National Recovery Month 2023 – Together We Are Stronger

How I Was Shaped by The Town’s Biggest Drug Dealer

Cynthia Rosales


I grew up in the rough part of town in Texas – the part where violence happened, where shootings and stabbings were a regular occurrence, as were the beatings from my step-dad.  I felt the need to protect my mom while I watched him break her nose and her collarbone, and then there was the time he pistol-whipped her so hard he split her head open.   

People were always funneling in and out of our house, and we had a lot of drug busts, but I was a kid, and I wanted to believe the lie – that everything was okay.  

I remember one Christmas like it was yesterday – me, my brother, and my parents were all sitting in the living room watching The Grinch while I threw back red and green M&M’s; my step-dad got up suddenly and left the house.  

15 minutes later, we heard pounding at the door; before my mom could answer, it was knocked in – it was the FBI – they swarmed our house with massive rifles as we dropped to the ground screaming. I didn’t know what was happening, I just knew I was scared.  

Searching cabinets, couches, and closets, they ravaged through every inch of our house, and when that wasn’t enough, they popped the locks on our cars and threw everything out for us to clean up.   

“It’s okay, honey, it’ll be over soon – they’re looking for someone else,” my mom offered.  I loved my mom, and I had no reason to question her – this kind of thing happened in our neighborhood… 

Luckily, I had school and sports to help me embrace my youth while I held in what was happening from 6-13 years old; I kept that secret inside until I was 22, still hearing my dad tell me if I ever said anything, he would hurt my mom and my brother.  He knew what to say to keep me quiet. 

I question whether it’s right to share now; it’s safe when I’m talking with other women who’ve been through something similar, but there’s still shame I’m processing from that time.  It’s almost like I was able to put those violations in a locked room and simply appreciate my dad for what he did bring – taking us to school, making sure we always had food, ensuring the bills were paid.  Plus, I’d seen how other dads treated their kids, so I had some perspective on how bad it could’ve been.  

At 13, the FBI paid us another visit, along with the ATF – my dad was finally arrested, which is when I learned he was the town’s biggest drug dealer.  

Shortly after, I realized something was up with my mom; I didn’t know she was an addict, but with my dad being gone, her supply was cut off, along with our money.  She didn’t have a job or any way to make money – she’d been mixing uppers and downers for years, and within 3 or 4 months, her chemical imbalance started to crystallize. She was talking to herself so much, I thought she’d gone crazy, and then one day, when I got home from school, she was gone; cops had taken her to a mental hospital, and I didn’t see her again until I was 21.  

I had the same racing thoughts until I went to sleep that night.  Everyone that was supposed to love and take care of me has hurt me or rejected me.  

The next day, me and my brother decided we would tough it out and stay there together, and we did.  Every day, we got up, got dressed, walked to school, and didn’t tell anybody what had happened; this continued for weeks until all the utilities got shut off – that’s when my brother went to stay with his friend, and I went to live with my stepdad’s family in a rougher part of town.  

My grandma and my uncles sold drugs from there, which I tried to push from my mind; I tried to stay focused on school and athletics, but I kept coming home to the reality of living in a trap house.  What started with weed turned into a full-blown cocaine addiction by the time I turned 17.  

If I cleaned the living room or ran an errand, my family would reward me with cocaine and I loved it.  Staying up for weeks at a time meant I could get more stuff done and I could party longer.  I didn’t have any healthy decision-making skills, nor did I have the ability to process anything, and so, at 17, I decided to drop out of school.  

I just thought if I could handle the next thing in front of me and not quit life, I could get through anything.  

At 21, I met a guy and got pregnant – I stopped using during the pregnancy, but six months after delivery, I started up again.  At 23, we had our second child, and I hate to admit this, but I was on drugs for that entire pregnancy.  

I was a CNA (Certified Nurse’s Assistant) for about two years then and only took two weeks off before returning to work; I felt like I had my addiction under control, plus I was the only one bringing in money, so I felt responsible.  

I wanted to be a better mom than I’d experienced growing up, but I soon realized I couldn’t escape my past if I didn’t accept and process what happened.  

Going to treatment for the first time made me see how I was hurting my children.  I was going to get help so I could be better for them, but when I went to hug them goodbye, they ran away crying and my heart just broke.  I was unknowingly doing the same thing my mom did to me, and that’s when it clicked – I used to blame my mom and step-dad for how I turned out, but I could finally see their shortcomings as a result of the hands they were dealt.  My stepdad came from a long line of drug dealers, and my mom came from a long line of addicts that didn’t know how to advocate for themselves.  

I decided then I would do anything I needed to get right for my babies.  

Despite my pure intentions, I failed treatment many, many times. I lost my job, and when I started using harder drugs like opiates, meth, and Opanas, I lost my house, car, kids, and dignity.  I was homeless for years, talking to myself on the streets like my mom used to.  I knew I wasn’t right mentally – I was paranoid with thoughts that my mom was plotting against me, trying to set me up or kill me. 

Eventually, I made my way to Buffalo Valley, where I ran into some people that I also thought were trying to kill me.  They were trying to lure me into this place called The Potter’s House; I told them I wasn’t religious, holding up my arms covered with tattoos as if that would shield me from their persistence.  

“The food is really good, and they’re having lasagna tonight,” one of them said.  

I was hungry, so I agreed; we got on a bus and made our way to the place with lasagna, which was really good.  After eating, I was outside smoking a cigarette, still hearing voices, when someone told me to come back inside because ‘it’s about to start.’ 

Deciding I had nothing better to do, I went inside and sat in the back while they played a video.  It was a little boy overseas; he was in a junkyard making instruments to play music, and I felt something come over me.  When the pastor started talking, I felt like I was supposed to be there; like all the nights I stayed up praying for a miracle brought me to where I was supposed to be. 

I didn’t know what an altar call was, but when people started going to the front, I felt compelled to get up; I started walking slowly as this supernatural feeling drew me to move faster and let go.  When I got to the front, I fell to my knees, sobbing.  

“Please!  Please just give me peace!  I don’t want to hear them anymore; please just make it stop!” I begged.  

Instantly, I felt this serenity come over me – something I’d never felt before – like I was being held in love.  I was crying so hard I could barely get up and walk over to the pew, but when I did, I felt like I was the only one there.  

“Show me how to get out of this,” I focused, “you lead me, God because I can’t do this anymore.”  

That was my spiritual awakening, and even though I left there and used one more time, I’m glad I did because I couldn’t stop throwing up.  I remembered a girl from one of the treatment centers talking about this in a group session – she prayed to God that if she used again, she would get so sick she wouldn’t want to return.  

It felt like spirit was with me, like I’d been given another chance, and I desperately wanted that.

“I’ve gotta get it together for myself before I can be a good mom to my kids; please help me” I prayed while still vomiting.  I didn’t know if I was praying the right way, but I didn’t want to let go of the love that I knew I could feel.  

The next day, I walked into a nearby treatment center and asked the woman at the front desk for help, explaining the spiritual experience I’d just had; she looked me right in the eye and said, “I don’t think this is the place for you.  Let me write down three other options that might be better.” 

I took the sticky note, and without thinking, I called the second number; they answered and said they could get me in the next day.  

When I arrived, the people who greeted me were all warm and smiley, trying to embrace me into their community as a new friend. I didn’t know what to expect – I didn’t know I was going to a faith-based program.  

They wouldn’t love me if they knew me, I thought, but I knew I was there for a reason and I wanted to give it everything I had.  


For the first couple of weeks, I didn’t have to worry about anything but myself, and then they started giving me small responsibilities like sweeping, which I took very seriously.  It’s like with each sweep, I was taking part of my life back; I remember they made fun of me because I was going so hard I started bending the broom.  I just kept thinking, I’m going to do the best I can right now in this moment; if I can do this much with this little, God’s gonna give me more.  

The extreme structure of that program was exactly what I needed; I spent 14 months there, learning more about myself every day and continuing to feel gratitude for every opportunity that came to me.  After graduating, I started working for them, and within six months, I finally got to see my kids again – they were living with my mom. 

Even though I’d been rigorously working on myself for almost two years, my kids didn’t know who I was anymore – I’d been out of their lives for four years.  Their resistance kind of broke my heart, but I understood their trust wouldn’t happen overnight.  

By 2019, I had a house of my own, and I officially got my kids back; that’s not to say we settled in as a healthy family, but we still had to get to know each other in this new dynamic.  I had to re-learn how to be a mother, and they had to learn how to trust I would be there for them.  

I go to all their games now, and I’m there to talk with them about anything and everything, encouraging them always to express how they feel; I’m applying everything I’ve learned and showing up in the ways that benefit all of us, including my 20-month old baby.  

You can’t keep what you have unless you give it away – that’s a sentiment I practice often through service work.  I now share my story with women at conferences, in group settings, through blogs, and at church.  I’m able to deeply connect with my husband, who’s also in recovery, and seeing him take on my kids as his own has felt like the biggest blessing.  

Shame is something that resurfaces often; just yesterday, I had to call someone and ask them to pray with me because I couldn’t find it in me to pray for myself.  I surrendered and felt strengthened and renewed, and each time that happens, I recognize I’ll be in the healing process for the rest of my life.  It’s like I’m laying on the table for open heart surgery – some stuff’s gotta come out for new stuff to come in.   

Staying connected with other people is what helps me to keep going – every time I hear someone else’s story, I feel strengthened and alive.  Where there’s awareness, there’s growth, and that growth allows change to happen.  

Speaking of change, when I got laid off from my job, I applied to work at Hansei, and Gayle (HR) was the first person I met.  It was around Christmas time, and it was going to be the first Christmas since getting them back that I wouldn’t be able to provide for them.  Gayle was so warm and welcoming I knew I’d found the right place. I thank Hansei every day for giving me the opportunity to be of service – I get to provide for my kids, and that’s all I ever wanted.  

As for the future, I’m not eager to get to any specific milestone; if I have my breath and I can handle the next thing in front of me, I can get through anything.  

With love,

Cynthia Rosales 

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