Terri: "I Don’t Have to Hide Anymore"

Holidays 2009

From my earliest memories, my life was full of pain and mistrust. I had been raped by a relative when I was 4 years old, and then sexually abused by that person until I was 14. Babysitters sexually abused me, too.

I hung on to all of that. I never told anybody my secrets.

I started using drugs at age 13. They numbed everything and helped me keep the anger in control.

About that same time – seventh grade – my mother put us in a Christian school. But with the secret drug use and my secret pain, I just never felt like I fit in. By the end of my sophomore year of high school, I dropped out.

God was always part of my life, somewhere. I grew up in a fire-and-brimstone church, where the idea seemed to be to scare people into going to heaven. Then, when I was 18, I had a boyfriend who was involved in a church youth group, so I started going, too. Soon I was on fire for Jesus. But it didn’t last. My boyfriend eventually started using drugs, and I just lost all enthusiasm for my faith. I said, “What’s the use?”

After that, I stayed away from church for quite a few years … and quietly stayed close to drugs and alcohol. Throughout a marriage that finally failed in 1996, I had a home and a good job, I was a wife and a mother … but I also was a functioning drug addict. When my marriage ended, the addictions began to spiral me downward.

Over the next 10 years I would lose control of my life. Every time I drank, I would have blackouts. I’d find myself at home, but I would have no memory of getting there. Two years ago, I kicked out my son, Michael, when he was 17. Once that happened, I lost my home, I lost my car … I lost who I was. I had a great job, but I was using cocaine on the job. I ended up getting fired. I moved out to Colorado, and promptly got hooked on crystal meth.

I still don’t necessarily think of that fire-and-brimstone church experience of my childhood as a great thing. But you know, as bad as it sounds, that connection with the church is what saved me from death – the fear that if I did die that I was going to go to hell. I used to be afraid to go to sleep. I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up.

Desperate, I moved back to Rockford to live with my mother, who was trying hard to rescue me. But when she realized I was using drugs in her home, she said I had to leave. Before I did, she suggested that I consider Rockford Rescue Mission. Well, I thought that was just homeless people sleeping on cots, and I wasn’t ready for that. Pride was holding me back.

It didn’t hold me back for long, though, because I was out of options. Over the next two days, I drove around the Mission a few times, then finally got up the courage to come in and fill out an application. On May 19, 2008, I was accepted into the program.

There was this small ray of hope that I could learn to love my children and be a mom. The staff at the Mission told me I could re-establish my life if I’d stick with the program.

In the Mission’s Genesis Process, I was able to expose all of my false beliefs and the lies we tell ourselves: “You’re no good.” It was the insanity of all the garbage I was carrying around. I didn’t know how to manage my life. Through the program and the classes, I started discovering who Terri was. The women’s staff at the Mission has been wonderful. They listen to stories like mine, and they help us heal. They honor us with their trust. It’s such a godly commitment they have.

And I realized that Christ truly loves me for who I am. For a while I had trouble trusting God – believing He could truly help me after I’ve come and gone and come and gone. I couldn’t look at God as a father figure for a while, because of the bad experiences I’ve had with men. He’s basically a friend. That’s how I view God today: my best friend.

My pastors, Bruce and Robin Pfadenhauer at Journey Church, have been wonderful, too. I’ve never felt them pass judgment on me. They welcomed me and encouraged me and offered me hope. They have blessed me abundantly.

Through counseling and especially prayer, I have been delivered from alcohol and drugs. I’m praying to be delivered from nicotine soon, too. There are still a lot of past issues, a lot of blame and shame. But things are better with my family. We are working on regaining trust. They like this Terri a lot better than the Terri they used to know.

As of Oct. 20, I’m 16 months clean. In July I moved out of the Mission and into a transitional apartment. Now my oldest son can come over and we can have dinner together. Before, it was Michael taking care of Mom. Now I’m back to Mom taking care of her son.

My younger son, Chandler, lives out of state with his father. I’m looking forward to rebuilding that relationship, also.

My story is here for someone out there. There is hope for a better future. You don’t have to hide any more. There are people who are still going to love you. Drugs and alcohol don’t define who we are. Let people know your story and who you are.

Today I work at Pierce Distribution in Belvidere. We ship Hummer parts to the military, and I take time to pray over each shipment. I’ve gotten to know a few of the women at work, and sometimes they’ll ask me to pray for them. And I’m like, “Thank you, God.”

Sure, I have some struggles, but I’m fighting forward and I don’t ever want to go back. I have worked very hard. I feel productive and healthy. I can look in the mirror and like who I see.

-- as told to Jim Killam