I was five years old when it started. Mom and I would go to my grandmother’s house on Saturdays while she was at church, so my mom could wash my grandmother’s car. With Grandma at church and Mom outside, I was left alone in the house with another family member. I don’t know why I never told anyone about the mental and sexual abuse I endured all those years. I guess I was just so young and it’s so common that it seemed like that was how life was supposed to be.
I suppressed my pain by becoming actively involved in school. I played sports and studied hard; I was outgoing and fun. People would have voted me most likely to succeed.
But at the age of 17, my life took a sudden turn. I started hanging out with some friends who lived in the ghetto. It was there that I met a group of drug dealers. These guys had money, gold chains, and fast cars. I was drawn to their lifestyle and sense of power. It wasn’t long before I started using and trafficking drugs. I dropped out of high school one month before graduation.
You might wonder how someone with such a promising future could just throw it all away. I’ll explain it the best I know how.
For years I had suppressed every memory of being sexually abused; I covered any whisper of memory with activity. And then I smoked my first joint, and it was like a pathway to my heart and mind opened. Every emotion and memory that I’d ever tucked away came rushing forth as if someone had lifted a floodgate.
I didn’t know what to do with all that pain. I had no support system at home and no one to talk to about what had happened. I felt so alone. So I did the only thing I knew to do—I covered every memory and emotion with more drugs. But each high released more painful memories and brought new painful experiences into my life. Terrible things happen to a woman when she is incapacitated.
I tried repeatedly to get clean, but every time, I relapsed. I was in and out of jail. I attended court-ordered drug treatment programs…but none of them brought lasting change to my life.
For years, I cried out to God, asking Him to help me get off drugs and be healed. I remember puffing away on a crack pipe while crying out to God to save me from my addictions. God’s answer came in the form of prison. Although it was not pleasant, it gave me an opportunity to experience a clear mind, unaltered by drugs. Being incarcerated actually led to my freedom. Ironic, isn’t it?
In 2014, I found myself incarcerated once again in the 33rd Street Jail in Orlando. There I heard about a ministry that provides housing for women coming out of jail. I decided to give the Lydia House a chance—and because of my determination to be healed, they decided to take a chance on me. It was a life-changing decision.
The Lydia House gave me the support I needed to stand strong and guidelines that held me accountable. They provided counseling that reached deep into the hidden places of my heart. They gave me a safe place to share my darkest secrets without judgment. The enemy loves to tell us we need to stay silent about our past. Satan doesn’t want us to tell our stories or to seek help. He certainly doesn’t want us to come to Jesus. As long as he can convince us to keep our pain contained within ourselves, he can control us…until we die in it, alone and lost.
The Lydia House taught me how to have an intimate relationship with Jesus. My grandmother had told me about Jesus when I was young, but I didn’t get to know Him or His power until I lived at the Lydia House. Unlike the busyness I’d used to suppress my pain and the drugs that had numbed it, Jesus took my pain and healed me once and for all.
As I look back at all the programs I attended over the years in my quest to get clean, I now know why they all failed. It’s because they left out the only thing that can fully change and heal a person’s heart…Jesus. He must be the foundation, or there is no lasting change.
I’ve been clean now for three years, and I’m growing in my faith every day. Jesus is the solid rock on which I stand against every temptation. Today, I am an advocate for people coming out of jail and a mentor to those enslaved to addictions. To be better equipped, I’m doing all I can to be prepared, including getting my education. God has done such a work in my life, and I trust He will provide job opportunities despite my being a convicted felon.
Being part of the worship team at First Baptist Orlando is a highlight of my life. My greatest hope, as I stand before thousands of people, singing praises to my Lord, is that they will see me, know my story, and understand that if God can change me, He can help anyone be healed. Even you!
Written by Angela Harris
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