In the last article of this three-part series, we are sharing an inspirational story about a young woman in her battle with addiction. Her story, shared with her permission, includes tragedy that would be insurmountable for many. It is a poignant lesson in perseverance and hope, but more than anything, it demonstrates the power of community in changing and ultimately saving lives.
Some names have been changed for privacy.
Tesha was an intelligent and beautiful girl, full of life’s potential. She grew up beside a neighbor whom she trusted and considered a mentor.
However, when she was about 12 years of age, a time when her youth was still occupied by innocence and a developing mind, the neighbor began introducing progressively more dangerous drugs to Tesha. By the time she was 18, Tesha was surrounded by people who had access to heroin and other harmful mind-altering substances.
What began with simple, childish curiosity quickly led to an addiction that she could not escape.
“I fell in love with the exciting ritual of finding, copping, preparing, and injecting dope. I compared the feeling of injecting heroin to an instant heaven. Sadly, the feeling only lasted for a short time, and I wanted more, instantly. If I did not find more or have the money to get more, I would be so sick that I almost could not function.” Tesha knew she needed help, so she voluntarily sought treatment. A doctor prescribed medications designed to treat opioid addiction. Regrettably, with her prescriptions, she was not offered the necessary resources to complement the treatment and aid her recovery; no provision was made to address her mental health or her need for community support, both of which later proved to be incredibly essential. Still seeking “the high” and surrounded by the people, places, and things that perpetuated her addiction, she did not use the medications as prescribed but altered the formulations, dangerously strengthening its effects, while continuing to use heroin.
Although she didn’t have the tools she needed to escape the vicious cycle, Tesha knew she was hurting herself and quickly spiraling toward what she now refers to as “rock bottom.” In the hope of ending her addiction without much support, she instead turned to alcohol.
“I was drinking alcohol all day long on most days, trying to compensate for the lack of buprenorphine in my system,” Tesha reports. She was drinking so often that she even began storing alcohol in her car, so she always had some with her. “I was driving with my 4-year-old daughter, Shay, in the car with me while I was in this inebriated state on a regular basis.” At this pivotal point in Tesha’s story, she and her loved ones were faced with life or death.
One evening, Tesha ended up at a bar in Chambersburg with her cousin, Kellie. While enjoying what was supposed to be just “a few drinks at the bar,” Tesha’s daughter was across the street with Kellie’s friend and her children.
“I do not remember leaving the bar, nor do I remember getting in my vehicle, or having the accident, or flying to Hershey in the medivac.” Tesha woke up to a nurse looking over her; she didn’t understand why she could not move and was strapped to a hospital bed along with IVs and a catheter. As she tried to turn her head, her eyes widened with panic when she realized she was in a neck brace. The nurse said to her, “You might be paralyzed from the neck down and you have a lacerated liver. You had a bad car accident.” Tesha immediately thought about her daughter.
She knew Shay had been with her earlier that evening, so she asked, “Where is my daughter?” The nurses replied, “She’s on the fifth floor in the ICU, she has blood on her brain, broke both legs, and fractured her eye socket.
They aren't sure if she’s going to live.” Instant panic and remorse hit Tesha like a ton of bricks.
She began to pray, “Please, God, let her live!” She was pleading with God to save her daughter’s life and allow her to recover.
Then, on the other side of the curtain, she heard moaning. She asked the nurse, “Is that person okay? What happened to them?” The nurse replied, “That is your cousin, Kellie. She was with you in the accident. She broke her leg and wrist. She’s in a lot of pain.” Tesha had absolutely no recollection of having Kellie with her.
Tesha assumed they were at the nearby Chambersburg hospital until she was on the phone with her then-boyfriend who told her it would take him a while to get there because she was actually at Hershey Medical Center, over an hour away.
Tesha began to put the pieces together in her mind of what happened that night, and her thoughts zeroed in on her daughter.
As soon as Tesha was able to get out of the hospital bed and walk around, she went directly to the fifth floor to check on Shay. “Thank God, she was awake and as chipper as could be. She was doing really well considering the injuries that she had sustained. People were there to visit her and had taken her toys to play with to keep her entertained.” Four days after being admitted, Shay was finally stable enough to go home. Tesha was advised by her medical team not to leave with her daughter because she was being monitored, both for her lacerated liver as well as concern she was an “unfit parent” due to the accident.
After her liver had more time to heal, they had planned to send Tesha directly to the inpatient rehab. Tesha was conflicted: she knew she needed help, but more than anything, she wanted to be with her daughter. Against medical advice, she discharged herself from the hospital to be with Shay.
They went to Tesha’s mother’s house, who had temporary physical custody of Shay until Tesha could prove herself to authorities to be fit as a parent. Three days later, Tesha checked herself into a comprehensive drug & alcohol addiction treatment rehab and treatment center.
She had to fight to stay there due to a lack of health insurance and the high costs for the treatment, but thankfully, she was able to receive financial aid through Franklin County Drug and Alcohol until her new insurance kicked in.
After twenty-one days in rehab, Tesha was nervous about going home, afraid of how difficult it would be when faced with her old triggers, but she desperately wanted to see her baby. By this time, Shay’s casts had been removed. “Her walking was still a little wobbly but she was doing great.” Unfortunately, this was not the end of her nightmare, and Tesha’s fears of leaving rehab were realized. She experienced relapse shortly after returning home. A psychiatrist prescribed Klonopin to treat her anxiety, again with little to no other support. Tesha took the medication in excess as a desperate attempt to numb the extraordinary and incessant emotional pain she was feeling. There is much she cannot remember from that time. After seeing what was happening, her sponsor planned to confiscate the Klonopin, but when she arrived at the house, Tesha had already downed the entire bottle.
The following day, Tesha’s sponsor took her to Front Royal, Va., to attend the Almost Heaven Narcotics Anonymous recovery convention. During the convention, participants were asked to raise their hands during a countdown to indicate how many days they had been in remission. When they got to “one day,” Tesha raised her hand. She was humbled but also encouraged. She was surrounded by a community of people, of all ages and backgrounds, who had been through many of the same experiences and were working through similar battles.
Though everyone had their own unique story, and everyone was at a different place in their recovery journey, they were all there together, all wanting one thing—not just to live, but to live a joyful and meaningful life. And they were all worthy of that. This community represented a beacon of hope that recovery is possible, hope for which Tesha is eternally grateful.
Since that day, August 4, 2011, Tesha has been drug-free. Tesha now enjoys a successful career and a vibrant and loving family with three children of her own and four stepchildren.
It is important to understand that the work does not end here for those like Tesha.
She is fighting a lifelong battle for which she draws upon an incredible amount of internal strength and determination. She finds refuge in both spirituality and a supportive community of those who genuinely care for her and who share similar values and life aspirations.
“Today I am so very grateful for the divine intervention that took place in my life and led me to the path of recovery that I remain traveling on today. I find true joy in healthy activities and healthy people.
I cherish my relationship with my children. If there is one person that I can trust today, it is myself, knowing that I will not pick up a drink or drug, no matter what! I am able to be empathetic with others who suffer as I did and make the best of what is going on around me regardless if it is a painful situation or a joyful one.”
By Marybeth Shenberger, Public Health Analyst
First printed in the Fulton County News January 21, 2021