Three years ago, Christina Compton was in an incredibly dark period of her life after struggling with addiction to the point where she lost custody of her two kids and was arrested while pregnant with her third child.
"I felt like there was no hope or no chance," Compton, 33, tells PEOPLE. "I carried around so much guilt and shame from losing my other kids and I felt like they should've been enough to keep me sober, [but] it wasn't. I never understood what was wrong with me and why I couldn't stop doing drugs or alcohol."
Elsewhere in Kentucky, mom Brittany Edwards was also struggling with her substance addiction and had lost custody of her four kids.
“Since I can remember, I’ve been a drug addict,” says Edwards, now 31. “It took me many, many years to realize I needed help.”
However, in the time since then, both Compton and Edwards have turned their lives around — thanks to the nonprofit organization Volunteers of America and their treatment center, The Freedom House, which helps pregnant women and moms stay with their kids while recovering.
Edwards was the Manchester Freedom House’s first graduate this past July, while Compton finished Louisville’s program in August 2017 and now works there as a therapist, technician, peer support specialist and intake specialist.
"Without them, I don't know where I would have ended up," Compton says of the facility. "You go into rehab saying, 'Okay, I'm going to learn about my disease. I'm going to get sober,' and Volunteers of America gave me so much more than that."
Adds Edwards: "I've never completed anything in my life except for this program… Being an addict, it's hard. No one is immune to addiction and they just taught me how to accept life on life's terms and be okay with that."
For Compton, her history with substance abuse began at age 9 after she suffered an injury from gymnastics and was given narcotic pain medication.
"I remember taking those and liking the way that they made me feel," she recalls, adding that she "went off the deep end" after her mom died when Compton was in the eighth grade.
By 19, Compton was a mother of two but still using drugs and alcohol in what she says became "a vicious cycle” and caused her to lose custody of her kids.
"I just felt like this empty vessel of a woman and a failure,” she explains. “Because the one thing in my mind that women were supposed to do, I couldn't because I was this junkie, good-for-nothing alcoholic. It hurt my pride to admit, 'I'm a mom and I can't take care of my kids.'"
It wasn't until 2017 — when a then-pregnant Compton was sent to prison following multiple DUIs, positive drug screenings and running from probation and parole — that she realized she needed to take control of her life.
So when a social worker from the public defender's office offered Compton a chance for shock probation with court-mandated treatment, she immediately agreed to it.
"I was like, 'If this means that I'm not going to have my baby in a state penitentiary, I'm willing to try it,'" she recalls. "And really, I had no expectation of staying sober — not because I didn't want to, but just because I didn't feel like that was a possibility for me."
Edwards tells PEOPLE she began using drugs around age 11.
"I got pregnant with twins and miscarried and the doctor wrote me some very strong narcotics," she explains. "From that point on, I was just hooked on anything and everything that I could get my hands on."
Though she went to various different treatment facilities over the years, Edwards says it wasn't until a friend suggested she get in contact with Volunteers of America that she finally decided to make a change and go to Manchester's Freedom House.
While there — Compton from April to Aug 2017 and Edwards from March to July 2020 — both women got clean, worked on re-establishing relationships with their children and learned valuable life skills they hadn't already mastered.
The facility also offered therapeutic services and classes on parenting, cooking, finances, meditation and yoga in order to better prepare the women for life after treatment.
"They helped me a lot," says Edwards. "I always wanted to fix, manage, and control everything… and I realized when I got down there that that's not really necessary because that's what kept me miserable."
"I figured out what makes me turn to a substance in certain situations, and why do I feel like I have to have something else to feel normal?" shares Compton, who welcomed her third child, Wyatt, just a week into treatment.
"I learned that I was a person and I was not my disease and that it was okay my kids could not keep me sober," she adds. "I had my own identity outside of mothering or parenting, and that person was important, too."
Since leaving the Freedom House, Edwards has been working for the city of Manchester and regained full custody of her two kids, daughter Ally and son Jackson. She has joint custody of her two sons Rylen and Bentley.
Compton has also regained custody of her two kids, daughter Christina and son CaRon, and has been by Wyatt's side each day as he grows older. In December, she'll celebrate four years of sobriety.
With a second chance at life in front of them, Compton and Edwards say they're not taking it for granted.
"I've never made it this far and I just don't want to go backward," Edwards says. "My worst day sober is by far better than my best day high, anytime. It blows it off the map."
Adds Compton: "If five years ago someone would have told me that my life would have been what it is today, I would have thought they were absolutely insane."
"It's just the more time goes, the greater things get," she adds. "And it all goes back to one thing, and that's Volunteers of America."
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
If you or someone you know need mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.
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