Michelle grew up in Oxnard and had what she calls a normal childhood. “I never wanted for anything, but I grew up fast,” she said, having her first son at just 16. “I started getting into drugs, little by little. I was hanging around with the wrong crowd.”
Michelle started dating a man in her early 20s. She got pregnant with her second son, and the couple got married. “That turned violent very, very quickly—very violent,” said Michelle, who stayed in the relationship for 10 years, having two more children with him. She went into premature labor with her youngest daughter due to the violence. She was born at 1 pound, 8 ounces and was adopted immediately by her husband’s aunt.
“I kind of had a breakdown with her because I wasn’t able to take care of her physically or emotionally—they took her right from the hospital,” Michelle said. “She has contact with her brothers and sisters and she knows who I am, but I’m not allowed to have any contact with her because of my addiction.”
Losing her daughter and continued domestic violence led Michelle into a cycle of drugs and jail. She lost custody of her other children, who were raised by her grandmother and other family. Eventually, Michelle’s husband went to jail over the abuse and Michelle ended up on the streets off and on for several years. In 2014, an illness led her to the hospital, and doctors informed Michelle that she’d need to have open heart surgery. “It was from using drugs,” she said.
The surgery was a success, but Michelle didn’t fully give up her vices. “Because it was from drug use, my addictive mind thinks, ‘OK, I’m not going to use drugs, but I’m going to drink.’ It makes no sense, but in my mind it did. My battle with addiction was actually a battle with myself and my shame and my guilt, of not being the mom that I wanted to be to my children. I just stuffed it all down.”
Michelle came to the Lighthouse at her mom’s urging. “It was awesome. God’s grace and mercy has shown me how much he loves me and that I am forgiven.”
But seven months in, Michelle learned she would need to have a second open heart surgery. “I was gone for five months, but I stayed in contact and talked to my counselors. It was frustrating, but I held onto the word of God and what I had learned here.”
Last November, Michelle returned to the Lighthouse. “This place is truly restoration. My family looks at me and sees their daughter and their granddaughter. My kids see a whole new me. And that brings me so much happiness. That’s what the Lighthouse has done for me. This place will be in my heart forever.”
Michelle is graduating in July, and is looking forward to interning. “I want to help other women like me who feel that they’re hopeless. I don’t consider myself surviving life anymore, I feel like I’m living it for the first time. It’s all because of God. All the things he’s rescued me from and all the things he’s restored in my life, I need to give him all the glory for that. He’s given me all the strength and the courage to make it happen.”
Michelle is thankful for those who give so that she can heal. “For the donors who don’t see us on the day to day, believe me, your money isn’t wasted. It makes a very big difference. Coming from across the street, literally—that’s where I laid my head. That’s where my liquor store was. Jesus plucked me out of that darkness. I just thank all the people who put their hearts into women like me. I cry tears of pain and joy, but it’s more joy. I’m somebody I never thought I could be and there’s so much more to come.”