Sarah’s Success Story

Sarah’s Success Story

One staff member described her as “hell on wheels” when she arrived at DATA’s Walter D. Kelly Treatment Center. Sarah was angry, obstinate and in denial of a drug problem that had alienated her family and led to a string of arrests. The troubled 16-year-old would undergo a complete metamorphose over the next eight months.

“I started smoking pot at 12, and by 15, I had progressed to Xanax, Ecstasy and opioids.” Sarah remembers noticing that she relished the drugs more than anyone else using and she always wanted more. “I liked it more than they did. It was non-stop.”

She tried to step away from drugs after her father died from cancer in early 2017. She had lived with him up until the month before his death. That’s when she was placed in a group home by the Department of Children and Families after fighting with a neighbor while high on drugs. “I made a real attempt to stop using because he wanted me to stop, but I woke up to the realization it was an obsession. After a number of arrests, the court ordered me to DATA.”

Recovery would not come easily for Sarah, “When I interviewed at DATA I said out loud, I don’t have a problem.” Walton Stoudenmire, who heads DATA’s residential treatment programs, recalls her vigorous resistance. “She cursed people out; it was her way or the highway.”

Then, a turning point came about three weeks into living at the West Palm Beach treatment center. After weeks of group therapy and talking with staff and other addicts, she admitted having a problem and the real work began for Sarah.

She had a great deal to confront and process. “I felt a lot of guilt and shame, a lot of disgust about things I’d done and said; and my dad was gone.” Sarah’s demons were the reasons for her low self-esteem. An only child, her mother left home when Sarah was two years old and has been in and out of prison ever since for using drugs. “She would sell me a fantasy, telling me how things would be better when she got out. She has a problem with drugs that has never been addressed.” Sarah was raised by her father who had a tendency toward abusive behaviors. “I was put down as a child because my dad wasn’t brought up correctly. He would call me names then a short time later he would say he loved me.”

Opening a door to the past allowed for a transformation to begin and Sarah looked to DATA staff for guidance. “I would ask, when will I change and was told, ‘put in the work.’” She kept a journal, started acknowledging and apologizing for negative behaviors, and embraced therapy. “Group therapy was my favorite part of the day, addicts share stories, we’d discuss drug abuse and anger management; I’d get the reinforcement I needed to get through my day.”

On weekends, Sarah’s aunt attended family therapy. “We talked about her concerns and my concerns. It allowed my family to see how much I’ve grown.” Sarah is genuinely surprised by the love her father’s sister has shown after all the difficult times. “Now I realize this lady really loves me and that’s brought up my self-esteem.”

Sarah is extremely appreciative of what’s been done for her. “I’ve been offered so much here, it’s changed my life around, helped me find my own self. They never gave up on me…Mr. Walton never gave up on me.”

Now 17, Sarah emerges from DATA with a new sense of purpose. She is returning to Broward County, where she grew up, to live with her aunt who has obtained custody of her niece. Sarah plans to attend an alternative high school and earn her diploma while working part-time. She will get it all done while continuing therapy to stay sober.

In the future, Sarah hopes to attend college and study criminal justice. “I want to give back because I know not everyone arrested is bad.”

Sarah’s metamorphose complete. “I’ve been tested and now I am testimony.”


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