From numbness to purpose: Shannon’s recovery story

Photo of Shannon, peer addiction coach in Sioux Falls, SD

Published July 20, 2023

Some of Shannon’s earliest memories are being left alone.

From the very start of her life, Shannon (she/her) was surrounded by addiction and its consequences. She was born in prison, where her mom had been extradited. The middle of eight siblings, she was also the only child with a Black father. 

“My whole life I had issues with my identity,” she said. “I felt unwanted and unplanned.”

Shannon also felt different due to her sexuality. She remembers her mom telling her to go to her room after Shannon said she liked girls.

“I hid under my bed all day. When my stepdad approached me, I lied and said it wasn’t true,” she said. “I learned it wasn’t OK to be different. I didn’t come out until after I left the house.”

Shannon started self-harming around age 13 and began experimenting with drugs in the years afterward. 

“I didn’t struggle with drinking, but it’s what introduced me to the people who had the good stuff,” she said. “With meth, I felt on top of the world. I felt invincible. I didn’t have time to think about the trauma. By the time morphine came in the picture, I was consumed by the numbness. It helped shield me from all my emotions.”

The years that followed were full of actions Shannon now regrets. From pushing away loved ones to vanished passions, Shannon found herself not living, but simply surviving. She couch surfed, lived out of her car and sold drugs.

“I was lost – there’s no better word to describe it. Lost, vulnerable, scared. I was searching, aimlessly wandering in the dark,” she said. “I was looking everywhere to find myself and never thought to look within. It’s ugly to say, but drugs made me happy.”

Though Shannon always knew she was a lesbian, she experimented with men while she was using drugs. She was coming off of meth, ecstasy and Klonopin one afternoon when she realized she hadn’t gotten her period recently. She went to her friend’s house to take a pregnancy test, and everything changed.

“It was this overwhelming force that hit me. I remember thinking, ‘It’s not just you anymore,’” she said. “Throughout my journey, a majority of my usage stemmed from not feeling worthy. I didn’t grow up in a safe place. I told myself I wasn’t going to be my mother; I wouldn’t be that person.”

From that moment on, Shannon stopped using. She detoxed on her friend’s couch before going to the doctor for an ultrasound. (Detoxing without medical supervision can be incredibly dangerous. If you’re thinking about stopping use, please reach out to a medical provider.)

“When I saw my daughter’s head on that ultrasound, that was my defining moment,” she said. “I took the money I had to get an apartment. I moved in with only a blanket, duffle bag and storage tote. After years of active addiction, that’s all I had to my name. I dove into my work, and I never looked back.”

Work became instrumental to Shannon’s recovery.  

“Being good at what I do gave me a purpose; it helped define my worth,” she said. 

Shannon has done just about every role in the service industry, including bartending, managing, service and cooking. She enjoys talking with people and being someone they can confide in.

Now as a Face It TOGETHER peer coach, work continues to motivate Shannon and allow her to grow in wellness.

“Coaching is teaching me more and more about myself,” she said. “I get to heal while also helping people with what they’re going through. I want to feel purposeful and use my story to help someone else.”

Shannon still works as a part-time bartender; she utilizes her Face It TOGETHER training and skills to help those she comes across who need help. She also practices harm reduction and drinks alcohol in moderation.

“When I have a beer, it’s a beer. I never feel like I want to get drunk,” she said. “Wellness is individualized – it’s not the same for everybody. The key to harm reduction is to remain safe in what you do and continue learning about yourself as you go.”

Shannon is now more than a decade into her wellness journey. She gets to experience genuine happiness in a way that she never did when she was using drugs.

“Drugs can disguise themselves. My drugs called themselves happiness. The universe gave me another chance to define that happiness,” she said. “That power now lies in the smile of my daughter, writing songs and singing, outdoor adventures, my lovely partner and our family. I can connect and grow to a whole other level that would’ve never been possible had I continued down that lonely path.”

Shannon has built a life she’s proud of. She shares it with her daughter, her partner, who’s also in recovery, and their two dogs.

“I have a car, a home, I can afford vacations,” she said. “I get to show my daughter a life my parents never could.”

Acceptance has played a huge role in Shannon’s recovery and self-worth. She’s learned to accept herself, the trauma she’s been through and the things beyond her control.

“Your wellness journey starts when you believe your worth. There’s more to you than this monster that says you’re not worth it, the mud that gets you stuck, the things that tell you to be numb,” she said. “Believe in yourself, follow your own direction and have patience with yourself.”

When Shannon felt alone and wasn’t comfortable with who she was, she found connection in substances. Now that she knows who she is and what she wants with her life, she’s found it much easier to be her true self.

“It’s hard to hide, it’s hard to lie, it’s hard to fight. You get exhausted, lying about who you are all the time. It’s so much easier to be honest and open,” she said. “Learn to accept yourself. The past is the past – just move forward and continue being a better person. Every single day is a blessing and there’s a reason you’re here. Give yourself that peace. We all deserve love – why not start with yourself?”

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