Meeting Eliana in person, it was obvious that this was a person who put others first. She went out of her way to make sure our meetings were convenient for me in every way. Now that I know where she’s come from and what she’s been through, it’s clear that a life of service was her natural calling. Her portrait honors the historic mill town where she grew up:
My parents have struggled with substance use since I was a little girl. I lived with my mom and my younger brother until I was fourteen. During this time I was forced to step into the role of the adult in my home. I took on the responsibility of making sure my brother went to school, did his homework, ate, and showered. I also made sure that my mom ate and showered because oftentimes she would forget or was not in a state to physically care for herself.
My upbringing was far from that of an ordinary child, and this affected my mental health tremendously. I began rationing food between us at the age of six, and would often skip meals to make sure that they had enough to eat,. Little did I know that this would cause my long struggle with anorexia. I remember silently crying into my pillow when the clock struck midnight on my 13th birthday–this was month five of the eleven we would spend living in a homeless shelter.
I grew up with a lot of anger towards my mom because I thought that she was choosing her substance over my brother and me. It wasn’t until I got to college and took a course called “Understanding Addictive Behaviors” that I truly understood that addiction is a disease which creates a chemical imbalance in the brain. Nobody wishes to grow up and become an addict; this allowed me to embark on my long journey of healing.
There is plenty of evidence that suggests genetics plays a big role in substance addiction. If a parent or close relative struggles with alcohol or drug addiction then the chances of the following generation developing an addiction is greater. Both of my parents were exposed to substance abuse at a young age and slowly became bound themselves. I come from a long line of addiction but I am more than this disease. I choose to live an alcohol and drug-free life because I am determined to break this cycle.
Today I find joy in conversation, I enjoy getting to meet new people and learning their stories. I have a degree in sociology and I’m currently employed in the human services field serving people with mental health illnesses. I also work in my community with youth who have parents or close relatives who struggle with substance abuse or are in recovery through a nonprofit faith-based support group called Time for Change here in Lawrence, MA.
I cherish time with family and friends, whether exploring a new place, watching movies, or getting together for dinner. Although my biological mother struggled to be there emotionally and physically throughout different stages of my life, the Lord allowed for influential women to step up and serve as mother figures for me. An aunt took me into her home when I was fourteen until I went off to college and raised me as if I was her own alongside her four daughters. My high school guidance counselor, high school English teacher, and my college academic counselor were also three women who played a part in molding me into the woman I am today.
I give thanks to God because I have been so blessed to be surrounded by such strong figures. I strive to be the best person I can be and influence youth around me by simply creating relationships and meeting people where they are. I wouldn’t be where I am today if people didn’t choose to pour into me.
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