My name is Joan Vieldhouse. I am a grateful person in long term recovery from substance abuse as well as mental health challenges. When it comes to addiction, I really dislike it when someone says, “Just stop it!” or “that is just an excuse.” I also dislike hearing that addiction is not a disease. My addiction led me to become incarcerated for 4 years because of one drug sale, instead of getting treatment for my substance abuse disorder, they put you in a state prison and you don’t get treatment until you are ready to come home, and then you don’t have a home to come home to. This to me is unfair. However, it was a learning experience. It is so easy to label a person such as a “druggie,” “pathetic,” or “crazy.” The world at large is generally scared of being around someone who is struggling with a substance use disorder.
I hate the terms that label someone such as: “junkie,” “druggie.” I have been called “pathetic,” which really hurts. I never realized how big the stigma was that was placed on us, not to mention the fact that while everyone is telling us to be open minded and open to a new way of thinking, so many people are not open minded enough to even see that what we need is help and someone to help us advocate for ourselves.
As a single mother, I felt like I was under tremendous pressure to handle everything myself. I felt that the more I had drugs, the more I was able to get things accomplished. I didn’t realize the way that I was acting. Because of my addiction, I ended up losing custody of my two small daughters. They were 8 and 11 at the time. Once this happened, I really began going downhill very quickly.
My oldest brother used to tell me that I was a one-way street, headed in the wrong direction. A chain of events led me to become property of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. I was associated with a well-known outlaw motorcycle club, and this was within the community where I lived. I made a drug sale, my first offense, and the judge showed no leniency. I spent almost a year in Chester County Prison starting in 2009, in October of 2009 they sent me “up state” to SCI Muncy for what was supposed to be 13 months. I wrote a poem once with the words “from bikers and gangs, to handcuffs and chains.” People laugh at that, but that was my reality.
While I was in the county prison I enrolled myself in outpatient drug and alcohol treatment. I successfully completed an intensive outpatient program while there. When I got upstate it took months for me to get a spot in the inpatient program called “Journey to Freedom.”
I was almost finished with the program and ready to come home, when my world came crashing down. On May 16 of 2010, my Mother died. She was 84. In a prison setting you do not get grief counseling or grief support. They put me on medication. Fifteen days later, on May 28th, my Daddy died. This was just so hard for me to deal with. The program counselors, told me to “buck up,” everyone has problems at home. You are no different. When the Director of Programming suffered a family loss, his mother died, he took two weeks off of work. However, I was not allowed two days to grieve. As a result, I ended up having a break down.
In a way, I guess that if I would not have been in prison, I most definitely would have gone out and used drugs, just to try and mask the pain. I started acting out, and they discharged me from the program. Parole slapped me with a one-year violation/hit and I was not allowed to leave.
I finally left Muncy on April 9, 2012. For a girl from Lancaster County who had cows for neighbors, I was dropped off in North Philadelphia. Talk about shock! They gave me two tokens and told me to find my way. I knew that I wanted to do something to help other people and somehow be there to offer them support and be a listening board to others who were struggling with addiction and trying to maintain their sobriety. While on my journey I found an organization called PRO ACT. I began volunteering there as well as taking trainings. I am happy to say that within 10 months of coming home, I became a Certified Recovery Specialist. From there I went on to become a graduate of the PPLA (Philadelphia Peer Leadership Academy), a Certified Peer Specialist, a Forensic Peer Specialist, a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and now I am employed at JFK Behavioral Health Center at 112 North Broad St. Not too shabby for someone who was told that they would never change or never amount to anything. I am now classified as a Mental Health Worker. I have a corner office on Broad Street in Center City! It still amazes me to be able to unlock the door every morning and know that it is my little office. I am doing exactly what I wanted to do, and that is to help other people. I still volunteer for PRO ACT and instruct the Mental Health First Aid at their Recovery Center. I am 49 years old, and I am just learning to like me. I am learning that I can do so much more without the use of substances. It is so much easier to do the right thing, than to continue to do the wrong thing.
For the first time, I think I am finding me. I am good at what I do, and have earned the respect and support of some pretty amazing people. People that if you asked me if I knew them five or six years ago, I would have laughed at you. Now, it feels like an honor. It feels pretty awesome to know that I can call on these people when I need them, and they will be there.
They say, that we should take our mistakes and consider them a learning experience. I know, I for one certainly have. I also have the love and support of my family, mostly my oldest brother. I have my daughters back in my life, which I thought would never be possible. God is good, and my life is finally coming together without drugs controlling it.
Recovery is so possible, if you really want it and you put your all into it. I know that there are times when we all want to give up, but keep on keeping on as they say. I am living proof that there is an awesome life to live in recovery. Life can be so rewarding and fulfilling. I’m a person who lives these new life experiences, who would be better to say RECOVERY IS THE WORTHWHILE JOURNEY! KEEP HOPE ALIVE! As we share our experiences, hopes and strengths, we can show others what is possible.