensive rehabilitation, individuals once caught in the grasp of addiction can turn their lives around and help other addicts do the same.
Rachel Johnson’s road to recovery began at the start of 2014 during the lowest point in her life. Just one day away from eviction, she had no one left willing to support her after burning the bridges between herself and anyone close to her.
At the age of 19, she began recreationally taking prescription pills, and eventually moved on to stronger illicit drugs like methamphetamine. The sudden loss of her father acted as the catalyst for her downward spiral. Unable to find productive coping mechanisms, she turned to a life of addiction.
“I reached the point where I was so battered and broken that I just wanted to die every single day. I knew what I was doing was wrong and I wanted to make a change, but I knew I could never do it on my own,” she said.
In a cry for help, she posted her desire to get clean on Facebook and a parole officer just happened to see the post. Not long after reading it, the officer was at the door of her hotel room ready to help Johnson set her life back on the right path.
Johnson arrived at the courthouse and found herself sentenced to a court- ordered rehabilitation program.
“I was a little defiant at first. I told Judge ( Ralph) Ohm I would only go to rehab if my dogs were taken care of and he was kind enough to find foster homes for them,” she said.
After spending five days in the Garland County Detention Center, she enrolled in Shalom Recovery Center for men and women and began her journey to a better life as a productive member of society. Over the next six months, she wholeheartedly dedicated her life to getting clean and surrendered her struggles to Christ.
“I was very rebellious at first and kept breaking some of the smaller rules. After I got that all out of my system, I just let go and opened my heart and gave everything to God,” she said.
“I put my all into finding coping skills and speaking to counselors about how to deal with the emotional burden of my father’s death. That grief and inability to find a productive method to deal with my feelings led me back to drugs every time.”
Once she completed the initial 30- day “blackout” period, she received assistance finding employment and began paying toward her program fees. Shalom requires each client to take responsibility for their lives in a way that builds a foundation for their lives once they have left the program.
During that time, she completed a 12- step program, attended meetings and classes that helped her develop positive coping mechanisms, obtained gainful employment, attended church on a regular basis and processed the lingering grief associated with her father’s death.
She said the sense of responsibility and accountability she received after getting her first job while enrolled in the program was instrumental in her recovery process. For the first time, she felt wanted. Having to maintain accountability to the court and the program also helped keep her faithful to her recovery process.
Six months later, she graduated from the program and immediately began giving back to the program that she believes saved her life. Today, she works at Shalom as the assistant program director and a counselor in training.
The last step of the 12- step program uti- lized by Shalom is an act of service. Before she entered the program, the thought of turning around after graduating and working for Shalom had already crossed her mind.
“I knew going into this that I wanted to help. Shalom was a new program at the time, and I knew eventually they would need staff members to help,” she said.
“It’s cool to be on the other side of the program. While I was going through it, I felt as though God wanted me to help people who found themselves in a similar situation what mine once was. I had nobody when I came to Shalom, so I wanted to be somebody for the women that would come to Shalom after I had completed the program,” she said.
Her duties include one-on-one interaction with all the female clients enrolled in the program. She assists in any capacity needed from shuttling clients to and from work, acting as a court liaison and even serving as a confidant to women struggling with changing their lives for the better.
Johnson’s input is a vital part of the various adjustments to the program which constantly improve it and the success rate of its graduates. Her unique insight on the interworkings from an addict’s perspective led to the program’s extension and allowed her to connect and mentor clients in a way no one else can.
“Getting a second chance at a productive life means so much to me. I have feelings of accomplishment and of being wanted and needed,” she said.
“Every day on my way to work I drive by the hotel I stayed in before coming to Shalom. It is a stark reminder of a life I never want to live again.”
Although she has completed the program, her efforts to maintain a lifestyle of recovery happen daily. She avoids reconnecting with individuals she used to call friends and finds inspiration to stay on a righteous path on a daily basis. She said that recovery is not
a milestone you reach and just move on from, but a daily effort to not return to old habits that once consumed her life.
“Seeing these broken women come in with this lifeless look on their faces and then helping to build them back up to productive members of society keeps me motivated. I never want to see myself in that place again, because when I came to Shalom that was me,” she said.
“I have the honor of getting to help people turn their lives around after turning my own around. If I can make a difference in a client’s life while they are here, then I know I’m fulfilling the calling God has placed on my life and that’s more than enough for me,” she said.
rachel Johnson and Shalom executive Director, ben Wiles