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Instilling Change: Ciara Perkins

For many of us, adolescence is a time of learning about ourselves. We push back against our parents and assert our independence, but at the same time, we learn from them how to move forward in life. It’s when we develop our interests and shape much of who we will be later. Others, though, never have those chances as teenagers. Addiction can disrupt entire families and the life paths of young people. For Ciara, her teen years were disrupted by addiction.

Ciara came from a family plagued by addiction and her own began when she was just 13 or 14 years old, when she started using pain pills. She spent her young adulthood living in chaos as she struggled with her addiction. As a young woman, her first husband went to prison, and she lost custody of her three children. She went in and out of jail for minor offenses, like driving with no insurance and paraphernalia charges. She would bond out and abscond. “I lived lawlessly,” she said. She numbed herself to the point that she wasn’t concerned about the consequences of her actions. Stuck living in chaos, Ciara waited for someone to save her.

In 2020, during a period when Ciara did have her children, she was traveling with her youngest daughter to pick up her stepson. The driver of the car was pulled over and the police found that Ciara had a warrant for driving without insurance. They searched the car and found drug paraphernalia and drugs, while Ciara had her child in the car. The police pulled her from the car at gunpoint and pushed her onto the ground while her 11-year-old watched. On the ride to the station, her daughter rode on her lap until they arrived and social services pulled her away from her mother. Ciara was charged with multiple felonies and given no contact with her child. She bonded out of jail but didn’t make it three blocks before she overdosed. “I was on a mission to meet my maker,” she said.

Ciara considers it lucky that she was charged with another felony only 30 days later. This time, she remained in jail for months. She attended AA and NA and achieved sobriety. It became clear that she needed to change, but the road wasn’t clear. When the judge let her out of jail on a drug patch, she had nowhere to go but to a family also struggling with addiction. It was a challenge to stay sober around people who weren’t, and her drug patch came up dirty a couple of times because of the environment she was in. What saved her life, she says, was getting into a sober living house.

Ciara’s brother helped her get into Oxford House sober living, which gave her the stable foundation she needed. She finally found a support system of people who knew what she was going through. The others could hold her accountable and help her see patterns that had become normal to her that weren’t normal at all. Ciara found a good job for herself and started to build a stable life.

Employed and sober, Ciara started looking for a place to live, but everywhere she applied turned her down due to stigma. She could not find anyone to rent to her with her background. It seemed to her that people could not accept that she had changed. At this time, she heard from another client about the Second Chance program and enrolled herself. Her Resource Specialist helped her find housing, but even more, she helped Ciara learn how to live on her own, pay her bills, to take time for self-care, and to believe in herself. In her addiction, Ciara had never learned things many of us take for granted, but Second Chance helped her finally learn those skills. Through the support of the programs she had found, Ciara put together the final building blocks of the stability that she needed.

Today, Ciara has contact with all her children again. Her youngest daughter has received therapy to cope with their traumatic separation and is doing well. During the week, she lives with her mother’s aunt and uncle. She’s doing too well there for Ciara to uproot her completely, but she stays with her mother on the weekends. Her middle daughter lives with her. Her oldest daughter has her own struggle with addiction, but she’s currently 30 days sober. Ciara wants to help her daughter, but she knows what she’s learned from her own life: No one else can save you. You have to save yourself. “It is possible,” she says. “If you want it bad enough, there are people who will help.”

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