Five years later, former drug addict has new lease on life
By J.J. Kindred | (email@example.com)
If there was ever another movie about redemption in someone’s life, Pam McCaffrey could play the part of herself.
Having been put in foster care when she was 2, she suffered emotional and physical abuse and became a chronic runaway in her teenage years.
Despite many issues, such as being homeless and sleeping in a rodent-infested tractor-trailer, she found a way to finish school and was offered a scholarship to Boston University.
However, she did not last very long, as she was introduced to drugs and alcohol, relying heavily on the partying lifestyle. She ended up dropping out, getting married and getting pregnant before she was ready to handle the responsibility. The drug use continued, and she slipped into depression.
McCaffrey, 51, said that drugs became her best friend and role model, because in her words, that’s what she thought people did. Even though her then-husband had a good job, she would take his paychecks and spend the money on bills and groceries, but then later drugs.
McCaffrey later added prostitution and a return to homelessness as part of her issues. She was incarcerated 19 times and later suffered health problems due to her drug use.
After her latest time in jail ended, she went before Judge William Brewer in Blount County General Sessions Court and decided she finally had had enough, telling him she needed help.
McCaffrey was finally taken to rehab and got the help she needed. Five years later, she remains clean, sober and enjoying life.
Her story of addiction was told in a 2009 award-winning multimedia series by former Daily Times reporter Mark Boxley, “Wasted: People, Money, Lives.” McCaffrey has now worked for the past three years in the Assessment and Orientation Office at Cornerstone of Recovery in Louisville.
‘MORE ABOUT GOD’
The recently remarried McCaffrey talked Wednesday afternoon with The Daily Times at Cornerstone of Recovery to reflect on her troubled past and how she has made a full recovery to get her life back on track.
“I was supposed to die,” McCaffrey said. “It’s more about God because of the things that have happened. Just getting this job here at Cornerstone totally amazed me and to be doing what I’m doing.
“I work in the Assessment and Orientation office, and what we do is all the intake assessment and gather all this information,” McCaffrey continued. “Dan Caldwell, the CEO, wants Cornerstone to be the ‘Mayo Clinic’ of treatment assessments. In our office, we hand out assessments to these patients and we work closely with UT. I love what I do. It’s an honor and privilege to be working here — I got this job right after all that happened.”
The summer was huge for McCaffrey, she says, as she was asked to be a chaplain at the Blount County Detention Facility, which she frequents several times a week.
“It is amazing that they let me go in there and help these other women who were in the same place I was in,” McCaffrey said. “A lot of this has to do with Mark Boxley. They have all kinds of education and rehabilitation programs in the jail. They have all the church programs, and for me to be even part of this is a miracle.
“I do a lot of service work there, and today, I love going to jail,” McCaffrey added with a laugh. “All my rights have been restored. When you have a felony charge, you lose all rights. Being the chaplain of the jail, my wreckage is cleaned up. The wreckage we cause as addicts is huge.”
‘THE BEST EDUCATION’
McCaffrey said there never came a point in her life where she would be able to be in this position, after all the drama she has been through.
“I didn’t graduate college, but I have the best education that you can get. I think it’s effective relating to other addicts and alcoholics. When you come into a place like this, it’s scary. I can tell them I’ve been right there, you know? Right where they’re sitting, I can relate to them.
“You can’t learn that out of a book,” McCaffrey continued. “You can learn about addiction treatment from a book, but until you experience it, you wouldn’t feel comfortable. If you were going for marriage counseling, you wouldn’t want to go to a marriage counselor that’s been divorced six times. You want someone who has a healthy relationship, and that’s what makes Cornerstone such a great place to work.”
McCaffrey said with her work in the jail, she still knows women currently incarcerated who were in there with her.
“I think that the chaplains have worked really hard to get things in place that once (inmates) leave jail, they have better opportunities,” she said. “There’s a lot of people that were worse off. There’s murder charges, sexual assault charges, a lot of things I never did, but it’s the same being trapped in the disease addiction. The things that people do to get more, it’s that same prison. Have I killed anybody? No. But there’s always something that you can relate to.
“An active addict is one of the loneliest people in the world,” McCaffrey continued. “At least that was my experience. I keep it really close. I remember that night being kicked out of a place because the dope was gone. It was pouring rain and at three in the morning, I’m standing out in the middle of Hall Road in the median wondering, how did this happen again? That loneliness is a hard, lonely life.”
McCaffrey said there are a lot of misconceptions about addiction.
“It’s bad behavior. It’s a moral deficiency,” she said. “I’ve told so many people that I wanted to stop, but I didn’t know how to stop. This is a disease, and it’s progressive and fatal. Some of the best people that I know are addicted and are in recovery. The disease doesn’t go away, it’s always there. So many people say, ‘Don’t you have willpower?’ It doesn’t work that way. I didn’t know how to stop, I didn’t want to use drugs anymore. The only thing I knew to do was go to jail.
“People go to treatment for different reasons,” McCaffrey continued. “I thought they would teach me how to stop. It was also very scary because I didn’t know what to expect. Drugs for me, they became my friend because they got me out of some pain. They helped it go away — not physical, but emotional from the way I was raised and the things that happened to me when I was a child. Where would my life be without drugs? I thought that’s what everyone did, was get high and smoke crack in the parking lot. What are you supposed to do without them? It was fear for me and a lot of people — how are you going to do this without the drugs and alcohol? When I was in rehab, I had a bed to sleep in. It was exciting.”
McCaffrey shared that she had many family members who also suffered from addiction, and the only contact she had was with her mother, who would help her out financially.
“You can’t help family members,” she said. “You can’t. I’ve tried. You’re too close and too objective.”
Her biggest support has come from her new husband. “He has been awesome,” McCaffrey said. “He knows my entire past. He has been extremely supportive and excited for everything that has happened in my life. I picked up five years in August as clean and sober. When I went to treatment, I wanted the pain and loneliness to stop, but I didn’t expect this.
“It’s tangible evidence that it’s God,” McCaffrey continued. “I didn’t know that I would become accepted member of this society in Blount County. I didn’t know the people that prosecuted me and judge me are now friends. This is very different. I get up, I take care of myself, I eat properly, I’m always on time for work, and they gave me keys to the building.
“To think five years ago, when someone gave me keys (jingling them), you’d want to follow me to the back to make sure I wasn’t stealing anything. My life isn’t like that today. It’s good and it’s whole.”