Crisis to Career: Crystal Craig‘s Story
This series is a collaboration between the Leviza Lazer and Addiction Recovery Care to report on men and women’s struggles as they went from active-addiction to abundant-recovery. With half of its 400+ employees in recovery from substance use disorder, Addiction Recovery Care (ARC), Inc. is leading the way in Appalachia when it comes to combining drug treatment and vocational training that results in second chance employment. Roughly one-third of ARC’s approximately 450 employees are graduates of an ARC treatment program. ARC believes that the solution to the nation’s workforce issues is lying dormant in the lives of those who are struggling with addiction or alcoholism.
She manages care for dozens of women annually trying to find recovery. To meet Crystal is to like her. She has an infectious optimism and a motherly manner that tells you, “this lady cares!” Like any good mom though, she tempers her compassion with the notion that this woman is too sharp to be easily tricked. Those who’ve entered treatment under her guidance fondly remember her saying: “I’m too old a cat to be fooled by a kitten.” And so she is: while the native of Harlan County is young in years- only 42- her age belies the lengthy and dark journey she walked out in her battle with drugs. In her own words, she’s dared the devil and flirted with death more times than she can count. Today, in recovery and living a new life in Christ, she considers it her mission in life to bring recovery to the ladies for whose care she has been entrusted.rystal Craig is the Director of Beth’s Blessing, a substance-use disorder treatment facility for women operated by Addiction Recovery Care, LLC in Jackson County, KY.
For Crystal, like most in active-addiction, her dark journey began during her teenage years. At the age of 12, she began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. Bit by bit, her pastime increased and by the time she was 19, she was a full blown IV drug user. There’s little doubt in Crystal’s mind that her teenage years were critical. The wrong doors opened, the rights ones closed. She doesn’t dwell on the details, but you can sense the hurt she has for that period in her life. She makes sure you know: these were the days that led her to the false belief that there was comfort in drugs.
By 20, she was using cocaine and shooting up daily. Where it would stop, she didn’t know and really didn’t’ care. Things went on like this for a while. She worked, but she continued to abuse. This was Crystal’s time in purgatory: neither clean, nor fully dysfunctional, life just limped along.
Then, in 1998, she met her hell… in the form of oxycontin. Oxycontin: one of the most powerful- and addictive- painkillers to ever hit America, was unleashed by Purdue Pharma in 1996. By 1998, it had permeated Appalachia. Like a vicious storm that blew through the area, its ravaging effects are still felt in the region today. Crystal rode this tornado, and it very nearly killed her. In 2005, it did kill her husband, the father of her children. She was with him when he died. The two had used together and fallen into a deep sleep. Crystal recalls it with anguish: “I woke up, he didn’t. And it tore my heart out.”
After this, there was little reason to slow down. “My life continued to spiral out of control”, she says. “I kept getting locked up, I had multiple car wrecks that should have claimed my life. I overdosed many, many times. The last one sent me into complete cardiac arrest and respiratory failure.”
Crystal’s life was careening from crisis to crisis. She experienced things no decent human ever should. She recites a litany of blows that racked her life:
“I know the feeling when the cops take your child from your arms because you’re going to jail. I know the walk of shame of wearing the orange jumpsuits and shackles. I know the shame that consumes you as you look in the face of your child and see their eyes filled with confusion and heartbreak as you leave them behind to go feed the monster that lives inside of you. I’ve sold every moral, all of my self-worth, and even my soul for a quick fix. I’ve lived day to day, dollar to dollar, one crime spree to another searching for anything to fill the void and emptiness. I’ve lived through the nights where you go to bed not caring if you see morning or not because you know the pain that will ravish your body and torment your mind as the withdrawal sets in. In those moments, death becomes inviting, because life has become completely meaningless and empty. Death seemed as if it were the only escape.”
There’s little doubt death was on its way- if law enforcement had not intervened first. In 2014 Crystal found herself standing in front of a federal judge in United States District Court in Virginia. The next few months were a blur of police officers, special transports, US Marshals, lawyers and courtrooms. Crystal faced serious time. She views her experience in federal court as nothing short of miraculous.
“At final sentencing, my attorney called my mom as a character witness. As my mom started telling the courtroom the story of my life, I could feel myself melting in my chair. I was so ashamed, and it felt like she was speaking of someone I didn’t know. She held nothing back, and I just knew she had nailed my coffin shut. I know now, that was all part of God’s plan.”
After recounting a long list of Crystal’s sins to the Court, the mother began to ask the Judge for clemency for her daughter. She explained to the Judge how she had learned about a women’s treatment center in Louisa called Karen’s Place. How she’s talked to Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley about it and how he was supportive of the program. She had researched and learned everything she could find about the center on the internet, and she had printed it to bring to Court. The mother closed with a simple request for help. Crystal says her entire hopes were vested in that Judge giving her daughter the chance to go that center. “She pleaded with the Judge, and asked if he could find in his heart enough compassion to let my sentencing include completing Karen’s Place.”
Crystal is still amazed how it all worked out. “God’s favor was with me.” The Judge went below the federal guidelines for her sentencing. Following a relatively short stay in jail, she could go for help. 11 months and 22 days later, Crystal walked out of the prison doors on supervised release with special conditions to complete a 6 month program at Karen’s Place, the center her mother had begged the Judge to send her daughter.
Karen’s Place was Addiction Recovery Care’s first treatment center. 8 years-old this month, it’s a beautiful lake house sitting atop a hill in Appalachian Lawrence County. As Crystal puts it: “Up on the mountain, where my miracle was waiting.”
When she walked in the doors of Karen’s Place, she was, by her own admission, a shell of a person. I was “crippled by anger, bitterness, brokenness, self-hatred, and completely hopeless.” She will always remember the fear and the doubt she had when first entering treatment. “I didn’t believe that grace could change me.”
She was wrong, it would. In life, grace works through people. The angels in most miracles are humanly ones, inspired to do good by His spark. In recovery, it takes a village of these humanly angels to get someone to the other side. Crystal knows that, and she will never forget the people who helped her recover. She rattles off a list of ARC staff who helped.
She would meet Pastoral Counselor Rick May, a bear of a man with a gentle heart. “He was my teacher. He taught me who Jesus was. He helped me learn the true, beautiful heart of God. One that loves me when I was my dirtiest, when I’m the messiest and most at fault. He taught me that the love of Jesus is what changes me.” Crystal says that May’s words will forever be etched in her heart: “God knows where we really are and the condition of our heart. He wants to heal us completely. He wants to make you whole, he wants to give you a new life in Him, but you have to allow Him into those deep places of hurt, those places that you haven’t ever allowed anyone access into.” She says that this message was the one that started something new in her. The message “where Jesus started changing me…I trusted Him.”
She fondly remembers residential Staff Loretta Smith, now a nurse with the company. “She is real. She did not sugar coat anything and she was not scared to tell me about myself either!! She taught me there’s a silver lining to everything. God knew that I needed her. She never cut me one bit of slack and for that I am forever grateful. Her direction, her encouragement, her courage, her passion, and her heart inspired me then and inspires me today.
Then there was Congetta Horn, the mother of the first resident in the doors of Karen’s Place in 2010. She’d gone to work with ARC after seeing how it changed her daughter’s life: “She was always fair. Like Loretta, she held me accountable too. She is a spunky lady that’s for sure! I love her dearly. She would check me and put me back in line but she did it with such class and finesse. She gave me direction as well as correction. All because she knew I needed it. I would get so mad at her at times and she would get pretty mad at me too! But she never lost her cool. She knew how twisted and jacked up I was, and she refused to let me stay that way. She gave me correction, direction, redirection, and God used her to tear down many of my walls. They had to come down so that God could build me up. I love her forever!”
There was Tammy Dillon: “I admire her confidence. She is also wise. If I was ever going into battle, I’d want her by my side!!! She believed in me when I couldn’t believe in anything. She listened and I always felt that I mattered to her. She is another great mentor, life speaker, truth teller, friend and sister that I am blessed and honored to have in my life.”
And Ashlea Leslie, another staff member who’d already walked her recovery walk through ARC, and gone to work with the company that helped her get well. “Her testimony inspired me beyond belief. She and I share some of the same hurt and pain. Like the death of a loved one that leaves a permanent scar on your heart and soul. She’s so courageous! She is that person I can call on in any situation to pray for me, pray with me. She is the voice of reasoning, she is my go to person. She is genuine. I hold her very close to my heart.”
There was Pastor Mike Greider and Dr. Lynda Irons, who worked with Crystal to get her to open up and see her life critically. “It took them to teach me about my many character defects. At first I thought they were talking in a foreign language. But after I learned I could trust them, and I opened my heart and became willing to learn what they were saying to me, the scales on my eyes fell off. I could see the truth about myself, and about God, and who God created me to be.”
Hearing Crystal rattle off name after name at first seems tedious. Then, you realize how critical each of them were in helping the addict Crystal find the true Crystal. “It took an entire community of people to love me, hold me accountable, correct me, redirect me, and teach me. What I do know is that when I was ready to change, God was there. He was there through all of these wonderful people with their love, compassion, and fierce commitment to stand beside me in whatever way was needed.”
Since entering treatment in 2015, Crystal’s life has continued to be an odyssey. But now, it’s an odyssey of hope. After 6 months of initial care, she began and internship. She was hired by the company after a year of treatment as residential staff. Through a partnership between SOAR, ARC, the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, and Sullivan University, Crystal received training to be a peer support specialist. She worked first at Beth’s Blessing, then at Lydia’s House, and came back to Beth’s Blessing to serve as center director in March of 2018, a position in which she continues to serve. She views her journey with awe, and is grateful that she has a new life. Crystal sees her job as Center Director as critical to the recovery of dozens of young women annually. She believes the key to success is God and the people He works through. “To this day, God continues to strategically place people in my life. He will always have an army of people behind me and beside me.”
Addiction Recovery Care’s motto is simple: From Crisis to Career- #FromCrisistoCareer .
ARC is a substance use disorder treatment company based in Louisa. It has outpatient and in-patient facilities around Kentucky. It gives select clients with 60 days of residential treatment the option to become an intern, and to simultaneously continue with their treatment and learn the ins and outs of operating a treatment program.
ARC treats both men and women in separate facilities and is also a leader in maternity care for pregnant and new mothers. ARC combines occupational rebuilding with treatment for addiction to create a continuum for rebuilding lives.
ARC believes supporting a client’s discovery of a sense of purpose combined with employment is a critical factor in long-term recovery, and it prides itself on helping clients first achieve sobriety and then helping them discover their God-given destiny.