Her mother died when she was six. Her father was murdered before her eyes at age 10. She waited with him as he lay on the side of the road, mortally wounded by a shotgun blast. That was when she was sent to live with relatives, and when the beatings, molestations and rapes started. Merceida learned to use drugs and alcohol to ease her pain. Addiction ruled her life for the next 35 years.
She had a daughter along the way, who, by age nine, had lived through her four failed rehab attempts. Merceida remembers her daughter’s words like it was yesterday, “You love drugs more than me.” Her daughter left to live with her aunt.
Just days later, after another binge, Merceida had reached rock bottom.
“I went to the Mission. I asked for help. At 5:30, they started to send people out. I knew if I walked out of there I was going right back to find drugs,” Merceida recalls. “Cathy DuPont from Azalea came to the mission and took me by the hand straight to detox at Gateway. I believe she saved my life that day.”
The goal of the Azalea Project, a special Healthy Start initiative, is to reduce risk-taking behavior in substance abusing pregnant and parenting women. The project works to break the cycle of substance use and other at-risk behaviors. Merceida was one of the Project’s original clients.
Now eight years sober, and after a lot of therapy, Merceida has come to terms with her addiction. She’s taking it one day at a time.
“The programs and people at Azalea gave me the tools to deal with today,” Merceida said. “Today is a blessing.”
Merceida now works for Gateway Community Services, the addiction treatment center where she first got help, and is currently running a halfway house populated by six women and an infant. As a Substance Abuse Technician, she is using her own experiences to help others every day. She credits the staff at Azalea with teaching her to be a good mother to her daughter who lives with her and is now 19 years old.