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2021 Scholarship Winner: A Powerful Story About Breaking Through The Difficult Cycle of Addiction and Regaining Life As a Mother and Psychology Student

Below you will find the essay of our Recovery Centers of America Hope for Addiction scholarship winner Danielle C. Her story of a decades – long addiction and recovery and her goal of helping others break free of the cage of addiction was poignantly revealed in her moving essay. Danielle will receive $1000 to further her education.

2021 Hope for Addiction
Scholarship Winner
Danielle C. video
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Life Outside the Cage: The Story of Mohini the Tiger
By Danielle C.

                Mohini, the White Tiger resided in the Washington D.C. Zoo. For many years she was housed in a 12×12 lion cage. In this cage, she would pace endlessly back and forth all day. Finally, the zookeepers and biologists at the facility decided that Mohini should have a space with more naturalistic room to roam. They collaborated to design a large habitat that resembled a more realistic environment for the tiger. The day Mohini was to be set free in her new habitat, the zookeepers and biologists could hardly wait to see her reaction to freedom. However, once released into her new environment, Mohini sought refuge in a corner of the habitat. She spent the rest of her life pacing a 12×12 path in the corner of her expansive habitat.

            The allegory of Mohini the White Tiger resonates with me as the demonstration of a life in active addiction. Like Mohini, the endless pacing, or seeking of a substance becomes a conditioned behavior for the addict. And like Mohini, the addict, when faced with freedom, will continue to pace the small space that confines them. The addict will continue to subconsciously imprison themselves until they are physically imprisoned, institutionalized or, sadly, until their death.  Their deaths are made sadder still because freedom was always a choice. But the urge to stay confined to the pain they knew, or the cage, is greater.

            I understand the cycle of addiction because I lived it for decades. At first, the engaging of drug use and drinking was to bond with peers and to “have a good time”. It did not take a long period of time for the occasional drink to become the nightly drink, or for a drink to turn into many drinks. Drinking became the way I chose to engage in all things. I drank in celebration, in anger, in sadness, in happiness and from boredom. I drank to forget trauma and to numb feelings. I would constantly pace the same path, visiting the same liquor stores and purchasing the same bottles. When my addiction extended to marijuana, it became more of the same. One hit was never enough. I used for all reasons and was in pursuit of the substance daily. It was my pacing in a confined space. I justified, rationalized, and intellectualized why I chose to stay in a metaphorical 12×12 space. I could always find a reason to choose my imprisonment over my freedom. I was in pain, or had been victimized, or had a hard day working as a nurse. The excuses were endless.

            This continued until I obtained a DUI, while wearing my nursing scrubs. This was after months of driving intoxicated, sometimes with my children in the car. My disease got progressively worse as I surrendered my nursing license and faced homelessness.  I could no longer provide for my two children and had to give full physical custody to their father. I lived in my car for three months. I faced the deepest and darkest depression of my life and contemplated suicide. This was my choosing imprisonment over my freedom. My spiritual awakening was an incremental process that started with sobriety and a yoga practice. I continued to smoke marijuana until it was made blatantly clear by my circumstances that my best thinking was keeping me prisoner of my life. Through my spiritual practice, I was given a second chance at a life and I wanted to choose freedom. I understood that I was living in a very large habitat, that I had refused to see from my cage of addiction. I wanted to explore but also had to face the things that made my prison seem like a safe place. This is healing work that will continue to deepen for the rest of my life. Today, I get to be excited about this prospect.

            I took my last drink on December 1, 2015 and smoked marijuana for the last time on November 21, 2018. I have earned my nursing licensure back and am living in a women’s Oxford House where I am looked to as a leader. I regularly attend and provide service in Narcotics Anonymous meetings. I am certified to teach yoga and utilize spiritual practices such as meditation to fortify my recovery. I am currently working as a Residential Care Facilitator at a treatment center for women and children. And I demonstrate a life of active recovery to my children, who are now old enough to comprehend the differences in my lifestyle. I openly speak to my children about my addiction (the cage) and my choice to stay in recovery (freedom). It is important for them to witness the difference and for us to continue to communicate about my journey. Part of my freedom is breaking generational trauma cycles as I come from a family of addicts. My recovery is a gift my children and I deserve. In honor of the spiritual program of Narcotic’s Anonymous, I wish to give away all I have learned about the difference between the limitation of addiction and the liberation of recovery.

            I am currently enrolled in Purdue Global pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a focus on Addiction Studies. I have a 4.0 and have been invited into the Honor’s Program through Purdue Global. This will allow for scholarship opportunities as well.  In January of 2021, I will actively begin working towards my Certified Drug and Alcohol Counseling certification. My long-term plans include continuing my education to a Graduate level and obtaining a Clinical Psychology Degree. This scholarship opportunity will assist in funding my educational goals. I find such joy in being a student and am the first person in my family who has a college degree. I want to demonstrate the possibilities of what education and recovery can do by obtaining a Doctorate Degree. This education will also allow for me to become an impactful agent for change in the care systems regarding addiction and mental health.

 With my education, I wish to serve the addiction community. I envision opening a holistic wellness center which will focus on a hybrid modality of traditional and alternative methods for recovery maintenance. This wellness center will offer counseling, medication management, yoga, acupuncture, fellowship opportunities, and will provide education on spiritual practices such as meditation and mindfulness. The story of Mohini the White Tiger will always stay with me as the anchor of my recovery. Recovery, or the ability to roam this lush habitat with endless possibilities, is a conscious choice I get to make every day. When it gets difficult, as it sometimes does, I remember that I have a choice. Now that I have experienced freedom, imprisonment through addiction feels dismal and limiting. Recovery is freedom and I will continue to choose it, one day at a time.

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