Reckoning with addiction: Loss spurs Jacena’s recovery

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By John Inscore Essick

“I have literally crawled from the depths of hell back up,” Jacena said.  Her climb out of the “madness” was full of unrealistic expectations, setbacks, frustrations and painful losses. There were a few moments of clarity in the madness, though, when Jacena caught glimpses of just how broken she was.  

At one point, she realized she was simply unable to do all the things that being a mother required, so she worked it out for her son to stay with his grandmother for a while. Families and close friends of addicts often end up covering many of the responsibilities addicts leave unattended.  

Jacena’s moments of clarity were few and short-lived.  Most of the time, she said, “it literally feels like there is a demon on your back…whispering ‘Go get more’.”

The first time Jacena sought help she did so at the urging of her mother. At a particularly low point, she remembers her mother saying:  “You need to do something with yourself!”  Jacena agreed to enter a church-based rehabilitation facility in Cincinnati. The program required participants to “pray for hours on end.” She left after three days. Looking back, she is not sure whether her decision to leave so soon had more to do with her or the program itself.

She moved in with her parents after leaving Cincinnati.  Her dad had planted a large garden, and he thought maybe the daily routine of gardening could be a form of rehab for Jacena. For a while it helped.  

“That [gardening] kept me sober for three months,” she said.  The demons would not be kept at bay, however, and eventually she had to move out because she began to use again.

She found more permanent housing, but that did not slow the downward spiral. Addicts move around a lot but they still find each other, and the fact that she had a working vehicle and a place to live meant that other addicts gravitated to her.  

What non-addicts take for granted (i.e., having a working vehicle and a private residence) can be a serious liability for an addict. All this conspired to make it even more difficult to get away from it all.

Unfortunately, it took the death of two people she loved for Jacena’s climb out of addiction to gain real traction. In March 2016, her boyfriend, who was also an addict, died of a drug-related suicide. Then, a couple months later, her father died unexpectedly.

Sometimes one deep pain dislodges another, and in these deaths, addiction began to lose its grip on Jacena. She desperately wanted to be present and participate in her father’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery, but her mother would only allow it if Jacena was sober. She realized that if she didn’t get help, she, too, was going to end up dead. She thought of her son.

With the help of her sister — and an internet search for treatment programs — Jacena found out about The Healing Place, a free residential drug addiction treatment center in Louisville.  She checked herself in. It came to feel like “home.” For the next six months, she was surrounded by women with similar stories, needs and hopes.  

The program was strict and rigorous. Each day was scheduled and full. Jacena was up at 5:30 a.m. to complete chores, cook, attend Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and go to work before returning each night. 

Because of The Healing Place, she said, “I’m holding a job, I’m taking care of [my son], I’m functioning like a normal person. And it’s all because I’ve thoroughly worked the 12 steps of AA. I have come to terms with everything I have done. I have come to terms with everything that was done to me.”  

Jacena is back. She chooses not to live in Henry County because there are still too many triggers and dangers lurking here, a reminder that Jacena didn’t fall into addiction by herself. 

But neither did she scratch and claw her way out of addiction by herself.  Jacena was always surrounded by community, even if she couldn’t see it. It was community that invited her to the humanizing work of gardening.  It was community that offered her a dignified role in her father’s funeral. It was community that offered a free place to detox and get her life in order.  It was community that helped Jacena reckon with her addiction.


Rev. Dr. John Inscore Essick is co-pastor of Port Royal Baptist Church and associate professor of Church History at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Georgetown. Feedback is welcomed by e-mailing hopeinhenry@gmail.com. He also welcomes conversation with those willing to share their stories.