Marci Smith, An Advocate for Others in Recovery
Stories of Hope
ARCHway believes in recovery from the disease of addiction.
Marci Smith shares her Journey of Recovery
Interviewed by Emily Jung
Marci Smith, a certified peer specialist with the Assisted Recovery Centers of America, is in long-term recovery and clean for over five years. She has been described as a statistical anomaly because the success rate for women is not high. To have gone through what Marci has, to have come out the other side, and to be working in the field as a woman is incredible.
Her story is a true display of strength, courage, and the resources it takes to fight the disease of addiction. She shares that God had bigger plans for her then the life she was leading in her addiction. He saved her so many times in order to see her become the woman she is today.
Her story saves lives.
Marci grew up in Bellville, Illinois. She has never met her biological father, her mother wasn’t ready to be a parent because she was so young; so she was raised primarily by her grandmother. Her relationship with her grandmother is one she cherishes deeply. She believes that the majority of her character comes from the values this wonderful lady instilled in her from an early age. Later in Marci’s life, her grandmother would be one of the last people to abandon her in her addiction. And she would also help pull Marci out and help her recover.
Growing up, Marci felt rejected by both her mother and father, an insecurity that would propel her addiction. In her mind, she thought: “They don’t want me,” “I’m not good enough,” and “I’m not worth it. In fact, I’m not worth much of anything.” This made it difficult for Marci to make friends and develop positive, healthy relationships with others. It led her to friends who also felt broken.
The truth is, although she felt more accepted by these friends, they would also lead her down the path of substance use. In addition, she felt alone even with these friends. She felt like she didn’t belong. Marci said, “I always felt like there was something missing. And I think…that something missing was…a connection to other people, which I didn’t allow myself because of my fears.”
Marci’s drug and alcohol use started at an early age; consuming alcohol at just eight years old. By twelve, she was smoking marijuana and by fifteen, she was experimenting with other recreational drugs. She was offered heroin for the first time when she was either fifteen or sixteen, and not knowing what it was, its effects or its power, she tried it. It immediately took control of her life and led her further and further into darkness.
Marci explained it, saying, “I was stuck. And that was all that there was for the next nine years.”
For nine years, Marci actively used heroin and other substances to help her feel more secure and more accepted, “I viewed myself in such a way that I wasn’t worth anymore than that [than a life of addiction].”
In this dark hole, Marci got to the point where she didn’t just feel alone; she was alone. Her family eventually gave up on her, even turning her grandmother against her. They convinced her grandmother to cut Marci off from housing and money, because they feared it was enabling her in her addiction.
This is one of the most difficult decisions of a caregiver, deciding whether or not their actions are enabling their loved one to continue to use. To someone in Marci’s situation, who’s drug and alcohol use was perpetuated by her fear of rejection and deep rooted feelings of isolation and loneliness, she didn’t feel her grandmother was enabling her. She felt her grandmother simply cared for her and loved her. She was the one person who wasn’t going to turn her away, to give up on her. When her grandmother did cut off her housing and money, Marci almost gave up on herself. In her mind, she thought, “What’s the point? I have no one, so why would I stop using.”
To caregivers that Marci counsels today, she proposes this question: “Are you allowing them to continue furthering their addiction or are you trying to help them stop it [by offering the resources and the availability of treatment, medication, or sober living]?”
Her advice is not to force it.
Ultimately, Marci explains, it has to be the choice of the person suffering from addiction. “I didn’t want to be a heroin addict. I hated every single moment of it,” she said. But when she was ready, when she had enough, and the resources were available to her, she recovered.
Marci was 25 years old when she got clean for the first time. She had a lot to learn and a long way to go, having used from the age of eight. At 25, she didn’t know who she was or what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She was still miserable and she still felt alone. In many ways, she was still a child, a child that would end up giving birth to a baby girl of her own. A child who made the brave decision to give up her daughter for adoption. Marci grew up feeling rejected by a mother who wasn’t ready to parent, and she wanted more for her daughter. She knew she was capable to love her daughter but knew also that she didn’t have the resources or the means, at that point, to give her a life she deserved.
In many ways, it was this event that propelled Marci to take action.
Her drug use had evolved from experimentation to a way of coping with feeling rejected. At this point, it became all about survival. She was using drugs to keep from going into withdrawal and to prevent cravings. Heroin was her only way of living a somewhat normal life. She couldn’t function without it.
Likewise, her recovery became about survival as well. She didn’t want to die, but it became clear that if she continued to use, she wasn’t going to make it, and she wanted the option of one day raising children.
Up to this time, Marci had attempted to get clean numerous times. But, she explains, when it became about the simplicity of survival rather than for the purpose of pleasing and satisfying others; not only was she able to get clean, she was able to recover.
Just as her addiction had evolved over time, Marci shared that her recovery also evolved. At first, it may have been about surviving but that soon shifted to a need for self-acceptance and a will to be a good, moral person. Today, her recovery focuses on how she can be of service to others.
Her pathway to recovery shifted along the way as well.
She started out in a 12-step program, which she claims saved her life. She is still active in it because of the service she is able to provide to others. But she also realizes there are many other paths to recovery.
Not everyone recovers in the same way, but everyone can recover. It’s why treatment today is moving towards more specialized care.
- Some people don’t do well in 12-step programs.
- Some prefer individual counseling or peer supports in the field.
- Some people go the route of medication and some do not.
Marci continues her personal recovery today through daily readings, meetings, a positive and growing support system, and through helping others recover. She is aware that there is still more work she can do to maintain her recovery.
Currently she is going through trauma therapy and is grateful to have this opportunity, one she wouldn not have had years ago due to lack of financial means. She believes that people often fall back into their addiction because they haven’t dealt with the trauma from their past.
She hopes treatment and funding will continue to grow in order to provide these services to more people earlier in their recovery, preventing re-occurances in their substance abuse.
Her recovery didn’t happen overnight.
She shared honestly that it probably took 3-years into her recovery before she felt like her head was “above water and she wasn’t drowning”. It was truly painful work rebuilding her self-esteem, her social support system, her financial situation, and her life in general.
But because of the work, she is able to say proudly that she no longer has cravings or thinks about using; a notion that is unfathomable to many, especially people in early recovery.
The social stigma is, “Once an addict, always an addict.” But Marci is a prime example of just how untrue this statement is. The truth is you’re not always going to want to shoot heroin. You’re going to get to the point where you are comfortable at weddings whether or not you have a drink in your hand. It takes a shift in your mindset, a shift that can happen in recovery, with the right resources, funding and treatment.
Marci now has the opportunity of starting a Hope Fund through the ARCHway Institute in her own name. She feels it is an honor that she can’t even put into words.
Marci’s first interaction with ARCHway’s Hope Fund campaign was, unfortunately, due to the death of one of her closest and most impactful friends, Blake. Marci and Blake lived together after she moved to St. Louis from Bellville. At the time, Marci still struggled to be vulnerable with people and to trust people. Blake was the one person to put this “piece of her” back together – teaching her to trust and open up.
In April 2017, Marci found Blake dead from a heroin overdose in their apartment. Her world crumbled and she wasn’t sure if she would ever be okay again.
The sad thing is that this happens everyday. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), “In 2017, there were 952 overdose deaths involving opioids in Missouri.”
That is: 952 lives lost, 952 funerals, 952 sets of parents burying their child. Millions of people (friends, coworkers, family members) are affected by these lives.
Blake had a huge impact on Marci’s life; more so than he probably knew at the time. The one thing that gave Marci hope and relief during this time was the ability to start a Hope Fund through the ARCHway Institute in Blake’s name.
Every single dollar that is collected through ARCHway has the potential to create a huge ripple-effect to help more and more people. Blake’s life is honored through this fund, so he continues to live on and help others. His story is one of strength and one more reason it is important to continue the efforts to break through the stigma of this disease, as well as work to prevent it, treat it, and limit its effects.
Marci continues this work by sharing her story of hope with the world. She knows she is on the right path and is doing what she has been blessed with life to do.
The Marci Smith Hope Fund
With her own Hope Fund, Marci hopes that funding from her Hope Fund can go towards closing the gaps in care between men’s and women’s services, and helping all. Marci said, “My personal belief is helping as many people as possible and to have something in my name that would further that…it would be incredible.”
“If I have one piece of advice to give, it is NOT to lose faith in yourself. If you do, you will lose all chance of getting anything better in your life. You’ll be surprised how many people are behind you!”
A 10-minute video
For more information about ARCHway Institute for Addictive Disease and Co-Existing Mental Health Disorders, contact:
ARCHway Institute for Addictive Diseases and Co-existing Mental Health Disorders
3941 Tamiami Trail Suite 3157-53, Punta Gorda, Florida 33950
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