ORIGINS

Many who struggle with addiction die or go to prison. Yet, sometimes miracles occur. These are the stories of modern day miracles

Theresa Downs-Barkley

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

So my name is Theresa Downs-Barkley, and I have been sober since May 21st, 2007. So it’s 13 going on 14 years. I describe it as the abyss, the depths of hell. Scale to one to 10 of how bad addiction was, I would probably say a 10 being the worst, without question. So I put myself in so many dangerous situations all the time when I was getting loaded that my life expectancy was surprising that I survived. I didn’t expect to live past 30. I’m surprised that I’m here at this age, actually. I’m grateful that I am, but I mean, I’ve been stabbed. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been gang raped. I mean, I don’t know how far, how many details we want to go here, but I mean, in really dangerous, scary situations that I describe it as like being a feral animal. At the depths of the worst you could possibly be, at the depths of hell living like an animal, living like an animal and having no way out.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

I used to call people that got up on Tuesday morning and walked to the bus stop with their coffees and their briefcases, those were the Tuesday morning people. Those were the people that got up and had a life and they usually were on the other side of the street, and I was walking down from the nighttime into early morning and being out in the street all night and looking at those people thinking, I will never be like that. That is so far away from me. That other side of the street is so far away from me that I’ll never be able to be a Tuesday morning person. So yeah, it was pretty dark. I believed that I had been dealt a hand of cards and those cards were going to inevitably end me up with either dead in an alley somewhere with a needle in my arm. That was really what I expected. Or I thought I might get lucky and be some cool old lady, but I’d be smoking weed with my grandkids on a rocking chair somewhere.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

So there was no way I was going to do anything but get loaded my whole life. I did not think I’d be able to get sober. That was as far fetched as the God concept, God, who was on a throne somewhere a million miles away with cherubs floating around him and stuff. And somebody told me like, “God is the solution,” and I thought that’s a really big stretch for me. A needle and a spoon was God. I could worship that. I knew how to run around that. But to tell me that something that far away was going to be the solution was really an uncomfortable thing to even consider. Yeah, so getting sober wasn’t in my cards at all. When I first got sober, they said, “God was the solution,” I thought, well, I’m going to pick a really rebellious God. So I was a pagan the first two years of my sobriety and I was like, “Okay, I’m equal to the gods and goddesses.”

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

I practiced Ásatrú, Anything from Norris mythology. So I was like, “I’m equal to the gods and the goddesses. I’m not doing organized prayers. I’m not getting on my knees. I’m not doing anything that makes God greater than me,” which is the solution, which is the deal. And so I made myself equal to God and to the goddesses, and that evolved. That evolved into me realizing that in our book, can we talk about that?

Estil Wallace:

If you want.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

Okay, so in our book, there’s a story on page 56 and 57 that talks about this guy who had turned away from religion, and it’s my favorite story in the book because it talks about being in the water. And that’s what I tell my girls when we go through the second step. I say, “Once we get through the second step, either God is everything or else he is nothing. He either is or he isn’t. What’s your choice to be?” And most of them say, “Oh, he’s everything. He’s everything.” I’m like, “Okay, is he that pen? Is he that sunglasses on the table?” And I’m like, “Well, no. He made the guy who made the guy who made the glasses.” And I’m like, “Well, I though you said he’s everything. So if he’s everything, he’s the sunglasses, he’s the pen on the paper. He’s the bag of garbage. He’s the needle and the spoon. So if God is everything, he’s all that.”

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

So in this story, and I know you know the story, so anyway, this man, he was religious, grew up religious, and he turned away from it and got rebellious against any type of religious practice. And as a result of it, he was dogged with all this trauma. He lost his job. He was an alcoholic. He had death and suicide in his family, and post-war delusion meant. All these crazy things had affected him as a result of, the story goes, turning away from God. He was approached when he was finally in the hospital and on death’s door and one of us approached him and said, “Hey, what about God being an option?” And he thought, “If there is a God, he hasn’t done anything for me.” Later on, he thinks to himself, could all those religious people possibly be wrong and I’m right? And I remember thinking that.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

For centuries, people have been worshiping something, the sun, the moon, stars, cows, goats, you know what I mean? They’re worshiping something greater than them, and I’m going to say that that’s not the truth, and like a great tide of flood, like a lightning bolt hit me and I realized that, who am I to say there’s no God? Like the guy said. That was my experience, I understood, and it was like I had suddenly went from God being in this little tiny box of organized ideas of what I thought he was going to be to just completely being ensconced with God and just feeling God everywhere and knowing it. As if I was underwater, and when you’re underwater, you are water, you’re of the water. There’s no separation between your skin and water. You become part of the water when you’re under water. So, for me, when I talk about God, God is everything, meaning he is the water.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

So when I ask my girls, “Are you in the water? Where are you at with your relationship with God?” that’s what I’m talking about. So God, I mean, I could talk about God all day. I could talk about God all day. It is the true solution to all of this. It’s the truth, and whenever I share my story, I start with the 12 steps as they’re outlined in this book, is the program that we’re talking about. So when we’re talking about a program, it’s the way they’re outlined in this book. So if you want to work a program, have your own experience with this book. And then the other trick, the secret, the hit, the hot shot to all of it is God. So when I first got sober and again, they said, “God,” I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Really, that? God? I’ve got to believe in that.” And then God became everything. So yeah, there’s that.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

The biggest thing that happened to me in recovery was the first step, was understanding on a cellular level, can I curse?

Estil Wallace:

Oh, yeah.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

Okay. So understanding on a cellular level, in my soul that I was fucked, that without question I was going to get loaded again, because I always did. I always got high again. Not only that, I was probably going to die from it. Because not only had I OD’d many times before and been in these situations that I talked about earlier, where gang rapes and knives to my throat and these really dangerous, sick, twisted, animalistic situations that thank God for denial, because our psyche is so precious and if we didn’t have denial in those times, we wouldn’t have survived. I feel like I wouldn’t have survived without the denial that I had to be in to be able to survive the things that I saw day in and day out that I put myself in the position to be at mercy of.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

But in recovery, I didn’t know anything about the first step until I had a sponsor who explained it to me and helped me see my own experience with the first step and looked at my own life. And when I looked at my own life, I always got high again. It wasn’t like if I was going to get high again, it was when I was getting high again. I had been cleaned in another 12 step program for nine years in another program, and I can say that. Okay, I’m trying to be careful of that. For about nine years, I was in this other program and they didn’t talk about God. I mean, they talked about God, but they pushed service more, is what I perceived from it. So I had believed that I had accomplished something. I had accomplished all these years sober. I did this. And after nine years of being in that program, I relapsed and it just woke up the monster again.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

And so I call my disease the monster. It’s an entity that makes me become a soldier for it. I do whatever it tells me to do. It wakes me up first thing in the morning. I walk across town in broken flip-flops. Whatever I got to do to get more. The phenomenon of craving is so powerful I have no mercy on old ladies, puppies, my grandmother, my mother. I have no mercy on anything. I just have to have more. I’m sorry, I’m off track here. But the turning point for me was literally when I understood the first step and it scared the shit out of me. It scared the out of me, because I knew, Mike, I really knew. Doctors had threatened me with hepatitis, and like I said, I’ve been in these crazy story. I was in prison for five years. All the years that I was in there and surviving in that situation, I knew that the threat of dying was not something that was going to keep me sober.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

But then when I finally realized that I was really going to die, I was going to die from this, when I understood that fully is when it turned around for me. And then I was so desperate, the book talks about the desperation of a drowning man, I was willing to go to any lengths. Whatever, you want me to write down my deep dark secrets and tell them to somebody? I’ll scream them from a rooftop. You want me to make amends and make things right, you want me to believe in God? I’ll do whatever you want me to do, I just don’t want to die. I just don’t want to die. I understood myself. Nobody threatened me with it. I understood on myself that I was going to die from it, so that was the turning point for me, the first step.

Estil Wallace:

What’s life like now?

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

So life now? I remember the first time that I had my own bathroom, that was my apartment, and I had purple candles and matching towels in my bathroom. And that was really big for me, because I had been homeless since I was 13 and been in the street and been in the sex industry for so many years. And even with all the money that I made doing that, it all went into my arm. So, for me, I felt like I was a person, I was a Tuesday morning person. So life now for me is I have nothing but gratitude. I have nothing but gratitude. I just live in gratitude, even for things that are uncomfortable, things that scare me. Things that don’t make sense, because God is so on top of this, he’s got me so much, that I know that his journey for my life is so much better than anything that I could ever possibly come up with.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

Life is just magic right now. It’s all good. It’s all good. So even the bad is good. Even the bad is good. I’m married to somebody that I’m loyal to, who loves me to death. I mean, I’m married, so it’s not perfect, but he’s my best friend and he has my back like no other as ever had. Even those people that I thought when I was getting high that we would die for each other. “You’re my brother, you’re my sister. I’ll take a bullet for you, blah, blah, blah.” The loyalty and the relationship that I have with Greg, it’s very special and it’s very safe. It’s very safe for me. And the sponsees that I have in my life and the women that I have my life, I couldn’t put a price on that. The women in my life have saved my life. They’ve saved my life. They’ve saved me from me. They helped me see myself and stuff.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

And I couldn’t imagine life without these women. I couldn’t imagine. I mean, guys too. I mean, I love the guys in my life too, and they’re my brothers, but the women, who were the people that when I first got sober women were my enemy, probably because I knew they probably were like me, and I was capable of being very painful and hurt people. And so my relationships are pure and beautiful and honest and real and loving, and they’re authentic. And I have such faith in them and I can fall back on them. I can sleep on them. I know that they’re there. They’re my heartbeat. And my sponsees just breathe life into me. I love my sponsees. They are so crazy sometimes. They suck the life out of me sometimes, but they breathe life into me.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

And I don’t know, I got stuff. I have stuff. I have a nice house. My three dogs are my children, and silly as it sounds, my dogs are my babies and I am responsible for them. And I feed them every day and they are loved and they’re taken care of, and there’s a lot of animals that don’t have that. Every aspect of my life is good. I have an amazing job. I have an amazing team that I work with at work. I have goals and aspirations. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid as much as I used to be. There’s fears still in my life, but it’s quickly replaced with an opportunity or a faith or something bigger. You know, I’m not run by fear anymore. I’m not paralyzed by fear anymore. I don’t get stuck in bathrooms anymore out of fear. You know what I mean? I can breathe. I can breathe, yeah. Here’s that answer.

Estil Wallace:

Any closing thoughts? Mic’s on. Lights on.

Theresa Downs-Barkley:

I don’t know. I guess if I could say anything to anybody, I know that the struggle is real, but there is hope and there is opportunity to get better. Early recovery or trying to get better at trying to do something different is always going to be uncomfortable. So in the uncomfortability, in the confusion, in the fear, in the anger, in the anguish, early recovery is full of, “Uh, it’s not comfortable, it’s not comfortable,” but in the uncomfortability comes the change, comes the opportunity for change, and for growth and for a new way of living. So in the beginning, it’s about going against our grain, going against everything that makes sense, everything that’s comfortable, but doing it anyway, because we just want to stay sober just a little bit more than we don’t. And then it starts to become second nature, and then you can breathe. Yeah, that’s what I would want to say. Thank you. Thank you.

Estil Wallace:

Awesome.