Mar 13
  • Written By Scott Drochelman

  • #176 – Sonya Johnson

    #176 - Sonya Johnson

    Losing Her Family In Addiction And Getting It Back in Sobriety

    Sonya Johnson’s parents divorced at 8. Sonya wanted a relationship with a father figure and ended up with someone she thought she could count on. The man her mother was dating was warm and he listened to her. He introduced her to things that she wasn’t allowed to do. Cigarettes, then weed, then ecstasy. And when he’d earned her trust, the sexual assault began. 

    Sonya left her home to get away from him and began a cycle of drugs and abuse. Each new partner represented safety and then that safety went away. She eventually fled the state to get away from one such partner with the man that would eventually be her husband. They hoped to start over somewhere new and kick the drugs that had become a huge part of their lives. 

    The drugs changed in their new state and they maintained some semblance of control, then came marriage and children, but her drug of choice lured her back home. Her use then went into secret from even her husband.

    Eventually the drugs took over both of their lives once again. With it came arrests, relapses and finally losing custody of her kids. The guilt and shame over her life led to even greater drug use and she ran away to live in a world without running water, electricity or basic needs. All she was left with was dope and the next high.

    It wasn’t until she finally arrived at a decisive moment, staring at the prospect of prison and looking at the clear picture of her life for the first time, that things finally changed.

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    Episode Transcript

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (00:00):

    Coming up on this episode of The Courage to Change sponsored by Lion, I jumped out of the car while the car was going about 30 miles an hour down the road. I hit the pavement. As soon as I hit the pavement, I’m covered in blood. He stops the car, I get back into the car like a ding dong. And then we continued like fighting. Well an anonymous passerby is what they call it on the police report, called the Police on Us. When the police showed up, my kids were in the backseat of the car. This was five days after they closed the case. So needless to say, they’re opening up a new case. My husband’s going to jail for domestic violence and it was just not a good situation.


    Hello, beautiful people. Welcome to the Courage to Change a Recovery podcast. My name is Ashley Loeb Blasingame and I am your host. Today we have Sonya Johnson, Sonya’s parents divorced at eight. Sonya wanted a relationship with a father figure and ended up with someone she thought she could count on. The man her mother was dating was warm and he listened to her. He introduced her to things that she wasn’t allowed to do. Cigarettes, then weed, then ecstasy. And when he’d earned her trust, the sexual assault began. Sonya left her home to get away from him and began a cycle of drugs and abuse. Each new partner represented safety and then that safety went away. She eventually fled the state to get away from one such partner with the man that would eventually become her husband. They hoped to start over somewhere new and kicked the drugs that had become a huge part of their lives.


    The drugs changed in their new state and they maintained some semblance of control. Then came marriage and children. But her drug of choice lured her back home. Her use then went into secret from even her husband. Eventually the drugs took over both of their lives once again. With it came arrests, relapses, and finally losing custody of her kids. The guilt and shame over her life led to even greater drug use. And she ran away To live in a world without running water, electricity, or basic needs, all she was left with was dope and the next high. It wasn’t until she finally arrived at a decisive moment staring at the prospect of prison and looking at the clear picture of her life for the first time that things finally change. Today she works tirelessly to help other families get their kids back. I love this story. I love Sonya. This is fantastic. It’s really a perfect description of addiction, of motherhood in addiction, of abusive relationships, what it means to get into recovery, to hit a bottom. There’s so many great points here that cover a lot of the topics that come up when we do talk about addiction, particularly girls and women who are addicts. I don’t wanna give ’em much more away. It’s incredible. Stick around. So without further ado, I give you Sonya Johnson. Let’s do this.


    You are listening to the Courage to Change a Recovery podcast.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (02:58):

    We are a community of recovering people who have overcome the odds and found the courage to change. Each week we share stories of recovery from substance abuse, eating disorders, grief and loss, childhood trauma, and other life-changing experiences. Come join us no matter where you are on your recovery journey.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (03:23):

    Sonya, thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for having me. So I wanna get started with a little bit about where you grew up and what it was like in your family when you were a kid. Yeah, definitely. So I grew up here in Sarasota, Florida. Born and raised Florida native. I’m an only child, so I grew up very spoiled and entitled pretty much whatever I wanted. I could have <laugh>. Um, my parents stay, they taught Sunday school when I was younger. Very like nuclear family, mom, you know, stayed at home, took care of me. My dad worked and everything was great in my childhood. I thought that the world was just this like wonderful place until I got a little older. My parents got divorced. Was there something that caused them to get divorced? Uh, an event or was it uh, just a, a long coming thing?


    It was an event. There was an infidelity and then my dad went up leaving my mom and remarried to another woman. What was your relationship like with your dad when he left? Very interesting. So I remember, you know, spending a lot of time with my family when they were married and together. And then after the divorce we didn’t spend a lot of time with my dad. You know, he remarried a woman who didn’t have any kids, so she didn’t really want to have kids, you know, she didn’t really want me to be a part of the picture. So he didn’t spend a lot of time with you. Now he provided like, you know, child support, so financial. Mm-hmm <affirmative> help, but he wasn’t really emotionally available to me when I was younger, which led me to looking for the love of a male or father figure as a pattern.


    I mean for years and years and years, I would search for that father figure in my life. Tell me about what it looked like after your parents got divorced with your mom. Well, things changed a little bit. Having a two-parent income to a one parent, single mom who worked a lot, you know, so we had to move, like our lifestyle changed. We wound up moving in into an apartment and she worked all the time. So I spent a lot of time at home alone, taking care of myself, you know, doing the chores when I get home, doing my homework when I get home. And then my mom would come home, I don’t know, like six or seven o’clock at night. And for a while it was just me and her. And then she eventually started dating. She took a couple years off from men and then she started dating and you know, I didn’t really like the boyfriends that were coming through.


    You know, there was maybe like three boyfriends that she dated and then one moved in and he stayed and he gave me attention. He, you know, was very interested in having a relationship with me and that was great, right? That’s what I wanted. But now when I look back on that, you know, I know that he was grooming me. So he was like the first person that ever gave me a cigarette. He would keep secrets from my mom if I did something wrong. Uh, he was the first person to ever gimme a joint and he would buy me other substances as well. So now I know that he was using that as a manipulation tactic to take advantage of me, which he eventually did. Tell me how we progressed from the grooming to the actual assault. So it took a couple of months, right? I, I don’t even know how long it was to be honest with you.


    I was very young and I think part of my, like I blocked out part of that memory, just like to self-protect. But, so it started with weed, right? And he knew that I was smoking weed. He would like scoop me cigarettes when my mom wasn’t looking cuz I had picked up smoking cigarettes too. And then I started becoming interested in trying other substances, right? Like ecstasy and acid and alcohol. And so he would like give me the money to buy or buy me drugs. He would do that and then he would leave me the hell alone. Well one particular night he bought me some ecstasy and you know, he went and left me alone like he normally does. Well then around one o’clock in the morning when my mom was asleep, he came into my room wearing nothing but a robe and he sexually abused me.


    And then after that happened, it didn’t stop. Like that was the open door, you know, where he could continue sexually abusing me. What was your thought about what was happening? Were you aware of what this meant or any, like what sex was? Did you have a conversation with him about keeping the secret from your mom? He had a conversation with me about keeping it a secret and how it would get him in trouble. And I felt very confused. I mean, I liked him, I wanted him to be a part of my life, but I didn’t like what he wanted to do with me. At the same time. I didn’t know how to say no, I don’t want you to do that. You know? I mean, I just didn’t have the strength, I guess you could say to say no. So, you know, at 13 years old you don’t know how to tell a 30 year old man.


    No. And you know, I’ve heard before that a like 90% of rapes happen with a silent partner. You know, just because somebody doesn’t say no doesn’t mean that it’s okay. Totally, totally. And I think that’s a, you know, it’s one of those things where if you haven’t done a lot of therapy and work on it, you go, well I didn’t say no. You know, no means no. And, and then you, you get into talking about silence and consent and power dynamics and the fact that he was your mom’s boyfriend. I mean, there’s so many different factors and I think it’s really important for people to hear stories like yours where there’s an understanding that it’s very confusing for kids. It’s very confusing because it might be someone you like, it might not have been a painful experience. Like there’s so many different things that can happen.


    It can really mess with our heads and how we process that information. So this is now a reg, something that’s happening on a regular basis. Did you ever consider telling anyone? Him and my mom would drink. Right? And they were like, I guess you could say functional alcoholics, even though they would get really dysfunctional when they would drink, they weren’t as bad as me. Like when I look back on who I was, they were nothing like me. But, um, but yeah, they got into a fight one night while they were drinking and I did wind up telling my mom about it and you know, she left him temporarily. And I don’t know if it was just, you know, this was like 25 years ago. So things were a lot different back then. There was no me too movement. There wasn’t a lot of, you know, there wasn’t a lot of people coming out about these kind of things.


    So a lot of times they were swept under the rug and that’s exactly what happened. You know, it was swept under the rug. I mean, even though I told her, he found out that I told. And so that made it really awkward, you know? And he didn’t leave. So it just, it was a super, super awkward situation for me to be in. Then I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt shame and guilt. Like, oh, you know, I’m the bad person. I’m, I’m dirty, you know? So it was really a hard time for me after that. I didn’t wanna be hanging out at home anymore. It was just really awkward. Did he have any conversations with you about it after that fight? Uh, did any, did anyone? No, not at all. It was so it was just like it never happened, you know what I mean?


    But it did. And I had all of this trauma but nobody wanted to talk about it. What happens now that you don’t wanna be in the house? Where are you going? What does life look like? So this is where I go on a pattern of looking for love and all the wrong places. I used to babysit for my aunt. She, I have four cousins that I used to babysit for all the time. So I’d spent a lot of time over at her house babysitting. Well one of her neighbors was like a neighborhood boy that used to come over and hang out all the time. Obviously had a crush on me. And he became my first boyfriend. He is my first love. So I started going hang out at his house a lot. I lost interest in babysitting all the time. His house was like the party house, right?


    His mom let us drink and smoke and invite people over, stay up all night, not go to school. I’m like, hell yeah, this is where I wanna be. I had a bunch of new friends. We were all like having the time of our lives, you know, I thought maybe like we were all gonna like grow up and grow out of it and go to college. But none of that happened. <laugh>, we all became addicts and many of us aren’t even here anymore. I was with that guy for four years. He was my first love. And when I was 16 years old, he got me pregnant. And this is one of the times where my dad came back into the picture and he is like, you know what, 16 years old, you’re not having this baby. So they told me we were gonna have to abort the baby and I didn’t really have a say so in it, but I, I know I didn’t wanna do it.


    I was excited that I was pregnant. So they take me into this one exam room and they did a ultrasound and told me I was 10 and a half weeks pregnant. They let me listen to the baby’s heartbeat and then they took me into the next room and they took the baby from me and they gave me like this like laughing gas that goes over your face. And I didn’t like the way that it made me feel. So I took the laughing gas off and I just, I remember everything about that experience. Here we are like 22 years later and I can still remember everything about it. The way it sounded, the way that it felt. It was really traumatic. So they took me home, right? I went back to my mom’s house to recuperate from the procedure and the guy that I was dating continued partying, right?


    Well he was also an alcoholic by the way, <laugh> <laugh>. So he would like get drunk and crash his car into a ditch. You know, call me at two o’clock in the morning or get drunk and break all of his stuff. So a few months after the abortion, he called me one night drunk and I wasn’t with him tonight so I told him, I’m like, call me back later when you’re not drunk. I don’t wanna talk to you right now. That was like two o’clock in the morning. Well the next morning at nine o’clock in the morning, his sister found him on the couch and he had passed away. Come to find out he had taken one and a half pain pills. This is like the beginning of the opioid epidemic and it was one and a half Oxy eighties. So he didn’t have a tolerance for it and it took his life.


    He’s the first person I knew to overdose in 2003. What was that experience like for you? I was so shocked. I didn’t shed a tear or express an emotion for 10 years. It took me a solid 10 and I was like, would beat myself up like what is wrong with me? And I just truly believe that I was, I was in shock. I didn’t know how to react to that. So I just got into another relationship right away and I thought that would fix me, you know? And the guy that I got with was, was great in the beginning. You know, he was super sweet, told me all the things I wanted to hear. He was gonna fix all the broken places in my heart. Don’t they always do that? Just always starts out that way. Well usually starts out that way. Okay. So tell me about this, this new relationship and, and and how old you are at this point.


    Let’s see, I think I was about 17 when I first got into that relationship. During the time I was with the boyfriend prior, I did cocaine for the first time. And you know, I had done the party ecstasy pills. I did acid. I didn’t like it cuz I didn’t like seeing things that weren’t there. I did weed and alcohol and all that was fine. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. But the first time I did cocaine it was over and I instantly fell in love with it. I just wanted to do more. I wanted to be wherever it was at. I mean I wouldn’t say that I was addicted from the first moment, but I knew that first moment that I had to have more of that. And so when I got into the other relationship, it was totally a love affair. That was part of our gettings together, right?


    Yes. Yeah. I mean he did cocaine. I did cocaine. He was super sweet. I mean what could go wrong? <laugh>. <laugh>. Yeah. Isn’t that the recipe for a good relationship like you me and cocaine? Yes, exactly. So the relationship starts off going well and then what are some of the things, what’s it start to look like? So it was great in the beginning he was super sweet. He told me all the things I wanted to hear. He said he was gonna, he was gonna fix my, he would never treat me the way that anybody else did. He’d treat me better than anybody else. He told me all of these empty promises, right? Then we moved in together, we got our first apartment together and we did lots of cocaine together too by the way. So first it was that he didn’t want me talking to my family because they were against us or you know, he didn’t like them for God knows whatever reason he made something up.


    But he didn’t want me to talk to my family. He didn’t want me to talk to my friends. He didn’t want me to go to work he was gonna provide for me. The first thing that he did was isolate me. Yep. Then once I was nice and isolated from everybody, he started making comments on how I was disrespecting him by what I was wearing or who I was talking to or if I was flirting with somebody or it was always something. I mean, and, and I remember thinking to myself during those times, like if I could just understand the way that he thinks, then he wouldn’t be mad at me. And when he would get mad, he would stay mad at me for like weeks at a time. I’ve never in my life met anybody that can hold a resentment as long as this dude.


    So yeah, I mean once he had me isolated and he had my mind exactly where he wanted it, then he started physically abusing me. So he would like throw bottles at me, he would hit me but he never would hit me in my face. He was a very smart guy. Like he would hit me in the back of my head, you know, he would abuse my dog to get to me. So he was mad at me one day. I had a pit bull that, that actually my ex that passed away got for me. I was at work, he took the dog duct, taped his hands and legs, took him into the bathtub and beat the dog really bad. And then he used like this chemical spray stuff to get the duct tape off of him. And I came home and the dog was like coward in the cage.


    He wouldn’t come out for like two weeks. This is why I couldn’t work. I mean I would like try to get a job and then something would happen and I would have to quit because I couldn’t leave him alone for long enough because something would bad would happen or I would do something wrong just by trying to leave the house. You know? And eventually like I just gave up, I just gave in like whatever it is you want me to do, like I surrender. I’m gonna try to be the person that you want me to be. And then he would tell me that what he did to me was my fault. He wouldn’t have had to hurt my dog if I would’ve just done what he wanted me to do. I was always doing something wrong. And he told me that so much that I eventually believed him.


    I believed that if I could just get it right I was stupid. Right? Like nobody would ever want me, if I could just get it right then he wouldn’t have to do the things that he did to me. And you know, one of the other things he told me is that if I ever left him, I would never be with anybody else. And I knew what he meant by that, right? He meant that he was gonna kill me and I believed him because he was really crazy. So how did you end up leaving him? What happened is we were eventually we were using crack cocaine. Like there was no more sniping cocaine, even though I always preferred to do that, he preferred to smoke crack. So that’s what we started doing was smoking a lot of crack. As you know, like anybody that’s ever smoked crack before, you don’t just smoke a little bit like you smoke it until you’ve spent all your money, sold all your stuff, stole everything you can.


    I mean you’re just gonna keep smoking it until you literally cannot figure out a way to get another dollar every single day. And he had this really good hustle right back then. You could go into Walmart and you could steal a flat screen tv. When you would go into return on items, they would give you a return sticker. So I would go in with like a flashlight or some like ridiculous item, right? And I would get the return sticker and then I would go out the other door, take him the return sticker. He would go inside of Walmart with the return sticker, put it on a flat screen TV and walk right out the front door with it and we would get like $500 worth of dope every time that we did it. Well one day in particular, he went to go do a, you know, theft or whatever without me.


    And he got caught. When he got caught he wound up getting sentenced to jail and he got sentenced to eight months in jail. And I knew this was my chance. I knew that I needed to get away from him and this was gonna be my only chance to do it because if I didn’t do it now he would talk me back into staying or you know, I wasn’t gonna get away. I had a friend right, who had just also gone through a breakup and we decided he was also trying, uh, he had just gotten outta jail and he was trying to change his life. Well I wanted to change my life too. So we decided that we were gonna run away to Georgia together where he’s from. So we went up to Georgia and the plan was to get off of the drugs, right? Mm-hmm <laugh>.


    Well anybody that’s ever been through addiction knows like geographical changes don’t work because no matter where you go, there you are. So if you wanna use, you’re going to use. And the person that we moved in with was on bond from manufacturing methamphetamine. So instead of like not doing crack, like we, we stopped doing crack. Well actually maybe we didn’t completely stop but we stopped doing it as much cuz it wasn’t as readily available. And then we started doing meth. So you guys, when you left together, you were friends, right? Yes. Okay, so So what happened when you get to Georgia? When you got to Georgia? Well now we’re married <laugh> naturally. What other options were there? There are no other options. If your friends, the next indicated step is marriage and meth. Okay. Yes, exactly. So we did, we started smoking meth together and just like when I started doing cocaine and every other drug that I started doing, it was really fun in the beginning, right?


    Mm-hmm <affirmative>, we had a great time. We could stay up, have sex all night long and then go to work the next day. I mean it was fun in the beginning, it really was. Although like the psychosis for me even started in the beginning. Like I remember a specific night calling my mom at four 30 in the morning telling her that the cops were outside and if she didn’t wire ’em $4,000 they were gonna come in and shoot me and my dog. Even back then, like the psychosis in my brain had already started, but I thought I was having a good time about a year into being in there, I got pregnant and because of losing the baby prior, like I didn’t want to lose the baby. So I decided that I was gonna come home to my mom’s for two weeks to detox off of the drugs and to have the baby, right?


    So I actually did do that. I came home to visit my mom, I detoxed off the drugs cause we were also taking like pain pills and stuff back then, but nothing like two too heavy. And then I had my firstborn son in 2008. In 2009 we got married in, in 2010. I had my second born son and I thought this will fix me. I’m gonna live married and I’m gonna live happily ever after and everything’s gonna be great. What happened? So were you able to stay off substances in that period of time? Yes. So I will say intermittently, right? Yeah, it wasn’t really a huge issue back then because he worked. So we would like buy pain pills and stuff, not during my pregnancies, but once I had the baby in between having the babies, we would like buy pain pills and then he would work all week.


    We would get little fronts throughout the week, pay it all back on Friday, pay our bills, you know, so it wasn’t like a problem, you know, like I was doing like Lortab fives, like two lortab fives a day. So it wasn’t a huge issue but I was still using, but I thought I was doing okay because I was functioning. What was it like having babies? I mean I don’t know how babies are in the midst of that, but I know even sober it’s pretty intense. Yes it was. And I, when I went up there, I didn’t have any support. I mean the person that we moved in with that was on bond for manufacturing was my husband’s dad and the only other people that we had there was his grandmother. So I didn’t have any supports. And when I look back on that now I’m like, no wonder I fell back into addiction because I was a stay-at-home mom with two kids that were 18 months apart like an infant and an 18 month old.


    I thought that’s what I wanted and I thought everything would be okay and really that is what I wanted, but I didn’t deal with any of the trauma that I had had. So even though I had everything that I thought I wanted, I still wasn’t happy there. I was still longing for something more. Now I know that I was longing to fill the void that was inside of me. I just didn’t have any tools or supports or fulfillment or purpose in life, you know? So even though I had it, I wasn’t happy with it. Well I came back to Florida in 2013 for a visit with my mom and I would come down and visit her from time to time. And on this particular visit I ran into an old friend and she had cocaine and I did some cocaine with her and I’m like, we got to move back <laugh>.


    This is what I’ve been missing. Okay? And, and so and your husband was like, yeah, sure, no problem. Yes, but not because of the cocaine. I told him that I missed my family and that I wanted to go back to Florida and he agreed, but he did not know that I was using cocaine. So when I first got back here, I was living a double life, right? I got a job at the newspaper, that’s where my mom worked as well. So she got me a job at, at the newspaper. I had my own paper out. So on the way to go throw papers, I would pick up some cocaine and then I would go throw papers all night long and then I would pick up more cocaine on the way home and then I would come home and play the role of mom, you know, like Susie homemaker for the rest of the day.


    And that was like the perfect setup for a cocaine addict. I’m telling you. Like all the cops knew my car, I could be up all night long. Totally justified. So it was great until it wasn’t what started to fall apart. Well I’m an addict so I can’t use successfully. And eventually I started sneaking during the day to go get more cocaine and I wasn’t able to keep up my responsibilities at home. And I started draining the bank account to buy more cocaine. And eventually I started passing out with bags laying on top of me and my husband caught on and after about the fifth time that he caught me using cocaine, he dumped the bag out and did it with me. So now we’re both in addiction and we’re both doing cocaine, I’m pretty sure we started smoking crack around that time as well. We were kind of doing both back and forth.


    Well then the kids were in school one day my husband was at work and somebody showed up and knocked on my door. So the person that showed up was a child protective investigator. She showed up with two drug tests in hand and my neighbor that lived next door to me saw me blazing a pipe up through my sliding glass windows and called the Department of Children Families on me. So when they showed up, I, I wanted to be a good mom, I wanted to do the right thing. I was just, you know, I had fallen back into addiction. So I told her the truth and she told me that she would give me 45 days to pass the drug test and when she came back, if I could pass the drug test, they would close the case in what they called not substantiated. How old were the kids at this point?


    My youngest was in pre-K and my oldest was in kindergarten. So about three and five years old. Did you try to make that 45 days? Nope. <laugh>. So why not? Why this? And I think this is a really great place for you to walk people through something they really don’t understand, which is how do you not do what you need to do for your kids? I think part of it is I didn’t understand the severity of the situation. Okay. I didn’t understand, first of all, I thought I could get away with it. Okay. I thought I was smarter than the system and that I was just gonna shove some pee up inside of me, some clean pee, you know, you could buy it at every head shop on the corner, you know? So I had access to fake pee and I didn’t think that even if I did fail, it was gonna be a big deal because when she showed up at my front door, she kind of gave me a slap on the wrist anyways, you know, she’s like Okay, I’ll see you in 45 days.


    I’m already deep into my addiction. I’m using cocaine every single day. I’ve, my bank account is $1,500 upside down right now. Like I don’t wanna stop and and face the music. So when she said see ya, I’m like okay, I guess I’ll just keep going. And when she showed up in 45 days, I had fake pea shoved up inside of me clean pea. I was ready to go with the drug test. She showed up on Christmas Eve, you know, she came in, observed, I popped the top pea came out, it was clean, we called it a day, they closed the case. So this is where it started to get bad for me. I think this is where it really started to get unmanageable. So because I had gotten away with it in my mind now I’m smarter than the system. Y’all can’t catch me. I am justified in doing this.


    And five days later my husband and I were arguing over a stolen check. I wanted him to go cash a check at the Bank of America. We didn’t have a money in the account, I want him to like write a false check and cash cuz you get like a hundred dollars back, right? He didn’t wanna do it. Well we wound up getting into a physical altercation. I jumped out of the car where the car was going about 30 miles an hour down the road. I hit the pavement. As soon as I hit the pavement, I’m covered in blood, he stops the car, I get back into the car like a ding dong. And then we continued like fighting, well an anonymous passerby is what they call it on the police report called the police on us. When the police showed up, my kids were in the backseat of the car.


    This is five days after they closed the case. So needless to say, they’re opening up a new case. My husband’s going to jail for domestic violence and it was just not a good situation. So they started what they call a non-judicial case plan on me at that point in time, which means that everything is voluntary but honestly it was not voluntary. Like if I didn’t do what they wanted me to do, they were just gonna take me to court and, and so what did that look like? And, and your husband goes to jail but you jumped out of the car. Why does he go to jail for you jumping out of the car? I even went to the courthouse and tried to tell the judge what happened like that I jumped out of the car, I had blood on my nose, blood on my elbows and blood on my knees and they thought that he pushed me or hit me.


    They would not listen to what we said. And granted we were fighting and stuff but we weren’t really like I played as much of a role in that. If not, actually let’s be honest, I played more of a role in that than he did. But because I guess just stigma, like they just assumed that it was his fault. As soon as they saw me covered in blood, he was in handcuffs and no questions asked. And so you start on this voluntary, not voluntary plan, what does that look like? So I had to go to parenting classes and I had to do a substance abuse evaluation and they came and they gave me drug tests once a month and sometimes more than once a month, sometimes twice a month they would just show up randomly or call me. It’s sometimes I knew, sometimes I didn’t. So when I went to the substance abuse evaluation, they recommended that I do something called OP two I think is what it’s called, outpatient two, which means that I had to go to two classes a week and that I had to do an individual counseling once a week and I had to drug test for them too.


    So this is like a lot of drug tests and I was not stopping at that point in time. I thought that I could just buy a bunch of fake pee and fake all the tests and get away with it. But you know, it wasn’t working. I mean I did get away with it but they knew that I was faking the test because every time that I would pee, like only one ounce would come out cuz that was as big of a bottle as I could get inside of me, you know? So like something is not adding up here but they couldn’t prove it. Yeah. So I went through about six months, actually we were eight months into the case plan and they’re only supposed to last for six months. A non-judicial case down here in Florida is only supposed to last for six months. So I eventually get kicked out of the substance abuse class because I kept not showing up because I was in my addiction and maybe if I hadn’t got fake P that day, I wouldn’t gonna go to the class cuz I knew she was gonna drug test me, you know?


    So keeping up with fake P is not an easy job. But um, I probably took like 60 fake drug tests during that time, you know, I mean I was constantly faking it and they knew it. About eight months in they asked me to do a hair follicle test and I went and Googled it and I figured out that they used hair follicle test in court. So I knew that if I did the hair follicle test, this was gonna turn into a judicial case. So I declined and at that point in time my husband and I talked and we, it would be best for the kids to stay with my mom because if I didn’t like I was, I was backed into a corner. If I didn’t they were gonna take my kids for me and possibly they could go into foster care or God only knows what.


    So I wanted to put ’em where with my mom, where I knew it was safe and they wound up closing that case in non-compliance because my children were safe at my mom’s house. What was the relationship like with your kids? So I was there sometimes, but I was never present. So anytime that I was with my kids or around my kids, I could never like take them and leave anymore once they got to my mom’s house. But I could go over there and spend time with them. But many times when I would do that I was either thinking about who I’m gonna go meet or how I’m gonna go get more money or I’m gonna go in the bathroom and I’m gonna use dope, you know? So I was never there even though I was there, I wasn’t present and you know, in those days, like my kids would pray with my mom cuz we had lost our place as well.


    Like during the time that all that happened, we also lost our apartment during that case plan. So when my kids first got with my mom and I wasn’t there anymore, like they would pray that we would find our forever home again and that they could come home. They prayed for us every single night. Do you think there was some relief that you got to offload the kids too in that process? Because maybe the, maybe it was getting tough to keep it all up. It’s kind of a catch 22. I was glad that they were safe from the Department of Children and families. I was glad that those people were out of our lives. But I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to be a good mom. I loved my kids, but I knew that I wasn’t able to give them what they needed at that time.


    And because of that I was on this hamster wheel of shame and guilt. I hate myself because I can’t be a good mom because I don’t have a place for my kids to go because I can’t stop using drugs and because I hate myself for these things, I had to use more drugs to numb all of the pain. And because I used more drugs to numb all of the pain, now I’ve made everything worse. And now I’m like just over and over in this cycle where every day I would dig further, deeper into the hole and further away from my kids. So my husband and I, I, I feel like he has like followed me to the ends of the earth ever since the beginning of when we got together. After that case plan, I spiraled down further and he followed me on a further down spiral and eventually our drug use escalated to intravenously using meth and heroin.


    So we started meeting a lot of rock bottoms. We were constantly stealing, we were constantly running, we were constantly on the chase, right? Our life revolved of getting and using and finding ways and means to get more drugs. We lived to use and we used to live. And in 2016 my husband’s father passed away like suddenly and tragically literally right in front of my face. Well the next year in 2017 he wound up contracting endocarditis. So we were using very heavily, we were IV using and he get fevers and he would start going unconscious and I, I didn’t know what was wrong with him. Like I’m talking about like 106 plus fevers. That’s how high his temperature was and I didn’t know what was wrong with him and I was begging him to go to the hospital but he didn’t wanna go to the hospital because his dad died on the way home from the hospital and his grandfather died in the hospital both suddenly.


    So he didn’t wanna have any part of that. But eventually we did talk him into going to the hospital and we get there and we find out that his kidneys are in failure. He’s got a staph affection in his heart and his lungs and in his kidneys and his staph AURs. And he’s gonna need 42 days of IV antibiotics and possibly even a heart, um, a heart valve replacement. The thing was though is that we were in our addiction and although it would’ve only taken 42 days to complete the treatment, every time that he would get in there and they would start the treatment, he would wanna relapse, right? Because he is an addict, an active addiction. So he’d leave the hospital, then he would go and relapse and then by the end of the night he would be so deathly sick that he’d have to go back to the hospital and start all over again, start the treatment.


    And they didn’t want me to be up there because they were pretty sure that I was part of the problem and I was part of the problem. Like I was covered in track marks. I looked like crap, maybe I hadn’t take a shower in a week. Who knows? Maybe I wasn’t even wore in shoes. God only knows what I looked like back then, you know? So they didn’t want me to be at the hospital and I think they thought that I was contributing to him leaving, although that wasn’t true. But anyways, so he eventually, when he was up there, like we didn’t know if he was gonna live or die every single day. We didn’t know if he was gonna be alive the next day and I wasn’t allowed to be up there with him. And I would call every morning and I was trying to get through every possible way for them to let me to go up there, but it just wasn’t happening.


    So it took him six months of being in there and he finally got the treatment that he needed and he finally started to get better. Just started to get better. And I think for me, like this is what kind of separated us because after leaving the hospital, we went across the street to the heart failure clinic and they told us that that’s where they wanted us to go. That he wouldn’t live for more than five years because of the damage that he had done to his heart. And if he used, if he continued using it would be even less than that. So in my mind, like because of my own abandonment issues and you know, the things that I’ve been through, like I’m gonna leave you before you can leave me. You know what I mean? So a few days after he got released from the hospital, he got arrested for stealing from Walmart.


    What do you know, Walmart, <laugh>. And um, he wound up accepting something that they call comprehensive treatment court here in Sarasota. And the only rules of comprehensive treatment court was to not use drugs. So they would set him up in a halfway house. Everything that he needed, they provided, it was a great program, but if he used drugs, then they would arrest him and then he would have to go to rehab, then he’d have to start all over again. So for the next couple of years, like he went on his way doing those things, right? Like he would go to the halfway house, relapse, then go to jail, and then go to rehab, then go to a halfway house relapse. That was really where it started to get dark for me. And it stayed dark for the next couple of years. So that was from like 2017 to 2019 where the really the darkest days of my addiction.


    And your relationship with him ended around 2017 when he started on that cycle? Yeah. Yeah. So we would talk on the phone sometimes and we would say to each other that we wanted to make it work, but we weren’t together. Like I was literally living with another guy. I was living with a drug dealer and he was doing whatever he was doing. So we, we weren’t together and we had, I think we had been together for so long. Like we still wanted to be a part of each other’s lives. You know, we had kids together. We’ve never been the parents that alienated each other. I mean even in our darkest days in our separation, never once did I tell my kids a single bad word about their dad because I loved him. He was my best friend. Even if we weren’t gonna be together, we were still best friends.


    So what causes you to get sober? How do you get sober? Okay, so on my birthday July 19th, 2018, I get arrested on four felonies and a misdemeanor. The, they wound up releasing me a few days later on supervised release. And the terms of my release were like, just don’t use. That’s all I had to do was not use. But so I get out of jail and on probation and I’m out for a couple of weeks. I, I go to probation one day to take a drug test and I got caught trying to falsify a drug test in the probation office. My mom’s address was on my probation paperwork. So my probation officer called the Department of Children and Families on me that day and they started a judicial case plan on me where they were gonna try to take custody of my kids because even though my kids weren’t living with me, they never took custody.


    So this time they were going to take custody. So, so anyway, so I get out of jail after a few weeks of being in there and again, right back to people, places and things. And I wind up with a warrant from my arrest. I’m back with the drug dealer boyfriend and we’re living in a shed behind a trap house with no running water, no food, no shower, no toilet, no I mean legit it was a bed in a dirty ass shed. That’s what it was. And that’s where I was living at. I’m living in the shed and I used my drug of choice and I fell out on the floor. I don’t know what time I used, maybe sometime at night. Well, I woke up the next morning and when I woke up, like I was slumped over on the floor on the dirt floor, my legs were asleep from being in that position for so long.


    And the guy that I was sitting next to was legit just sitting there. He didn’t even care if I lived or died, you know. So I woke up, I looked up at him, he had already had like quite a few overdoses called on him so he was not gonna call on me. So I woke up and I did what any good addict does. I did another shot. Well, right after I did that other shot, I got a knock at the shed and it was the police coming to pick me up cuz my mom found out where I was located at. She was terrified for me. She called and reported an anonymous tip and that I had a felony warrant and they came in, they picked me up on that tip. So I wound up getting arrested on July 1st, 2019. And that was the, that was the last time you used Yes, that was the day when I went to jail.


    This time they were not letting me out of jail anymore. Like that card was, was done. I wasn’t getting out of jail. The Department of Children families showed up to the jail the day after I got arrested and they gave me a drug test. I failed for four different kinds of substances that made their case against me stronger. Nobody would talk to me. I was not allowed to call my kids. My mom had me on block because I was like batshit crazy by that point. And I was blaming her and mad at her so she wouldn’t answer my phone calls. Nobody would send me any money. I mean nobody wanted anything to do with me. And now when I look back on that, I’m really grateful for that moment because that was my gift of desperation. I had to sit in my shit and realize what, where my life had come to because of my choices.


    And I didn’t have what I had had every other time to numb the pain, right? I didn’t have substances anymore. So I wound up going into this part of the jail that they call the recovery pod. In the recovery pod you have to go to four meetings a day, but it’s better, right? They have like a vending machine, it’s clean, it’s really nice, but if you’re gonna go there, you have to follow the rules. And the rules are very, they’re very strict in there. So if you don’t follow the rules, you’re out of there. They brought in all of these meetings and they would tell me, you know, you can have what we have. Like these women would say, I’ve been in your shoes, I’ve worn orange and I’ve been in your seat. And I got my kids back. So they told me that I could have what they had if I was willing to do what they did.


    So I was on the, I was in a meeting one day and I get a call from my public defender and they told me that they were offering me 20 and a half months in prison and I might as well take the offer because if I don’t take it then I’m looking at up to 20 years in prison. So the plan was to take the offer. Well the lady that brought the meeting in that day, cause I was sitting in a meeting when I got that phone call, asked me about what happened, right? So after the meeting I told her about what happened and she just left. She went about her business. Well, I had court the next morning at eight 30 in the morning. So I’m on my way into court and I’m going through all of the holding cells on the way to court, and I’m in the very last holding cell.


    And all the oth other girls had gone out before me. And I just, I remember surrendering in that holding cell and saying, you know what God, like if you want me to go to prison and lose my kids and lose that opportunity to do this case plan fine, because that’s what I felt like I deserved anyways. But if there’s another way of life and all this stuff that they’ve been telling me about is real. Then I surrender to that right now. And I walked into the courtroom and the lady that had brought in the meeting from the day before was in the courtroom and she was on the board at a treatment center at my area. And she had got me accepted into treatment overnight. So instead of going to prison that day, I got offered or got graced an opportunity to go to treatment.


    And when I tell you that the judge had already seen me four times that year, he said, Sonya, this is your chance. If I see you back in my courtroom, you’re going to prison for a very long time. And I believed him. So I got an opportunity to go to treatment, followed by house arrest, followed by drug offender probation, which I thought was a setup in the beginning. But come to find out, if you don’t use drugs, it’s not that difficult. How old were your kids when you got them back? So the boys were nine and 10 when I finally brought them home. So I finished treatment. While I was in treatment, my husband got out of treatment and didn’t pick up a drink or a drug. So he was finally like trying to do, well, he went to a halfway house and he came and visited me in treatment and he’s like, Sonya, I don’t care about all this stuff that happened before.


    I just wanna be a family and I just wanna bring our kids home. And I wanted that more than anything in the world. I just didn’t think that I was worthy of that because of the things that I did to him when I was in my addiction, right? But we knew that if we were gonna make it work, that we had to focus on ourselves, focus on our recovery, and then we could come back together. So that’s what we agreed to do. I finished treatment, I went to a halfway house. We both went separate, halfway houses, only seen each other at meetings and started saving money, right? So on Valentine’s Day of 2020, we finally saved up enough money to move back in together. And I will tell you we had to do that because we would’ve waited longer. But because of the case plan, we had to do it then.


    So we wound moving back in together in February of 2020 and August 8th, 2020, we finally got to bring our kids home after not being in the home with us for almost six years. I’m assuming that they have a lot of opinions and feelings and experiences. What, what does it feel like to get kids back after having them not been with you for six years? You know, it’s so funny because it’s supposed to be this like magical time where you finally get your kids back. You’ve worked so hard to have this moment, and the moment comes and then, then you’re like, okay, now what? Like, I don’t know what to do now. All of these people that have been pushing me and holding me accountable and supporting me through this process are gone. And now I have to be responsible with the things that they’ve given me.


    And my kids are not happy with me. Like they don’t trust me. They don’t wanna hug me or tell me they love me. They don’t believe that I’m gonna come home when I go to a meeting. You know? I mean, I’m the mom that sold money out of their piggy banks. So it took some time and I had to accept responsibility for my actions and allow them to process through their feelings and feel however they felt. And on top of that, I had to create structure because they needed structure, they needed accountability, just like I needed accountability. So it was really hard in the beginning. And I remember nights of calling my sponsor and being like, I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know how to be a mom. Like I don’t know how I got here. And she told me, she said, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be present.


    And that helped me so much. I’m still not perfect, okay? But they’ve been home with us for coming up on three years now. And slowly but surely, like we’ve come a long ways and they’re really good kids. But I just had to do the footwork, right? I had to just like we were talking about a minute ago, I had to do the next right thing, one thing at a time. If I didn’t know what to do next, I just stood still and didn’t put a drink or a drug in my body. And as long as I did that, I had hope that things would get better and they have gotten better. How did you deal with your kids when they would get upset and lash out at you and talk about things you’d missed or things you’d done that maybe you didn’t remember or things that had happened in a fight and maybe you were tr you were trying to be appropriate parent and that became a weapon.


    What did, how, how did you handle that? It was hard, honestly. <laugh>. I mean, sometimes I would call my mom because she had the kids with her for so long and I think sometimes having a third party is helpful. But other times I would walk away and not address it at that moment. Not that I was ignoring them and how they were feeling, but for me to not respond in anger, you know, and to kind of let things settle and then try to talk about it with them. And we’ve had a lot of conversations and they really haven’t come very far in the way that they want to tell me all of the things, you know, I don’t know why, but they have never like thrown it in my face that I wasn’t there and that I wasn’t the mom that I should be. And I, I know it’s in there, but, um, but you know, they haven’t, and I’m grateful kind of in a way that they haven’t, but they still have had feelings, you know, and we’ve had to sit down and talk about it.


    But I have two boys and they’re not very like, wanting to talk about their feelings. I, I actually remember like making amends to them and my sponsor told me that I was to ask them what can I do to make it better? That was her suggestion to me. And my youngest is like, I want a million dollars. So <laugh>. So I don’t know. <laugh>. Yes, that sounds about right. We still have some progress to go in that area, but you know, we’re just taking it one day at a time right now. What about your relationship with your husband? So when we first got back together, that was like, I had all this shit going on. When I first got clean, it was a lot, honestly. Like I had to do drug tests for the probation. I had to do drug tests for dcf. I had to do all these classes.


    I had to be a mom, I had to be a wife, I had to work with my sponsor. I had to go to meetings, I had to work a job. There was so much going on and I’m grateful for it now cause it kept me so damn busy that I didn’t have time to think. But yeah, we, we were really toxic when we were in our addiction. Like those last couple of years. We were really toxic and I did some really messed up shit to him. I mean, I, like I said, the last day that I used, I was in the shed with a drug dealer. So we had to, we decided when we got back together that we made a decision that if we wanted to be together, we had to put the past behind us. So we decided that we were going to let those things go and not just like forget that they existed, we acknowledged that they happened.


    He knows like there’s nothing that I’m holding a secret from him. He knows what happened and I know some of the things that he’s did, but we both know that if we weren’t in our addiction, we probably would’ve not done those things to each other. So we’d give ourselves a little bit of grace, but we also had to like learn how to communicate again. And in the beginning when we would get mad at each other, we would text message back and forth. Like he would leave and we would text message because we didn’t know how to communicate very effectively. And then we started, um, using I feel statements and walking away when we got angry and then coming back and having a conversation 20 minutes or an hour later until we learn how to communicate effectively. And it’s really crazy. Like today we are really pretty good at it.


    People come to us for marriage advice. We’re like, do you know who you’re talking to? <laugh> the reason we have a good marriage cuz we’ve been through everything. That is why. And you know, another thing that I just wanna bring up is we came into this having boundaries because we had lost our kids previously because of our addiction. So we made non-negotiables from the very beginning. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, right? Mm-hmm mm-hmm <affirmative>, there’s not gonna be any physical violence. We have to leave before it gets violent. If we do get violent, we can’t be together cuz we can’t live like that anymore. There’s no name calling. There’s no cheating and there’s no using drugs or drinking. And if you do use drugs or drink, you have to leave the house until you can go to detox or go to a halfway house or go to treatment or whatever level of care that you need depending on what happens.


    But you can’t be here if you’re gonna drink or do drugs because we have to protect ourselves and our kids. And I think for a lot of couples, like that’s the probably most dangerous thing that somebody can experience. When you’re two recovering addicts together is one of them relapsing and taking the other with them. Yes. Yes. Where can people find you and get in touch with you if they’re interested in hearing more or connecting? For sure. You can find me on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube. So I just started a YouTube channel. I would love for you guys to go follow my YouTube channel please. I’m trying to get it off the ground. It’s called Hope Shot Recovery. So you could literally do YouTube at Hope Shot Recovery and you’ll find me, I do like recovery stories, just share kind of like tools and experiences. It’s really about getting a hope shot. So definitely come check out YouTube. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, uh, Sonya Johnson and my, I have a link tree which will take you to all of the in between. So if you just click on the link tree, you can find me anywhere. Awesome. Awesome. Well thank you so, so much for sharing your story and being here. I, I loved it. I related to it. It’s inspiring and I’m so glad that you got your family and your life back. Well thank you so much for having me.


    Well first of all, I wanna address that I said Sonya’s name wrong.

    Scott Drochelman (49:23):

    You did. And I think that she won’t ever forgive you. And I think that that’s

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (49:27):

    A good

    Scott Drochelman (49:28):

    How it feels. That’s a good place to start. And I think she’s right also. So

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (49:31):

    Yeah, she’s right to not forgive me. I agree.

    Scott Drochelman (49:33):

    Yeah, yeah. Agree. I think agree. That’s just something you need to live with and think about it.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (49:36):

    Unbelievable. You know, there’s some things that are forgivable. I don’t

    Scott Drochelman (49:39):

    Know, she’s not one of ’em. I mean I think it’s probably fine Arley, but <laugh>, I don’t, I don’t know. I think <laugh>, can you be Arley from now on? I think that’s better. Like I’ll

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (49:48):

    Do whatever.

    Scott Drochelman (49:49):

    Just tell people that’s how you pronounce it. They’re like, yeah, I mean, yeah, it’s actually pronounced Ashley

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (49:53):

    And they’re like, it’s

    Scott Drochelman (49:54):

    Arley silent R

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (49:55):

    Um, well my dad calls me as blast Ashley blasting game as blast. He’s like, that’s what I would’ve called you in grade school if her name had been Ashley blasting game. I’m like, yeah, I can see that. So I can tell, I can tell in interviewing Sonya that she has done a lot of work on herself. I wondered if she had not gone to treatment, if she had not had that opportunity, what the outcome would’ve been. Because I do think that that was a huge piece of her able to work through her stuff to like that when you go to treatment, your brain is just, you know, a sponge for all of the information. And especially when you go to treatment in lieu of jail, you know, you’re like, okay, I’m fucking paying attention <laugh>, you know? Alright, alright. Uh, although I did run away from treatment and even when that was the other option. So, you know,

    Scott Drochelman (50:48):

    Classic, classic Arley

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (50:50):

    Classic. When you do enough of these interviews with people or you hear enough stories, it is so wild to me. I, and I talked about it in the episode, but it’s so wild to me how like the recipe for these Abu like these abusers, we should just put it into some of the Disney movies. You know how we teach little girls about like princesses and princess. We should be like, by the way, Moana’s boyfriend is isolating her. You know, like we should just throw, throw that thing in there, like no bueno, cure the signs, throw it into Princess in the Frog.

    Scott Drochelman (51:25):

    I love it. I think that’s just the like, main quality of how you identify a bad guy is like Yeah, they

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (51:30):


    Scott Drochelman (51:31):

    You. They isolate you. Yeah. They’re overly sweet at the beginning. They tell you a lot of stories about your self worth. Why not look any further? Who needs a menacing mustache when you’ve got taking you away from your family? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (51:45):

    For those of you who are listening who are like, you cannot fathom and you’ve never been in that relationship. When someone, someone you care about, you love that you’re in a dependent, whatever the dependency looks like, dependent situation tells you your piece of shit day in and day out and day in and day out and day in, you really do start to believe them. What happens as well is that once you get out of that relationship, that doesn’t mean the beliefs that were instilled in you are gone. And that, that’s actually one of the things I found hardest to release was I getting out of the relationship. But for years, the mentality and the voice of that person telling me those things was still in my head, causing me to get into relationships that were either similar or not healthy. Again, that’s where I also heard that sh her doing the work. Not a lot of people do the work.

    Scott Drochelman (52:32):

    Well, Sonya’s story was so inspiring, you know, it’s, it’s one of these really huge stories and it took a long time and it took a lot to happen. You know, I mean, I think pretty hard to get past losing your kids and living in a shed on a mattress that’s a pretty low low Right. And being faced with person time and, but I think for me it was like one of these times where it feels wonderful at the end when things get better and I, I felt, yeah, I felt this like feeling also of like, huh, the legal system like kind of worked here, like somebody got help and they act and like something changed. You know, like, that seems great.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (53:07):

    I think her being offered the spot was really lucky. Yes. And probably the thing that made the difference between this time and the next time to arrest means to stop. You are literally to arrest something means to stop. And that is oftentimes what being incarcerated does. Not, not always, but can do for people. And it, it is a wake up call. You know, she couldn’t keep getting out and she had to lose all of the things that were important to her in order to be willing to do the work, to put them back together. And that’s, uh, oftentimes what addiction looks like.

    Scott Drochelman (53:39):

    Well, we hope you check out Sonya and some of her other places you can find her. We’re rooting for you this week. As always. We hope that it’s a really great week for you and maybe there was something in this episode that resonated or helped you do whatever you needed to do this week. Ashley, anything that you wanna leave the people with this week,

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame and Sonya Johnson (53:57):

    If you go to Narcotics Anonymous, they will tell you alcohol is a drug period. So if you think that alcohol and drugs are different, they’re not. We’ll see you next week. This podcast is sponsored by Lion Lion is a diverse and supportive recovery community offering weekly over 70 online peer support meetings, useful recovery information and entertaining content. Whether you’re newly sober, have many years in recovery, or you’re recovering from something other than drugs and alcohol, we have space for you. Visit today and enter promo code courage for one month of unlimited peer support. Meetings free. Find the joy in

    Scott Drochelman

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