From Heroin Addict to Hairstylist
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, or when I was following a music tour, wherever I was, “I’m gonna be a hairdresser.” Through recovery from heroin addiction, I discovered my value and worth, and built the foundation to pursue to my passion.
When you do someone’s hair, the moment when they see themselves, and see their beauty, is so wonderful. You also get to have a relationship with your client. I just love that I have these women 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. I have been clean and in recovery from heroin addiction for twelve years.
Numbing My 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 first smoked pot 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. When I was 16, I shot up heroin for the first time. And I got to a stage where I was getting high, using needles, up to six times a day for three years. 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.
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. 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 was.
A Tragic Wake-up Call
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 got high all night. We were staying at a hotel. That night, he and I did the same amount of drugs. I woke up in a haze the next morning, and he had fatally overdosed in the bed. I had overdosed as well, but not as badly, and I was given Narcan and taken to a hospital. Narcan is an anti-drug for opiate users that can stop an overdose, and it saved my life. Two days later, I regained consciousness handcuffed to the side of the bed in the hospital. I couldn’t believe that he had died.
I then went to a county facility, before going to a faith-based rehab program 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 was 11 and had the ability to do drugs on my own. I had to sift through all of the darkness and 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. As a kid, I went to church, but this was different.
Second by Second
Early recovery was a process. You hear people advise, “Take it one day at a time.” I would think, “I’m not sure how I can get through thirty seconds, the next thirty seconds. And sometimes it is that. Committing to just get through the next thirty seconds.” It’s about just continuing to move forward, and then one day I realized I could 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. 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, going to meetings, and waking up every day going to school. It was hard. But I was finally at a place where I could actually go to school to pursue my passion, and that brought excitement every day.
Through these times, twelve-step programs provided an amazing community of support. When I needed a meeting every day to stay sober, and accountability, and meaningful relationship, I found it there.
Coming Alive with New Truth
Along with building community, I have this thing that I have done from the very beginning of treatment that has helped me. While in treatment, I realized that I believed all these things negative things about myself. 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. Along with the lies, I would write out truths about myself that I could reflect on and repeat. 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.
Today, my life is unrecognizable, and I am 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. I get to go to a job that makes me come alive.
Designed for Love
Paul and I were single parents when we met, and now we have a beautiful blended family. Trinity is 12. Ethan is 10. Nolan is 6. Adeline is 5. And Penelope is 4. There was a very instant connection and 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. They say profound, thoughtful things out-of-nowhere.
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, to go from life as a heroin addict to life as a hairstylist, mother, and entrepreneur. So much of how I operate comes from what I’ve learned in recovery and is applied throughout my life. 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. Kyle, my cousin and one of my closest friends for my whole life, passed away. Our moms are sisters and Kyle and I did everything together as kids. We’re born two months apart. We did some of our first drugs together. Kyle and I both always 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 make your life 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 do that next right thing in front of you. If you are feeling hopeless, desperate, broken, or are addicted, there is another way for you.
Take OneStep Forward
You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these steps towards hope and health:
1. Practice gratitude for simple things. Look for opportunities to be thankful for the simple things in life, 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, and partner with community and trusted professionals as needed.
3. Embrace your unique 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 faith-based treatment program and twelve-step community, but it may look different for you.
4. Commit to 30 seconds: Instead of thinking too far ahead, practice focusing on just the next 30 seconds, minute, hour, day, or whatever time unit is helpful for your process. Intentionally choose to say “yes” and do the next right thing.