Forging her own future: A glimpse into a second chance
For any new college graduate, once a tassel is moved from the right of the graduation cap to the left of the cap, a great sense of accomplishment is sure to follow. For Jennifer Howard, 36, that sense of accomplishment came in duplicate.
Howard not only graduated as a Minnesota State University, Mankato graduate, but she is also a graduate of the Faribault, Martin and Jackson County Drug Court program.
This feat, though it may seem small for some, is a massive accomplishment to anyone who has been through substance abuse and succeeded enough to better themselves for the rest of their lives.
Howard says her eye-opening day was Sept. 29, 2014.
“That day, I was made aware that the police received a warrant to search my house and while I was gone, they did a full search of my house, found incriminating items, and left a note to tell me the things I was charged with and I had a warrant out for my arrest. It also meant that they were going to take my babies.”
Howard says as soon as she realized the extent of the severity she was facing, her fight or flight mode set in.
“Panic mode hit right away that fight or flight response kicked in. So I called my mom, made sure my kids were in a safe place and I proceeded to try and hide. It didn’t last long,” she says, now able to laugh at her decision. “I was hiding until about Oct. 4, when law enforcement found me, stated they had a warrant for my arrest and put me in jail.”
She says after the arrest, she was in jail until a bed at a treatment center opened. And that bed did not become available until almost a month later.
During her time in jail, Howard says she spent most of the time naturally detoxing from the drugs she was on, which included a lot of sleeping, a lot of yelling, and a lot of talking to God.
“I would just sit there and read my Bible, and I would pray and cry,” says Howard. “It was literally my time to talk with God and get my stuff straight.”
“There was a time during those 30 days where she chewed me out for not getting her out of jail,” laughs Cindy Sorgenfrie, who made the decision to not bail her daughter out of jail. “Of course that’s a hard decision, but what would her benefit be if I just came and got her out of jail? There would not have been the amount of healing there was if I had bailed her out.”
It was at around this time, that Howard’s inner voice became louder and louder. She says she was determined immediately to succeed through the processes she had to go through to not only get her family back, but to get herself back.
After a bed became open at Fountain Centers in Albert Lea, Howard was transfered and was there for 28 days.
“For what you are trying to deal with as a person going through all of this reality at once, it is such a short time,” she says of her stay at Fountain Centers. “I’m a firm believer that I would not have been as successful at treatment had I not had that 30-day detox in jail.”
It was around Thanksgiving that Howard successfully completed her time at Fountain Centers and was even able to come home to Blue Earth to spend the holiday with her family.
Howard shares that most people do not get beyond the 28-day program, and feels the reason there is such a high rate of relapse is because many people go back to the lives and the environment that caused their initial problems.
“Once I was done with treatment, I had a new house, I had a new car, I had a new phone, and I didn’t use Facebook anymore, so all of those old connections I had I purposefully chose to not maintain them because?I knew it was going to help me in the long run.”
She says she was fortunate enough to move forward in her treatment plan and attend the House of Hope in Fairmont, which is a medium-intensity, 90-day program. And around that same time, she began drug court with Martin, Faribault and Jackson Counties, an 18 month program.
“I was supposed to be there at House of Hope for 90-days, however, I was a go-getter and after about 48 days, I left. They told me the moment I got in there that it was a 90-day program, but it doesn’t have to be. I wanted to take them up on that offer immediately, and I asked what I had to do to get out sooner than the 90 days.”
She says she was working hand-in-hand with her treatment coordinators to create a plan that suited Howard’s goals and needs.
“I was really encouraged by a lot of the things that they were requesting of me,” she says. “And I was also encouraged to go above and beyond that to do my own thing, as well. I even orchestrated a treatment group and ran a few programs while I was there at that time.”
At some point, however, Howard says she outgrew the House of Hope. She admits there were many members of the House of Hope who were not as dedicated to their sobriety as she was, which was not healthy for what she was trying to achieve.
“I spoke with my counselors, and they said I had to write a letter to the board of the House of Hope program to prove to them I was on the right track,” she says. “I had to sell myself, explain why I felt I needed to be done, and what my goals were when I was done. I got out Jan. 23, and I was there for 58 days.”
Howard says she excelled at drug court.
“One of my favorite parts of drug court was the cognitive skills class they put us through. It involved a gigantic book and is literally a place where you can get all of your thoughts out and sift through where you are at in your life and you have a counselor who helps you work through that really mucky stuff and helps you retrain your brain to think more positively, and create healthier choices for yourself. My counselor was great.”
It was then that Howard decided to start at Presentation College in Fairmont, where she attended school for a year and a half, and then transferred to MSU, Mankato.
“I think lots of people going through this need more encouragement to live a new life. They need more support to show that they can do this,” she says. “A lot of them don’t get the encouragement they need to change their behaviors. When I attended school, it gave me something to feel good about. It gave me excitement, and it was me and only me putting in the hard work to help it pay off.”
And it did.
Howard graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Alcohol and Drug Studies, with a minor in Psychology. She hopes to intern with the Fountain Centers in Albert Lea so she can continue to help others where she struggled.
“I want to work with women with children. I have a passion for kids, and I think there is a lot of room to redesign how we assist people with addiction and help them succeed.”
She knows, more than most, that it is the community she had around her that helped her to succeed.
“I learned from one of my professors that the opposite of addiction is connection. Cultivating positive connections with my family, my counselors, my church they give me that positive, social support that I need to keep going.”
She says she now has a long list of accomplishments she is proud of, including getting her children back into her custody, and they, too, are proud of her accomplishments.
Jennifer Howard knows she is not the only one to have struggled with addiction, and gives a positive message to those still struggling:
“Don’t give up on yourself. Today might be difficult, but tomorrow might not be. Don’t accept setbacks, you can do anything you set yourself to. Eat healthy, meditate, exercise do what you need to keep yourself healthy. You honestly can do this. I did.”