The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.
How does one go from surviving the despair of homelessness, heroin addiction and being listed among Washington’s Most Wanted to a thriving college graduate, co-occurring disorder specialist, Rotarian and inspirational speaker? My answer is always the same: “I didn’t get here on my own; I had help.”
My name is Jodi Borrelli. I’m a recovering heroin addict. My addiction began after a shoulder injury and pain medication prescribed by my doctor. Addiction stole the beautiful life I once had. The pills worked, but as I numbed the pain, I also numbed all the joy out of my life. Eventually I couldn’t tell the difference between joy and pain, and my life was forever changed. I went from soccer mom and PTA president to heroin addict living on the streets of Tacoma, being arrested over 20 times in 4 years and making an appearance on Washington’s Most Wanted.
By my second attempt at treatment in 2012, my addiction had progressed to Purdue Pharma’s brainchild, OxyContin. I left treatment early and three days later I had a needle in my arm and a new love for heroin. Once my addiction progressed to IV drug use, the shame was unbearable. I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t allow my children to see me that way. They were everything to me and I left them because of my addiction.
The devastation that followed was beyond horrific. Existing only to use, I lost myself in the grit of trap houses, stealing to support my habit, living in constant fear and always on the run. I was the epitome of hopelessness. I didn’t want to live, and I didn’t want to die. Suffering in ways beyond comprehension; waking up … coming to … mad as hell I even woke up, because it meant I had to endure the misery for yet another day.
A ferocious attitude
“So, how do you treat a disease that has no easy cure? First of all, you treat it with hope,” noted Beth Macy, journalist and author of “Dopesick,” “Truevine” and other nonfiction works.
On Dec. 2, 2016, shortly after being released from jail, I stepped off the train in Bellingham with a duffle bag of clothes, 11 teeth in my head and a FEROCIOUS attitude. I was in desperate need of help. I was court-ordered to attend Intensive Outpatient Treatment at Catholic Community Services Recovery Center as a part of probation.
This is where my recovery began and I started to heal. Despite my rough exterior my counselor treated me with respect and dignity. I was shown empathy despite my hostility and given compassion in exchange for vulgarity. I was so broken.
A transformation began to occur as my recovery started to grow roots. I found employment for the first time in years — but working at a gas station felt hopeless. I wanted a better life, but I was apprehensive about everything and I lacked confidence. During a one-on-one, my counselor suggested I would be a good fit for the Substance Use Disorder Professional program at Whatcom Community College. Shortly thereafter, I applied and was accepted; I would go on to be part of the first graduating cohort.
I think Victor Hugo said it best, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” For me, Bellingham is a place of hope, healing, and education. I was provided wrap-around support at WCC, through both the ICATCH (Innovations in Creating Access to Careers in Healthcare) and BFET (Basic Food Employment and Training) programs. These programs assisted me with tuition, textbooks, school supplies, a laptop, internet and rent support. I was given all the tools necessary to thrive. I am forever grateful to these programs and to WCC for their investment in me.
Being labeled a heroin addict was always a huge barrier for me. Coupled with being on Washington’s Most Wanted, it was devastating. I’m not embarrassed about my story anymore and I do not regret the past. Now, I have the opportunity to share my experience, provide hope and inspire others to be the change they want to see in the world.
As I continue to do what is right in front of me, opportunities continually arise. My life has taken on a direction that six years ago I would have never dreamed possible. I am making a difference in my community as a substance use disorder professional and co-occurring disorder specialist with PACT (Program for Assertive Community Treatment). My clients are schizophrenic, schizo-affective or bipolar with psychotic features. Many are homeless or living in housing-first models and I work with them on their substance use issues. These days my children call me; they tell me they love me and are proud of me.
Today, I have the opportunity to tell people how I got here. “I didn’t get here on my own, I had help.”
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