Faith in Herself

Faith Brawley embraces Elijah Smith, both of Jasper, during a candlelight vigil in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, hosted by the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council, at the Jasper Riverwalk gazebo on Aug. 30. “We used together, we’ve been clean together, we’ve been through everything,” Smith said about Faith. “For her to be clean the way she is now, I can never be more proud.”

Story by Candy Neal
Photographs by Sarah Ann Jump

A crowd of about 50 people gathered at the Riverwalk in Jasper in late August, sharing life stories, holding flowers, some wearing photos of loved ones they lost to drug addiction.

Faith (Hammond) Brawley was at that vigil. The Jasper resident knew several of the people sharing their personal stories of addiction. The former certified nursing assistant embraced them, encouraged them, let them know she cares and she understands.

And she does understand. Because she has been there.

June will mark five years Faith, 45, has been clean from her drug addiction.

“I know people who are still struggling, trying to get sober or stay sober. For me, it’s a struggle that I tackle every day,” she said. “I can tell you 20 people off the top of my head without even trying, that I knew personally, that they’re dead now.”

Faith is studying social work at Vincennes University Jasper Campus, and has made the dean’s list every semester. In May, she will graduate with an associate degree, with the ultimate goal of earning a Ph.D. in social work to become a clinical therapist with a specialty in substance abuse. On Dec. 10, Faith walks to class to take a final exam.

Faith has made the most of her sobriety. She works in home health, and in May will earn her associate degree in social work, with honors, from Vincennes University Jasper Campus. She led weekly group sessions for more than a year at the Dubois County Security Center with inmates who were struggling with addiction. Several of the people knew her, because she’d been in their circles as an addict, and because she’d been an inmate at that jail herself. At the sessions, she and the inmates discussed the struggles they face because of their addictions, and Faith shared encouragement and tips she learned through her VUJC classes as motivation for those in her class to get clean and stay clean.

She also attends Redemption Christian Church, and is part of a weekly Bible study. Her faith is a big part of her current story, and she leans on that constantly to keep herself motivated and on the clean path.

“It’s always been a God thing for me. Everything that is good in me is God, no question about it,” Faith said. “If you don’t believe there is a higher power out there helping you, you’re really going to struggle.”

Faith’s story of redemption includes a fall, a hole she did not intend to fall into.

It started in her youth with her battle with Crohn’s disease, which is an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, weight loss and abdominal pain, The disease caused her a lot of pain and illness.

“I was miserable, physically,” Faith said. “I was really, really sick for a lot of years, and almost died two or three times.”

Doctors wanted her to take pain pills, but she didn’t want to, “not because I was afraid of addiction. It was ego,” she said. “I didn’t want to be taking no pain pills.”

Faith hugs and kisses her granddaughter, Quinn King, 3, as her granddaughter Gema King, 4, talks to Faith’s daughter, Caran “Becca” King, an inmate at the Dubois County Security Center in Jasper on Nov. 4. Becca has since been sentenced to prison on drug-related charges, and plans on participating in a program to treat her addiction. Faith acknowledges that there is a genetic factor in addiction that her granddaughters will have to face, and that they will struggle to break the cycle if their parents are unable to stay clean. “I hate that,” Faith said. “I have to deal with the fact that I’m partly to blame for that.”

It got to the point where the Crohn’s was just overwhelming, and Faith agreed to take the pain pills: opiates.

“What they didn’t tell you was how addictive they are,” she said. “And the pain pills only work for this long, and then they have to increase the dosage. And that works for only so long, and then they increase the dosage, until eventually, you can’t increase it anymore. You build up an intolerance.”

She was in her 20s at the time. A cousin of Faith’s gave her methamphetamine, “which does eliminate the pain,” Faith said. “But when you come down, you realize that you’re 10 times sicker than you were to start with.”

So she was taking meth and opiates together. And while she was addicted to the high, she was miserable.

“I was a failure as a human being,” she said. “I didn’t have any relationships. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t care. I could sell pills that were prescribed to me, if I wanted to. I was miserable when I was high. I was definitely miserable when I came down. I was always miserable.”

In June 2014, Faith was arrested as part of a huge drug bust in Dubois County.

She was charged with dealing meth, and did time in jail before going on probation. It was not her first time in jail, but it was significant, as it marked the beginning of her life change.

“I was so done with it. My demeanor changed,” Faith said. “I had lost almost two decades. I know bits and pieces of it. I do remember people that I saw on a regular basis. But as far as any real life, it was two decades of nothingness. I was done.”

“That’s the first free breath I’ve taken in years,” Faith said after her court hearing to dismiss her probation, where she was accompanied by her father, Fred Hammond, at the Dubois County Courthouse in Jasper on Aug. 24, 2018.

While in jail, she completed an addiction treatment program and, as a result, the Purposeful Incarceration program, to go on probation. She was determined to kick this addictive habit.

Faith’s probation ended in August, ending her three years of time spent in the Dubois County justice system. In suspending her sentence and releasing her from her probation, Dubois Superior Judge Mark McConnell said he noticed the change in Faith.

“You’ve had a 180-degree turnaround,” he told her. “I hope that it continues into the future. You are free to go.”

Once outside of the courtroom, Faith and her father breathed a sigh of relief. But she has not slowed down in life. She purposefully stays busy, working her mind and body, and purposefully staying away from anything and anyone who could try to trigger a relapse. She has been successful at doing that for the past four and a half years.

Faith knows her addiction has had an adverse effect on her family. Her own three children saw their parents doing drugs as they grew up. They are now adults, and are dealing with the result of that.

“My kids now struggle with addiction, because they watched me,” Faith said. “So now my grandchildren are affected.”

Some of her grandchildren are very little, so they don’t realize what is happening. But they still see it happening, Faith said.

“They are watching Mom and Dad now,” Faith said. “And if Mom and Dad don’t do something about it, their kids may use. It doesn’t stop.”

Cookie Monster, Faith's 13-year-old Chihuahua-shih tzu, has been by her side through her addiction and recovery. Faith snuggled Cookie Monster on Aug. 22.

Faith is trying to be a positive role model now in her children’s and grandchildren’s lives. She hopes they see how Faith is living a sober life with her father; her new husband, Mike Brawley; longtime doggie companion, Cookie Monster; and new puppy, Mini. She hopes they see Faith continue her education. She hopes they see her in her current life as a role model for them.

Along with school and work, Faith actively works each day to do something for someone else without expecting to get anything in return. “Those kinds of things actually change the brain chemistry, the dopamine and serotonin in your brain.”

Her goal is to keep busy.

“It’s a known fact that addicts tend to have a higher intelligence level. But the problem is that they’re bored,” Faith said. “I tell people that if you have too much time on your hands and you’re trying to maintain sobriety, find something to do. Get a hobby, get another job. Do something. Boredom is not a good thing.”

After her graduation in May, Faith plans to continue her pursuit of higher education, and wants to ultimately earn a Ph.D. in social work and become a clinical therapist with a specialty in substance abuse.

She has been on the dean’s list each semester for excelling in her classes.

Despite the strides she has made, Faith knows there will be people who still have a certain perception of her.

“There are people who will always see me as a junkie,” she said. “It’s like I’m still doing my sentence. But that says more about them than me.”

As programs director at the Dubois County Security Center, Faith leads a group session for inmates struggling with addiction in the indoor recreation area at the jail in Jasper on Dec. 20. Faith was once an inmate at the jail, where she began her recovery from addiction in 2014.

Although the group sessions for inmates struggling with addiction at the security center are continuing, Faith is no longer leading the sessions.

Faith is disappointed to no longer be part of the program, but believes more treatment is needed in the county.

“If you can treat it and cure it, then how can you not say that it is a disease? It is scientifically proven that it is a disease,” Faith said. “Whether or not you decide to allow treatment, it still is a disease. That doesn’t change.”

Faith maintains hope that recovery is possible for everyone. She still supports others who are trying to stay sober, keeping in touch with them and offering encouragement.

She wishes the community would treat those who struggle with addiction more humanely.

“If you are using, you are looked down on,” she said. “If you’re going to view people that way, you’re telling them that they are disposable. But they are still human beings. Nobody chooses that life. Nobody chooses drugs over their kids, or over their family, or over a career, or to be looked down upon.

“If we don’t treat the illness, they are going to go back to it.”

Faith realizes she could be one of the people who are still addicted to drugs. But she thanks God she is not.

“I am not the exception. I’m really not. Every person who has used has it in them to want to do better,” she said. “There’s nothing special about me, compared to anybody else. It’s just the difference is in whether or not you get treatment, and whether or not you continue it, and whether or not you’re determined to rebuild your life.”

Faith and her husband, Mike Brawley, attend Sunday morning services at Redemption Christian Church in Jasper on Jan. 13. “Everything good in me is God,” Faith said.

She added: “I’ve been there with them. And I care about what happens to them.”

Looking at all the battles she has gone through in life, then and now, Faith said she would not change any detail.

“God has a specific path for all of us,” Faith said. “I don’t think He put me through the struggles I went through. But He took those struggles and, instead of a mess, he made it my message. And what better time for this message to be shared than right now, when all the addictions are just blowing up in everybody’s faces?

“I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.”

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