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Teri Smith

It’s Never Too Late to Stop Feeding Your Monsters

People in recovery often get stuck in the worst parts of their stories: the promises broken, the relationships shattered, the disastrous choices and, most of all, the shame. Teri Smith, who has been in recovery since 2005, has those stories too, and she doesn’t shy away from them, but for her, the far more compelling story is what caused her addiction to gain a foothold in the first place, and the new life she has forged for herself since.

Teri and her younger brother grew up in a house ruled by fear. Their father was a volatile, abusive figure in the home. He demanded perfection, and when his wife and children fell short, as they inevitably did in some unforeseen way, retribution in the form of cruel words, swinging fists, and sometimes even a gun being pulled, came on fast. There was no refuge for Teri; not at home, and not at school either, where she became the victim of intense bullying, her classmates torturing her with taunts and cruel letters shoved into her locker. Teri didn’t want to cope with the pain; she just wanted it to stop.

Soon after high school, working as a hairstylist, Teri found a way to make that happen. She had already started smoking pot and drinking, but life at the salon introduced a new substance into her escapist repertoire, one that would prove far harder to leave behind.  It was on a work trip to Las Vegas that Teri was first offered cocaine, and the effect was immediate. The drug made her feel both powerful and numb in all the right ways, and she wanted more.

Within a year, Teri’s need for the drug had started to take over all aspects of her life, and when her brother committed suicide, Teri spiraled even deeper. She began dealing drugs in order to support her addiction, a crime that landed her in jail repeatedly. Each time she got arrested, she tried to stop using. She would go to court ordered treatment and manage to stay sober for a few months, but it never lasted.  Finally, on August 9, 2005, Teri found herself before an all too familiar judge. This time, he said, he wasn’t sentencing her to treatment; this time, she was going to prison.

Teri was locked up for eight months, during which time she cried every single day, full of shame for what her life had become. Once she was released, Teri vowed to do things differently. She got an apartment – small and bare bones but hers and she was so grateful to have it – found work in a restaurant, and focused on staying on the right path. 

One day, she heard a loud banging on her front door and opened it to find her parole officer, there to make one of his surprise checks, searching through her garbage and cupboards to make sure she was clean. As they sat and talked at her tiny kitchen table, the parole officer said something surprising.

“Every time I come check on you, if you aren’t at work, you are here,” he said.

Teri was confused. Wasn’t that exactly what she was supposed to be doing? He said no. He was worried that if she didn’t start to make connections, if she didn’t start to find activities she enjoyed and people she wanted to be around, she was going to relapse.

“What do you like to do?” he asked. Teri faltered. She knew she liked drinking. She knew she liked drugs. Now that those weren’t an option, she had no idea.

The parole officer suggested she give church a try. He also thought tennis might be something to explore and encouraged her to go pick up a cheap racket and some balls and head down to the nearby courts to practice. On her first day of group lessons, Teri found herself riddled with doubt. How could she go to the courts and interact with these “normal” people? Surely they wouldn’t want to know her, an addict who had been to prison. The monsters inside her wanted to be fed with all that negativity and fear, but Teri summoned the strength to silence them.

She went to that lesson, and found that no one even asked about her past; she was just another person who was there to play tennis. And play she did; Teri went on to win the 3.5 Ladies’ Tennis Tournament for Colorado!  Through tennis, Teri learned how to be fully present and quiet the noise in her head. It was a key part in building a new and better life, one that now includes a career as a counselor as well as leading a coaching business, helping others newly in recovery find their own paths to a healthier life, just as that parole officer once did for her.

Teri might not ever be able to fully get rid of her monsters, but thanks to the full and meaningful life she has built, they have faded far into the background.

It’s Never Too Late to Stop Feeding Your Monsters.