“My dad was homeless, and my mom was a nurse. She wouldn’t let him see us unless he was sober. He would get it together for his visit, then return to his life. He died while he was on the streets. These ‘life goes on’ and heartbeat tattoos are for him.
My mom was always working at the hospital, so my sister and I were often home alone. My sister was eight years older and became part of a bad crowd that did drugs. I hated my sister’s friends and watching drugs ruin her life. She had a son, and soon after that, she went to prison for seven years. Her son’s dad was also in prison. I dropped out of high school to care for my nephew so he wouldn’t go to foster care. My mom didn’t have time to care for him because she was working hard to support us.
I was judgmental of my sister until I did the same thing. I got pregnant at 15 and miscarried; my nephew got cancer right after that. There was so much pain. My boyfriend was cheating on me and using drugs with the other girl. I tried meth to see what it was like — I went into a happy, bubbly mood and felt like no one could touch me. I was also awake for a week, but the high was temporary, and those good feelings were a lie. Coming down was the darkest moment I’ve ever experienced.
I started using meth on the weekends; then I used it to avoid feeling mad or sad. I would get high, clean the house, and write poetry. Eventually, I was shooting meth and selling it. I had three kids, but DHR gave them to my mom. I quit using drugs for a while to get them back. That didn’t last, and I signed my custody rights over to my mom. I have been clean for a year. I am going to AA meetings and attending a church with a strong recovery program. I have my kids again. My friends are either in rehab or dead. Fentanyl killed my brother, my best friend, and five other close friends. It could have killed me, too.
The gun tattoo on my arm reminds me of the life I left behind. I faced that gun several times while I was on the streets. My kids helped me turn my life around. My sister is also in a better place, but a different cancer recently appeared in my nephew’s brain. He passed away in June wrapped in love. He was only 17.
I was into art when I was a little girl, but I stopped painting after my dad died. A good friend is an artist, and I started going to his house to paint when I got upset. Two months ago, I was inspired to paint again. My niece wants an angel with little kids praying, so this painting is for her. It feels so good to sit here, paint, and watch my kids play and be happy.
One of my early paintings is called ‘Lifeguard’. It shows one hand reaching down and pulling another out of the water. We may feel like we are drowning in the deep end because of what we have done, and no one cares enough to save us. But Jesus finds us where we are, reaching his hand out to save us. When you are using, it takes just one person believing in you and saying they love you. One person reminding you of what you are good at. My mom got me through that. Now I want to be that hand reaching out to other users.
I learned to never give up and to never leave anyone behind.”