Early one morning, at age 26, Candace turned on the bathroom light, looked in the mirror, and was horrified by what she saw: her biological mother staring back at her.
“I looked just like her,” says Candace, now 34, who remembers little of her mom, besides her drinking and IV drug use.
“I was skin and bones, just 95 pounds. I had dark circles under my eyes. My teeth were falling out. I was living off of narcotics and coffee.”
Candace told herself: Girl, if you don’t get help right now, you’re going to lose everything.
For two years, Candace had been taking Percoset, at first to cope with neck and nerve pain but then to cope with life as a young mom of five.
“It was all just too much,” says Candace, who stayed home with the kids while her husband worked call-center jobs. “I had no education, no identity, no support, no friends. The bills weren’t being paid. We were always losing cars and apartments. It was all on me to feed the kids, give them a bath, play with them. I always felt so alone.”
It was a situation that would overwhelm anyone, but one for which Candace was especially unprepared.
Growing up, she had never known stability. She lived with her mom at first, then her dad and abusive stepmom. After her dad was imprisoned for molesting her and her sister, Candace and her stepmom ended up in a YWCA shelter. Then, when Candace was 14, her stepmom disappeared.
“One day I got a letter in the mail with my birth certificate and social security card,” Candace recalls. “She didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.”
A young couple took her in, Candace says, only for the state money they would receive.
Candace says she was molested by the husband and abused by the wife. “From the moment I woke up, I had to work for her — feed all the animals, unload the dishes, paint her toes, do her hair. I think she knew what her husband was doing and taking it out on me.”
One day, at 18, Candace stuffed her backpack full of clothes, went to school and never came back. For a while, she lived with a friend. Eventually, she moved in with the man who became her husband.
At 20, she had her first child and 3 months later was pregnant again. At 23, she had twin girls, followed by a baby boy.
Diagnosed with fibromyalgia and suffering from neck pain stemming from an accident, Candace was prescribed Percoset and managed well for a year.
“But then life started kicking in, and one day I started taking one more pill than I should have. After a year, I realized I was taking a month’s worth of pills in less than 2 weeks.”
That’s when she had her epiphany in front of the bathroom mirror.
Determined to break her family’s generations-long cycle of addiction, Candace called an outpatient treatment program and started taking Suboxone. Nine months later, she switched to Ideal Option, whose providers, she says, treat her with more kindness.
“Suboxone keeps the cravings away — it’s been a life-saver,” says Candace, now with two solid years in recovery.
As a bonus, the medication has relieved her nerve pain and allowed her to stop taking her fibromyalgia medication.
Along the way, Candace and her husband split up. She entered a 3-year relationship but that ended, too.
Today, her kids live with their dad while Candace, supporting herself for the first time, rents a room and works fulltime as a caregiver for a Vietnam veteran who suffers from seizures.
She takes care of everything — grocery shopping, cooking, housekeeping, medication, transportation to doctor’s appointments.
It’s all great experience for the career she intends to pursue when the kids are a bit older: nursing.
“I either want to work in the ER or deliver babies,” Candace says. “I’ve had 5 kids myself, and I love the whole aspect of producing life and bringing in life.”
In the meantime, she remains close with her children and talks to them on the phone every day.
Her oldest daughter, now 14, knows what Candace has survived.
“She tells me all the time she’s proud of me. The first time she said that to me, we were driving in my truck, and I was singing a song, all in my groove, and she grabbed my hand and rested it on my leg and said, ‘Mom, I’m so proud of you.’ I just started crying. Thank you, baby.”
She has regained her mental health and the weight she dropped during her addiction.
“I’m taking this time to truly find myself and learn to love myself,” she says, “and I take my sobriety very seriously.”
Now when she looks in the mirror, she sees hope, clarity, and emotional growth. “I see a beautiful woman who has flaws,” she says, “but I’m doing my damndest to work on them.”