Resurrected: One woman’s journey to sobriety

(Published in Southern Indiana Business Magazine, Jan. 2018)

The mugshot is of an old woman.

The lines in her face slope downward, pointing to thin, pursed lips. Her pupils, tinged with red from the camera flash, threaten to swallow the thin, blue circles of her irises.

Her gaze is fixed below the camera — disengaged

“Some people don’t think I look bad, but I see death,” says Lisa Livingston.5a987d7bba080.image.png

She stares down at the picture. Her picture.

Today, you can see that Livingston’s eyes are actually a shocking, icy blue, and her face is fresh. There may be wrinkles, but you don’t focus on them.

The mugshot was taken on Aug. 6, 2013, the day Livingston was arrested for possession of cocaine, methamphetamine and the ingredients needed to create her own.

It was the day that Livingston started her second journey to recovery. The day that saved her life.

“I know that if I hadn’t have gotten arrested when I did, I don’t think I would have lived too much longer,” Livingston said.

Her jailing led her back to her recovery home and to a new purpose in life.

Livingston still occasionally looks at the mugshot. It reminds her of how far she’s come in these past four years.

But now, the charges for which Livingston was booked and photographed have been resurrected. They threaten to send her back to the chaos she hoped to have left behind in 2013.

THE CURRENT CALM

The green house on Spring Street fits in snugly with the others on the busy thoroughfare in downtown New Albany.

The street is home to both historic residences and small businesses, and the BreakAway is a bit of both.

Just one knock on the home’s wreath-decorated door summons Livingston, who ushers guests into the residence’s cavernous entryway.

“Now, you’ve seen it since we’ve gotten everything open, haven’t you?” she asks.

Livingston’s recovery home took in its first group of residents on Oct. 30. The six women all hope to learn the skills that will keep them sober for life.

Already, they’ve gotten jobs and begun to relearn how to act in the “real world,” not as if they were on the streets, as Livingston puts it.

“We’re starting to watch the miracles happen,” she said.

For Livingston, it’s the realization of a year’s worth of stressful work.

BUILDING A HOME

The BreakAway is based off of the Bliss House in Jeffersonville. Another recovery home for women, the Bliss House is the place that helped Livingston get sober for the two longest periods in her life since she started drugs.

It was the tragic death of Livingston’s 33-year-old friend and fellow Bliss House graduate, Nicole Snelling, that inspired Livingston to start her own recovery home.

Snelling was “a baby,” Livingston remembers fondly — young and fiercely reliant on her friends.

When Livingston arrived at the Bliss House in 2013, her second time in the recovery home, Snelling was the night manager. The two began spending a lot of time together, forming a strong friendship. But when Snelling left in 2015, she fell back into addiction.

The next year, Snelling was hospitalized for a blood infection she received from injecting drugs. Livingston visited her in the ICU. She remembers rubbing Snelling’s head and giving her a kiss goodbye, expecting her to get better.

But the next day, Snelling died. A blood clot had formed in her brain.

Meanwhile, the waiting list at the Bliss House continued to grow. At least 25 women were clamoring for a spot.

“These women, there’s no help for them,” Livingston would tell the News and Tribune in November of that year. “They’re getting released from jail, they’re going back out, and they’re using and they’re dying.”

In October, Livingston had realized what she could do to help these women, and that was to open her own recovery home. She revealed her plans to her sponsor, Janis Barnett, while sitting on the porch of the Bliss House. At the time, the conversation didn’t seem serious.

“Everybody wants to open a halfway house when you get clean and sober,” Livingston said.

But the two really would. Barnett is now the BreakAway’s director, second in command to Livingston.

Their work wasn’t easy. The two had to put together a board of directors, find a home and create a rule book. But Livingston was passionate, and her drive kept the BreakAway moving forward.

She wasn’t the only person making stuff happen, though.

That January, in Livingston’s hometown of Paoli, a new circuit court judge took over: Steve Owen, the New Albany area’s former prosecutor.

Owen had run on a platform that included tackling Orange County’s growing backlog of drug cases — including Livingston’s from 2013.

THE ARREST

Paul Andry had been hearing Livingston’s name.

The Indiana State Police sergeant was in charge of meth operations in the southern portion of the state back in August of 2013. At the time, there wasn’t much Andry didn’t know about, especially in his hometown of Paoli.

The word was that Livingston was back into the local drug scene after a years’ long hiatus.

She had managed to stay out of legal trouble for a while, but on the sixth of the month, a search warrant was issued for her home.

A man caught stealing scrap metal had told police that Livingston was making meth in her trailer and that he had bought some from her.

Andry drove to Livingston’s home and waited for her there. Before long, Livingston was maneuvering her daughter’s truck up her long driveway.

Andry met Livingston’s eyes, and saw something familiar: the “it’s over” look. And something else, too, maybe — relief.

It was obvious to Andry that Livingston didn’t want to be doing what she was doing.

Gaunt from drug use, Livingston exited her car and she and Andry chatted over a cigarette.

She confessed to everything, Andry said.

“I’m out of control,” she told him.

In Livingston’s car, police found several, small bags of meth and another containing cocaine. Ingredients to make meth were also uncovered, as well as smoking devices.

In Livingston’s home, more was found, including additional bags and smoking devices.

The search was the end of three years of spiraling drug abuse for Livingston — a time in her life that left her without her family, friends and health.

That same day, she was taken to jail. A mugshot was taken.

Andry learned later that Livingston had gotten out on bond and was to be sent to a recovery home: the Bliss House.

At the time, he didn’t agree with the judge’s decision.

“I was afraid she’d get out and go right back in it,” Andry said.

But the court order had only delayed Livingston’s trial. She still faced five charges for possession and dealing of drugs, as well as an extra charge for being a habitual substance offender.

Livingston’s crimes added up to a minimum of 20 years of jail time, 10 of which could be suspended.

But her court date kept getting pushed back. Meanwhile, Livingston was not only recovering, but starting to form her own life for herself on the outside.

ADDICTION’S BEGINNINGS

When Livingston thinks back on her life, she realizes why she was such a natural at being addicted.

Livingston was born in 1966 in Paoli to two married parents — the third of four children. Her childhood was good, she said, but her father was an abusive alcoholic.

Livingston’s father never did hurt her, but in her third grade photo, scratches can been seen on her neck: injuries sustained while Livingston ran away from her dad harming her mom.

Eventually, Livingston’s mother began working: attempting to raise her children the best she could. But when Livingston turned 14, she fell prey to a 42-year-old friend of her father’s. The man gave her alcohol and marijuana and let her drive around in his car. He also molested her.

Today, Livingston understands the wrongness of what her father’s friend did to her, but at the time, she put the blame on herself.

The abuse didn’t last long, but when it ended, it did so in a way that scarred Livingston. She was accompanying the man to his son-in-law’s house, where he drunkenly caused a ruckus.

The son-in-law, who was out deer hunting, came home and demanded that the man leave.

Livingston ran from the fight. While fleeing the house, she heard gunshots.

She turned around in the yard to see her abuser walk out of the house and down the steps, a wound to his chest.

Three more bullets hit the man in the back, and he fell to the ground.

Livingston walked up to him and rolled him over. At 15, she saw her father’s friend take his last breath.

Livingston would later be subpoenaed to court to tell the story of what happened that day, but nothing ever came of the trial. Her family didn’t talk about the situation, either.

“All we did was stuffed it under the rug,” she said.

At 18, Livingston moved on. She met a man and married him. The two started working, and everything seemed fine — until Livingston was introduced to hard drugs.

NO STOPPING

Livingston didn’t know what was wrong.

She and her husband had tried meth together offered to them by some new friends, but he was able to easily put down the drugs. She couldn’t.

“Why can’t you quit?” he asked her.

Lisa didn’t know. It felt as if she’d turned into an animal: a dog that had been offered a scrap of food and was constantly sniffing around for more.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked herself. “Why can’t I stop and be normal?”

The only thing that saved Livingston was being cut off from her supply. But, by that time, the stage was set. Livingston was willing to try hard drugs, and when she started, there was no stopping.

THE FIRST TIME

In 1990, Livingston gave birth to her daughter, Lacey. Three years later, she tried cocaine for the first time on a trip to her cousin’s house.

With one hit, she was off again.

“I would run back if it was three o’clock in the morning and buy it, buy it, buy it until I spent everything I had,” Livingston said. “And my husband would be like, just quit, and I was like, I can’t quit. I can’t. And then I’d be like, what’s wrong with me? I can’t quit.”

And nothing did stop her: stints in rehab, divorce, not seeing her daughter, her mother’s death. It all just provided an excuse to keep using.

“Once I’d come down, the guilt, shame and remorse would just kill me, and I’d have to get high again to stuff them feelings,” Livingston said.

The day her mother died, killed in a car accident, Livingston begged her sisters to pray for her mom for her. God wouldn’t listen to her, she claimed. She wasn’t a good enough person.

Lacey remembers those years when she didn’t have a mother — not really, anyway. Livingston was “out of control, crazy” and “really quick to snap,” Lacey said. But she also had her moments.

Even in the storm of her addiction, Livingston would have given you the shirt off of her back, Lacey said. She worked constantly and never stole from her family.

“I held onto what morals that I could,” Livingston said.

But it wasn’t enough to keep her from prison. Livingston had started making meth for herself, as well as for friends. In 2004, she was arrested for the first time on dealing charges, as well as possession of cocaine, meth and ingredients to manufacture drugs.

The judge let her out of jail to attend a drug rehab program. After Livingston was finished, she was released from jail on bond. But within two months, she was using again. It just took one bump in with an old friend.

Two nights before she was due back in court, Livingston found herself alone and pleading with God, asking the same question: Why couldn’t she just quit?

For what would be the first of two times in her life, Livingston was saved by an arrest.

She was out driving one day when police attempted to pull her over. Livingston tried to evade them, but she was caught and charged with resisting law enforcement, reckless driving and driving while suspended.

While in rehab again, Livingston heard the term halfway house for the first time, and she was given the opportunity to visit one. It turned out to be the Bliss House.

Livingston’s one-day trip diverted her obsessive mind from the thought of drugs. Instead, she was only determined to be accepted into the inviting, Jeffersonville recovery home.

Livingston begged the judge to let her go. He agreed, but she had to serve time in prison for one year before.

In October of 2006, after a year behind bars, Livingston left the prison and entered the double doors of the Bliss House.

She was walking into her first real chance at recovery.

SOBRIETY AND RELAPSE

There’s a photo that Livingston keeps with her today that shows the girls that she graduated the Bliss House with her second time around.

The women stand close together, hands on their hips, smiling at the camera.

Four and a half years later, eight of them have relapsed, one is dead, and only three, including Livingston, are still sober.

To her, it’s a reminder of how important it is to stay connected after recovery. In 2009, when Livingston emerged from the Bliss House a new person, she didn’t know that.

“I was high on life,” Livingston said. “I was high on recovery and just able to get all that guilt, shame and remorse gone.”

But Livingston made mistakes: She moved back to Paoli and away from her support system. She quit going to meetings, quit talking to her sponsor — and she allowed herself to take pain pills prescribed by her doctor for hepatitis C treatments.

Livingston regards this as the moment she gave up her sobriety.

Today, Livingston realizes that she can’t stay sober unless she completely abstains from mind-altering substances. She’ll never fully recover from drug addiction.

“It’s always recovering,” Livingston now says.

In 2009, she managed to control her use of pain pills, but the slope was slippery. On New Year’s Eve, Livingston picked up a drink, and in June of 2010, while drunk on a boating trip to Patoka Lake, she tried meth again.

Lacey remembers getting a call from Livingston’s friend: panicked by Livingston’s reaction to the drug. Lacey didn’t hold back.

“You literally unleashed the devil, and you have no f—— clue what you’ve just done,” she said.

THE SECOND TIME

Livingston knew what it was like to relapse, having done so during her first phase of addiction. It’s not uncommon, either: Forty to 60 percent of people with a substance use disorder start taking their drug of choice again, according to the Journal of American Medical Association.

Each slip was terrible for Livingston in its own way, but in 2010, the guilt that Livingston felt was magnified. This time, she knew what it was like to truly be sober.

Livingston managed to control herself for a while, and it worked — even when using meth and cocaine. But her addiction gradually got worse.

“The first couple years, I held on,” Livingston said. “I was able to function and do a little bit every day, a little bit. And then it gets, then you have to have more and more and more and it just progressed.”

In 2013, she found herself unemployed and living in a trailer on a piece of property that her mother and father left to her in Paoli. Livingston was deathly ill, although she didn’t know what was wrong with her.

“I couldn’t even function,” she said. “I couldn’t even get high.”

Lacey visited Livingston when she was at her worst. Her mom was lying in bed, almost completely incapacitated.

Lacey held her up.

“Mom, you’ve got to stop,” she told her.

Livingston looked Lacey in the eye.

“I can’t stop,” she said.

That’s when Lacey realized — her mom really couldn’t.

Livingston had accepted the fact that she was going to die. Lacey had to as well.

She cleaned up her mom as best as she could, told her she loved her, got in her truck and left.

One week later, Livingston was arrested by Paul Andry. A mugshot was taken.

COMMITTED

Livingston was full of life when she entered the Bliss House for the second time.

Jail had cut her off from drugs and reinvigorated her. She realized that she had a second chance.

Immediately after being arrested, Livingston began calling her contacts in Jeffersonville — determined to go back.

Four months later, the judge allowed her to. Livingston entered the recovery home on Dec. 5, 2013, with a different attitude than she did in 2006.

“I was scared to death that I was going to get in trouble because I knew that it was life or death for me, and I needed to do good,” she said. “I was wanting a sponsor that was going to give me the most. I wanted to live, and I wanted to know how to live, and I wanted to do everything that I fell short of the last time so I could guarantee that I could be successful this time.”

Livingston was empowered by what she didn’t know the first time: that she was the “worst of the worst”: nothing but jail, institutions or death would keep her from drugs. And she didn’t want to die.

Janis Barnett remembers Livingston when she entered the Bliss House in 2013. It was the first time she had met the short, blonde haired woman.

Livingston wanted Barnett to be her sponsor, but Barnett didn’t want Livingston as her sponsee.

“She was all over the place,” Barnett said about Livingston. “She was, in my opinion, a ball full of energy, but very chaotic.”

But Livingston pursued Barnett. She found Barnett’s phone number and gave her a call. Barnett, a people pleaser, couldn’t say no.

As Livingston followed the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and started forming a relationship with God, she began to change, Barnett said.

“A light came on, and Lisa actually physically started glowing,” she said. “You know, you could see the brightness in her eyes. You could hear the pep in her voice. You could hear positive energy.”

Livingston started working at the Dairy Queen in Jeffersonville, she stopped bothering family members with her problems and she reconnected with Lacey.

“She was amazing,” Lacey said. “She’s an amazing person, you know what I mean? Just being around her lights your whole world up.”

Livingston was a mother again.

BEYOND SOBRIETY

In 2014, Livingston graduated from the Bliss House and moved into Bliss Too, an apartment-style recovery home next door to the Bliss House.

That year, she started Lisa’s Roofing and Construction, LLC, with her nephew, Brian Campbell, who was also in recovery.

After an interview with the News and Tribune, Livingston’s business took off.

“It was amazing because Clark County supported me, us, in our mission to build a business from recovery,” she said.

Livingston even used $10,000 that she saved from her company to start the BreakAway. From there, she received help from Bliss House alumni, community members and local business owners. Even Paul Andry, the ISP officer who arrested Livingston, supported her mission.

Not long after Livingston was released from jail on bond, Andry ran into her in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Paoli. It’s a place he often sees people that he previously arrested. Often, they’ll avoid him, but Livingston approached him. Andry knew that meant she was sober, but he still didn’t think Livingston belonged on the outside.

“But you know — she knew,” he said. “And she grasped the opportunity and took it.”

Every time Andry saw Livingston after that point, she impressed him: with her commitment to sobriety, her new business and, finally, with her recovery home.

Andry attended the BreakAway’s open house a month before it opened and the two took a picture together there. Even more recently, he and his wife donated blankets to the recovery home.

Andry, now a criminal justice teacher, retired from the state police this year with 32 years under his belt. He’s a skeptical guy: of rehabilitation programs and former drug offenders. But Andry is strong in the beliefs he does hold — and he believes in Livingston.

On Jan. 8, he plans to testify for her at her sentencing.

A PAINFUL RETURN

Livingston has been having trouble sleeping.

She’s fine during the day when she’s counseling residents or surveying a construction site. But at night, it’s like she’s back in a jail holding cell — alone with her thoughts.

She moves around restlessly in her bed: staring at the popcorn ceiling, the plain wall or the reflective mirror.

She thinks about Jan. 8: the stuff she has to do to prepare, what the day will be like, and its potential aftermath.

Two months ago, Livingston blindly pleaded guilty to her five drug charges, leaving Judge Steve Owen to decide how she should serve her crimes.

Livingston sees three possible outcomes at her sentencing. One would be palatable: the judge could allow her to take a months-long drug rehabilitation class, after which she could petition the courts to take a look at her case again. Another is preferable: she could serve her sentence working for the BreakAway. But there is one more, haunting possibility: she could be sent back to prison for a minimum of 10 years.

Livingston doesn’t know what the judge is going to do, but she knows what she wants: to stay at the BreakAway.

While Livingston has already arranged for her assistant director to take over as executive director if she’s sentenced, she wants to be the one to keep the recovery home growing.

Barnett thinks that Livingston can do the most good for her community on the outside, too, but there’s more to why the thought of going to prison keeps Livingston from sleeping.

CHANGED

Livingston is no longer the person she sees in her mugshot.

“Our lives in recovery, our lives are real simple, real smooth,” she said.

Livingston’s world was chaos when she was arrested, and so is jail. There’s fighting and drug use — things that she stays away from now.

When Livingston drives into Orange County, her self-esteem deflates. She thinks about the things she did when she took drugs: the kind of person she’s capable of being, even though she doesn’t believe she’ll ever be that way again.

“Going back in there and sitting in that courtroom and pleading guilty to those five charges was the hardest thing I’d ever done the other day,” Livingston said.

When she visits the courthouse, she says, she feels like a drug addict again.

ACCEPTANCE

If Livingston does go to prison, she knows she’ll feel defeated. She doesn’t know how long for: a couple weeks, maybe? Months?

But eventually, armed with her Bible, Livingston believes she’ll be able to bring herself back. She’s convinced that God has a plan for her.

“I want to help somebody on the outside, but if he says I’m going to prison, I’m there to help somebody,” she said.

She’s already started the process of preparing herself for prison. She’s made arrangements for her puppy and set her business partner up with her connections.

On Jan. 8, Livingston will wake up and pray. She’ll make the 56 minute drive up to Paoli. She’ll place her keys and other important possessions in a bag to give to her family, and she’ll walk into the courthouse.

Her support system will be there to greet her: Family members, Bliss House committee members, the BreakAway women, her daughter and Andry.

First, the prosecution will speak. Then, Livingston’s team will have a chance.

Her supporters will testify on her behalf and Livingston will read a statement.

And then, the judge will make his decision: maybe that day, maybe later in the week.

Whatever it is, Livingston will accept it.

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