Shenika Arredondo has packed a lot of hell, heartache, homelessness and horror in her 42-years of living.
But with heaping portions of hope served up to her in “one day at a time” helpings, all those things are behind her now.
Two and a half years clean and sober, living in an apartment with the lights on and the water running, with a loving husband, who is also clean and sober, and two years working at a job she loves, Arredondo delights in the reality of her recovery process.
“This morning on my way to work,” she said, “I noticed a beautiful sunrise. I'd have never noticed a sunrise in my addicted days. It would have flew right past me.”
Name the bad habit and Arredondo's probably had it. Name the bad result that happened from that habit, and Arredondo's “been there, done that” too. If she needed an excuse for any of it, she could come up with one. Most would be textbook.
She remembers her early childhood as rather idyllic, though her mother was in prison for drug addiction, little Shenika was being raised by her grandparents.
But then, “a sister I didn't know about came to live with us, and I think I was jealous that she got all the attention,” Arredondo said.
By the time Arredondo was a young teen, she was smoking, drinking, doing whatever it took to be accepted. At 16, she had the first of her three children. Since then, she confesses, she's “made bad choices after bad choices. I've been in jail, state jail, the penitentiary ? done prostitution, drugs, forgery. I've lived in cars, under bridges.
“I let the cycle continue with me,” Arredondo said.
Sitting in her little corner office at Central Texas Opportunities, where Arredondo directs the Overcomers Recovery Support Group, Arredondo tells her story in a clear, strong voice, but with a tone that indicates even though she lived it, she knows it sounds unbelievable.
More than two years sober, Arredondo's eyes are bright, her complexion radiant, her hands don't tremble. Oh yes, there were times, like faith-led interventions in state jail, when she saw the beauty of being sober. But, then, out on her on, she'd backslide a little.
Then she'd backslide a lot.
None of the sober times were for naught, Arredondo said. Each became a major part of the foundation she would need for a stable, permanent long-term recovery. If though, there is a main turning point, she said, it was when she realized with her faith intact, she was led to make better choices. Making better choices was a natural path to having the calm grounded life she had searched for in every wrong turn of her past.
“People change. There is hope,” Arredondo said. “I am living proof.
“Finally I learned, because people were helping me. I learned how to pay my bills, keep my job, care for my family. I learned how to grocery shop. I love to clean my house, to cook for my family. I love that I can come home from work, tired and sit under the shade tree with a glass of tea and talk with my husband and play with my kitten, Biscuit. I learned how to appreciate simple good things in my life.
“I love how things are when I am sober because things smell better. Food tastes better. I love being able to eat and enjoy it.”
Taped to Arredondo's computer is a copy of the “Serenity Prayer.” Below that is a cartoon drawing of a shore bird swallowing a frog, the frog's back legs are dangling from the bird's beak, but its front legs are strangling the bird.
The caption is, “Never give up.”
Giving up is never an option in a recovery plan, Arredondo acknowledges more seriously.
“There are lots of incidences in my life where I could have been dead. I am so grateful to be able to go forward now,” she said.
And she follows those words with the flash of a brilliant smile.