Yolanda Navarra Fleming

If you ask Sharnelle Hubbard, a 50-year-old Elizabeth resident, her life could be a cautionary tale about living on the street and trying to stay high. And when she says she’s spent too many years “running,” she’s not talking about marathons.

“My drug of choice started out as alcohol, and as time progressed, I dabbled with heroin,” she says. “My mother, who suffered from an addiction, introduced me to it when I was 16 years old. Towards the end of my addiction, I was doing alcohol, heroin, crack cocaine, and Suboxone.”

Sharnelle’s birth mother was a functional drug addict until she lost her job and her children. Sharnelle was then adopted by another woman, also a substance abuser, who made sure she had absolutely no chance of any kind of normal life.

In 2017, she hit a wall. “I was in a battered women’s shelter at the time,” she says. “I knew there was help out there, but I wasn’t willing or ready to accept the help yet. Before I knew it, I had been addicted for 20 years, and I just could not live like that anymore. I was a walking time bomb, but I got through all of that.”

She made a commitment to her sobriety by checking herself into a detox center before becoming an outpatient of Trinitas Regional Medical Center’s Behavioral Health program.

Substance Abuse Services (SAS) has been helping people get clean at Trinitas since the early 1990s, and now treats about 4,500 patients annually. Trinitas offers partial-day treatment, which was the route Sharnelle took. She spent Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Trinitas, and then went home every day.

“What people don’t realize is that they need so much support, and that’s what they get here,” says Krystyna Vaccarelli, LCSW, LCADC, and Director of Substance Abuse Services at Trinitas. “During the entire course of the day, the patient is engaged in various groups that address substance use, relapse prevention, understanding triggers, what addiction is, and what addiction is in relation to mental illness. Those are just some of the topics covered when understanding substance abuse on an intensive level.”

Sharnelle had also been diagnosed with bipolar. To this day, the horror of her traumatic past poses an ongoing threat to her mental stability, though you’d never know it now from her clear speech, even temper, and thoughtfulness.

At one point, her counselor, Catherine Elias, LSW, credentialed Intern, noticed that Sharnelle was exhibiting some unusually manic behavior. “So we had an individual session and talked about it,” recalls Elias. “We discovered that there were some issues regarding her medications, and through teamwork with her APN, we got it situated and helped her feel stable.”

Sharnelle’s husband had begun his quest to get off drugs first, which in time motivated her to want to do the same. “I was willing to make a change in my life, and that’s when my process began,” she says. “I went to every session [at Trinitas], and I did everything that was offered to me and more. From 8:30 to 2:30 every day, I was there, and even when my time was up, I found excuses to stay in the program longer.”

At 50, Sharnelle is still trying to make sense of it all, especially now as a sober graduate of the Trinitas outpatient program.

“Going through this process I lost a lot of friends and my mother, worst of all,” she says. “I never thought I would reach the age of 50, not even in my wildest dreams…I am amazed that I am clean and sober.”

According to her former primary counselor at  Trinitas, Michelle Defino, LCSW, LCADC, Sharnelle has completed the program. Now, as she is studying to take the GED exam, she is determined never to go backward. She even mentors others who have also concluded that “running” is not a survival tactic, but rather a recipe for disaster. Her two most important sharing points are not to compare yourself or your recovery process to others as we’re all on our own journey, and to take it slow.

“Just don’t give up, there’s always someone there for you,” she promises. “Even when you think you’re alone, you’re not. This process does work.”

Even with her newly developed confidence, Defino confirms, “I do have the same amount of concern today as when Sharnelle first entered treatment. Addiction is a lifetime disease,  just waiting around the corner if a patient becomes complacent with her recovery process.”

Sharnelle believes it was the rapport she developed with her counselors, the director, and the entire staff as well as other patients that contributed to her successful outcome.

“When I was in my darkest days and wanted to give up, they always checked on me and called my house,” she says, “and that’s what you need when you’re first starting in recovery; you need people who care. I’ve been taking my medication as prescribed every day thanks to Andrea Krasno (APN), she’s wonderful, and she is amazing. She’s also a great part of this process, I can talk to her about anything regarding my medication; if I want it changed or lowered. I have never had anyone take the time to take care of me like that.”

Sharnelle is happy to add, “Right now I am in a beautiful place in my life. I am clean and sober for two years and I have my children back in my life, as well as my grandchildren. I own my own place, which I never thought I would accomplish. I am married and have a wonderful relationship with my husband. …I go to the meetings, which are great, and I have a sponsor, but I think Trinitas made my recovery whole.”