Advocates speak at area schools to share their journeys from addiction to recovery
Students across the county marked Red Ribbon Week this past week, with mentors and advocates encouraging them to choose a drug-free life.
Jocelynn James Edmonds spoke to Belgreen High School students about the dangers of drug addiction, sharing her experience of becoming addicted to drugs, eventually breaking free and now working to help others either avoid addiction or overcome it.
Edmonds said she has never been to a school where she didn’t get a response to her message after she left.
“I think it’s so important for someone who has actually lived through the experience of becoming addicted and breaking free to be able to stand before the students and explain how it started,” said Edmonds. “My path began when I was in school, at age 15, with drinking and smoking pot.” She said during that time she could “out-drink anyone in high school.”
She said many young people are going through crises of various types and wind up turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. “My goal in speaking about my experiences is to help kids understand the terrible effects drugs have on your life. I can’t even help my children with their homework because I was fried in high school.”
Edmonds, now 41, said her life while at Russellville High School included being a cheerleader and basketball player and appeared to be good, but there was a lot going on people didn’t know. “Inside, I was a hot mess, and I cried myself to sleep every single night,” she said. “My dad was an alcoholic and drug addict, and he was in and out of prison my whole life. My uncle took me in to raise when I was 13. When I was 15, he was killed in an 18-wheeler accident.
“Losing someone so dear to me, especially at that age, was devastating,” she said. “I really just wanted to die. That’s what my life was like.”
She experienced other tragedies in life, too, including having several stillborn children and being diagnosed with cancerous cells. “I tried to cover it all up with drugs, alcohol, meth and pills. There’s no easy way out when you start doing drugs.”
By the time she was 28, she had taken her first pain pill, and by the time she was 30, she had become a 16-time felon.
“I lost all my self-confidence and self-respect along the way,” said Edmonds. “Drugs will take every bit of that away from you.
“My children were 4 and 8 when I went to jail for the very last time. I told them I was going to pay a speeding ticket, which was a lie. I had decided to turn myself in, and it was a year before I saw them again,” she said. “Your decisions affect everyone around you.”
Edmonds said she’s still paying the price for things she did 18 years ago, and she urged everyone not to go down that road.
“You’re all alive, and you have a purpose. You might go on to college, or you might not, but you can take the right path – a path free of addiction – and find a way to succeed,” she said. “The only reason I’m standing here today is because God had a bigger plan for me. You don’t always get a second chance in life.”
Edmonds said she used drugs for the last time Nov. 5, 2012. When she got free of addiction, she told God she would spend the rest of her life instilling in youth the consequences of the harm drugs do.
“I thought I was too far gone – that I couldn’t talk to anyone and that no one cared – but it’s never too late to stop what you’re doing,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, whether you’re the one with the problem or whether it’s a friend or family member.
“We all have a choice. You can do the right thing, or you can do the wrong thing. If you do the right thing, it’s always going to be good in the end, but it may not be easy at the time. If you do the wrong thing, it will always come to light. You will always get caught, and you will always pay the price.”
Now in the process of opening a physical location for her nonprofit The Place of Grace, a faith-based rehab for women, Edmonds said she has been clean for almost 10 years. “I’m using what I did wrong in my life to make a difference in someone else’s life.
“When I was at rehab, I signed a pledge, and I have it framed and still read it every single day, and I’m asking you to sign that pledge today. I’m clean and sober now, and I still have struggles in life, but I don’t struggle with drugs anymore. We don’t have to use drugs to cope with life. If you need help, reach out to someone. You don’t have to go through it alone.”
Belgreen High School guidance counselor Bethany King praised the way Edmonds “truly serves by embracing the purpose she has found in her life and sharing her story with others.”
“These students need as much support as possible as they navigate through high school,” King said. “I really appreciate everything she is doing for our community.”
Whitney Lindsey, someone Edmonds was able to help with her recovery, joined Edmonds to share another encouraging message at East Franklin Junior High Oct. 29.
“I feel extremely blessed to be on the other side of addiction,” said Lindsey. “So many don’t ever overcome it, and I’m thankful I was given the opportunity to speak to some of the kids from our area and try to help deter them from going down the same road I did.”
Lindsey said she was 25 when serious drug use became a problem in her life, but it started much earlier. Her path to addiction started through experimentation with smoking marijuana in ninth grade. At 23, she was prescribed pain medicine, and when that quit working for her, she went on the search for stronger pain medications, which she eventually started snorting.
After that, she abandoned the pills for heroin. She was 29 or 30 at the time.
Her first shot at rehab ended in relapse.
“I was arrested in Franklin County and spent the night in jail, and that’s when I realized I needed to go to a longer rehab than just the 32 days of my original program,” she said. “For the second program, I ended up going to a faith-based rehab in Birmingham. Within three days, I rededicated my life to the Lord. In June of next year, it will be three years since I quit taking drugs.”
Lindsey said the hardest part of going to the extended stay rehab was having to leave her young son.
“At first, I only got to see him for four hours on Sundays when my parents would bring him down,” she said. “It was awful having to watch him as they left on Sunday evenings. He would cry and cry, and so would I. I never want to put my son or any of my kids through that again.
“Drug usage really derails your life,” added Lindsey. “I had plans to get a bachelor’s in psychology and sociology, but I was hanging around the wrong crowd of people.
“I’d like for everyone to realize that if their ‘friends’ make fun of them for not wanting to use drugs, these people are not your friends,” she said. “Surround yourself with positive people. Turning my life over to God is what keeps me sober. He gives me the strength to not want to ever go back to that life. If anyone needs someone to talk to, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook.”
EFJHS school nurse Wensalee Baker said Edmonds and Lindsey “did a wonderful job sharing their eye-opening stories with the kids at East Franklin.”
“Most of the time, people are too embarrassed about the bad choices they have made in life and will not share them because of that,” Baker said. “I am so thankful we have people like Jocelynn and Whitney who are willing to share their experiences to encourage kids to avoid the heartache and pain that results from the devastating effects of drugs on your life.”