As a kid, Melissa grew up in two different households—one was strict but she felt loved. The other had few rules, but lacked involved parents. “I went back and forth between my parents and grandparents,” Melissa said. “I had a healthy upbringing when I was with my grandparents. But with my parents, it was very dysfunctional.
“I never really felt wanted by my parents. When they would split up, they’d fight over who would get to take my brother. They would just send me to my grandparents most of the time. I never really dealt with it; I just stuffed it down. There were gangs, domestic violence and addiction. It was very chaotic.”
Melissa said she picked up characteristics from both sets of her caretakers. “I learned from what I saw,” she said. “In school, I was an honor student, but when my grandfather got diagnosed with cancer, I started acting out. I started getting into gangs, ditching school, fighting and experimenting with drugs in middle school.”
When Melissa was 18, she got into a bad relationship and experienced domestic violence. “I got into the gang life and used (drugs) for a good 10 years,” she said. “I ended up at the (Ventura) River bottom. I was homeless and living down there for a few years. I was down there until I was six months pregnant.”
Melissa’s son is 2, and she’s been trying to get clean since she had him. “I couldn’t stop using heroin. I couldn’t stop relapsing. When I finished (another program), I came straight here after. I needed more structure, more support. I wasn’t ready to get back out into the world.”
Despite wanting to continue time in a program, Melissa said she was reluctant to come to the Lighthouse because it was faith based. “I knew they would tell me the way I was living was wrong. Out there you want to be who you are and do what you want to do. I was hard-headed and I decided to do my own thing, and it lead me back to relapse and getting my son taken from me and almost committing suicide. But I prayed for God to help me and within two days of deciding to kill myself, I came here and learned I would get my son back.”
Now, Melissa is so glad she came. “There is just so much love here, and support,” she said. “All of the staff really loves us, they care about us. It’s a different type of program. Here, the cure is Jesus. We’ve found out our way wasn’t working, and we need help from the only one who can really help us. It was really surprising how fast I surrendered my life to God.”
Melissa was baptized in August. “God did a complete transformation in my heart,” she said. “My plans from the beginning were to leave this program as soon as my CPS case closed. But I decided to stay. And here I am. … God is all I need. I’m learning to accept and receive the love that God has for me and not look for it elsewhere.”
Melissa graduated in December and has been sober for more than a year. She is working at Goodwill.
To the donors, Melissa said she’s eternally grateful. “We depend on donations and God is faithful.”