Back on Her Feet

By Jen Naylor Gesick

One woman tells how local nonprofits turned her life around

Jessica Dugan had almost lost her will to live. Despite her best efforts, drugs and alcohol had a hold on her that she couldn’t seem to break. But thanks to several area nonprofit organizations and Dugan’s hard work and tenacity, she is now a sober, productive, good mom, an inspiring role model, and she’s on the verge of becoming a homeowner.

It all started just over two years ago. Dugan had recently given birth to her third child, Serenity. She stayed sober throughout the pregnancy,
but when her daughter was only 2 months old, she used again.

“I tried so hard to stay sober and I did, but then I used again because that’s just what I knew,” Dugan said.

Her first child — a son, who is now 8 years old — she hasn’t seen since he was 3 1/2, when her addiction started and she lost custody. Her second child, a daughter, she gave up for adoption because she knew she wasn’t fit at the time to try to raise her.

Because of her history, Child Protective Services was already involved, and Serenity was taken from Dugan’s custody at only 2 months old.

“I just lost it. I was stick thin. I was miserable,” she said. “When you’re in the thick of it and you’re surrounded by other addicts, you don’t know anyone who has gotten out. I just thought, well, this will be my life. I’m just gonna be a dope head forever.”

On the brink of giving up hope, something finally changed. She didn’t want to die, but she didn’t want to live anymore either — at least not like that.

“I’d lost everything and everybody. I lost my dignity and pride. I just didn’t want to be like that anymore,” she said. “The 12-step program I’m in calls it ‘incomprehensible demoralization.’ I felt that. And I didn’t want to feel that anymore, so I tried something I never tried before — and it worked.”

She checked into rehab June 2, 2017 and hasn’t looked back since.

You may call it a comeback, but the 29-year-old says her journey from the darkest depths of addiction to living in the light of recovery is more than that. She calls it a “super comeback.”

Thanks not only to her own hard work and determination but also to a network of friends (many who are recovering addicts themselves), a 12-step program and an array of local nonprofit organizations, Dugan now has a job as general manager of Luna Juice Bar, an apartment at Compassion Ministries, financial stability, practical life skills and a heart for helping others. She serves on the Sunshine Recovery House board of directors and speaks to inmates at the McLennan County jail in the reintegration program. To top it all off, she recently learned she will finally get a piece of the American dream — she will soon be a homeowner with the help of Habitat for Humanity.

When Dugan left rehab, she went to Sunshine Recovery House, a nonprofit organization that helps people leaving rehab to transition back to regular life. She then had to establish residency to regain custody of Serenity, so she moved in with a coworker, but that didn’t work out.

“It wasn’t a good environment for me,” Dugan said. Her boss, Summer Shine, at Luna Juice Bar suggested she apply at Compassion Ministries, but Dugan was hesitant at first.

“I was nervous because of the shelter, and the last thing I wanted to do, in my mind, was go back to a program,” she said. “I had just gotten out of rehab, and then I went to a sober house. There were so many rules. I was tired of it. Anyway, I did it because I needed to, and it turned out to be a really awesome place. The rules are not that crazy, and they’re easy to follow.”

She said the classes offered at Compassion Ministries have been one of the biggest contributors to her success. Dugan meets with a case manager there regularly, and they work on life skills and things like budgeting.

When asked if there has been one person in particular who has helped her the most, Dugan could only narrow it down to three.

“Summer Shine. She’s my boss, and she’s become one of my close friends, really close friends,” she said. “I look up to her because she has spent extended time in recovery, more time than I have in recovery. And she’s been there for me every step of the way, every step of my journey.”

Next on her list was Jill McCall, executive director of Compassion Ministries.

“Every woman wants to be what Jill is. She has it together, she’s composed, and she cares. It’s really cool to watch,” Dugan said.

Third was Dianne Suasa, her case manager at Compassion.

“Whenever we meet, we get all the business out of the way and then we sit in there and talk,” she said. “It’s really cool because she’s so open-minded. She’s not judgmental. She listens to what I say, and then she gives me feedback, like ‘I could see how you could feel that way.’ There’s no judgement whatsoever.”

It’s the judgement-free space that Dugan said she appreciates the most.

“It’s cool to have people like those three women who totally don’t judge you. They understand how you feel the way you do, and they’re there to help make you feel better. I’m grateful for all of them.”

It was Suasa who told Dugan about Habitat for Humanity and encouraged her to apply. At first, they told her she had too much debt.

“So I told my copartners, which is the budget class. Long story short, I was able to pay all my debts off. I applied again, and Habitat accepted me into the program,” she said “It wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Compassion Ministries. The little push that they give you, ‘Oh, go ahead and do it, just try it.’”

Dugan said sometimes she can’t believe how far she’s come.

“If you would have told me two years ago that I would be living this life and that I’m going to own a house and have my kid back. All of that. I would have told you, you were crazy,” she said. “It’s amazing. I didn’t think it would ever happen.”

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