Enjoy this short version of Paula’s amazing story, and check out her newly-released book: Cross Addicted: Breaking Free From Family, Trauma, and Addiction.
A Beautiful Life
It’s hard to believe the life that I am living now. At the age 21, I found myself illiterate and addicted, nearly two decades later, I am a motivational speaker and in the process of publishing my first book to help others heal from trauma and addiction. My husband and I own a running shoe store and share a love for athletics. Plus, we have a blended family of 5 children, and two grandbabies!
It took a lot of work to get to where I am at today. Mental health and addiction keep people isolated with shame and guilt. During my recovery process, the more I shared the family secrets, the less bondage I had. We can’t heal from the painful memories that are buried alive. Understanding the recovery process and sharing my story with nonjudgmental people, people who accepted me as I was, helped me become the woman God created me to be.
Numbing the Pain
I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My father was an alcoholic and a drug addict, which I believe was from his own childhood trauma. There were times he’d drag my mom out of bed in the middle of the night. There would be a lot of fighting and screaming. When I was eight, he moved us from Indiana to Las Vegas where his drug and alcohol addiction increased. He eventually wound up in prison leaving my mom to be a single parent.
Meanwhile, my mother discovered gambling. She would stay at casinos for days leaving us at home to fend for ourselves. Due to my upbringing by the time I was 5 or 6 years old, I had learned how to shut down and my little brain kicked into survival mode. This was how I had learned how to disappear to escape the abuse.
School was hard for me. I wasn’t capable of learning because of what was going on in my home life, in school I was shipped from classroom to classroom. I felt lost and filled with feelings of insecurity and self-hate. In 6th grade, someone snuck alcohol into the school bathroom, and I remember how my first drink numbed the pain. Not long after, when I was 13, I met this boy in a gang, and he introduced me to the gang life. I desperately wanted to be accepted into any kind of family, so I joined. I was jumped by a Hispanic gang for initiation, got pregnant at 15, 18, and again at 21, all the while suffering from the effects of alcohol, drugs, and regular physical abuse from the father of my children.
Hope for a Future
After high school, I got a job at a daycare as a teacher. The teacher’s aide I worked with continually told me that Jesus loved me and had a plan for my life. She was super friendly and understanding which helped pushed through my walls that I had up and over two years, a relationship formed. And one Sunday, I agreed to go with her to church.
The next Sunday, I returned and met a woman who told me God’s promise from Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for prospering you not to harm you and give you future and a hope.”
I looked straight at her and said: “So you’re telling me if I give my life to God, he won’t hurt me?” I think I had always been afraid of God.
“No. God will not hurt you,” she reassured me. I didn’t give my life to God at that moment, but her words stuck.
The First Step
Through this process, I was still in a lot of pain. Being a young mom in my early twenties, struggling with drugs, alcohol, and violence was too much, and I reached the point where I wanted to take my own life. I went into my closet and was about to attempt suicide when my 6-year-old opened the door and said, “I hate you, and I’m so sick and tired of seeing you cry all the time!”
Suddenly, I heard that lady’s voice from church reminding me that God loves me and has a plan for me. Weeping, I cried out, “God, if you’re real, I need to know you right now!” A warmth came over me and the heaviness lifted. I was filled with courage that there was hope for my life and that my future could be good.
I went into the living room and declared to my three children that I was going to be different from there on out. And it was true.
When I walked into my first recovery program, I shared with the group I didn’t want to live anymore. After I met my sponsor she started giving me homework right away. She would always say, “I want you to write three things you like about yourself, and if you have to repeat it to yourself every day, it’s okay.”
I didn’t understand why I kept repeating patterns like cutting my body and binging and purging, even though I had been going to church. I had a lot of secrets, and I was struggling with shame. But once God helped me tap into those memories and share them with someone safe, Jesus came into heal those places and made me whole, the way he meant me to be.
The combination of the program and my faith helped me look at my past and my pain to get healing so I would stop numbing myself through addiction. I exchanged my ‘cross-addiction,’ or having multiple interrelated addictions, for an addiction to the cross of Christ, which brought, hope, life, and freedom.
Sharing the Journey
If we can sit in a 12-step program and hear other people’s stories of how they overcame, their strength, healing, and hope, it helps us tap into our own stories. When I was 21, I was broken and illiterate. I had to overcome so much to be where I am today. And it’s still a process. If I didn’t take care of myself physically, mentally and spiritually, I’d be on antidepressants. Everyone’s journey looks different.
If you have a lot of trauma, I don’t believe you can be set free without revisiting your wounds. The unaddressed pain keeps us in a place where we need to numb. It can be scary, but there is so much hope in vulnerability. Sharing our journey helps us untangle our messes and gives us a clear vision of what a healthy life should look like.
If we can expose the darkness we’re struggling with, recovery floods in. People need to hear that there is a way out! That is why I love to share my story. And not only that, but God can do amazing, redemptive things in our lives.
For more of Paula’s amazing story, check out her newly-released book: Cross Addicted: Breaking Free From Family, Trauma, and Addiction.