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OPINION

Picking Up the Pieces: How I Help Women Rebuild Their Lives

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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This summer will mark the 17th anniversary of my involvement with Bethlehem House in Omaha, Nebraska. I discovered the home in 2006, when I was 36 years old and pregnant with my third child. Unlike most expecting mothers preparing joyfully with baby showers and loved ones, I was in jail and suffering from a severe addiction to crack/cocaine.

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A broken family had broken me – from the ages of 4-11, my mother and every person close to me abandoned me. I fled home when I was only 14, after years of helplessly watching my alcoholic father beat my stepmother and point guns at her head.

As a traumatized 14-year-old girl with no one to guide her, I spent years coping with drugs and alcohol. I gave birth to a son when I was 19, but because of multiple abusive and damaging relationships, I eventually gave him up and surrendered to what seemed to be the most comforting, stable thing in my life: drugs.

Feeling irreparably shattered and unloved, I assumed I was simply one of the unfortunates who got a bad lot in life – so why fight it? I began living like an animal: smothering my pain with a meth addiction, prostitution, and having no place to call home at night. Amidst this chaos, I gave birth to another son who gave me a brief glimmer of hope. That hope soon vanished as the only love I had left evaporated when my son died at just three months old.

In my anguish, I began heavily using crack/cocaine and ultimately landed in the Douglas County Jail at 36-years-old – pregnant once again. I never imagined how dramatically my life would change.

I had despaired of a “happy ending” until a Healthy Families Counselor assigned to me in jail connected me with a local maternity home called the “Women’s Care Center of the Heartland.” (Now known as Bethlehem House.)

The good women at Bethlehem House took a risk welcoming me as their first formerly incarcerated resident, yet from the beginning they showered me with compassion, love and an abundance of resources. Over time I became close friends with the Bethlehem House’s founder, Gina, who accompanied me to the hospital when my water broke shortly after arriving at the home. I’ll never forget watching in amazement as this woman I barely knew advocated for me and my baby, or that she was there by my side when my baby Katrina was born at 22 weeks. Gina was also there to cry with me during and after the ten bittersweet minutes I was able to hold my sweet baby before she died.

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Gina’s love and support were crucial in helping me turn my life around – despite my age, at heart I was still a broken little girl who had never truly been loved and who was healing in this newfound warmth. Feeling supported and believed in for the first time ever, I no longer felt compelled to drown my sorrows in drugs or give in to anger.

Instead, I attended the grief groups and utilized the recovery resources that Gina recommended. I worked with therapists and medical professionals to overcome my addictions, and I slowly let go of my anger and trauma in Bethlehem House’s peaceful, family-like community. I set personal and educational goals for myself and developed a sense of pride in achieving them. I learned how to live with integrity, and eventually learned to love myself again.

Most importantly, I discovered my why.

After earning a Human Services degree, I returned to Bethlehem House to help with its new Aftercare program, and to do case management for the residents. Many of the incoming women came from backgrounds resembling my own, and I realized that my suffering and transformation had powerfully equipped me to empathize with them, and to help them radically rebuild their lives.

Suddenly it all made sense. I knew God was using my past for great things and asking me to show the path forward to the countless broken women who came after me. And ever since, I’ve fought to be the best possible version of myself to fulfill this calling, and to show every resident what she is capable of. Nearly all the women here have been shocked to learn that I was once just like them. I myself can barely believe that I am now 17-years sober, an accomplished professional working two jobs, and a homeowner with dreams and goals that I am actively pursuing.

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The secret ingredient? Recognizing that though the journey is tough, there are people who will love and support you along the way. The first step is quite simply to believe in yourself. That’s what I tell each new woman entering our home and beginning her journey. I will believe in you until you believe in yourself – I will love you until you love yourself.

And the greatest joy of all is watching them slowly discover how immeasurably they are loved.

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