For much of her life, Jill Townsend’s biggest focus was on herself, but her recovery from addiction has changed her attitude about who and what is most important in this world.
Alcohol and drugs got her in trouble as a youth, ruined her marriage and might very well have destroyed her relationship with her three children had she not taken up yoga and enrolled in a 12-step program.
Sober now for 3½ years, the 32-year-old San Anselmo mother is a certified yoga instructor who uses the ancient art to help others recover from addiction. But “welcoming happiness,” as Townsend puts it, is not easy. Her 7-year-old son, Ian, has been diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disability, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder.
“My son needs help,” Townsend said about the specialized care that she couldn’t afford. “He’s the most important thing to me.”
The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund stepped in this October and paid the rent on Townsend’s apartment. The assistance gave her time to find a second job as a transactions coordinator at a real estate company. She can now cover rent and bills, but although a doctor gave her a deal on her son’s treatment, paying for his care will be an ongoing struggle, she said.
“I make under $45,000 a year, which is nothing in Marin County,” she said. “I lived on savings from January to June this year and then ran out. I’ve always been resilient and managed to land on my feet, but it’s tiring with two jobs and the kids.”
Townsend is determined to give her children a better life than she had. She grew up on Chincoteague Island in Virginia, where she lived in a trailer park with a mother who she says had mental-health issues and physically abused her. She said she was also sexually abused by some of her mother’s boyfriends.
She ran away from home at 12 and moved in with her grandparents, whom she loved, but they couldn’t prevent her life from spinning out of control.
“I was a wild child, really,” said Townsend, who started drinking at age 13.
Her life took a turn for the worse at 16 when her grandparents’ house burned down in an accidental fire. With nowhere to go, she moved in with a boyfriend, who supplied her with drugs and alcohol. It was a match made in hell. The couple got into a lot of trouble, including one incident in which she snatched car keys out of her grandmother’s hand and drove off, leading to her arrest on charges of assault, battery and larceny.
Townsend moved to California to be with her father, who persuaded prosecutors to drop the charges in exchange for his assuming custody of his daughter. She managed to graduate from Novato High School in 2002, but her troubles were far from over.
She got pregnant with Emma a year after her graduation and couldn’t bring herself to go through with an abortion. The father, a high school boyfriend, refused to take responsibility and left her to fend for herself. She quit drinking when she gave birth to Emma, now 13, but within 10 months her addiction had gotten the best of her again.
Townsend eventually fell in love and got married, but alcohol and money problems led to her 2013 divorce, she said. The couple nevertheless had two children: Chloe, now 9, and Ian.
To Townsend’s humiliation, daughter Emma occasionally brings up the night Mommy fell down in the bushes, but for the most part, she managed to shield her children from witnessing the worst of her addiction.
“I’ve tried to stay sober on my own, but I just couldn’t,” she said. “It’s a disease that I’ve been affected by since age 13.”
Townsend said yoga — which she now teaches to recovering addicts — and the 12-step program helped her quit booze five years ago. Except for one relapse 3½ years ago, she has remained sober. Now she is desperate to help her son, who is extremely smart but suffers from severe anxiety and depression and lacks the intuitive skills needed for healthy social interaction.
“It hurts because I know what it feels like to be lost and not to have anybody,” Townsend said. “I really want my kids to be kind and loving people. I want to have the ability to teach and share my story with others and let them know that everything is temporary, even the toughest times. If you can get through the day, tomorrow is another day.”
This story was written by Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter: @pfimrite.
The original article can be found here.