Meet a Veteran: Sandra

I joined the Navy in 1986 just after graduating high school. Once I raised my right hand and took the oath of enlistment, promising to support and defend the constitution of the United States, I realized how much of a patriot I was and was very proud to be a Sailor. I loved the discipline and order of the military and thrived on the stability it provided me. After eight years of service, I was not prepared for the culture shock I experienced transitioning from military to civilian life.

After searching for work for a year, I started getting depressed and began to self?medicate with drugs and alcohol. I achieved sobriety for 12 years, but in 2009 I relapsed back into drug abuse, becoming addicted to pain pills and methamphetamine. Three years later I had lost everything: my job, my family, my home, and worst of all, my self?respect and self-worth. My father passed away and it left me numb. I felt there was no hope for a better life for myself and truly felt alone and hopeless. I ended up living in my car for eight months, until I was arrested.

When I was released from jail, I knew I didn’t want to live the way I had been living anymore. I had no energy to keep up that lifestyle any longer. I called my sister and asked her to take me to the VA in Long Beach. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that if I made it to the VA, they would help me. I found out about U.S.VETS and ADVANCE, the housing program for homeless female veterans. I entered the program and also began attending intensive out-patient drug treatment. It allowed me to take a look at myself in a way I’d never done before. I acquired many valuable tools and am now armed with facts about myself I didn’t know I possessed. I was able to effectively uncover, discover and discard a lot of character defects.

A few weeks after arriving at U.S.VETS, I joined the Back on My Feet running club with some of my fellow veterans on campus. At first I didn’t think I could do it. My fear of failure and still low self-esteem at the time almost won out. But something in me said, “Face your fears and do something different this time.”

I love the feeling I get when I run. I get this warm feeling in my chest and sometimes I want to just keep on running. There are so many aspects of running that I’ve learned that parallel what I’ve learned in recovery – such as, know your limitations and don’t let your ego get the best of you. Recovery requires just as much hard work as running does. Your attitude, open-mindedness, and willingness to succeed and perform determine your success.

My life has changed so much. I’ve found the order and discipline I enjoyed in the military. I am more confident now and my self?esteem is through the roof. I couldn’t run two blocks when I started out seven months ago, but now I’ve run five official races, including two half marathons. U.S.VETS case managers have guided me step-by-step all the way. They have done everything to encourage me to clean up the wreckage of my past, be accountable and take the next indicated step toward independence and self-sufficiency.

I now have hope for my future, where before I was hopeless. Before I made the decision to change my life and get sober, I had always felt I was “less than” and not a part of anything. Today, however, I am a part of a community and a team. I enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie we have developed and consider my trudging buddies a part of my family. Now I am a runner for life, and I’m running towards a better life – sober.