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Festival sheds light on recovery

Alcoholics, addicts share courage, strength, hope

Suzanne Hoffman used to be terrified what might happen to her if she dozed off at night. A homeless drug addict, the petite blonde had experienced too many real-life nightmares of being assaulted, both physically and sexually. So sometimes, instead of counting sheep, she would get hopped up on methamphetamines simply to stay awake.

Other times, she would take meth to escape from abusive relationships, to help numb the hurt of a drug-dealing life, to feed a seemingly insatiable substance appetite, to feel pleasure, to . . . eventually lose everything of value in her life: a computer job at Kennecott, a home, the will to live and, worst of all, her two children.

"I had no spark of life left in me," she recalls.

With Polynesian, Mexican and square dancers, an American Indian flute recital, children's face-painting, animal balloons, a visit from Lab Rat 204, speeches from city and county mayors and various other activities going on during a Substance Abuse Recovery Festival at the Gallivan Center on Saturday, Hoffman talked about how she's getting that spark back now.

And it shows.

Hoffman's inspirational and ongoing "one-day-at-a-time" success story epitomized Saturday's multiethnic celebration and information fair organized by local recovery, treatment and law-enforcement organizations as part of "National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month."

Their combined message: Recovery from substance abuse disorders is possible.

Hoffman, 42, is now a believer. The recovering addict — and soon-to-be graduate of the Drug Court Treatment Services program — beamed when telling about getting her kids, 12 and 16, back into her life.

"To have my daughter and my son put their arms around my neck and tell me they support me and love me is my light, my hope and my strength," she said. "They saw me at my worst. Now they see me at my best."

At her worst, Hoffman explained, was when she ended up in an intensive care unit "next to death" after being brutalized in a gang- and drug-related beating. For two days, she didn't even know who she was. But the reality was, at times she didn't want to know, either. Somewhere in the suffering — between trips to jail, to the hospital and places unknown — Hoffman decided she'd had enough with her life of drugs and crime.

She reached out for help.

Now she thanks her friends from the House of Hope, the Cornerstone Counseling Center, the Drug Court, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous for listening, caring for her and for saving her from what she'd become.

"I got to the point I was suicidal," she said. "And they brought me back from the brink of death. I didn't believe there was any hope."

Nine months later, Hoffman has become the helper and a hope missionary. She's influenced several friends to quit drugs and enter rehab. But many more in Utah need help. With first-hand knowledge, she claims "the epidemic that's here is unreal." She has a personal book of horror stories about what drugs do to people and those who love them.

Hoffman, clean and clear-thinking and ever hopeful she can stay that way, now has a life-changing message to share.

"Drugs," she said, "are not the answer."

She learned that many times the hard way.

But knowing it helps her sleep so much better at night.


E-mail: jody@desnews.com