Loretta's story: from addiction to a life restored

Loretta Smith | Jan 22, 2016

Loretta SmithMy name is Loretta Smith. I grew up in Inez, Kentucky and was the younger of two kids. I had what I considered a normal childhood even though both sides of my family had alcoholism in them. My only brother and I were raised in a two parent home and we were always loved by our parents. My mother went to church and was a stay at home mother and my dad worked to provide for us. They taught us to be God fearing, but didn’t teach us anything about God’s grace and mercy.

I got married at an early age and had the first of my three sons at eighteen. Three years later I had my second son and found myself in an abusive marriage. My husband did work every day to provide for our family but he also drank every night. I started to think that it was my fault and that maybe I deserved the abuse.

My brother had joined the army after high school and I really missed him. He was my best friend and always brought laughter and goodness into my life. When he left the army he couldn’t find a job at home so he left and went to Florida to drive a truck. After my husband got laid off he wanted to go to Florida also and I went not realizing the isolation that could happen that far from home.

In Florida we both found good jobs, but the abuse escalated. I was alone and stuck in an abusive relationship and completely hopeless.

My parents encouraged me to go back to college and pursue a degree in nursing because I had always been the go to person in the family during sickness. Before I got enrolled in college my father died of a massive heart attack at fifty years old. Our family was devastated.

I decided that I had to change my life because I couldn’t keep living with the abuse and unhappiness. I went back to Kentucky and enrolled in college. I really thought I was leaving all the abuse behind me. College was a great time for me and I was pretty good at it. Some of the abuse from my past did start to heal.

The first person I was assigned to care for as a nursing student was an IV drug abuser and I can remember agonizing as I was trying to develop a plan of care for him. He didn’t know why he couldn’t stop and I wasn’t sure how to help him. I spent a great deal of time with this man discussing his options and letting him vent to me about his journey. I had no idea what lay ahead for me because I had not been introduced to drugs yet.

I eventually filed for divorce and my husband became furious. He came back to Kentucky and began to try to get me back under his control again. This time he became violent. He came to my house and forced his way in the door with a gun. He shot at me, but missed. He kept on shooting. I went out the back door, bent down to put on my shoes and he barricaded the door. He pulled the breakers to cut the electricity in the house. For an hour he was holed up in the house shooting at anything and everything. My boys were in the house with him. This rampage finally ended when his brother followed him to my house and witnessed his anger. His family and mine finally knew about the abuse and he was ashamed. He left and moved to Indiana and left me alone.

After nursing school I got a job in a Catholic hospital and met a great man who was raising his kids alone. We got married. As a nurse I was pretty good, but I carried around a bunch of burdens and was relying on my good works. This could not last forever. I was spiritually void. I didn’t know that I could have given God my burdens. I don’t know how someone who knew so little about a loving God ended up working at a Catholic hospital. I’m pretty sure God was trying to talk to me, but I didn’t recognize his voice.

In 1996 I had my last son and we were raising seven kids together; four of his, two of mine and now one together. Things went smoothly for a while.

I ended up meeting the first patient I had in nursing school again. He was in the hospital again, but this time he was nearing the end of his life. I made arrangements to send him home with hospice. When I got off work that day I went by to see how he was doing with hospice because his sister was a distant relative of my husband. He grabbed my hand and cried. I asked if he wanted me to call someone to pray with him. He said, No and explained that people were so bad to judge you when you are in addiction. He asked me if I believed in God. When I told him I did, he asked me if I would help him pray. That was the first prayer I ever heard from an addict. It was so intense and so real. Right after he said amen, he passed away. That prayer was the first time I thought God might actually hear a sinner’s prayer.

In 2000 tragedy struck my family again when my husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We started treatment at the same time. He had chemo and radiation and I had a complete hysterectomy. This put a real strain on our marriage and I couldn’t understand why these things were happening to us. I had really thought my good works would give me a trouble free life. It was all about ego and nothing about the one who made all things possible.

My marriage was falling apart and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I didn’t know how much more I could stand. After my mom’s surgery my brother was a mess. It totally devastated him. He was inconsolable, but we somehow managed to hold things together.

One August night two of my brother’s friends came to my mom’s and told me that my brother was in the road just below our house; that he was in bad shape and needed me. As they jumped in their car and drove away, I ran to my brother’s side. I found him in the middle of the road. Everyone in the houses around heard what had happened but no one came out because they didn’t recognize my brother. When I got to him, I picked his nose up off the ground and put it back on his face. I tried to do CPR on him and I prayed to God to take me and leave him. When the paramedics got there they pulled me off him and he was gone.

I found out my brother had been killed by a guy we grew up with and had known our whole life. The fight had started in one place and when my brother left there the guy got in another car and followed him. My brother stopped because she was trying to diffuse the situation and when he stopped the guy beat him, stole his car and ran over him with his own car.

I was devastated and I was angry and filled with bitter un-forgiveness. I attended every court proceeding trying to get justice for my brother and vengeance for myself. After the guy was sent to prison, I isolated myself. Vengeance was not so sweet and justice was not satisfying.

After a period of time I tried to go back to work and take care of my mother. I got hurt of the job and I was introduced to pain pills for the first time. I was already on benzos for my nerves. I believe I became instantly addicted because I just holed up in the house and self-medicated for my physical and mental pain.

I took care of my mom alone until she died in February 2004. She died from breast cancer and a broken heart. Taking care of my mom and letting her die at home in peace was all I could do to alleviate the grieving.

The time I spent caring for my mother, she spent trying to talk to me about Jesus. I was too angry to listen. After her death I fell into the deepest part of my addiction and was so full of anger. I had basically given up on everything and everyone.

I started getting into scrapes with the law at this time and was having trouble maintaining myself. I did make one more attempt to work again thinking it would get my mind off the negative things in my life.

The last job I had as a nurse was a disaster. When I started the job I had told them that I was on prescribed medication because I wanted to be honest. One night while I was working a bunch of Adderall came up missing and I had to contact the pharmacist about the missing drugs. Adderall was not a drug that I have ever tried. I did not take the drugs but it made me sick that I knew that I was so far gone that I wasn’t far from it. I also knew that they would drug test us because that is protocol when drugs are missing. So I just didn’t go back. I had a habit of just ignoring things when I felt like things were hard.

Instead of doing the right thing I ignored the supervisors when they ask me to come in for the interview about the incident because I knew that I would be drug tested and the levels of the drugs I was prescribed would have been way too high. As a result of choosing not to go in and face this situation the nursing board revoked my nursing license. After 10 years of nursing without even a medication error I let my career as a nurse go drain the drain with the rest of my life.

All the wrong decisions I had made became too much too even bear and I fell deeper and deeper in addiction. I continued to get in scrapes with the law as I spiraled downward. I ended up in jail three times over the same charges because I couldn’t stay straight.

The last time I was in jail the judge in my case had charged me with contempt and put me in jail because I couldn’t stay clean on my own. I was charged with trafficking and when I went to court I told the judge that I was too selfish to sell my drugs because I could barely keep enough to keep me from being sick. He handed me a post-it note with Karen’s place on it and told me I was going to sit in jail until a bed became available.

At this time I had a bunch of time to think about my life and I had read every book in the jail when the only book that was left was the bible I started reading it and thinking about my situation. I knew that where I was being sent was a faith based program because I knew the first client that had went there. I kept an open mind because I knew Vanessa Keeton personally and I believed that her recovery was real.

I had already been clean from an extended stay in jail when I arrived at Karen’s Place. When I got there I felt unconditional love from the staff and met other women with the same problems I had. The staff recognized each of our individual needs and had started praying for us even before we arrived. I felt peace like I had never experienced and fear started leaving soon after I arrived and I started to sleep pure restful sleep.

The first time I started to make progress was when I heard the Byrds' testimony about forgiveness for the guy who killed their daughter Karen and realized that hate and unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It was after I accepted the Lord as my Savior that I found freedom to face my past and start to build a future.

Learning through other people’s experiences was very helpful to me in treatment. I completed a six month program and had grown so much in my recovery that I didn’t want it to end. I decided to apply to intern because I wanted to grow in my walk with Jesus and I really wanted to stay connected with the role models who had loved me when I was at my worst.

After I completed the internship I was hired as residential staff and was so blessed to get the opportunity to work with the Godly staff members that I had grown to love during my time in treatment. They helped me grow strong in my recovery and in Jesus.

When I first got out of treatment I didn’t want anything to do with trying to get my nursing license back but when God started to reveal to me that he had tried to lead me in this direction on at least two different occasions (when I met the IV drug abuser and when he died) my mind started to change and I started to see nursing as a way to help people live again.

I finally faced the consequences of my past decisions and contacted the nursing board and started working on getting my nursing license reinstated. I had to pay a hefty fine for ignoring their requests to talk to me and had to have a year of random drug tests by the drug testing facility that the nursing board uses and two hundred continuing education hours. This seems like a small price to pay and I am grateful for the opportunity to get my license restored.

God has been so good to me and without him I am nothing. He takes my troubles from me when I start to worry and he has restored my life. I am truly a new person in Christ and life after addiction is possible because Jesus is the original relapse prevention program

Thank you God for saving me!


Loretta Smith is a registered nurse, a peer support specialist and a member of the residential staff at Karen's Place in Louisa, Kentucky.

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