Four Years Clean, Woman Credits Faith in Overcoming Opioid Addiction
Long before the nation declared opioid addiction a public health emergency, Angie Gilliam was a teenager when she began taking prescribed pain pills after a major surgery.
"I would go on to have several more major surgeries. In between these, I was raped on a blind date. And when I was medically released to go back to school, I was bullied relentlessly," Gilliam said. "You factor in the self hatred, the shame; all these things were the perfect storm. I became depressed. I blamed God for everything that was going wrong in my life."
It would take 27 years before she would overcome the pull of pain pills that she said helped her avoid the emotional pain of life. Gilliam also blamed her drug addiction for not being the attentive mother her daughter deserved.
"I gave birth when I was 19. I didn't become a mom. My mom was the mom that I couldn't and wouldn't be," Gilliam said. "I did not gain the right to be called Mom until I came off the drugs."
According to Gilliam, a life of crime was her way of surviving in that addicted state.
"It was mostly hustling. I mean, on the streets (I did) prostitution, stealing, cons. You name it, I did whatever it took to keep the pills coming," she said.
When her daughter and son-in-law were hospitalized after a car accident, Gilliam said that's when she hit rock bottom.
"So while my kids were lying back there in the emergency room, I took my daughter's debit card and I stole $60 off of it," she said.
She used that $60 to buy two pills on the street, and Gilliam said her daughter cut off contact with her until months later when she finally got clean.
Before giving up the pills, Gilliam said she attempted to overdose in order to take her own life. She described a moment of epiphany when she prayed to God afterward, when she finally believed there was a purpose for her life.
"I cried out 'God if you have a purpose for me, please show me,' " Gilliam said.
She now finds purpose in babysitting her granddaughter, cooking for others in need and sharing her story of overcoming addiction. This January marks four years clean, and she plans to celebrate the milestone.
Gilliam credits the tough love of The Shepherd's Home in Jacksboro with helping her shake the addiction that she couldn't overcome for decades. She said turning her life over to God made all the difference.
The physical withdrawal period still was very difficult, but she said it was something she understood needed to happen. She even admitted leaving the Shepherd's Home before her program ended after a conflict with the director. Gilliam has since apologized, and the home's leadership said she now has a good relationship with the program.
"To know Angie is to love Angie," board president Larry Tanis said.
He said it is a joy to see women and men break loose from drug addiction and find hope through the residential program. Because addiction often leads to crime, Tanis said most residents come directly from prison. The program typically includes eight women in one house and eight men in another, with a waiting list for both homes.
"God allows them into our life for a period of time," Tanis said. "And we have a short window of opportunity to pour into them some skills, some love to show Christ's love to them and show them there's a better way."
Rhonda Madden, women's director at the Shepherd's Home, said the structure keeps women busy from early morning until 10 p.m. each night. Chores, job building skills and a Christian-based curriculum are all part of life at the home.
Madden explained the recovery program is designed to come after a person's initial detox from drugs, and has deep roots in religion.
"Our program is geared toward a new life in Christ and a change that comes from within, and it's reflective in their behavior and their lifestyle, Madden said. "Because addiction is not logical at all, it can't be dealt with in the flesh. So we feel like the spiritual element is what makes a difference."
According to Madden, the program has a 66 percent success rate. Tanis noted some addicts will have problems again, even after a recovery program.
"When I say success — two, three years later, four years later — they're clean, productive, have jobs," Tannis said. "But it's difficult for them, it's very difficult even when they leave our program."
He said that the program is always striving to improve the way it helps people recover, and how it helps them attain education and job skills needed to survive.
Gilliam said she feels blessed to have this second chance at life, and to share it with her loved ones.
"There is always hope," Gilliam said. "But you have to make the decision. Nobody can make it for you. You gotta work for it."