Woman writes book about recovery from drug addiction

Tyhria Williams, formerly of East Chicago and Valparaiso, poses for a photo with granddaughters, Myla Williams, 4, left, and Kyla Williams, 5, in Merrilville, Ind. Tyhria recently published a book, "Pure Gold: Processed in the Fire," about her experience with drug addiction. (John Luke/The Times via AP)

The (Northwest Indiana) Times

MUNSTER — Tyhria Williams was in prison in 2011 when she got the bug to write.

She wrote on envelopes, then mailed them to her dad, telling him not to open them.

When she was released, she started putting her story together. And she began making connections, finally realizing how she got where she was at.

She had started drinking alcohol at 16, later progressing to pot. One day, a friend gave her a joint laced with cocaine. She had found her true love.

She would abuse crack cocaine on and off for the next couple of decades, going in and out of jail and rehab, losing her kids, jobs, everything.

But writing her story made her realize her problems originated before she ever picked up that first drink. She recalled the rapes and molestations from her childhood, starting at the age of 10. And she put it down on paper, raw, unfiltered.

The result is "Pure Gold: Processed in the Fire," Williams' memoir of addiction and recovery. She self-published the book in February.

"This book, it's really a part of my healing process, for me to face it instead of running and running all the time," she said.

In the throes of addiction

For years, she ran. She didn't know the emotional trauma from her childhood was causing her to act out as an adult: to lie, to steal, to use.

Williams grew up in East Chicago. She was a bubbly kid. Her nickname in high school was "Toy" (her maiden name is Bethel).

Behind closed doors, she was living a nightmare. She was constantly being abused: first by a babysitter, then friends of the family.

She abused drugs to numb the pain.

"It seemed like I woke up one day and 20 years had gone past. I couldn't believe it," she said. "Once that part set in, that you done messed your whole life up, that was another shock. You left your kids and really messed up. When the blinders were taken off — this is what you've done — I just went crazy. I couldn't fathom the mess I made."

While writing the book and reliving those past traumatic experiences, she started to use more. "I found myself back in the furnace," she said.

A chance at hope

In mid-2017, a former boyfriend of Williams' reached out to one of her old high school friends, LeiLani Edmonds, saying Williams needed help. Edmonds had herself been in recovery for more than a decade.

Edmonds told him she would make some calls and see what she could do. She contacted the CEO at the Fort Wayne treatment center where she got clean. The place had an opening.

So Williams, who was at the time living in Valparaiso, headed to Fort Wayne. It was at that facility, Genesis House, where she truly began to unravel the painful events that led to her addiction.

"It was an experience. It wasn't just like a rehab, trying to detox you. It was one that went really deep, to the core of my issues," she said. "It was issues from my childhood that had spilled over into adulthood."

Williams was finally able to process her decades-long trauma. She felt light, she felt clear. And she has stayed clean ever since. Recently, she marked nine months sober.

Her family is ecstatic to have her back.

"I'm elated about it," said her dad, Kevin Walker, who lives in the Miller neighborhood of Gary. "She's looking for better and better things. She's got God in her life. She's got her children in her life. She's moving forward. I can hear the tearful joy in her voice. She wishes she had done this a long time ago. But there's no better time than the present."

Reaching others

Williams, 44, has been spreading her story of recovery in other ways. She serves on the Porter County Substance Abuse Council, has spoken to students at Valparaiso High School and talked to ex-offenders in Fort Wayne transitioning back into society.

"I consider her the female Herb Stepherson," said Dawn Pelc, executive director of the Porter County Substance Abuse Council. Stepherson, a recovering heroin user from Valparaiso, released his own book last year about overcoming addiction and often speaks at local events on substance abuse.

Pelc says Williams' book puts a female perspective on the addiction crisis, touching on issues like rape and losing children.

"I think this could be a helpful book to people not only in recovery but people who are on the fence," Pelc said. "I think this book might be the deciding factor to continue their journey into recovery."

Inmates in the Porter County Jail have been passing around a copy. Pelc calls the book "genuine, raw and real."

"It's unfiltered," said Edmonds, the friend who got Williams into rehab. Edmonds grew up in East Chicago and now lives in Greenville, S.C., where she works as a cargo manager at an airport. "Some people hide things that go on in their lives and lie about things. She just seemed so real about the things she'd gone through."

She said Williams' book is inspiring her to share more about her own experience with addiction and recovery.

A new life

As for Williams, she now lives in Fort Wayne, in a house provided by her treatment center. She's in a local union, working in demolition. She's back in the lives of her four kids and three grandchildren. And she's sober.

She hopes the book can reach people before they start using.

"It about healing your issues before drugs. My goal is for people to have courage and talk about these things before turning to drugs," she said. "That's the formula. It's not the drugs. It's dealing with your unresolved issues."

She says the title of her book represents the transformation her life has undergone in the past year.

"It means me going through the fire, coming out on the other side, as pure gold," she said, her excitement undeniable. "Like the process of how gold is made: It has to be burned in order to shine. I had to burn all that stuff off me before I could shine."

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