Most athletes know all about grit and determination. Anyone who has engaged in the theater of sport knows just what it feels like to experience victory. And, of course, defeat. Just ask Heather Hamilton, a Sound Mental Health (SMH) client who has received chemical dependency counseling, housing support, individual therapy and specialized counseling for her children.
As a star student-athlete in a small Southern Ohio town more than a decade ago, Heather experienced life’s highs. An “A” student, Heather just loved her sports: the camaraderie, the joy, the winning, the deep sense of accomplishment. As a three-sport athlete who won two regional championships in softball, Heather had it all. But for most athletes, defeat is also part of life. Ask Heather, and she’ll tell you she’s had her fair share of setbacks. The most crushing and devastating of these occurred in 2000, when her twin sister, Amber, died in an auto accident. “That was the lowest point in my life,” she recalls now.
During her sophomore year in high school, Heather moved to Seattle to live with her mother—leaving behind a traumatic past. The combination of the loss of her sister, being in a larger city, and the inability to properly cope was disastrous. She began associating with a different crowd, got pregnant and eventually dropped out of high school. As a teenager, she knew she could not be a good parent to be to her young son, “Kendall,”* so she made the difficult decision to send him to live with his grandparents. The boy is thriving and has a good relationship with her today.
Thus began a more than 10-year struggle with depression, substance use, legal troubles, evictions, domestic violence, periods of sobriety and crushing relapses. Through all this turmoil, she gave birth to two more sons, “Joshua,”* in 2005 and “Randy,”* in 2007. Heather takes full responsibility for the way her life played out, but she acknowledges that contributing to her struggles was “Randy’s” father, who remained a presence in her life for years. The domestic turmoil and substance use escalated during these times and so did the growing impact on her young sons.
Unlike most SMH clients, who access services through referrals, Heather came to SMH voluntarily in 2011. “I knew I needed help. I needed help to deal with my sister; that was a big thing in my life,” she confesses. “There were issues from my childhood that needed to be dealt with that I had never dealt with before, and the drugs. The drugs were the biggest factor in all of that.”
What followed was intensive individual therapy and concurrent six months of drug and alcohol treatment through another organization.Once she completed the chemical dependency treatment, Heather was referred to Project Homestead, which provides permanent and stable housing to qualified clients.Once in stable housing, Heather was better equipped to access the breadth of SMH programs available to her.
“From my first meeting with Heather (in 2013), it was clear she is an inspiring, positive and charming individual. It has been a pleasure seeing her grow the past year and a half,” says clinician Sultana Graham, MSW. As Heather’s participation increased, she began to come to grips with her early childhood. She started to understand that her Post Traumatic Stress had roots in her early life, and that only by confronting that, would the avalanche of struggles enveloping both her and her children begin to retreat.
Beginning in 2012, Heather’s sons began bi-weekly, individual counseling through SMH’s Child & Family Services in Auburn to address their traumatic experiences. Though she still struggles with her feelings of guilt and coping with her early life experiences, things are much better today. What’s life like now? “It’s happy. It’s not perfect. There are still problems. But me and my children are happy. I’m sober, I can parent properly…I’m a full-time student (starting her second year at Green River Community College studying Natural Resources) and I work.” Her hard work and sacrifices have earned her a tremendous amount of respect.
“One thing I want to add,” says Graham, “is how courageous Heather is. It took a lot of courage for her to leave her hometown, friends and beloved twin sister for a fresh start in Seattle. She also voluntarily started with SMH, inpatient and school. She even denied cash benefits through DSHS because she was ready to be self-sufficient. She is full of courage and strength to make these difficult decisions.”
*Names changed for confidentiality.