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Tim celebrated Monica’s 38th birthday in September 2004 by serving her with divorce papers and kicking her out of the house. “When he said, ‘I’m leaving you and getting custody of the kids,’ my reaction was, ‘I can party the way I want to now,’” she says. “Instead of ‘I need help,’ what I told myself was, ‘Keep going.’ I didn’t want to quit. All I could think was, ‘What am I going to do without this?’ Yet, it was killing me.”
At first, she lived in small apartments all over Connecticut—in some cases, with whomever she was sleeping with at a given moment.While Tim allowed her weekend visitations with their children, she became increasingly reckless with their welfare. “Drug dealers were coming into wherever I lived with guns and knives,” she says. During one notable period, she lived in her Audi off I-95, with her expensive clothes, diamond rings, various substances and $5,000 in cash. “I never feared for my safety,” she says. “Isn’t that whacked?”
In 2005, Monica once again found herself at an exclusive substance-abuse treatment center—this time, Canaan’s Mountainside, where she came under the care of therapist Debbie Olow. She’d landed there as a result of an incident in which she’d accosted a police officer after being pulled over for driving under the influence. “At that point, her family wanted nothing to do with her, so she hired a limo to bring her,” Olow says. “Upon arrival, she was so drunk she fell out of the car.”
Olow’s goal was to get her to “truly work a 12-step program. I knew she would need more than 30 or 60 days to make progress.” Monica wound up staying for seven months, after which Olow arranged treatment for sex addiction at Gentle Path in Hattiesburg, Miss. (where Tiger Woods received treatment). “She was there for three months—after that I lost track of her because she relapsed,” Olow says.
Then, a couple of years later, she received a drunken call out of the blue, and sensed that Monica was again suicidal. After establishing that the call came from Waterbury, Olow contacted the police, who found Monica in the nick of time—she had removed all her clothes and jewelry and was getting ready to hang herself. “After that, Monica called to say that she was very angry at me for intervening,” Olow says. “Then I lost touch again, and I guess that’s when things started going downhill badly.” Says Monica, “I never would have hit bottom if my mom hadn’t died suddenly at this time.”
She proceeded to squander $106,000 in 401(k) funds—cashed out from Tim’s account—in five months. What followed was two years of homelessness, in the last few months of which Monica supported herself as a prostitute. She says she worked the corner of Holmes Avenue in Waterbury and crashed on the basement floor of her paternal grandmother’s house, then inhabited by her pimp and drug dealers. “I’d cry for my grandma: ‘Please help me,” she says. She got one last chance at rehabilitation from former colleague Luis Gonzalez, who by 2009 was medical director of Mount Sinai’s psychiatric unit.
Initially, he didn’t recognize her. “She’d been living in crack houses in Hartford, doing things I’d never expect her to be involved with,” he says. Like Olow, he thought Monica might benefit best from long-term residential care, which, he notes, was not available to her at Sinai because she was still covered by her husband’s insurance and had exhausted her mental health benefits. So, he got her into the state-run Blue Hills Treatment Center, where “insurance is not an issue.” She stayed five months. “I thought she was better—at least she was sober,” Gonzalez says.
Ultimately, it was only the events of Aug. 4, 2009 that enabled Monica to reach a state of “amazing grace.” Busted for prostitution by a state police unit, she served two months in Niantic’s York Correctional Institution. “They took me in in shackles,” she says. “I tell people now that at that moment, my outside appearance matched my inner being. I’d paid, easily, $600,000 out of pocket for treatment, which bought me changes in behavior, but not a change in thinking. I had to stop and be still. That’s what prison did for me.” Upon discharge the judge told her, “You’re too old for this.” Says Monica, “At first I was offended, but then I heard this voice inside say, ‘Shh—he’s right.’ I’d finally gained acceptance.”
As anyone who’s ever dealt with addiction knows, recovery is not a soaring victory—more a vigilant daily trudge along the razor’s edge. Still, to Monica, sobriety’s a miracle: “Through all my years of addiction,” she says, “I was never afraid to die, I was afraid to live—and that’s what recovery has taught me to do.”
Two years after her incarceration, she’s doing service in a 12-step program while dealing with the collateral damage of her past. She’s under treatment for hepatitis C. “I owe $60,000,” she adds. “The IRS is chasing me.” While she can finally reclaim her previously suspended driver’s license, she still needs the $250 to pay for it. And a car to drive.
“Emotionally,” Monica says, “I struggle. But now, I go for help.” She’s also in the process of “making amends to the people I hurt.” Relations with most of her siblings have been so toxic that currently, only Cathy knows where she lives. Her brother Dan—who also suffered multiple addictions—committed suicide last Christmas Eve. She says the door is open to her estranged sisters, “but they’re not going to beat me up any more.” On the plus side, her relationship with ex-husband Tim and her children is better than ever. “Tim is awesome,” she says. “He’s never poisoned my kids’ minds against me.
“I used to live on regrets, resentments, shame, blame and guilt. That was my diet. Today I feel gratitude, acceptance, love, forgiveness and compassion. That’s new to me.”