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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

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Recovering addict Christina Kelley turns life around, dedicates life to helping others

Recovering addict Christina Kelley turns life around, dedicates life to helping others

Christina Kelley’s entire life came crashing before her eyes when two years ago she began to sober up at the Santa Barbara police station, facing severe charges.

A year later, she was released from jail. She had nowhere to sleep, no money, and no one to turn to for help. That day, she chose to make a change.

Kelley is a 50-year-old mom graduating this semester with an associate degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. She has long left behind the woman at the police station, and turned a new leaf here at City College. This year, she is the Outstanding Student for City College’s Drug and Alcohol department and was nominated for commencement speaker.

“At the commencement interview, Amy Collins asked me a poignant question: ‘What message would you leave your students and your peers with?,’ ” Kelley said. “All of a sudden I flashed from that one-outfit-having, shorts wearing, no home, no nothing from June of 2010 to the person I am now, and I started to cry.”

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Kelley spent 20 years of her life working as an executive assistant to senior level management in local corporations and dabbling in music. Throughout these years, she noticed a growing drinking problem and would attempt to abstain from alcohol for weeks at a time only to fall into the habit of binge drinking again. Over time, the periods of abstinence grew shorter and shorter.

After being arrested for a crime she prefers not to disclose, Kelley realized she had hit rock bottom. She had already lost her kids, money and sense of control.

“I was looking at a long term of being locked away,” Kelley said. “But I knew that if I could persevere through this time of incarceration I would pop back out on the other side, make a good quality life for myself … ”

Because she didn’t have a history of mental-health issues when she was released from jail, Kelley received no benefits. She was introduced to the Transition program, a part of The Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) at City College, which helps those out of jail, get back into school.

“City College was there for me when I needed it, the support, the Transition program itself have been life-changing. Now I’m a viable person again, worthwhile, and employable, and I’m doing something I really was able to develop a passion for,” Kelley said.

While “couch-surfing” in various friends’ homes, Kelley decided to take a Life Fitness class at City College to ensure a shower every morning. In Aug. 2010, she began attending City College full time studying to be an Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

“The first semester was getting through it, the second semester was applying it, and the third semester was interning and that’s when it kicked in,” Kelley said. “I was like ‘This is what I really want to do’ because I was able to actually sit with people struggling with the same issues.”

Kelly’s alcoholism ultimately led to losing custody of her kids. Since her release from jail she has made every effort to prove she is deserving of her children. Kelley started the Parents Without Custody club at City College. Currently, she has earned back the custody of her 17-year-old son, and is attempting to re-connect with her 6-year-old daughter as well.

“She didn’t know who I was, I had to re-introduce myself to her because I hadn’t seen her in three years,” Kelley said. “We’ve had four visits so far and she’s given me an ‘I Love You’ note every time.”

Since her time of incarceration, Kelley has remained sober.

“None of us ever plans to relapse,” Kelley said. “However, if there is a moment when someone in recovery feels like they cannot persevere through a challenge that may take them to that dark place, that’s the defining moment that will determine the desire to stay free or return back to the abyss.”

Kelley keeps her mind occupied by working hard at City College. For fun, she plays the acoustic guitar for “Crusade,” a Catholic retreat group. Kelley describes herself as a “die-hard metal fan, and loves to sing.

As her life falls into place, Kelley’s days at City College are coming to an end. She is transferring to Antioch in the fall to study Liberal Arts with a concentration in clinical psychology.

“It’s been really hard to cut the umbilical cord, but I think it’s time to grow up and move on,” Kelley said.

Kelley also plans to start a full-time position at a women’s recovery home.

“You will be reading about Christina [Kelley],” said Shelly Dixon, coordinator for the professional development center at City College. “She has the passion, commitment and work ethic to make this a reality.”

Ben Murphy, Alcohol & Substance Abuse Awareness Program (ASAP) advisor said Kelley was quick to take on responsibility, scheduled and performed classroom presentations promoting ASAP, and ran the Tobacco Cessation program.

“Christina has been an incredible addition to the counseling staff this year,” Murphy said. “I really hope she continues on to graduate school because she will make an excellent therapist.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published May 9, 2012.

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