LaNisha’s story starts with trauma. When she was just two years old, her father was murdered; later her mother whom for years suffered from addiction to substances was incarcerated. Once moved to live with her grandparents and younger sibling, she was again faced with continued violence, drug abuse, neglect, and gambling on her grandparents’ side, followed by repeatedly being molested by a family member. Living in such an unsafe environment caused LaNisha’s spirit to sink and feel despair.
LaNisha grew up fast and learned to escape the home whenever possible to avoid chaos and when she could not, she assumed a “caretaker role” in order to protect her little brother.
At school, she became the “class clown” and started to hang out with the “cool kids.” She began to cultivate a life on the streets with much older kids that led her to destructive behaviors. At age 12, she began driving to the grocery and liquor stores for her grandparents. At age 13, she got a job to have some money to escape. Without parental supervision LaNisha started to use marijuana when she was 14 and found she liked how it made her feel.
Every now and then, there were some glimmers of hope, rays of promise. She became a devoted percussionist in the school marching band, symphony and jazz ensemble. In addition, she played a skilled game of basketball on the school team. Being there after school meant she did not have to face what was going on at home. But that all ended when she could no longer maintain the physical demands required as a member of her school basketball team without coughing, so she gave up her basketball and shrugged it off.
Then, her mother was released from prison and did not return home. “All I could think was, why did mom not come for me and my brother? I was so angry with her. The pain was unbearable. Eventually, mom got married and moved to another town, which then added another level of frustration and feelings of abandonment.”
Remarkably, through it all, she graduated high school and applied for college. She was accepted by Texas Southern University. With no guidance, she headed to Houston. It felt like freedom and party time again. She began to try the full array of street drugs and within six months her use of drugs was at full throttle. She quickly spiraled downhill, began lying to her family and asking for money beyond her student loans to support her new habits.
In time, she moved in with eight friends, focused only on getting money, by any means necessary, to fuel her addiction. They were quickly evicted. LaNisha says, “Then it was beyond manageability. I started committing crimes and selling drugs to eat. All my focus was on feeding my drug habit. The next seven years, my addiction took over and destroyed my life.”
In 2009, her grandmother passed away and she was once again in such a haze that it was hard to find the compassion for the one person who had provided a place for her to live. She felt alone and defeated. She spiraled into a deep depression with thoughts of suicide and psychosis brought on by heavy drug use.
During this time, LaNisha was unaware that her mother had been participating in a 12-step recovery program. Subconsciously, her mother was paving the way for her daughter to follow her path. After realizing the deep trouble that her daughter was in, her mother stepped in and arranged for a mental health assessment to be performed for LaNisha.
The recommendation was traditional rehab. She knew that LaNisha would need more than just 60 days of treatment. While attending a rally, her mother heard Amelia Murphy, Director of Recovery Support Services at SMH, speak on the importance and benefits of building a recovery community. She knew she wanted that for her daughter, so they sought help and waited for a bed to become available. Santa Maria was exactly where LaNisha needed to be.
Comforted and welcomed at Santa Maria, LaNisha was hopeful. She entered feeling afraid but with a new-found feeling of optimism and an even stronger feeling of relief. There was no limitation of what she was willing to try. Without this help, only death loomed before her.
She quickly began to feel a sense of integrity, accomplishment, and healing. She assembled her “village” that included her counselor, her sponsor, her coach, her director, her therapist, and others from the SMH staff. “The old saying, it takes a village, was true for me, and each individual had something I wanted. I learned to uncover, discover and recover.”
Soon LaNisha moved into transitional housing and went back to college. Here she felt inspired to do more, and with much encouragement from recovery coaches, LaNisha moved towards becoming a Peer Recovery Coach where she could now pave a way for others, as her mom did for her.
As LaNisha transformed and found she was now a woman of her word with much love to offer, she knew what she had to do. She understood she had a calling to serve as a coach to the many women at SMH who were going through the very thing that brought her darkness into light. LaNisha knew she could be funny, charismatic, motivating and most importantly felt confident as a contributing woman to society. She learned to steer clear of people who were not determined to change destructive patterns and instead surrounded herself with likeminded influencers. She recalls, “Treatment in itself could be a stagnant stale process, but my peer SMH coaches included love, encouragement, and support groups to make this the formula for the success of this program. The women and staff at SMH are amazing and I am forever grateful to journey with them.”
Upon reflection, she believes the turning point was a profound lesson on boundaries and establishing her own identity. “I found a new outlook on life and shaped my own path to recovery.”
Today, LaNisha continues to serve and lead as a coach at Jacquelyn House. Her testimony serves as an inspiration for all women to RISE UP.