Heather Cook is one of our New Life Recovery Program graduates. We had the privilege of sitting down with Heather to have a conversation about her journey. Here is what she had to say.
How did you first get connected with the Tacoma Rescue Mission?
I was in Fife – homeless and in my addiction. I came across your Search & Rescue van. I recognized one of the volunteers. It was my old friend from years before who I had been homeless and in addiction with. I knew he had graduated from the Mission’s recovery program and he’s over here volunteering with you all, handing me gloves and what not. He told me to get my ass to the program. I feel he saved my life, but he says it’s God. God working through him. I went back to my hotel room, got high for the last time, went on the website and applied to it, and then went into the recovery program myself.
I’m going to be really honest, I only made it five days the first time I was in the program. They took us to church the first week I was there. I’d never been to church before. All I knew from the Bible was “In the beginning” and “For God so loved the world.” Those were the only words I knew. I just walked in that church and it was just overwhelming. It was terrifying. Too many people. I lasted 7 minutes. So, I left the church and the program. About a week later I hit a tree that had fallen across the road head going 57 miles an hour. Woke up at Harborview hospital. The weird thing was that I woke up to my Bible and devotional packets that I still had from the recovery program sitting next to me. It was the only things of mine the cops or medics could salvage from the car crash, I guess. I knew that was a sign because when I crashed that was the first time I had ever called out to God. I called Brenda from the program as soon as I could, and I really couldn’t believe that she said I could come back. I was done running.
What was your life like growing up?
My family is all addicts. And when I say my family’s all addicts, I’m talking grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, mother, father. So, I already knew all about addiction. That’s all I knew. Drugs weren’t frowned upon. They were normal, everyday life. I only saw that it wasn’t normal when I would go over to friend’s houses. Then the other thing with my family is we have a high suicide rate. I’ve had about seven suicides in my immediate family. There’s been a lot of loss in my life.
It’s crazy how God shows me every day now different places in my life he’s been, protecting me the whole time. Because I gave up on him when I was about five or six when, you know, it was just drug addiction in my house. And it was like, why in my house? Why my family? You know, now I’m graduating from this recovery program. I can’t believe it.
When I moved away from my family, I wanted the big city. I just craved it. Then I ended up an active gang member for 11 years. When I was in my program, I was scared of sharing about all of that, my family and having been in a gang. I didn’t want the other ladies to be fearful of me. I hid parts of myself for a long time.
How did you end up experiencing homelessness and addiction?
My worst addiction started in early 2000. Meth was my demon. I had just found out I had cervical cancer. I was married and having a hard time getting pregnant. I love kids with all my heart, always wanted kids. But I had to get a hysterectomy. I used that as an excuse to get high. Like, if I can’t have kids, why do I need to be sober? Seven years later, my stepdad passed away and I used that as another excuse to get high. And I stayed high. I woke up homeless in my car. I was always angry whenever I’d wake up, too. I would be mad at God for waking me up, I didn’t really even believe in Him at that point. I didn’t want to live. It was just easier to blame God, than take responsibility for myself.
I had a boyfriend in my addiction who would tell me, you’re not nothing because you can’t have kids. You’re not real woman. I believed it, you know, that I wasn’t a real woman. I was nothing. That belief kept me right where I was, right in my addiction. But now I know I am something, a child of God.
What was your experience like in our New Life Recovery Program?
This program completely changed my life. It’s a new life. I mean, I really have a whole new life. I have my happiness back and joy that I haven’t had for the past 40 years.
The daily devotions were huge for me and anger management classes. I was addicted to anger, rage. I loved being angry. I loved fighting. Co-dependency was a major thing for me, and boundaries. Because I never knew boundaries until this program. Those kind of go hand in hand too. The program brought everything to the surface. I couldn’t hide from all my stuff or escape from it by getting high.
I also got baptized while in this program. Now, I love going to church. I love all the ladies that are in my program and I never thought I would do that. Like they’ve seen me at my lowest and my highest and I come back. The women that you meet here become your life. Like my sisters, they really are.
I never had a birthday party until they came here. And it’s just a simple thing. And Christmas, Christmas was amazing here. I mean for me Christmas was getting high and chasing around my ex-boyfriend or going to a casino and now it’s fun.
I always remember always wondering what sober people do for fun? Because for me it was either fight, get high, or go to a casino. I didn’t know any different. But I mean you can go to church, you can go shopping. You can just be with people and laugh.
What does “new life” feel like?
It’s just overwhelming. It’s like an overwhelming feeling of joy and peace. I don’t have a fear of someone going to hurt me. I don’t fear my boyfriend coming in and beating me up. I don’t fear that stuff anymore. I’ve seen people that I used to see in my addiction and they’re proud of me too. And that means a lot. And I just hope that my story can just change one person’s life or even get one person to think they can do better. Because you can. It’s brutal work. I cried every single day for a week when I first got into the program. I was feeling every emotion that I wasn’t ever allowed to feel. I was a very toxic relationship and so I couldn’t have emotion. Don’t be angry, don’t cry or get beat up. Now I can do all that and not be afraid. It’s powerful. I also figured out also that I really never loved before until now. I didn’t really know the depth of love until this program. With God in it, it’s a totally different experience. I can pray for my enemies and mean it and not just pray that something evil would happen to them. I pray for good for them. It’s been completely life changing.
Where are you now?
Well, I graduated from the program at the end of July. I’m working for Vallejo as a shelter aid. I also volunteer with Search & Rescue. When I first volunteered, Mario, who runs the Search & Rescue program, remembered me. He remembered the day that he saw me and who I was back then. He was just like, “I can’t believe that was you.” And I’m like, yep that was me. We went out with the Search & Rescue van to all my old places in Fife and served my old people. That Search & Rescue van saved my life. If I never saw that van, I’d be dead right now. Now I’m the one in the van helping save lives.
What are some of your goals moving forward?
I remember my brother called me when I was still in my addiction. He told me I was dead to my nephews because of my addiction. It stung. It hit me like, those are my nephews, who I completely adore. To think that I couldn’t see them. It broke my heart. But my addiction was in the way of everything. So, when I came to the New Life program, I had the simplest goal. To take my nephews to ice cream one day. Just me and my nephews. And I’m still gonna do that. That’s one of my goals.
I really just want to give back to the community that I wreaked havoc in. I was a menace and I don’t wanna be a menace. I want to be a productive member. I want to help people.