From Addict to Advocate, Chicago Woman Defeats Addiction with help from CTA and MAT treatment.

We don’t always get second chances in life but when we do, the results can be life-altering. Evelyn B’s story is one of survival, struggle, resilience, and victory.

Evelyn B, a Black woman from Chicago and a recovering opioid addict grew up in a home where packaging and selling drugs were a part of day-to-day life. That eventually led to secondhand addiction. Following the discovery of withdrawal symptoms, Evelyn received support from her faith-based community and was surprised to learn that there was medication available to help curb cravings, known as medication-assisted treatment or MAT. Today she advocates for increased access and widespread awareness of effective treatment options that are all too often unheard of.

In addition to her advocacy work, Evelyn is a participant in the CTA’s Second Chance Program. The program is one of the largest workforce re-entry programs in the country. Using a comprehensive approach, the Second Chance program prepares participants to become self-sufficient by offering training, education, and mentorship.

The Chicago Defender spoke with Evelyn B about her journey, her recovery, and her involvement in the CTA’s Second Chance Program.

Chicago Defender:  Tell me a little about your background.

Evelyn B:  I grew up in Oak Park but when I moved to Austin my life totally changed. I’ve been incarcerated and an addict for many years. I’ve sold drugs and done just about everything you can think of.

Chicago Defender: How did you get addicted to opioids?

Evelyn B:   It was my family. It was the environment I grew up in. My family sold it and used it. My mother and uncle died from AIDS from sharing needles. I remember telling myself I would never do that but when I started selling it, I was scooping it up with my hands and no mask and ended up with the worst habit anyone would ever see.

Chicago Defender:  When did you get to a place where you said enough is enough and it’s time to quit?

Evelyn B:  Like most addicts, I got tired. Most addicts get tired after they run out of money. The turning point for me happened when I was sitting in Sunday school. Regardless of what I was doing in the streets, I always went to church. I grew up that way.

In any case, I was sitting in my pastor’s Sunday school class but had been up all-night drinking and doing drugs, so I fell asleep in the front row. After class, my pastor said to me, “When you get tired, let me know” and he walked away. I kept on with this chaos and self-destruction in my life until I couldn’t do it anymore. My pastor was the first call I made when I was ready to get my life together.

I was tired. I was tired of not being productive, doing drugs, and going to jail. I knew I strayed off my path and I wanted to get to a school. I know everything I’ve experienced in my life was for me to help others.

Chicago Defender:  What was recovery like and how did you come to learn about medication-assisted treatment (MAT)?

Evelyn B: It was difficult to find a treatment that worked. I learned about MATs while in recovery. I tried different treatments, but Vivitrol worked. Vivitrol is an FDA-approved prescription medicine (it comes in the form of a once-a-month injection) that’s used to treat alcohol dependence or prevent relapse to opioid dependence. Once I began Vivitrol, it allowed me to focus on other areas of my life– like writing my book, volunteering in the community, and reconnecting with my family.

Chicago Defender:  You are a participant in the CTA’s Second Chance program. What role did that program play in helping you rebuild your life?

Evelyn B:  It was everything. It gave me discipline and focus. Before getting my assignment, we spend two weeks in the classroom. That classroom time helped me. They gave me a chance to give myself a second chance. They taught me about working at CTA and how to build my resume. It was great. I love that program. I learned self-awareness, discipline, and communication skills in addition to skills to prepare me as a CTA employee.

Chicago Defender: What advice would you give people who may be struggling with addiction?

Evelyn B.:   I would tell them that it’s never too late. Don’t ever give up on yourself. The struggle is hard but with faith and work, you can break that cycle. I’ve been clean since 2016.

Chicago Defender: What goals and plans do you have going forward?

Evelyn B:  The CTA’s second chance program was such a blessing. I want to continue with CTA eventually becoming a permanent employee. I tested out of the Second Chance program and became a customer service assistant.  I set high goals and wanted to learn how to drive for CTA. I tested and received my permit and now I’m waiting for bus operator training.

Evelyn B also published a book about her journey. “Inspirational Thoughts: With a Touch of Poetry and Short Stories” is available on Amazon. For more information on CTA’s Second Chance program visit their website.

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