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Local Love Story: Vanessa, Elaine & Bill

health supports

Addiction is an #unignorable issue facing Olmsted County and Minnesota communities. 

 
That’s why we support programs that help individuals and families stay sober and working towards the future. It’s all thanks to people like you who show your local love by giving back to this place we call home.

Showing Acts of Local Love can be a fast, fun, and simple way to support United Way’s mission and our commitment to making Olmsted County a better place for ALL to live. 

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Vanessa Elaine and Bill

Vanessa, Elaine & Bill - A Local Love Story

Vanessa has lived around addiction her  whole life and eventually struggled with it herself. Searching for answers and support she was referred to Recovery Is Happening which provided recovery services, counseling, and a sober living environment. Through United Way’s support of health and addiction programs like Recovery Is Happening, Vanessa is now able to work her full-time job while knowing that she is learning and growing into a healthier version of herself.
 
Vanessa’s life changed for the better by donors like Elaine & Bill, who took action in their community. Vanessa went through some tough times and got the support she needed. Now she is inspiring others to do the same. 
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ELAINE
So my name is Elaine Case and I have been in the community for 37 years. I came here to work for IBM. I retired 8 years ago and I started to work more in the community, kind of my role model being my husband bill.

BILL
I’m Bill and I came to Rochester back in 76, 43 years ago, which I know is also hard to believe. I worked at IBM and I retired 11 years ago and even before then I volunteered with the tax program. Since then I have been on numerous boards, helping out at the library, I am a rotary member, we do service projects, it allows me to get more connected with the community so I am not just an isolated person. It bridges me with the community.

VANESSA
So, I’m Vanessa, Ive lived in Rochester for about a year. I came here to go to treatment at the gables. Im residing at silver lining to get my life together. Im from fergus falls, I have 9 siblings. 10 of us total.

It’s a good family, i’m very family oriented. I depend on them a lot. They have been there for me my whole journey. I am the third youngest, the youngest girl. We have 7 boys and 3 girls.

ELAINE
I’d be interested to know how your transition here was?

VANESSA
I was nervous to come to rochester. Leaving everything I know. When my counselor told me i’d be moving to rochester, I tried to get out of it. I didn’t like change at the time. I didn’t know anyone here. My anxiety was sky-rocketing, but I prayed about it and said. Wherever you want to send me, i’ll go. I knew that my next step was an important one in my recovery.

It's been working for me ever since. And it's been working for me ever since I moved here. Having my family there So it's made me an independent person how's it going and making new tribes in recovery community I didn't expect my life to be going as well as I thought it would I was always scared to cakes at 7 to recovery because all I knew was using, pretty much, and to take that big of a step in your life is terrifying.

I'm living in sober living now a lot easier because coming out of treatment I didn't have to try to find a place to live I was able to come to Summer Living End hopefully the girls know how to give me a chance and they did, thankfully. Living in a sober living house we're all able to depend on each other when we need someone to talk to because we're all here for the same reason and The same reason and I know I've tried to do it alone but you cant do it alone.

BILL AND ELAINE
We saw the chore board:

VANESSA
So the chores we actually we which every single week So whoever's on one chore one week worked on to the next one the following week.

The biggest thing is the yard it’s so big, so we're actually splitting it between one or two girls so that not just one person has to do the whole thing by themselves. Shoveling was different but that was definitely a struggle to keep up with that for sure.

I mean teamwork that's what we have to do here now and if there's an issue we try to squash it right away because we all have to live here. We have a house full of women and sometimes it's really, really hard to get along and to have the same views and outlook on things, but all in all, at the end of the day we all get along pretty well… we all know that we're here for each other and that for me,..coming home knowing that I have a house full of girls to come home to and relax and talk with and unwind at the end of a long day.

ELAINE
You know it's kind of interesting because when I think about the community work that Bill and I are involved in a lot of it is about aligning…so like Cradle 2 Career, it's about really bringing the whole community together, surrounding the students, and making sure that they have a community that supports them - so that they can be successful in school. Your story sounds really similar to that you're all you know coming together towards a common goal is what I hear you say.

ELAINE
What have you found in Rochester that's more challenging than you anticipated.

VANESSA
So the one thing that was hard for me to get used to when I didn't have a car was riding the bus. I didn't know anything about it when I first got here and the girls were like “oh it's so easy, you'll get the hang of it right away” and as soon as I rode the bus once I didn't want to get back on the bus because Fergus Falls is like a town of 13000 and this is like a hundred and thirty thousand so there's a there's a decent difference in population people are pretty nice here especially in the recovery Community it's a very good community that I'm aware of and I only know people that are going through the same thing  and want the same thing that I want so that helps me a lot and stay on the right path here.

ELAINE
So where do you think your future lies?

VANESSA
I try to stay but you're right now but I know I do need to think about the future I would like to get back to school for phlebotomy actually, I was just talking to someone that works in the medical field and they said Mayo Clinic would help pay for something like that, and it seems like a really good opportunity. And then I would feel more accomplished because right now I'm actually working as a house maid and I was embarrassed working as a housekeeper, but a job is a job there's nothing to be embarrassed about having a job - but I am capable of doing whatever I set my mind to now, so I want to reach for those goals that I've always had rather than letting fear get in the way of going for what I want I think.

BILL
You're amazing! That kind of reconfirm, you know - if we look at what we're involved in and why were involved in it, and what we would like for a community at least at my personal level - I would hope that people are literate and educated enough where they can then be financially stable and that means taking care of the basic needs and having more than slightly more than that so that's my own personal goal and why I like to volunteer. And it's really encouraging when we have people like yourself who made personal progress like you've done…it just reinforces the thought of “yes this is why I volunteer, this is what I hope for my community” - it really is good.

ELAINE
I appreciate that you’re willing to openly share because I think you are and will be a role model for other people and it's by being willing to tell that story and share it. Now you really will be able to help many other people so I really appreciate that you're on your road and how great you've done. Thank you. I'm proud of you, thank you very much.

BILL
When you see people in need you know the message you would give to that person or group of people is that you hope that they have the courage to ask for help, because I'll be there! I actually believe the community will be there for them, and I think it's hard as you probably already conveyed, you know…sometimes you're in a situation in which you don't know what to do and the last thing I want people to do is not be willing to ask for help, but you'd be amazed at the help that will be there.

ELAINE
You know that's really also a good example of United Way because I feel like one of the great things about it is that it continues to change…so if you looked at 20 years ago and what United Way was doing, it's a good thing they’re not doing the same thing now because what they do best is they really understanding people's needs and needs change, environments change, Societies change and so they kind of look at what's happening right now in our community and practice listening sessions and then they adjust…they adjust their strategy and I think it kind of goes with what we're talking about here. so then they get the right supports from their partners.  In Rochester we really do have a really strong support system - someone told me that we have more nonprofits in Rochester per capita than any other place in Minnesota. It’s a giving community and I think it just you know does bring a lot of value and brings a lot for me. It kind of fills some purpose, especially as I'm retired. I hope that you can hopefully use your skills and give back to the community and I think that you will do that in your life because I can see how strong you are and how strong you've been.

VANESSA
It’s hard to believe that you can help in so many different ways. When I heard about United Way helping with the sober living houses I couldn't believe it because I thought “that would be amazing!” - Tiffany from recovery is happening was talking about how she's going to be opening up more houses. In Fergus Falls there was only one sober living house that I ever knew of. You get what you you put into it so being in Rochester and having a strong recovery and being with people in need especially for people that are struggling with addiction that are fighting it means so much to me that you guys are able to help us with giving us a place to stay it means so much it’s definitely a blessing.

BILL
That's just another example of something that works and it will probably continue to be supported because it does work. I had an idea of a 1-800 United Way and I know their chuckles in the background. You know United Way is the first entry point of somebody in need. That's what I like about the United Way. Either they step in and do something directly or they know of a partner organization that can step in and help-out in that situation. I kind of encourage people when they need some help the United Way is the first point to seek out that help and it’s amazing, they will find people. I’m impressed by all the people that are volunteering there is a whole groups of people in the community that volunteer as much if not more, and they all have their own specialties and areas of interest. Everything from programs that read to young children, there will be people that will help Meals on Wheels to the elderly all across the whole community. It's great that the United Way and other partner organizations can match the need with the volunteers that want to help out so that's why I'm kind of proud of Rochester.

ELAINE
I'm really glad that you're thinking about staying there are some great opportunities here and now that you're comfortable with the community it would be great to have you here.

VANESSA
Well I don’t plan on leaving. I feel like I've got a good thing going here in Rochester and I definitely want to stay here.

VANESSA
So growing up it was a normal childhood.  Having as many siblings as I had it was always a circus. My dad was an alcoholic. Mom was an alcoholic and an addict. staying with my mom, the older I got, I witnessed my siblings getting into drugs as well. Growing up, I saw the effects of alcoholism in other people. I witnessed my siblings getting into it as well. I always said I'm not going to do that because I saw what it did to them and my parents were always doing it too.

They were going through a custody battle with me so I always had to try to choose between my mom or my dad and that was really hard, and I never wanted to have to choose one way or the other.

So I was pretty good in school, I loved sports, mostly softball and gymnastics they got me out of the house and active. In ninth grade, I kind of got into the party scene. It was it was ninth grade it was the last quarter of the year and I had all A's and B's and I started partying every single weekend, and soon after that, first weekend that I partied you saw in my grades I was failing classes. At first it was drinking and smoking cigarettes, smoking weed here and there and then the weed smoking became a daily thing. I got into kind of a rough crowd. They considered themselves a gang. I hung out with that crowd for four years, getting into trouble here and there but never anything serious. Not getting any charges or dealing with the law.

In 11th and 12th grade because of my parents, they were still going through a custody battle, my mom was still struggling with addiction, it caught back up to her. One of my friends that I've been partying with she said that I can move in with her. Her name was Ashley. Her mom legally adopted me, which was amazing, so I lived there for 11th and 12th grade and I was almost 18. My parents were still fighting for custody, so going to court and I finally just said you know what I live with my dad that's fine.

By this time, I was kind of into benzos and like pain killers, but nothing ever really stuck until the friend that I was living with passed away from a heroin overdose and I met this guy that was into meth, and I kept telling myself I'm not going to try it, I'm just going to take the painkillers here and there. And being that I wanted this guy to like me, and being that he was there when my best friend died, I thought we was all that I had in my life at that time. And one day, I said okay I'll try it. I smoked it that day and the next day I was a full-on iv addict.

Because of the paranoia and hallucinations from being up for days and I knew I needed a break. I didn’t know how bad it was until my dad saw me after a few months of using and I'll never forget the image that I saw when I got out of the vehicle to meet up with my dad and he said “how long has it been since you last ate?” I didn't realize what it had done to me. Because I see myself every single day I didn't see the effects that it was taking on my body. So I moved in with my dad when I was clean, I was still smoking weed and taking pain killers here and there but I was off of the meth. For about six months and then I remember this feeling inside of me, feeling like I was being left out because all over my so-called friends were out their using, having so much fun, and I was missing out because I wasn’t there having fun with them. I Started using meth again and at this time pain killers were becoming more popular, so I tried everything I could to get a prescription for pain killers and as it turned out, I have minimal scoliosis so that was perfect for me I got put on a pain contract.

That's when my Opiate addiction started. I pretty much stopped meth because the pain killers were filling my need while I was still trying to cope with my friends death. I never dealt with death with someone so close to me so I didn’t know how to cope with it. I didn’t realize that I was actually addicted to pain killers until one night I started going through withdrawals and I didn't know that is what it was because I didn't know what the withdrawals were like, I had never had them. That night I remember waking up shaking and sweating with restless leg syndrome, restless arm syndrome. I'm punching my arms because they would like something was crawling inside of my skin. And that day I told myself that I'm never going to stop opiates if that was the way I was going to feel. I was scared to feel that way at all and a few months later, I got into heroin. I was with the same guy that I tried the meth with for the first time. To be honest, at that moment of my life, I loved the feeling that It gave me, it took me out of reality and made me feel like I was on top of the world. It was like the first time you fell in love. The best feeling I had in my whole entire life.  I told myself because my best friend passed away from Heroin - she was an IV user, I told myself if I ever start shooting up heroin, that’s when I’m going to stop. If I’m that bad, I don't want to be a heroin junkie. I kept coming up with these standards of myself like at least I'm not that bad. When the Heroin addiction started that’s when my life went downhill completely. I was stealing, lying, sleeping in cars, I was actually homeless for 9 months sleeping in a Trailblazer on the side of the road – in a kind of deer hunting area through the Minnesota winters only because I wanted the next high. I didn't want to go and get help I didn't know where to ask for the help and I was scared to go through those withdrawals again. Struggling to get money, and struggling to eat, but the first thing I needed and I thought of were the drugs. As soon as I could get the drugs, that’s when I could go on with my daily life.

ELAINE
How are you financially supporting that?

VANESSA

Shoplifting and stealing. I if I could sell it I would, if I could trade it I would, and then shortly after that I started getting kicked out of all these places. I got kicked out of Wal Mart, O’reilly’s even the dollar tree. I thought it was so crazy that I wasn't allowed at the Dollar Tree. Mostly shoplifting. We were always selling stuff, me and my boyfriend, mostly his parent’s stuff. Pitchers, their hunting stuff and fishing stuff and always in the back of my head I would tell myself I would pay them back for all of this stuff. And I never did, I just needed to feed my addiction everyday. And every single day that I got high I would always tell myself I wasn’t going to do it the next day, this was the last day but I couldn't. I couldn't live without it, I just couldn’t do it. 

So this is a couple years and I think it was about two years that I was it was the one year that I on probation. And I was on probation at the time because of the shoplifting, my boyfriends mom put a restraining order on me, we were sleeping in the Fish House, I picked me up for that so I knew I needed to go to treatment. I told my officer that I've been using and she sent me to retrieve a facility in Fargo North Dakota and it was called and share house and I felt so we're going there because I had a clear mind and that's when I was introduced into an NA and AA meetings and I was introduced to so many people getting along and it was so hard for me to believe that they weren’t getting high because of how happy they were. They were people there with two years to 10 years 30 years to 50 years sober and it blew my mind. I wanted it, I wanted it really, really bad. During the time that I was in treatment I was with the same guy that I have been using with and as soon as I graduated treatment he picked me up and he had a needle full of heroin waiting for me, and it was right in front of me. I debated for about 20 minutes - we were on the interstate on our way to go back to his parent’s house and I couldn't help but do it and after I relapsed at one time or after I relapsed from getting out of treatment up until getting clean March 7th 2018 I overdosed five different times. Each time my boyfriend had to use the Narcan on me.

For people coming out of treatment and think that their tolerance was the same as what it was when they got clean and it's not that's why there's so many overdoses with people that relapse and today that scares me. I see what it does to family’s lives - being taken because of drugs. And it's such a hard thing to fight off cuz it's a daily thing you have to deal with…every single day.

You're an addict and as long as you stay on the right path you have to have faith and trust and a higher power and the people that you surround yourself with you have to get rid of coping replacements, playthings, everything…you have to change everything about your life in order to stay clean. That was scary for me. I thought that I would be able to go back to my hometown…Anytime I go back there now I get anxiety and I start shaking. I know that I have to have somebody with me, I don't even drive through that. Not that I'm going to go out use, it's just there so many different memories that I have, how I messed my life up when I was using. Just talking about it gives me these crazy feelings, I don't know how to explain them.

The people in my hometown call it a big black hole and anybody that goes back there they've never seen clean that's one of the main reasons why I don't want to go back there, not that I don't trust myself…I think it would be so easy to get sucked back into that lifestyle I was in. It was the hardest thing for me to change was the lifestyle and lying for no reason. I know sometimes I still catch myself. Being clean, I’m the worst liar in the world but using, anybody would have believed anything that I would have said. Sometimes I feel like addicts get this image because of what they did in their active addiction. Addiction makes you do things that you wouldn't normally do on a day to day basis. Lying, stealing, hurting people. Today I can't even think about doing that to somebody or going into the store and stealing something.  I felt like a monster in my active addiction and I was so angry, I never had a smile on my face and then coming to Rochester for treatment I was still skeptical on staying clean. I kept telling myself there was a little voice in the back of my head saying just complete it then you can go back to what you were doing.

Change was scary. Then something clicked. They talk about a spiritual awakening and it happened while I was at treatment. Going to the meetings in Rochester it opened my eyes to so much more trusting people was really, really hard because I had been screwed over so many times. But trusting that there's something higher than you that is kind of you, that's going to bring you better things trying to do the next right thing even when nobody's looking. That's kind of been a motto to me. Sometimes I feel like there is this image of an addict and people ask me sometimes, “you use drugs” and like yeah is there a certain way that somebody should look? There are people you wouldn’t expect to live that lifestyle. They say it’s a disease and I know for me and the way it made me feel…so after I haven't had that moment and treatments you're at The Gables I kept asking for extensions originally I was only supposed to be there for about 3 months and I think I stayed for about 6 months actually and I when I moved in there, there were 28 women in the house by the time I graduated none of those women were in the house anymore.  I wanted to stay because I was so nervous about where I would be going. Tiffany at Recovery Is Happening came to The Gables to tell us about what they're doing there and how they're helping people in recovery and they told me about sober living and so I was like do I want to go home or stay here and that's where me and my dad and that co-dependency, I knew I needed into do what was uncomfortable.

They say that when you are uncomfortable, that’s when you are making progress or learning. That's very uncomfortable for me it was hard but today I've got a year and two months clean, and that's the longest I've ever made it. And it is all through the help of sober living and treatment and Recovery Is Happening, and United Way. If it weren't for places like this I think it would be a success it would be lower than it already is. It’s not a very high number and it's so upsetting seeing the number that it is because they don't know where they're going after treatment, and they go right back, even if that's not what they want to do… I know that working a strong program and attending meetings regularly and working through the steps has changed my life completely. I know I have to wake up every day being grateful for my life and grateful for the people that I have in my life cuz if it weren't for the people that I have in my life in this program I would be dead.

BILL
I was kind of wondering so what was the what was the trigger that you said this time it's going to work or this time it's going to be different?

VANESSA
It was it was the counselor in treatment. She carried herself so well, and she was in recovery.  kept telling myself I want to be like her and there were a few words that she spoke…I wish I could remember what it was. I was just so happy when she said it, I actually felt at that moment, I know that I did not want to put my family through having to bury me. She made me realize it. She made me write my own eulogy…obituary, as if my dad were reading it and being that my and my dad are really close, I don't ever want to put my family so that and that's usually where they end up either jail or dead and I want to be that statistic that makes it not the one that doesn’t.

ELAINE
Thanks for sharing that story.

So I'm thankful to United Way for actually for bringing us together your story is a really tough one to here but it's a wonderful story to hear because of literally how you have transitioned your life, and the path that you put yourself on. The work that we do in the community is so worth it because of stories exactly like yours and again I'm just really proud of you and I really appreciate the opportunity to get to meet you.

BILL
Similarly I am very thankful for the United Way if you get the donors and the volunteers with another human being who has experience of difficulties and got some assistance. And you know, putting a real face on a situation. You can read in the paper and on news statistics about education, drug addiction, the poverty but until you see a human face, it doesn't tug at the heart as much as it should. And to have these interactions is really, really powerful because it kind of re-confirms why we do things and the worth of an organization like the United Way who connects those who have needs with those who have resources and skills and talents that can help those people in need. So that's what was so wonderful for me.

VANESSA
I’m thankful for United Way for bringing us together and giving me the opportunity to see everything that you guys do. Actually meeting people that are helping the community in all the ways that you guys are helping the community is amazing to me, and it makes me think there's actually hope in the world that things can just keep getting better. And knowing that you're volunteering, doing this and the kindness of your heart…it brings me happiness and joy.  I'm not going to lie, it was scary opening up and being vulnerable with you guys, but I've always heard to share experience strength in hopes that I can help somebody. I'm sure any other day if I probably would have been sitting down with some with a couple talking about all of the bad things compared to all of the good things so I'm very grateful that I had this opportunity to meet you guys.

 

 

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