Come with me to meet one of those rare human beings, a recovered addict, a recovered alcoholic, now a counselor of others.
I HAVE a neighbor. Her name is Jackie, too. She has been into alcohol, hard drugs and crime. Pregnant by 17, she became a school dropout and hung out with a motorcycle gang. She finally had to give her baby up to adoption. Jackie has been near death many times and been in and out of prison. That was one world. Yet she is now one of our best neighbors — a champion in sports and a counselor of others. She radiates hope. And she's happily married too. She is now Jackie Cummings. This is the other world. I want to tell you her incredible story, as I learned it.
You may have heard that in the world of drug addiction the recovery rate is about 3 percent. Discouraging — until you learn that not long ago it was only 1 percent. This increased success is because of developing programs like Turning Point and Drug Abuse Council. These two organizations merged in 1974 and have since been a driving force in the war against addiction. Turning Point, here in northern California where I live, is a residential care treatment home with a 42-bed capacity and a staff of 12, all recovered addicts. Drug Abuse Council (DAC) is an outpatient drug information and counseling center. They treat people with problems ranging from alcohol and drug addiction to prescribed drug abuse. They are also staffed entirely with recovered addicts. Jackie Cummings is one of those recovered addicts. I have spent several days with Jackie over the past month to develop this story for our readers. Ten of her 32 years were spent in the depths of drug and alcohol addiction. But six years ago she walked into Turning Point — as high as she could get — to face the ordeal of cleaning up. She has been clean since. Although the initial withdrawal is never pleasant, the ordeal was not what she expected. For not only did she take her first step to a clean life, she also discovered a new dimension of spirituality and believes with this new-found faith that she'll never go back. Looking into her clear blue eyes and listening to the quiet strength in her voice, I believe her too. Like alcoholism, drug addiction becomes a frightening disease. It surfaced in Jackie when, at 17, she became pregnant and had to give her baby up to adoption. Until then she had been a straight-A student. When she became pregnant the principal of her school asked her to leave. After the birth she began hanging out with a motorcycle gang. Smoking dope, popping pills and drinking became the regular routine. The violent crime involved with the gang was also an emotional high. When she was 20 years old she was arrested for the first time. The charge was possession of a gun. She was released to the custody of her mother. Then came heroin. Jackie and her boyfriend were shooting heroin and stealing to support their habits. During this time she tried various jobs — waitress, sales clerk. But dope is expensive, and the related crimes led to more arrests. One of the conditions of an arrest was to go to Turning Point rehabilitation center. She went just to get out of jail and stayed for only two weeks. Jackie then moved to a major city and took her habit with her. A job as a bartender did little more than provide her with connections. Soon she was drinking and shooting drugs again. It was during this time that she hit bottom. She was sick, broke, disgusted and ready to give up. That moment of giving up was her first turning point. Something inside her made her reach out for help when she quit justifying herself and lying to herself. The help came from Turning Point. About two months after she was there Jackie had an uncontrollable urge to leave to find dope. This was such a powerful and frightening compulsion that she began to pray for help. As she was praying there was a knock on the door. A friend came in and started talking with her. By the time he left the desire was gone. That was the first time she had consciously let go of her desires. It was the second turning point in her life. Since then she has prayed for help many times and it has always come — usually in the form of another person's presence at a critical moment. Jackie completed the three-phase program and stayed on for another year as a resident staff member. After moving to her own house she continued working as a counselor at Turning Point rehabilitation center for another four years. Within the past year she began working out of the DAC offices. She is a court liaison and interviews inmates who are eligible for Turning Point. She still works out of Turning Point, spending one day a week there at staff and case conference meetings.
A New Life
Although much of her time is spent helping addicts and alcoholics, Jackie has a very busy and exciting private life. She and her husband Gary Cummings, who is also a recovered addict, have been together for three years. They are both active in sports, such as softball and bowling, and have filled one wall of their living room with trophies they have each won. Jackie met Gary at a softball game during rehabilitation and although Gary came through a different program the premise was basically the same. Jackie is also working toward a teaching degree and wants to be a mathematics teacher. One of the disturbing facts about drug and alcohol abuse, as Jackie Cummings explained, is that many more men than women are in jail for drug and alcohol-related crimes. One reason seems to be that men use more illegal drugs than women. Society accepts a man in jail much more than a woman. For him it's macho or at least "man" trouble. For a woman to go to jail means being labeled a tramp, hooker, losing her children, family and friends. As a consequence of this double standard significant numbers of women turn to prescription drugs. The sad thing here is that with the doctor perhaps unknowingly aiding her habit and her family and friends covering it up or totally ignoring it, she almost never seeks help. In fact most such women feel there is no help. Who could help her out of this maze of horror? What would happen to her family if she had to get treatment? Would she lose her children, her husband, and her job? And what would her family and friends think of her? The irony here is that many of those same friends could be suffering from the same diseases. It may sound hopeless but it is far from that. Statistics show that if addicts seek help they usually find it. One woman from DAC told me how she was tricked into going to her first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. After seeing so many people who were living clean she began attending regularly. She went to the Narcotics Anonymous meetings every night for a year and stayed clean. These meetings do work and so do the other programs. One reason seems to be that people there are all former addicts, and the other reason is that people find a spiritual base. Most addicts and alcoholics have spent a lifetime of denial. Denial that they have become sick. Denial that they can be helped. They have not had sustaining faith in anything. Only when they finally learn of the strength of spirituality, instead of self-indulging carnality, are they beginning the journey on the road back. Jackie Cummings' story needs to be told. Not for just "normal" people but for every addict who thinks there is no way out. Last, I would like our readers to know one other reason this interview for the Plain Truth was so important to me. Last year I lost my 29-year-old brother Michael Murphy to drugs and booze. Each time I spoke with a resident at Turning Point a part of my heart was crying for the total waste of a beautiful young man loaded with pills going to bed and not waking up. I would like to dedicate this essay to my brother.