Two things are quickly apparent when talking with Shannon Martinez. The first is that she radiates tremendous energy. There is little down time in her life and she seems to like it that way. Second, she exhibits and communicates a transparency of her life that is refreshing. It can also be a bit unsettling to those accustomed to a more vanilla flavored answer to “So, what’s your story?”
Shannon grew up in neighboring Galax, Virginia. She was a foster child and became a teenage mother. But, she possessed a strong work ethic, often working two jobs. In retrospect, considers herself a good young mother. She later had a second daughter.
But her relationships were marked by abuse and illegal drug use by her partner. Shannon steered away from drugs until she was in her 30s. She began using illegal drugs recreationally and after four years she was an addict. This lead to her inability to adequately care her daughters. Fortunately, her mother was able to assume custody of the girls.
In 2009, Shannon moved to Sparta to be with her abuser. Away from her friends that enabled her drug use, she tried to fight the addiction and began to envision a life without abuse and drugs. She reached out to DANA (Domestic Violence is not Acceptable) in Sparta. DANA offers emergency housing for women and a wealth of services to women seeking to escape abusive relationships. All the while, she continued to struggle with her addiction. Moving from addiction to treatment to recovery is seldom a straight-line, linear path and it was no different for Shannon. She had a son who was insulin dependent and it became apparent that she couldn’t provide care for him. He was removed from her home and placed in foster care.
Counselors at DANA continued to work with Shannon. They helped her with a housing application that led to her getting an apartment at Highlands Village. Being close to town simplified her life and got her closer to her job. She began developing a healthy support system and she distanced herself from relationships that contributed to her drug use. She received counseling through Daymark Recovery Services and was accepted into a rehabilitation facility in western North Carolina.
Over the three weeks of rehab, Shannon spent time with patients who had similar stories. Together they learned coping skills for dealing with their addiction and other difficulties in life. A key take away for Shannon was the realization that she needed to learn to love herself. She came back to Sparta with a renewed spirit and willingness to take control of her life.
Shannon said recently that it took over a year “for the fog to lift” from her addiction. She described how drug abuse can “rewire your brain” and that it takes a while for the brain to recover. As her time in sobriety grew, she began to think more clearly and make better decisions.
After a year apart, Shannon regained custody of her son and she threw herself into becoming a better parent. She went through programs at the Alleghany Partnership for Children that enhanced her skills as a mother.
There are many people who Shannon credits with helping her over the years. She can laugh now that some of that “help” wasn’t especially well received by her at the time. But that’s not the case with Celina Cyrus.
Celina manages Highland Village and is the coordinator for local programming through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly known as HUD. As Shannon’s family grew (in addition to her two younger children, a niece now lives with her), they needed a bigger space. When Shannon left Highland Village, Celina helped steer her into the Family Self Sufficiency program. This program helps the client develop goals and creates an escrow account that sets aside a portion of a client’s rent for a major purchase. Over a period of years, Shannon’s account grew to $8,000. After years of renting, last fall she took that $8,000 and used it as a down payment on her own home.
These days, Shannon works for DANA and is something of a pathfinder for women traveling the path she traveled years ago. She spends much of her time in the courtroom where she is assigned clients and she often works alongside social workers.
It’s been a long journey for Shannon and despite old acquaintances that assume she will relapse, she has gained strength, confidence and many positive, supportive relationships. “I still have people who expect me to fail,” she said recently, and then added confidently, “But I’m not going to fail.”