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As Patty Jacques addressed a crowd of nearly 200 guests during the seventh annual Taste of Arizona awards dinner last weekend in Tucson, it didn’t take long before she broke down in tears.
The 47-year-old mother of two had just received the Arizona Youth Partnership’s Agent of Change Award for her volunteer efforts in youth substance abuse education and prevention.
“I had never won an award before,” said Jacques, a work-study student in the tutoring center at Mohave Community College (MCC). “It lifted me to a level I’ve never dreamed of. I never imagined something like that was possible."
“I’m still on cloud nine,” she added.
A long, hard road
Listening to Jacques speak, it’s hard to imagine what life was like just four years ago, when she was at an all-time low as a methamphetamine addict. After she was arrested for possession and sale of meth, the probation department gave her two choices.
“They told me I can either get clean or go to prison,” Jacques said. “It was my last chance. I had a 16-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old boy. I had to be there for them.”
With no insurance and no in-patient treatment facilities in Mohave County, Jacques spent two weeks detoxing on her living room floor. Patients who detox from meth typically go into a drug treatment facility in order to cope with the withdrawal symptoms, including severe depression that can often lead to suicide.
“The worst part of it was the depression,” she said. “It was almost unbearable.”
Jacques soon entered a 12-step program through Narcotics Anonymous where she “learned how to live on life’s terms.”
“I started to come to the realization that there were a lot of things I needed to forgive myself for,” she said. “I had to learn that I was good enough. As an addict, you never believe you’re good enough.”
Advocating in the community
Lori Howell, director of the chemical studies therapy program at MCC, served as a mentor for Jacques and encouraged her to take up volunteering. Today, Jacques is chair of the Young Adult Development Association of Havasu, a youth substance abuse and prevention coalition.
Each year, the group puts on the “Walk Away from Drugs” event and the annual Youth Town Hall on Alcohol Awareness. The volunteers also set up information booths for young people at other major events, and they have recently started a mentorship program for juvenile probationers.
She is also on the board of directors of the Mohave Substance Treatment Education and Prevention Partnership (MSTEPP), a coalition attempting to bring “adequate and appropriate substance abuse treatment and after-care options” to Mohave County, according to its website.
Jacques hopes to make an even greater impact on others after she earns her associate degree in chemical dependency studies from MCC next spring. She plans to enter a career in social and behavioral health, possibly as a substance abuse counselor.
Try and try again
It isn’t the first time Jacques has turned to MCC to better herself. Back in 1984, Jacques tested at a third-grade level in reading and a second-grade level in math. When only four students signed up for a remedial class at MCC that required a minimum of 10, the instructor agreed to teach the course without pay.
“That was the beginning of my love affair with MCC,” Jacques said.
Jacques would eventually obtain her GED as well as a certificate in early childhood development. She worked at an elementary school before getting married and opting to stay at home with her children. After her divorce, she started working at a bar, and it wasn’t long before drugs and alcohol started to take their toll.
“It almost destroyed my life,” she said. “But I knew where to go to get it rebuilt…and that was back at MCC.”
A few hours before her big night in Tucson, Jacques started to feel terrified. This was a big moment for her—maybe too big. She called everybody she knew for support, but nobody answered the phone. Recalling what she learned during her own recovery, Jacques walked outside and prayed.
“I looked out at the sunset and all the saguaro, and it was absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “But I couldn’t help but notice one single cactus that was dead, black and hollow inside, and I realized that was me as an addict.”
About 10 feet away was a perfectly-shaped saguaro in full bloom.
“I equated that cactus to what my life is now in recovery,” she said, “and I knew I was going to be just fine.”
Jacques received a standing ovation after her speech to accept her first award ever. The master of ceremonies, Jorge Ruiz, told the audience it might be her first, but he was certain it was not going to be her last.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges