By Lisa Garcia
Director of Loss Control and Compliance
Risk Management Department – Territorial Headquarters
When I think of an example of flourishing, my first thought is something that is showing evidence of success. Maybe a plant that is growing tall and healthy with beautiful blooms or someone who has it all together and never seems to be struggling. By that definition, I was always resentful of those who were flourishing. Those who had it all together, did everything expected of them with minimal effort or was just thriving. I was never thriving – I was always in crisis or surrounded by drama and most of that was my own making. I was living by the seat of my pants and attempting to manipulate everything to be on my terms. So many times, that translated into not caring what happened to anyone, especially myself. I fumbled on that way until May of 2005, when I begrudgingly walked into The Salvation Army, Adult Rehabilitation Center in Pasadena and decided to try something different. I was going to, the first time in my life, try and not be an alcoholic and drug addict in active addiction.
Once I had some sobriety under my belt, I realized that I am a very proud alcoholic and drug addict. You may be thinking that proud is a very strange way to describe an addict or addiction, but to understand why I am so proud, you would have to know where I came from and more importantly, where God has led me since then.
I was raised mainly by my grandparents because of my parent’s addiction problems. I always swore that I would never end up like my parents and I ended up worse. I started drinking socially in high school and loved how it made me feel. I was smarter, prettier, more personable. I went on to start college at USC and that’s where my drinking and using career really took off and I eventually had to drop out without one credit. My life with drugs and alcohol were not without brief periods of employment, stability and some happiness that came with the birth of my children, but they were always followed by lower lows. I had brief periods of being clean from one substance or alcohol but was never completely abstinent from everything. Not exactly sure when it happened, but things progressed in a way that I could not get ahead of my addiction and started to spiral. My spiral lasted several years and during that time, my life consisted of getting and losing jobs; being arrested and eventually, serving jail time; having utilities disconnected and being evicted; and the worst was my kids being removed from my care, more than once, due to my drug use. I would do what I needed to do to get them back and then use again. It was such a vicious cycle that I couldn’t see my demise or the damage that I was doing to those around me. I never thought about making a change to improve my life, I just kept living a lie and telling myself that I was ok and everyone else was wrong. I could go on and on about how low I had sunk but that is less important to what I choose to focus on today.
Thanks to my friend Jill who called a family friend who was a judge, and he recommended The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Pasadena. Jill arranged to pick me up at 7 am and all I had to do was stay sober. At 6 am, before she picked me up, I drank 2 beers. For the first time in a very long time, I was honest when they asked me when the last time that I drank was and sure enough, they turned me away. They turned me away but promised that if I stayed sober for the next two days, they would hold my bed. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but God did. Under Jill’s watchful eye of Jill, I did manage to stay sober, entered the program and have stayed sober since 5/25/2005.
While in the ARC, I was presented with a crash course in God, but I was ready to learn how to live again, or even more importantly, to find out how to live like God would want me to. I didn’t know about the faith-based aspect of The Salvation Army when I agreed to go and it is probably a good thing because I may have chosen not to go because I had no connection with God other than to pray to get me out of my messes that I got myself into…like being arrested, DCFS hearings, failing drug tests and so on. Based on my past, a relationship with God scared me, like maybe I wasn’t worthy of his goodness, because after all, I had done some horrible things while in my addiction and God’s grace wasn’t for people like me. Boy, was I wrong – I am exactly who God’s grace is for. When I kneeled for the first time to pray and accept Jesus into my life, I knew, from that moment, that my life would be infinitely better from now on, I didn’t know how, I just knew that it would be. I felt a love in my heart that I had only heard about and been skeptical of.
My relationship with God is something that I never take for granted. I am far from perfect, as my family and co-workers will attest to, but with God on my side, I was able to begin to forgive myself for the things that I had done and when I was able to begin to forgive myself, I was able to love myself and that is what has truly helped to heal me and allowed me to love others and accept their love for me. I share often about the feelings of love that my ARC Administrators Majors Dave & Gaylene Yardley instilled in me. The love that they showed me was the first real love, with no strings attached, that I had accepted in so long. Sometimes that was tough love, but they made sure that I knew the difference. To be told that I am a trophy of grace and God loves me, no matter what, was powerful. God opened my heart and allowed me to believe them. In turn, I gave myself a little chance and started to love myself. I learned that my calling is to love on those until they can love themselves. I don’t have to love their actions, but to love that they are a child of God and deserve a second chance is what I do to give back. My most important life lesson thus far has been that God loves me and there is nothing I can do about it.
Is the person who has struggles but keeps on going thought of as flourishing? Do we think of the ugly weed growing up in the sidewalk as flourishing? Maybe not by some standards, but the Bible tells me differently. Job 8:7 “Your beginning will seem so small, since your future will flourish,” is my constant reminder to keep on thriving and encouraging others to do the same.
I was able to return to the school that I failed out of nearly 30 years ago, University of Southern California and get my Master of Public Administration with a Nonprofit focus in 2019 and did that while getting treatment for breast cancer. I mention that to say that even while life is showing up on life’s terms, I will remain faithful and flourish during every season. I am thankful to God for all that he has done for me, but more importantly, that I can share with others about how great my God is.