SIDNEY — When you walk into Julie Cockrell’s apartment, one of the first things you notice is a certificate proudly sitting above her television.
To Cockrell, that certificate is years and years of perseverance.
“I’ve done it a hundred thousand times. You just don’t quit. The only time you quit is when you’re dead,” she said.
Cockrell is a recent graduate from Samaritan Works Inc., a non-profit non-denominational faith-based recovery program in Sidney. She spent about six months in the residential program, living at the Amelia House, starting her triumph and recovery from addiction.
Now she is continuing with the program and lives in their recently purchased Horizon Home for graduates.
Cockrell’s story begins in Union City, Ohio.
“I was a farm girl. I was involved in all sports and really athletic,” she said. She played softball for 13 years and made the varsity teams as a freshman in high school.
“I hung out with the preppy crowd until I got my license, then I started drinking a little bit. Then when I was 17 I started going to the bar and smoked my first joint,” Cockrell said.
When she started smoking, it changed the whole crowd she hung out with. Around this time she met a man who was 20 years older than her.
“He told me to come over one day. It was Jan. 3, 1986,” she recalled with a chuckle. “I will never forget the day. … We were sitting on the couch, and we had been talking. He said, ‘I’ve got something I want you to try. You never have to try it again, just try it.’”
They went into the bathroom and he brought a needle.
“I didn’t know anything. I had no clue that was going to be me off to the races for years,” Cockrell said.
She did cocaine that day and didn’t go home for four months. Then she moved to Florida and was introduced to crack, and met her oldest son’s father.
At this time she was around 19 years old, and got pregnant with her first son, and they moved back home to Union City.
“We would binge use cocaine, sell weed, and then we went to truck driving school,” she said.
She wasn’t able to complete it because her eyesight was too bad, but he did, and they ended up in Michigan in about 1990 for his work, but he was abusive so it didn’t work out. At this point she was lost.
“I thought ‘What do I do now?’ Because my white picket fence stuff didn’t work for me,” Cockrell said.
After she got divorced she lived with her dad for a while. That’s around the time she got pregnant with her youngest son.
“I was using like crazy. I did not want to be pregnant. Dad was watching my other son most of the time, so I knew I wasn’t responsible enough to have another.”
Her second son was born healthy even though she said she did everything wrong when she was pregnant with him. At this time she was also in another abusive relationship, and got in trouble for the first time.
“I just left and ran for three years. Leaving my oldest with my dad and taking the younger with me. We moved back down to Florida, this time to Daytona. That’s where I started prostituting at,” she said.
At this same time Cockrell also learned she had contracted Hepatitis C.
Eventually she got tired of supporting their habits, because her son’s father couldn’t keep a job with the using, so she left them in a motel room, where they often lived, and went running for the next two and a half years.
She then met a guy and moved to Los Angeles. She had only lived there a couple months when she got bitten by a brown recluse spider and begged her parents to send her a bus ticket home. On her way home on the bus she got off at Amarillo, Texas, because she was tired of being on the bus.
She stayed out there for the next two and a half years and met some people who she is still friends with today. At this point she was doing meth, she said. But she met a guy who told her if she got her stuff together they’d get married, so that’s what she did.
“We moved back home. I got a job. I was going to counseling. At this point I thought as long as I wasn’t doing meth, or smoking crack, or shooting coke, that I’m okay, I can still drink at this point,” she said. “Got married. He was driving truck and making excellent money. I was clean for six months, then I ran into some old friends.”
That’s when she relapsed on crack.
“I went to treatment at that point to try to save my marriage. I didn’t understand I needed to do it for me at this point. That was 1997,” she said. “We did not get back together. I met a guy in treatment and moved in with him. And that is when I would say recovery began.”
In 1997 she met Merricle Herzog, someone who would prove to be a long-lasting friend and supporter in Cockrell’s road to recovery.
“We lived with Merricle and her boyfriend for a while. Then we got a house, I got my kids back, I was going to meetings,” she said.
Then, some medicine she was taking started making her sick and depressed. This is when she stopped going to her meetings and stopped doing what she needed to do, Cockrell said. She was living in Troy at this time.
“At this point I was really struggling to not use,” she said. “It was November. Thirteen days from my two years. I was laying there one night and I decided I couldn’t do it anymore, and so I went and got high.”
Then 13 days later she got clean again, then relapsed and did this back and forth for a few years. Then she went on a binge and got in trouble. This was 2002.
“I completed drug court in Miami County. Then I relapsed. My husband called my job and told them, told everybody. My parents came and picked up my kids,” she said. “It was just overnight I relapsed and I came home to nothing. I had to leave, he wanted his ring back, and the kids were gone, in one night. Then I had no place to go.”
She moved home for a short while, then moved to Piqua with her youngest son. She started back to her meetings and working the steps with her sponsor.
“Then I thought I wanted to move back home again with mom and dad. Wrong answer. I went back there, met someone, and I was off to the races from 2004 to last year,” Cockrell said.
From 2012 to when she moved to Dayton in 2015 she was in and out of prison for theft, trafficking and a probation violation.
“Throughout all the chaos of my life I always stayed in touch with Merricle. And even down last year in Dayton, even though I was high, I was hanging out in an AA fellowship club because even though I couldn’t stay clean, I knew there was hope somewhere,” Cockrell said.
So she spent the majority of last year in and out of treatment facilities, but just couldn’t make it.
“On Dec. 6, I was done. With life. Period. I only had to wait 10 more days for a bed at Morningstar. I was so done, though, so I overdosed on purpose,” she said. “I woke up in the hospital mad as hell. I did not want to live that way anymore.”
But she stayed in there for 30 days, they detoxed her, she had to have gallbladder surgery, and then she talked with Merricle again, the house manager at the Amelia House.
“She came to visit me and told me, ‘I talked to Jeremy (the director of Samaritan Works). You don’t have to go to Morningstar unless you want to. You can if you want to, but we’re going to hold a bed for you. If you feel you’re ready you can come up here,’” Cockrell said.
So Merricle picked her up and brought her up to Sidney to the Amelia House to complete the Samaritan Works Inc. recovery program.
“I was going to say I don’t know where I’d be without this program, but I know exactly where I’d be. I’d be dead,” she said.
She will be clean and sober for nine months on Sept. 6. She keeps track of the minutes and seconds on her phone.
“Things didn’t really mean as much to me when I was out there using, as they do now that I have a son that’s a heroin addict. And I’ll be dammed if I ever let this disease beat me ever again,” she said. “I finally joined the no matter what club. I don’t care what I go through. If my son were to die, I would so much rather be clean, and be there, because I wouldn’t be there if I was out using.”
Her oldest son is now 28, and in jail. Her youngest is 23, has a job, home, and baby on the way. He doesn’t talk to her, but she said that’s okay.
“I go to meetings four, five, six times a week. I just found an awesome church. I still don’t feel like I deserve all this. There are people who have 20 years clean and don’t have as nice a place as this. So I appreciate Lisa, and everybody at Samaritan Works for believing in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.”
She’s started working on a peer support specialist certificate, and has been attending counseling, meetings, and even shared her story at a community meeting about heroin use at Holy Angels in May. She hangs out with her sponsor and goes to NA functions. She said it was hard to get away from the lifestyle: the easy, fast money. But as long as you go to meetings, get a sponsor and work the steps, anybody can do this, she said.
“Relapse is unfortunately part of recovery. But that’s how we learn from our mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance, even two or three. I’ve had millions of chances. And that is what this program is about. If you mess up they’ll give you a second chance. But just don’t use no matter what. If you do, get back up. Hold your head up.”
Reach this writer at 937-538-4825; Follow the SDN on Facebook and Twitter @sidneydailynews