Ekoko Onema

Ekoko’s Story

Before my addiction, I never really considered the dangers of substance abuse. I can remember my parents and teachers saying, “Don’t do drugs.” I thought it was something I’d never do. When I was 15 years old, my mom, brother and I moved in with my grandparents in Arkansas. My life immediately became very different. Neither my parents nor grandparents ever used drugs. I did not grow up around it, and they were never in our home, but the neighborhood and school environment we moved to was completely different than what I was used to as a child.

After my family’s move, I began spending more and more time with a new boyfriend at his sister’s home. I started using drugs socially while hanging out and partying. I was not old enough to buy alcohol, but drugs were always there. Looking back, it became socially acceptable to me. All my new friends used, and I thought it was normal. I can remember being afraid at first. I also remember being made fun of because it was new for me and there was so much that I did not know.

The first time I used I had a huge amount of fear. Deep down inside I knew I was doing something wrong, but I did it anyway. My teenage mind did not understand that I was also dealing with untreated mental illness, which included anxiety, depression, and PTSD. As an early teenager, I experienced multiple traumas and never got the help I needed. I began to act out and often got in trouble. I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, then went to Job Corps and obtained my G.E.D. As my addiction progressed, I realized substances could change the way I felt inside – and there was so much I wanted to change. Substance use provided me an out. It was how I escaped and forgot about everything. Once I discovered that drugs and alcohol would numb the pain I felt inside; they became my Band-Aid.

As I got older, my addiction and my life spiraled out of control. At 21 years old, I started using prescription pain pills and cocaine. They were easily accessible because of the people I was hanging around. This made the problem much worse much quicker. I was in denial for many years. I justified my behaviors. When confronted, I would become angry and distant. My family did not know how to help me, and I had no idea how to help myself. My addiction put a huge strain on my relationship with my family. I was not able to function in life. By the time I was 29, I had become homeless. I turned 30 in a treatment center. Drugs controlled my life for over 15 years. I went to treatment multiple times. I tried inpatient, outpatient, court-ordered; I was arrested. The pain inside me was so great that nothing worked. I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how.

Then the day came that changed my life. I was in horrible pain. I was isolated from everyone I knew. In a moment of clarity, I remember crying uncontrollably, balled up in the fetal position on the floor, and saying, “God, please help me,” and I meant it 100%. I said, “God if you help me I will do whatever you want me to do.” I prayed for him to send people to help me, and He did just that. I knew I could not do it on my own. He sent a lady who would become my sponsor, and he sent a network of people who taught me how to live sober.

In 2015, I enrolled back in college, and I successfully completed The First Offenders Program. In December 2015, I graduated the Certified Peer Support Specialist Training offered by The Mississippi Department of Mental Health. In February of 2016, I began working as a Peer Support Specialist at Hinds Behavioral Health Services in Jackson. In May 2016 I graduated with honors from the University of Phoenix with my Associates of Arts with a concentration in Human Services Management. I then went on to receive a full academic scholarship to Jackson State University where I am now a senior working to complete my Bachelors of Social Work.

I am a member of the Jackson State University Chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, & The Jackson State University Society of Collegiate Leadership and Achievement. Last year I was inducted in Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges representing Jackson State University’s College of Public Service. I serve as a peer support ambassador for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health representing Region 9, and I am a board member of the Association of Mississippi Peer Support Specialist.

None of this would have been possible without God and my recovery. I am a recovery coach, mental health, and recovery advocate. Everything I went through has led to recovery, which has brought me even closer to God. The very things that at one time brought me the greatest pain, guilt, and shame God used to prepare me to help others. I can truly say that it all worked for my good.

Today I am proud to say that I am a person in long-term recovery. I know now that my purpose is to help others and give back what has been given to me. Addiction almost took my life, but God stepped in and saved me. For that, I am eternally grateful. Recovery has given me a new life that I could have never imagined. We are all in this together. One of my favorite quotes is by Carl Jung. “I am not what happened to me. I am what I chose to become”. I repeat this daily as a reminder that I am just beginning my journey. I am excited about life. It is both an honor and privilege.

To everyone reading this, please know that you are not alone. I want you to know we do recover. I hope my story gives you hope.

The views, information, and opinions expressed in this story are solely those of the subject(s) and do not necessarily represent any official policy or position of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health or any of the Stand Up, Mississippi campaign partners.


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