On Saturday, Sept. 21, Brenda Combs, Ed.D. will be speaking at the 8th annual Art of Recovery Expo which has brought over 30,000 people together who need assistance or resources to deal with substance abuse and addiction. This year the Expo is excited to have Brenda as a guest because her story is truly remarkable and proves recovery is possible. Brenda said regarding childhood she felt very fortunate because she was raised with a mother and a father who felt education was very important, both insisting their children speak proper English. Slang, cursing, and profanity, were not allowed in the household.
Her parents were both very hard workers who still managed to be very close with their three children. Despite being very spiritual and involved in their community church, Brenda felt left out. She is three years older than her sister and four years older than her brother but they are only 11 months apart in age so she didn’t feel like she was as close with them as they were with one another. As she entered school, Brenda still felt out of place, “Music was my hiding place so when I was singing or playing, writing songs or skits for church, I was comfortable because I could kind of escape from having to deal with how I felt about me,” she said. “I didn’t feel I was a pretty girl, I didn’t fit in with the popular crowd.”
Transitioning from school to school and finally making her way to high school didn’t get any easier for Brenda, so she decided she needed to graduate early or she knew she would drop out. She achieved this goal and started college almost immediately, where she found she didn’t fit in either, “I was a teenager in college among adults that were advanced in life and socially but I had lived a very sheltered life, I didn’t go to parties I didn’t smoke and I didn’t drink,” Brenda said.
Soon she became friends with the “party crowd” which lead to dropping out of college and an introduction to marijuana and soon there after, cocaine. At this time in her life she attended beauty school, became a licensed cosmetologist, and worked until she was bored with that and went back to school temporarily.“I had some pretty good jobs, I joined a band and I’d sing, and travel, we went on the road doing concerts, but I wasn’t happy, I was faking it but the drugs were a kind of way for me to escape,” she said.
Not much later, Brenda was introduced to crack and said she honestly feels that the first time she tried it, she was addicted and her life only spiraled downhill from there. She had moved into her own apartment but because of the drugs she was continually moving back in and out of her parents house because of not paying rent. “It got to the point in my life where i would get high, and I remember going to the dope house and staying there until it was time for me to go to work again,” she said. “Never changing my clothes, just getting high all night long, not even realizing time going by.”
Crime came into the picture to help pay for her habit, shop lifting, committing forgery, selling drugs, doing drugs and hanging out with wrong crowd all led to a move from Flagstaff to Phoenix with a couple of drug dealer whose plan was to do a credit card scam. Three days after moving here, one of the drug dealers Brenda arrived with was murdered, supposedly over five dollars. Three weeks after that, Brenda was shot in a drive by shooting with the brother of the baseline rapist. “I was shot in the drive by and hit in the ankle, where I’ve had 11 operations, reconstructive surgery and plastic surgery,” she said. “It took me a year to learn how to walk again; I went from hospital to a rehab facility and when I left there, after months of learning how to walk again, I went back down to that war zone and continued to get high.” At one point Brenda was even stabbed in the back with a broken beer bottle simply because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was burned with cigarettes on numerous occasions because she took drugs from dealers but couldn’t pay them, she was beat, raped, and even attempted suicide.
She said her life changed ironically when she passed out in a hotel and woke up the next day in an alley, on a dirty couch, with no shoes. The alley was covered in broken glass and she was forced to walk through barefoot. Once out of the alley, she turned to God and asked what to do, she was ready to be done with the drugs. Brenda turned herself in – there was a warrant out for her arrest – and the probation officer would not sign the warrant, instead she gave her a reference book where she chose the Center for Healing, a place she could go to get clean. She went and hated it, but they gave her food, clothes an ID, she said, “They all seemed happy and at peace and I didn’t have either one so, whatever they told me to do, I did without fail, and a year later I was clean.”
Brenda then moved into the Oxford House for Women which she found helpful because she spent time with other women who were recovering but there was no one in charge, no one telling them what to do. They were responsible for paying rent and getting groceries, they were independent and a part of society, while still in a safe place. After she was clean, Brenda went home to Flagstaff and apologized to her family and spoke at church to apologize to the community. She also shared her attempts to better the homeless community, which she called Finding My Shoes, and the church sent buses full of people to Phoenix to help her.
After she had been clean for five years Brenda and her husband at the time gave birth to their son Mycole, who had struggles of his own, surviving a stroke upon birth. She had met her husband in rehab and he relapsed soon after Mycole’s birth and Brenda filed for divorce three months later. Brenda soon realized that working at Denny’s, her son’s daycare and a bill collection agency, wasn’t going to help her move up in any way. She continued working two jobs and went back to college where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She then tripled up on courses so she could earn her Master’s Degree as well. When an adviser asked why she was attempting so many classes at once, Brenda wasn’t afraid to share her story which led to many public appearances including CNN and the Today’s Show. Brenda was also rewarded with a full scholarship to the Doctorate’s program at Grand Canyon University, where she teaches today.
“Education is the key to success and as long as you continue to learn you’ll continue to grow, but the answer really starts with believing in yourself.”