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Hope after heroin part II

Gwyn Brady outside of the Grace Centers of Hope in Pontiac, where she is recovering from heroin addiction. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
July 16, 2014 - (Editor's Note: This is the conclusion of a 2-part story. See part one online at thecitizenonline.com.)

Gwyn Brady never tried to be a "friend" and drag anyone into the heroin addiction she has battled now for half of her life. As she puts it, she didn't want anyone along on her journey through hell. On that journey, she said she was fortunate to have never sold herself, but she stole ADD medication from a friend's child to sell and she stole perfume, baby formula and more from stores and sold the items to gas stations to support her habit.

Before her mother died four years ago, Brady entered a methadone clinic and had moments of trying to get clean using 30-day programs, but after her mother's death, she used the life insurance money "to basically not wake up."

"It was my mission to not be here anymore," she said. "This was not who I was supposed to be. What happened to me? I just felt this overwhelming hopelessness. Not having hope is the worst feeling. Why didn't I get it when I was this age? I'm intelligent, why can't I stay sober? You really do hate yourself."

Last August, Brady was working as a customer service agent and also using cover up on the needle track marks in her arms and injecting herself in her feet and legs, working hard to hide her dirty secret— that she was sick, addicted to heroin. Everyday she went to get the drug, driving a car on which she had an illegal license plate. On Aug. 14 her secret was uncovered with her arrest in Hazel Park for illegal plates and possession of heroin.

"It was a full-time job keeping the secret— it's so much work, it's exhausting," said Brady. "You hate yourself, but it's a cycle."

Getting arrested may have saved her life. In jail, she met girls who had overdosed three or four times. Brady doesn't know why that wasn't her story, but thinks maybe she was saved to someday meet someone like herself and prevent her from going down the same road. Jail, she felt, was an intervention by God. She had 41 days to think about what she was going to do with her life. A friend told her about Grace Centers of Hope and Brady asked to be put on the waiting list.

Dr. Pam Clark, the women's program director at Grace Centers of Hope, said there are about 50 women and 20 children in the 1-year addiction recovery program (the men's program has 100 participants). Last year, 7,739 women and children were turned away for lack of space, indicating the need for such a program. When Clark became the program director 27 years ago, the majority of participants were inner city women addicted to crack. Now the majority are suburbanites addicted to heroin, all of whom she said have overdosed at least one time, and many of whom have overdosed multiple times.

"It is a difficult problem to deal with— it requires in-depth recovery to change and you can't do it by yourself," said Clark. "I lost a couple girls this week, they wanted to use. One of the girls, her baby's daddy came and she wanted to try it (sobriety) on her own and I am thinking they are using again. Once they leave, they have to stay out for a month. The pain of using has to get worse than the pain of recovering."

When Brady was in jail, her attorney told her she would get two years of probation. She told him she wouldn't complete it, she'd be dead first. She knew that without a place to go to get sober after leaving jail, she would be using heroin again. She had tried the 30-day rehab programs to no avail. She needed a long-term in-house program like the one at GCH, and by the grace of God, she said her case was postponed just long enough to get her the opening in the recovery program she desired and she walked into GCH the day she was released from jail, "happy as hell."

"I was like, 'I'm going to get somewhere in life,'" said Brady. "Thirty day treatments don't work, they don't fix your brain. Here, you're given a year off your life to figure out why you were created and what to do with your life."

GCH, she continued, offers not only a 1-year in-house program with a safe environment and classes, but an after-care program in which participants are offered housing, and held accountable with drug screens, meetings with counselors, sober neighbors, and a safe environment for two years.

Right now, she is nine months into the program which Clark said is hard work. Every class deals with why each person is on an addiction cycle, asking the difficult questions such as—Who violated you? Who raped you? How did you get low self-esteem?

"Their job is to figure out why they used and what they are going to do different," said Clark. "A lot of their parents were addicted themselves. They were taught what they saw. If you see a parent get drunk every night, there is a problem... The cycle repeats itself. I've seen quite a few who didn't have guidance or nourishing from their moms, so they didn't know how to do that for their children."

Currently, GCH has two women who will give birth while in the recovery program. The oldest child staying at GCH is 14. Mothers in the program take parenting classes, and all women are offered nutrition classes and other life skills classes as well.

If a participant makes it three or four months in the program, their chance of successfully completing the program is 85-87 percent, Clark said.

"A lot of times they just want rest," she added. "It's hard to pursue your drug and do what you have to do to get it and chase that demon."

She attributes the success of the program to it being faith-based, but the religious aspect also means there is no federal funding for GCH. Instead, it is funded solely through private donations.

"GCH is a wonderful place, it's amazing what is happening here," Clark said. "I have the best job in the world, I get to see their lives change from the inside out."

Gwyn Brady is one of the lives in which Clark is witnessing change.

"It was not a problem for me getting sober, the problem was maintaining it," said Brady. "Now I have hope. I've forgiven myself and my parents. I am accountable. It's so horrible when you think of the past and mistakes, but living in the past— what can I do about it? I can't go back."

Brady is childless and plans to remain that way.

"A couple times I was sober and had miscarriages and I thought a baby would keep me sober, or this job or that man would keep me sober and make it OK. But the fixing starts within."

Brady said she has found the direction now she wants to take in her life— attending community college with the goal of becoming a drug counselor and helping others like herself. She landed a job in one of the GCH thrift stores recently and she eventually wants to work in the women and children's center as GCH expands. She hopes to one day get married and travel and speak about how drug use can be stopped. She wants to tell kids how that first decision to use heroin will alter their brain chemistry and change their path and who they will be. The moment of pain they may be looking to numb won't last, and overcoming that pain— without drugs— is necessary for growth.

"You will survive the pain, but you may not survive that one time you use heroin," she said. "All that pain I was avoiding, I had to go through it anyway. I had to face the pain with the counselor and I'm here, I'm OK. If I'm struggling, just wait, it will change, it will pass... When you come out the other side, there is the feeling of victory. You're not numb, but happy, fed, in the middle."

For more information on Grace Centers of Hope, visit

www.gracecentersofhope.org. The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides drug prevention information at www.drugabuse.gov.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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