Campus, Student Spotlight

Clark Student Spotlight: Kicking Addiction, Taking the Next Step at Clark

By Theresa Matthiesen – Reporter 

Most Clark students are under 30, exploring their options for education and careers. However, if you walk the campus, you’ll see many who don’t fit that mold. A few students share their stories.

A lifetime struggling with drug addiction left Sarah Peterson destitute. Her husband divorced her and for years she was homeless and estranged from her children.

Peterson, 42, will begin American Sign Language classes this Summer to take the next step in exploring her new life and reconnecting with her daughter who has studied ASL for two years. Now, she said, she’s putting her life back together, but her identity is shaped by the steps she took to get to Clark.

Peterson said her earliest memories of her parents giving her drugs and alcohol begin at 10 years old.

“It’s something that’s always been there,” she said. “Everybody around was doing it.

She said she spent years in treatment programs, but never completely gave up drugs. “Things would get a little bit better,” Peterson said. “Or I could manage it for a little while longer. But with time, she said, it always fell apart again, like in 2008 when her husband divorced her.

“I didn’t know how to stop,” she said. “I was estranged from my kids. I didn’t have anything. I was literally on the streets … I wanted to be clean, I just didn’t know how to do it.” Moving to Bellingham to escape trouble was her first step.

Homeless and still using drugs, she said she attended recovery meetings all day, every day. She said she saw people who had been clean for years, successfully keeping jobs and relationships and realized it was something she wanted for her life.

“I finally became willing,” Peterson said. “I don’t know how or why. Maybe it was God, maybe I just had enough. Now at three and a half years clean, I have the same job and good relationships. It’s becoming my story.”

In Bellingham, Peterson said, she graduated from a cosmetology program and currently works as a hairdresser. “I think the biggest obstacle that I’ve faced since getting clean besides… everything,” she said, laughing. “Is finding where I belong in society, just fitting in and finding my place in the race.”

Peterson, back in Vancouver, said she’s working on her relationships with her children.

“I wasn’t there for them when they were growing up,” she said. “That’s another thing I’ve been doing: focusing on being their mom.”

She said getting clean was a series of events. “It was quite magical and it still is,” she said. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now I’ve got the spiritual connection and it’s a beautiful gift. I don’t know how else to describe it.”

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