Passion Keeps Me Going: Brenna’s Story

Even in the depths of a heroin addiction, Brenna knew she wanted to do hair. Family, faith, and the opportunity to pursue this passion have made her heart come alive and helped her discover purpose and wellness.

Even at the pinnacle of my addiction, when I was living homeless and fully addicted to heroin, I still wanted to do hair.  I would tell people in the drug houses where I spent time, and whenever I was following a music tour, wherever I was, “I’m gonna be a hairdresser.”

When you do someone’s hair, the moment when they see themselves, and see their beauty, is so wonderful. There’s also this part of hairstyling where you get to have a relationship with your client. I just love that I have these clients that got their hair done by me for their first date with their boyfriend, and then I’m doing hair for their wedding, and now I’m cutting their child’s hair.

My name is Brenna David. I am a career cosmetologist from a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, and am twelve years clean from an addiction to heroin and other drugs.

Need for Love

Growing up, my family was life was actually really good. My mom was a nurse and my stepdad was the deputy chief of police. But, from a young age, I was always kind of fascinated with the party life. I started sneaking drinks and cigarettes when I was really young. I smoked pot first when I was 11.  And it just progressed really quickly. I did cocaine when I was 13, and in 10th grade I ran away from home, to follow bands traveling across the country on music tours. I first shot up heroin when I was 16 years old. And I got to a stage where I was getting high using needles up to six times a day for three years.

I did what I could to numb and feel okay: cocaine, opiates, pills, and heroin. Looking back, I had a real need for love, for an unconditional love, that I would’ve done whatever anybody wanted me to do just to get that need met. And all of that came from not knowing who I am.

Wake-up Call

At my lowest point, there were times when I would purposefully wake up in the middle of the night because I needed to shoot up just so that I didn’t throw up in the morning. One of the turning points in my addiction came when I was on tour with a band.  I was dating this guy and we went to a concert and we got high all night. We were staying at a hotel and did the same amount of drugs. I woke up in a haze the next morning, and he had fatally overdosed in the bed. I overdosed as well, but not as badly, and I was given Narcan and taken to a hospital. Two days later, I came to handcuffed to the side of the bed in the hospital. I couldn’t believe that he had died. Narcan is an anti-drug for opiate users that can be given when they’re overdosing. It can stop the overdose. Narcan saved my life.

I then went to a county facility, before going to a faith-based rehab facility where I lived for eight months. While there, I went through some intense soul-seeking. They were raw moments, as it was the first time that I had been sober since I had the ability to do drugs on my own– since around 11 years old. So I had to sift through all of the darkness and all of the stuff that I had been through. And I had to deal with the reality that my boyfriend had just died. He was someone’s son and someone’s brother. I had to really unpack that stuff, and it provoked questions. Like, what am I here for? My life didn’t end that night — so why am I here? What is my purpose? How I am going to use my story? Am I even going to have a story?

In this time of soul-seeking, I discovered what a relationship with Christ was like. For the first time in my life, I was able to feel and experience how much He loved me. I felt that I really had a destiny and purpose for my life. I had been around church some as a kid, but this was different.

Second by Second

Early recovery was a process. You hear people advise, “Take it one day at a time,” and, you’re like, “I can’t even think about how to get through thirty seconds, the next thirty seconds.  And sometimes it is that. Committing to just get through the next thirty seconds. “I’m gonna get through this next five minutes.” You know, just continuing to go, and then realizing one day that you’re able to make it a whole day.

After I finished treatment, I started cosmetology school. My daughter was six months old, and  I went to a Paul Mitchell cosmetology school in Chicago. Getting through school was kind of intense because I was newly recovered. But I was finally at a place where I could actually go to school to pursue my passion, and that brought excitement every day. I had a car and a playpen and a six-month-old baby and I would stay at friends’ houses and I would sleep next to my daughter’s playpen. I was clean, I was going to meetings, and I was waking up every day going to school.  It was hard.

Coming Alive

Twelve-step programs provide an amazing community of support. When I needed a meeting every day to stay sober, and accountability, and meaningful relationship, I found it there. Along with community, I have this thing that I do, and have done from the very beginning of treatment, that has helped me. In recovery and in treatment, I realized that I believed all these things about myself that were not true. So I started to write down those things I experienced in my head. It helped me identify lies I believed about myself and be honest. I would write them down, along with truths about myself that I could reflect on. And then I would say the true statements out loud, over and over, until I believed them.

After five years of being in the salon industry, I went and got an educator’s certificate to teach cosmetology in the State of California. Now, I’ve been an educator for six years, and I just opened my own salon. I originally just thought that I would be creating hair and having an income for myself. But it has done so much more — it has made me come alive. There are so many things that I have done and so many places I’ve gone because of this industry. I feel grateful to have been able to enrich the lives of my students. There also but also so many students that I’ve enriched their life and helped them in their journey.

Today, my life is unrecognizable. I wake up every day, and I get up and I make a cup of coffee. I am so grateful to be able to wake up and make a cup of coffee. I know that I have these amazing, beautiful children, whom I love to spend time with. And I know that I’m going to a job that makes me come alive.

Designed for Love

So Paul and I have a blended family. Trinity is 12.  Ethan is 10.  Nolan is 6.  Adeline is 5.  And Penelope is 4. We were both single parents when we met each other. Paul and I met and it was a very instant connection, attraction to each other. We got married six months later. I love spending time with my kids; it reminds how we’re designed for love. I could sit with them for hours, and I love how they say, out-of-nowhere, the most profound things.

People say to me, “You know, it must be hard to have the salon, and the marketing company, the five children. That’s a lot of stuff. What they don’t see is what I’ve been through and how much I’ve learned in recovery that can be applied. Recovery is doing the next right thing in front of you every day until eventually all those days have added up. It’s all just one step at a time to get there.

Making a Difference

This year has been particularly hard. My cousin, Kyle, one of my closest friends for my whole life, close in age to me, passed. We did some of our first drugs together. Our moms are sisters and we were raised doing everything together. We’re born two months apart. I always wanted to do hair and Kyle always said that he wanted to do hair.  His dad was a barber.  And his mom is a hairdresser. He lost his battle with addiction. Losing him is one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever gone through.

I think that what matters is what you do with all of your brokenness.  It doesn’t matter if you have brokenness, it’s what you do with it.  Navigating through that grief, I’ve said, “Okay, well I’m gonna use it to make a difference and I’m gonna use it to do something.” I just want people to know that you can come from the most broken place and you can take your life and make it whatever you want it to be.  You have the power to rewrite your story at any moment.  It’s not over.

This isn’t how it has to end.  This, you know, you can change it today.  You can make a choice that tomorrow is the beginning of your new story and that it’s gonna to be different from now on. Just doing that next right thing in front of you can lead to another way. This is not how it has to end. If you are feeling hopeless, desperate, broken, or are addicted, there is another way for you.

Taking OneStep Forward

You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these 5 steps towards freedom:

1. Gratitude for simple things: Like Brenna, find gratitude for the simple things in life today, whether it’s your cup of coffee or the person sitting next to you.

2. Go deeper: Brenna’s experience with her ex-boyfriend’s death led her to ask deep questions about herself and about purpose. Give yourself space to ask deeper questions about your story and journey. Ask yourself, “What makes me come alive?”

3. Embrace a different journey: Your story is unique so your recovery journey is likely going to look different than anyone else’s. Be okay with finding a different range of resources that work for you. For Brenna, it was through a friend and sponsor, but it may look different for you.

4. Find a Narcotics Anonymous near you.

5. Commit to 30 seconds: Instead of thinking too far ahead, practice focusing on just the next 30 seconds. Intentionally choose and respond to the next 30 seconds right now.


Find more stories on Arts & Creativity

More Stories