When She Started Listening to Her Mentors, She Became a Mentor

By Matthew Estes, Communications Director

Mobile, Ala. – Everything has changed for 45-year-old Jennifer Johnson. A year sober and clean from alcohol and drug addiction, she’s built an unshakable support system spurring her toward a better life.

Jennifer’s mom had cancer when she was young, contributing to feelings she was attempting to escape. By nine, she had taken up drinking and smoking. With little supervision, she was free to do what she wanted with little risk of getting caught or punished. At a very young age she started using drugs. “That’s normal around here,” Jennifer said, and for years she didn’t think anything was wrong.

By the time she turned 20, she was an exotic dancer and got paid to drink. This fed her increased dependance on alcohol. “I just thought I was having a good time,” Jennifer said. “My mother told me I couldn’t party for a living, and I figured a way around that,”

She danced until she was 28, and during that time experienced a shattered vertebrae in her neck due to a car accident. A doctor put her on methadone, frequently making her fall asleep. To combat the fatigue, amphetamines were introduced to her through a group of friends. During this time, she had gotten pregnant and curbed drug and alcohol usage long enough to have the baby. Jennifer and the father split up when the baby was very young due to continuous drug and alcohol usage from both.

Afterward, she went through a period of using cocaine, which drove a wedge between her and her mother due to frequent stealing. Jennifer decided to check herself into rehab, and after some time she was pregnant with another child. However, due to various circumstances relating to her addiction, she was unable to have custody of either child. Her drug usage then spiraled for many years.

“I had learned all the tricks to get away with it,” she said, making it possible to use drugs without people’s knowledge.

However, things began to change when she most recently got arrested on a possession charge. The judge explored sending her to The Lovelady Center recovery program, one of the Bureau’s community partners, for a year. However, she used again. None too pleased, the judge instead sent her to the Mobile Day Reporting Center.

This outcome was a good thing for Jennifer, who works best under pressure and needed a program more stringent. “[The judge] sent me to the DRC thinking it wouldn’t be in my favor, but I was thrilled. At the DRC you can’t get away with anything. You have to do a drug test every day.”

One surprise coming to the Mobile DRC was the ability to be mentored again by Bridgette Davis, currently an AltaPointe Therapist, who was a previous counselor at a methadone treatment program years prior. “It felt like a God thing,” said Jennifer.

Davis said, “she came in very positive, not only willing to help herself but help others.”

“The classes were not like other classes,” said Jennifer. “The life skills were actually teaching me something I needed to know about my addiction. The stuff they taught me replaced what I thought I knew about myself. The longer I was clean, and the more I was out in the real world clean, the better and better I felt. I had no idea it would be this wonderful.” DRC classes are known for their rigorous workload and hard work needed to graduate, but most credit those elements to the program’s success.

Mobile DRC Administrator Seaton Fitzgerald, who has high standards for success in the program, was impressed with Jennifer’s work: “She’s great. She’s been one person who has made my job really easy.”

Jennifer is also thankful for the friends, family and mentors who assisted her while in the DRC program. She frequently prays for people who lack the resources and support available to her. Among other accomplishments, she has completed her GED and gotten her driver’s license during her first year of sobriety.

Since graduating the DRC program, Jennifer credits Alcoholics Anonymous for continuing to set her on the right path. Through A.A., Jennifer is now able to help others struggling with similar addictions. She appreciates her sponsor, Lisa, who showed up to hear her story. “[Jennifer’s] transformation always amazes me,” said Lisa. “When I go to meetings and see the light come on in her eyes – it’s such a gift.”

Shannon Wittorf, a friend and fellow Mobile DRC participant, also expressed support for Jennifer: “She is an absolute inspiration. Inspiring, encouraging and very nurturing, she really helped with building that foundation for a good recovery path.”

“If you’re not serious about recovery you’re not going to like it,” Jennifer said when asked about advice for other DRC participants: “If you’re serious about it, it can be the best thing you’ve ever done for your life.”

She believes state leaders need to take a close look at how individuals with drug addiction are treated: “Drug addicts in jail just feed into other drug addicts. I think something better will come if enough people get interested.”

“They’ll keep you clean long enough for your heart to catch up with your mind,” Jennifer said. While true, the Mobile DRC program is highly effective at providing a path for recovery, Jennifer was ultimately the one who took those steps. Jennifer had many supportive people to guide her, but then the unexpected happened: she became the mentor to those needing her the most.

Mobile Day Reporting Center Participant Jennifer Johnson