Aida's Recovery Story: Trapped in the Eye of the Storm

Let's Talk: Addiction & Recovery Podcast

Aida was addicted to crystal meth and too sick to evacuate when hurricane Katrina battered the coast. Her daughter and family had sheltered in Dallas, but she had to wait out the destruction alone in Baton Rouge, praying for help from helicopters flying overhead. Unbeknown to Aida, a twist of fate was soon to reveal itself. Now Aida and her brother Will share their unbelievable story with host William C. Moyers, reflecting on the power of dignity and hope, especially in the midst of crisis.

I believe in the program and the Twelve Steps and what it's given to me in my life.


0:00:13 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, our podcast series produced and delivered to you by Hazelden Betty Ford. I'm your host, William C. Moyers. Thank you for joining us today for a story of hope, a story of healing, born in the aftermath of Katrina. A powerful hurricane that struck the United States Gulf Coast in 2005. Killing 1800 people, causing 125 billion dollars in property damage, and affecting the minds, the bodies, and the spirits of millions of people and millions of families. Including a sister and her brother who are with us today. Welcome, Aida and welcome, Will.

0:00:56 Aida and Will

0:00:57 Aida

0:00:59 William Moyers
Aida, tell us, where were you and what happened in Katrina?

0:01:03 Aida
Whenever Katrina hit, and was coming, I was really bad off in a meth addiction. I was addicted to crystal meth and had been on it for over a year. And I was honestly dying of it, I was probably 90 pounds, I could barely function. I knew the hurricane was coming, everybody said to evacuate, my whole family evacuated to Dallas along with my daughter. And at the time I was so sick I just wasn't gonna go anywhere. The only thing I knew was just to stay—stay put and stay on drugs and I was too scared to leave. So I stayed when the storm hit. And all the devastation that it brought with it.

0:01:49 William Moyers
Will, when did you know that your sister was in enough trouble that she needed help?

0:01:56 Will
Well, at the time I was working as Youth Services Coordinator at APPA, the Association of Persons Affected by Addiction in Dallas. And I told my mentor Joe Powell I said, 'Look, my sister's in this bad addiction, is there anything we can do to help her?' Right? And so, she wasn't answering calls or texts and it was kind of a real weird time for all of us, any of us from that part of the country, Southeast Louisiana. And we finally made it through to each other. And I said, 'What can we do?' And so, he knew a lady there in Baton Rouge, an angel, her name was Samantha Hope Atkins. I've never met her; I don't know that Aida ever did either. And next thing you know, they're doing a plea across the country to get help for my sister and others who were suffering there.

0:02:38 William Moyers
And then what happened? Aida, you ended up getting help?

0:02:42 Aida
So at the time, it was that not only were the addicts from New Orleans were also in desperate need and coming to Baton Rouge, and we were all kinda drowning, and I remember the helicopters would fly over. For relief items. And I remember thinking if a helicopter would just throw a ladder down and save me, I could—I might survive. And like two days later, my brother Will came in town and did an intervention on me. And they saved—they told me about this wonderful gift that this lady Samantha Hope Atkins offered me to go to Betty Ford Center in California. And I was just overwhelmed and scared still. But, I had to make the phone call and go through the process. And that took me a little while, you know? And I remember I missed the first flight due to my own chaos. And when the next flight available came out, it was right before another hurricane hit. So my dad got me and my child and my mom in the car and we drove through. Will, what was the next hurricane?

0:03:55 Will
Hurricane Rita. Was right after it.

0:03:56 Aida
Hurricane Rita! And I got on the plane right before Hurricane Rita hit. The last flight out to California. So I was in the middle of two hurricanes. And I made it finally to Betty Ford. And when I arrived at Betty Ford, the people were so kind to me. I mean I was in really bad shape. I couldn't walk or do anything. They had to wheel me around in a wheelchair to eat and to go to groups and everything. But they nurtured me and they were so kind and I was given an opportunity of a lifetime that I would have never been able to have the means to get. Especially at that time, there were no available beds or detox centers or anything in Louisiana. We were just overflowing with addiction. And in such a dire state and need at the time.

0:04:49 William Moyers
Will, did you ever doubt that your sister could recover?

0:04:54 Will
I never doubted. I never doubted. We were talking last night and joking that, you know, she called me from the bushes in front of Betty Ford. [holds hand up to ear to simulate a phone] And she was like, 'Hey!' I said, 'Where you at?' She's like, 'I'm in the bushes!' I said, 'Get out the bushes, go knock on the door!' [Both laugh] And so, you know, we have four siblings. I'm two years and nine months older than her. And we've always walked through things together. And I never doubted that she could pull out of it.

0:05:17 William Moyers
Mmm. And so you did pull out of it. It wasn't easy, progress not perfection, right, Aida? We know that, I know that, in my own journey.

0:05:24 Aida
Right. Right.

0:05:26 William Moyers
But you did make it! What are you doing today?

0:05:31 Aida
Today, I'm 7 years sober. I am the Manager of a Women's Sober Living in West LA named Felicity House. And I have up to 8 women at a time. And I help them on their road to recovery. And their journey. Just like somebody helped me, I went through the house 7 years ago. I stayed for about a year and a half. And in my opinion, sober living is really where you build the foundation of your recovery. And now I get to help women every day do the same thing.

0:06:04 William Moyers
Giving back to others what you were given.

0:06:07 Aida
Yes, sir.

0:06:08 William Moyers
So, Will, I have to ask you, I mean you know this, but you also experienced it as a family member. Aida's addiction affected much more than just her; it affected the whole family. So how is the whole family, Will? How are they today?

0:06:23 Will
Well, you know, we're as strong as we've ever been. I know that I found Al-Anon in 2010. And so I've got about 12 years or so, right, in Al-Anon. And that was a huge catalyst for me. When my parents got to go that initial time in 2005 to the Family Weekend or Family Week there at Betty Ford. That's when they began really opening up and I think you know kind of, you know, sharing some things with me and in turn we shared with Aida. And then it positively affected both of our younger brothers. And I think that, you know, watching Aida live out her call there running the sobriety house, is so powerful for me—it's such a wonderful example. You know, I started off as the Youth Services Coordinator for APPA and then I ended up being their Board Chair for a couple years. Between 2016 and 2018. So, this is really a lifestyle, right? And as you mentioned, recovery is all about supporting one another in the family. You know, my experience is that a lot of us go to treatment to stop the addiction, but recovery is really to embrace the addict and to start anew, right? But it's to embrace ourselves, right? Because even me we joke also and sometimes it was a joke, but I may have had my part, right? [chuckles] In where Aida was. So it's really been awesome for our family to learn. Almost like a whole new set of ways to live.

0:07:4 William Moyers
Aida, how did your addiction affect your parents from your perspective?

0:07:51 Aida
Well I think mainly from a young age, my parents thought that I was being rebellious. They didn't know it was a disease. And so I got sent to different boarding schools and a children's home and different things. When they went to Betty Ford Family Week, and my dad was able to get educated and learn that it is a disease and a disease that can affect the whole family, the dynamics changed. I mean, he was able to tell me he was sorry for the first time in my adult life. And for the way that he had handled it. And my family changed from that point on because my relationship developed with my father. He could see me as someone who's sick that had a disease, that was able—there is a solution and there is a program and everything that I could work in order to maintain sobriety. But that I wasn't doing it just to be bad or anything like that. And it changed—it helped like my brother said, it trickled onto the rest of the family. Because once that was established, we started to heal in a totally different way.

0:09:01 William Moyers
Will, why is Al-Anon important for you, important for family members?

0:09:07 Will
First off, you know, it's for family members and friends of alcoholics and addicts. And all we knew before, and all I knew before being educated in that space, was the kind of X, right? The kind of dark X that we put on our family members and friends and community folks who have—who struggle with chemical abuse. And so, one thing that we got to learn about our family tree, you know, through the Al-Anon experience, is that my mother and father were not drinkers. They were not—they did not partake of chemicals and things like that. Both of our grandfathers, so both of their fathers, did struggle. But they didn't have the similar kind of education there. Right? You know, my father was small-town Louisiana, our mother, Jessie Teresa, was from Hato Rey, Puerto Rico. So two totally different cultures. Two people trying to do the best they could with the tools that they had. Two people who had consciously made decisions not to partake. You know, maybe pina colada here or there. So I think that we've learned that the disease of addiction is passed down generationally, right? And one of the things that we learned in Al-Anon is it affects six generations. You know, the two before you, the two after you, and you know just to be cognizant as parents. Aida and I are both parents on how we want to be examples for our children. And hopefully have an open line of communication not just with love and discipline but also forgiveness. And as my wife always encourages me to listen to my children, when I'm being a tough parent or something like that. So I think Al-Anon has just really been just a wholesome kind of reset, all the way around.

0:10:39 William Moyers
Aida, how do you talk to your own children about your story and your experience?

0:10:45 Aida
Well, my daughter is 18 now. And so, she is—we have a beautiful relationship. I've been able to tell her my entire recovery history. My addiction, my recovery, and what I'm doing now. She sees me being of service every day. And she knows that I do my best to suit up and show up. And do what I can every day to blossom and show people that recovery is an opportunity of a totally different life. And our relationship has blossomed into something I never could have imagined.

0:11:28 Will
And I'd like to interject since it's my Goddaughter, that she is starting college this week. At University of South Florida. [Aida smiles, nods] And Aida, isn't she—she wants to study Psychology, right?

0:11:39 Aida
Yes. She's gonna be a Psychiatrist. Adolescent Psychiatrist. [smiles]

0:11:43 William Moyers
Wow! Will, how do you talk to your children about the generational dynamics of addiction and the generational dynamics of recovery?

0:11:55 Will
Well one of the huge things I learned in Al-Anon is dignity, right? To offer my dignity, to offer my sister dignity when she was going through what she went through, and now. Right? To offer my parents dignity through that, you know, universal belief that they were doing the best they could with the tools that they had. Right? And then also, as a parent now, as you're asking with my wife is just trying to find a way to have an open line of communication with them. We have a teenage who just got her license. And you know there's all kinda things you have to work around with that. [smiles] But you know, it's funny, the license story is funny because we've been letting her drive in our car for quite a few months. Whether it be to church or to an athletic game, you know. And I think that's a really good metaphor, right? Is like instead of me always driving the car, or Mom, you know, her siblings get to see her driving the car. So giving them responsibilities bit by bit, you know. When we come home from the grocery store, even our little 3-year-old has to grab the bread when she comes inside. So, I once heard in a parenting class that was the most powerful thing I've ever heard is 'let your child do what they can do.' Right? Our parents did everything for us and they, again, they meant well. But I couldn't wash my own clothes when I got to college. So, you know, our kids are washing their clothes, you know, one of 'em hangs the shirts, and one of 'em folds the towels. And even if they don't do it right, they understand from a young age that responsibility is required. In order to, you know, be kind of fulfilled and well-rounded.

0:13:25 William Moyers
Aida, how important is it for you to share your story of desperation and your story of hope with the people that you work with in California?

0:13:36 Aida
Oh it's very important. I try to share my story and speak at as many meetings as possible. I am very transparent with the women that I work with every day. They know they can come to me and if I haven't been through it myself, I know somebody that has. I try—part of being humble enough to—I've gotten to a point where there isn't anything that I don't share. I get emotional a lot of times 'cause I want it so bad. And I believe in the program and the Twelve Steps and what it's given to me in my life. And how it can transpire in every aspect of my life. So, I share as much as possible on a daily basis, I'm constantly giving them a little bit of hope and inspiration and part of my story.

0:14:30 William Moyers
Why is it important for you, Will, not just to do the work that you do, but to be open and to share in the public arena, like you are on this Let's Talk podcast? Why?

0:14:43 Will
Well, what's important is that, you know, all people care about is being cared about. Right? And when you have someone in your family who's suffering so badly and you have such a strong family, right, or someone in your neighborhood or someone on your sports team or in your office, you know, there's usually two polar reactions. People who wanna kinda rescue them and be with them, or people who just cannot accept that reality. And I think that what I feel drawn to is just a life of service. And when we serve others, you know, we give them a chance and the dignity to become whole again, right? We can't really fix people, people aren't broken, right? We can't really take away whatever their responsibility or thing that they're not able to stand up for. But we can serve and we serve unconditionally. And I know that Aida and I were really deeply impacted by our mother. Who lived a life of service. [Aida nods, smiles] You know? From the time she came from her little island to the little small town in Louisiana, she served and served and served. And she passed away a little over 4 years ago. And I know that she would be really proud of not only Aida but myself and our family. [Aida tears up]

0:15:49 William Moyers
Yes indeed. Yes indeed. Will, thank you for sharing that dynamic. And Aida, I wanna close with you 'cause we just have about a minute left. Yours has not been a perfect journey, you struggled for years as many of us do to gain sustainable traction. What is your final message today for a young woman or an older man or a family member who is struggling in their substance use disorder today? What's your message for them?

0:16:18 Aida
Keep trying. No matter what. Just keep trying and then once you are in recovery, even after 30-day inpatient, after sober living, just stay in it as long as possible. You know, don't rush the recovery process. The treatment process. You know, stay in sober living. Go to IOP. Do as much as you can before you go back home to your old environment. Or, you know, just stay as long as possible to get that full year or more recovery before you go back to your old environment.

0:16:55 William Moyers
Well thank you, Aida and Will, for being with us today. For bringing us your experience, strength, and hope, and your story of healing and hope to our audience today. Thanks to both of you!

0:17:08 Aida
Thank you!

0:17:08 Will
Thank you so much!

0:17:09 William Moyers
[to camera]
And thanks to all of you for joining us today for another edition of our Let's Talk podcast on behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl, and the crackerjack crew of Blue Moon Productions in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I'm glad to be part of their team, too. And we'll see ya again soon. [smiles]

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