SMRS Staff Highlight: Anna Lee

"I started on my path to recovery in July of 2005 and can proudly say that I have 15 years clean. I had received treatment before, but it was through the motivation of a “get out of jail free card” and did not take it seriously. When I entered Social Model Recovery Systems, Mid Valley Outpatient Program through Drug Court in 2005, I had no intention of staying clean once my court obligations were complete. I could not imagine living a life of recovery because I did not think that I would be able to face the tragedies and traumas experienced in my life up to that point. I was gang raped at the age of 16 years old and kidnapped and raped for several days in my early 20’s. The use of substances numbed away what I believed to be an unjust and cruel world. My anger and resentments consumed every ounce of my being and I stayed lost in a drug induced haze. I lived out of my car, rarely spoke with my family, was unemployable, and had dropped out of my sophomore year in college. I was broken, could see no hope in this abyss, and did not care about anyone or anything.

Through Mid Valley Outpatient and Drug Court, I actually had a Counselor, Probation Officer, and Judge who believed that I was more than what I was on my court documents and arrest records. I attended 12 Step meetings, found a sponsor, and worked the 12 Steps. I received individual therapy from an outside agency in conjunction with the treatment I was receiving at Mid Valley. I learned that I could cope without the use of substances and immersed myself in the healing process toward recovery, not only from substances, but from depression and PTSD. I finally found hope, forgiveness, and acceptance. Since graduating Drug Court in 2006, my life has drastically changed, and I am living a life I never imagined was possible.

I entered school to become a certified substance abuse counselor in 2007 at Rio Hondo College. I earned my A.S. degree in Drug Studies and continued for a B.S. in Human Services at Cal State Fullerton. I graduated with my Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Southern California (USC) and currently I am 1 semester away from completing my Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) from USC. My research and topic of interest is Substance Use Disorders (SUD) in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and the social norm of “saving face.” There is a great deal of shame that many AAPI experience due to having an addiction to drugs. Because of this stigma, many AAPI do not seek help and often try to hide the problem until it can no longer be swept under the rug. Too often in AAPI communities, silence and shame keep those who are addicted, and their families isolated, hopeless, and afraid. Other significant barriers are the limited access to culturally mindful services, language, lack of social support, and lack of knowledge about Substance Use Disorders. My lived experiences are the motivation and inspiration for the passion I have for this topic and I believe that my purpose is to find solutions to address this intractable problem. I am currently developing a technology-based innovative approach to improve cultural and linguistic capacity of treatment for AAPI while reducing the stigma of seeking help for drug addiction.

I worked at Social Model Recovery Systems from 2011 to 2013 as a Relief Counselor, left to further my education, and then returned as a Master’s level intern in 2014. I was hired again in 2015 at the completion of my field placement and graduation with my MSW. I worked in both clinical and macro practice roles, which has provided me with a well-rounded perspective of the organization, as well as the field of SUD treatment. I hope to be someone who can develop and implement systems level changes that continues to improve the quality of care for individuals and families impacted by substance use and mental health conditions.

Today, I’m not ashamed of my experiences, I’m able to be vulnerable in front of others, have the courage to share my story, and dedicate myself to helping others. Life is truly amazing, and I wake up each morning feeling blessed. It has not all been easy to come to where I am now, but well worth the effort, stubborn determination, and resilience to not let my disease defeat me. My recovery has been a journey of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing that I continue to practice daily. I am truly grateful to Social Model Recovery Systems for being a light in my life and helping me to make all this possible.

I share my story in hopes that it provides some comfort, hope, and courage for others suffering from addiction to start their recovery journey. Your past does not have to define your future. There is freedom and hope that anything is possible if you are willing to give yourself a chance."