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There was once a beautiful little girl, she had a smile that lit up the room, so genuine and so sweet. She had all the greatest hopes and dreams in life, she imagined that life was going to be good. She loved to make people laugh and she loved her parents so much. She would crawl into their bed in the middle of the night when she had a scary dream. It made her feel good, she felt loved on nights like that. As she grew up, people were always drawn to her, she had many friends, played sports and graduated with honors. Sky was the limit.
But there was something inside this girl, a lingering pain and an emptiness that could not be described. From the outside, she seemed happy and complete, it looked like she had the world on her shoulders, but inside…she was slowly crumbling, insecure. She questioned her worth and never felt good enough. It wasn’t long before she was able to escape her pain through alcohol and drugs. It didn’t take long for this once happy smiling little girl to empty bits of her soul piece by piece. Her world became darker and darker. With addiction, at first the denial and the lies are so deep, a person can’t stop even if they want to. Well, this girl, had to hit bottoms she never imagined, until nothing was left to hold on to. At this point, there was no more mommy and daddy to crawl into bed with, there was nobody that could save her, nothing was left.
This is the moment in life where one realizes there is no longer anything to live for, giving up would be the easier way, and the thought of anyone you love is a distant memory, so out of reach, it feels like a lost dream. Darkest days, in the grips of addiction, barely hanging onto life. A complete loss of all dreams and no longer a place to call home – that’s who the little girl had become.
And that girl, was me. My name is Lina Abdalla, and I am a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is I have not used drugs and alcohol since August of 2014. It also means I am able to live a fulfilling life.
My recovery journey started with Lynn Drug Court in August of 2014. I accepted it as an alternative to guilty findings. I knew absolutely nothing about recovery, I knew nothing about treatment, and most of all, I had no clue who I was as a person anymore. I drank and used drugs for the first time at 18 years old and found myself in recovery at 28. The world had gone by, everyone I loved was living their life without me. The world had changed, and I was a stranger – empty, barely any desire to live inside me, but there was just enough to keep me going.
I was placed in a halfway house in Lynn by September of 2014. The first few months were the hardest days of my life, wanting to give up every day, but begging God every night, on my knees, to just give me one more day. I had no moving right arm because I lost movement due to a near fatal overdose only months before, and it was a daily reminder of all the damage I had done to my life over the past 10 years.
After getting some recovery time under my belt, I started slowly feeling movement in my arm, and just like my arm, I started changing. I knew I had to be honest, and I had to fight harder than I have ever fought in my life. This is when I decided to lift my head higher, and I decided from that point forward, I would change myself from the inside out. That was a pact I made with myself. It gave me the courage I needed to face life. I said to myself, I am going to become a woman of dignity and honor – who will take care of herself and help others in return.
I decided to go back to school to complete my bachelor’s degree in psychology at UMass Boston, but I needed to decide where I was going to go from treatment so I could pursue my education. At the time, Bridgewell had transitional housing available. It was a structured supportive recovery home that provided a step down after treatment for women in early recovery. This was the supportive recovery home that nobody wanted because it was strict, but about one month before it was time for me to complete treatment, I walked into my case manager’s office and said, I want to go to Bridgewell. I want to go to the toughest, most difficult home because I knew deep down inside that it would make me a better person. I had to go back to the pact I made with myself – I wanted to change from the inside out and push myself to be better every day, so I knew it had to be Bridgewell.
And this is where my real journey began. I was able to work part-time and attend school full-time because Bridgewell offered such an affordable fee that was based on my income. I finished my bachelor’s degree in a year, and I became involved in college recovery. I met students and faculty who supported me, and found recovery support on campus. Because of these supports, I was motivated to pursue my master’s degree in counseling. At this time, Bridgewell lost their transitional funding and offered me a permanent housing unit, and again, I only had to pay a third of my income to live there. This allowed me to pursue my master’s degree full-time while working part-time.
Once in my master’s program, the real magic happened because I needed a practicum/internship site. Bridgewell was so involved in our lives. When I say our, I mean all of us woman who were in recovery and lived in their housing. They provided us with weekly case management, group meetings, and the Bridgewell staff always visited us or introduced us to somebody important, like the mayor and that just made us feel valued. Bridgewell employees knew who I was, and that made me feel part of something. When it came time to begin my practicum and internship, I knew exactly who to email and it was Bridgewell. I remember I was so nervous asking them, wondering would they want me? Am I good enough? I was shocked when I received a warm email right back that same night and in that email it said they had the perfect place for me, Johnson Street Women’s Program with the perfect supervisor, Joanna Huntington. This was in 2018 and I have never left since.
Joanna Huntington quickly became my mentor. She was so smart and so passionate about what she did, an ally to recovery like I’ve never met before. She was ruled by her values, she taught me everything I know today. I am absolutely name dropping and I will say it again, because I am literally only the person I am today in my career because of her. My life goal quickly became to strive to be like her each day. I’m still working on that, though. She has such a dedication to Bridgewell and what Bridgewell stands for: inspiring hope, and empowering people experiencing life challenges to achieve their fullest potential.
I speak so highly of this woman because when you come into recovery as a person who has lost yourself, who has lost everything, depleted any ability to live and thrive, and to be so lost – but you meet somebody who can show you the way through their honesty, their dignity and their values – you never forget that. It’s like walking through a long dark tunnel, but you have somebody in front of you with a lantern, just lighting the way – and you trust that it’s all going to be okay.
Under her wing, I completed my practicum and internship. Once I graduated with my master’s in 2019, I was offered a position as Intake Coordinator at the Johnson St. Women’s Program. One year later I became Program Manager, and in another year I became Clinical Director. Now with our expansion of recovery services, opening our family supportive housing program this past December called Lotus House, I am now the Clinical Director of Recovery Services for Bridgewell. I get to live up to the pact I made with myself in 2014 – that I was going to change from the inside out, take care of myself and in return, help others. I get to help some really courageous women today at Johnson Street and Lotus House.
Once lost and broken, with barely a breath of life to hold on to, I was able to reunite with that smiling beautiful little girl inside me, the one who I abandoned so long ago. I’ve embraced her and I’ve been able to mature and grow into the woman I am today. All of this is thanks to Bridgewell.
Thank you all for listening to my story, and for being here tonight to support this wonderful organization.
Lina Abdalla, Clinical Director, Bridgewell Johnson Street Women’s Program & Bridgewell’s Lotus House