Baltimore woman overcomes addiction after 22 rounds in rehab

Heroin, Xanax and Fentanyl could have been the epitaph in the life of one Baltimore woman were it not for her tenacity and a promise she made three years ago this month.Iona Johnson has been drug-free for more than three years now after 22 attempts at rehab. Johnson, the daughter of a minister as well as a nurse, tells her story with conviction. Johnson says her parents raised Johnson lovingly and with good morals. She said that she was molested at the hands of a distant relative when she was just four years old.”When I put the drug in me, it helped me to become somebody else. It helped me escape how I really felt about me on the inside,” Johnson stated that she tried rehab several times, but was not successful.”I knew I wasn’t done, but to appear that I was done to whoever was forcing me to go. But I knew I wasn’t finished. It was basically like a rest stop,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to say I didn’t get anything from those 21 times, because I did. I just wasn’t ready.”Johnson stated.”He said he wouldn’t be able to rest if he left me here like that. So, I made the promise and I kept it. I knew he only wanted the best for me. He wanted me to be whole,” Johnson said.”She was real humble, like a broken spirit,” Donald Bower, peer recovery specialist, said Johnson. Johnson tried rehab 22 times. He could relate to it as a recovering addict.”I lost count of the attempts I made to try to be successful. I just lost count. I commend Iona when she has the exact number. I just lost count,” Johnson agreed.”This time, I let my guard down and I allowed some people to help me,” Johnson said.Johnson claimed Bower has been there for her from day one. They now work side by side at Gaudenzia, where Bower cares for others in recovery.”She is a different person. I can see that. It’s like a new person has been born,” Bower said. Gaudenzia officials said that multiple attempts at recovery are not uncommon. However, 22 attempts is an impressive amount of perseverance.”It’s very, very hard to get it the first try, because there’s so many layers of a person that need to get healthy,” Kristy Blalock is the regional director of Gaurdenzia. “We want the community to know the doors are always open. And whether it’s your first time, second time or 23rd time, you are still welcome back.””I surrendered. I thoroughly and deeply surrendered from the deepest part of myself,” Johnson stated. Johnson is just one semester away from graduating college to become an addiction counselor. She is on the Dean’s List, which is something she knows would have made her father proud — a man who she says always believed in her.Maryland mental health resources211 Maryland: Maryland’s Helpline, Call 211 press 1, is free and confidential, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It provides information service for individuals and family members facing mental illness and/or substance abuse.National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — Call 800-273-8255Text “HOME” to 741741 for help via the Crisis Text LineMaryland Psychiatric Society — Use “find a psychiatrist” to access database and search by patient type, county and area of interest.Maryland Public Mental Health System — Provides inpatient and outpatient mental health services for individuals with mental health illness for those with Medicaid and for others. Some services may not be included in the benefits package due to the severity of their condition and their financial need. There may be a small fee or co-pay required for individuals non-eligible for Medicaid.Black Mental Health Alliance-BaltimoreMentalHealth.gov — Information on a variety of mental health topics and resources.Pro Bono Counseling ProjectAmerican Academy of Pediatric Psychiatry — Information for families and childrenAmerican Psychiatric AssociationNational Institutes of Health and COVID-19 — “Do I Need Help?”National Institutes of Health resources on coping with COVID-19 and mental healthResources for LGBTQIA+ PeopleHelping veterans with mental healthThe Veterans Crisis Line connects service members and veterans in crisis, as well as their family members and friends, with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text messaging service. To talk to someone, dial 800-273-8255 or send a text message at 838255. You can also start a confidential online chat session at veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat.How to connect with care for Veterans needing help coping with PTSDThe following informati0n is provided by the VA Maryland Healthcare System.For enrolled veterans at VA Maryland Healthcare System: Veterans can call 410-605-7000, extension 57417 to schedule a mental health triage appointment. On the sixth floor, veterans can visit the Mental Health Triage Walk in Clinic at Baltimore VA Medical Center. The clinic is open daily at 12:30 p.m. except on federal holidays. Veterans can also contact their VA primary care team via phone or secure messaging through My HealtheVet. Veterans who are currently enrolled in VA Maryland Healthcare System’s mental health services are encouraged to speak to their provider to request a referral to PTSD specialist care. Veterans can also reach the Veterans Crisis Line by pressing 1 (24/7). Chat online with the Veterans Crisis Line or send an SMS to 838255. VA Maryland Healthcare System Trauma Recovery Program ServicesWe are available to meet with veterans either in person or virtual. The Trauma Rehabilitation Program focuses on providing short-term PTSD treatment based on evidence. This program aims to help veterans return their valued activities. For more information about the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Trauma Recovery Program, call 410-637-1230.IF YOU ARE NOT A VETERAN:The National Center for PTSD has information for veterans and non-veterans on how to find a PTSD therapist.​

Heroin, Xanax and Fentanyl could have been the epitaph in the life of one Baltimore woman were it not for her tenacity and a promise she made three years ago this month.

After 22 rehab attempts, Iona Johnson has been drug free for more than three decades. It would be difficult to believe her story without her testimony.

Johnson, the daughter of a minister as well as a nurse was raised by her parents with love and good morals. She said that molestation began when she was four years old, at the hands a distant family member who is now deceased.

“When I put the drug in me, it helped me to become somebody else. It helped me escape how I really felt about me on the inside,” Johnson agreed.

Johnson said that she tried rehab several times, but she was not successful.

“I knew I wasn’t done, but to appear that I was done to whoever was forcing me to go. But I knew I wasn’t finished. It was basically like a rest stop,” Johnson agreed. “I’m not going to say I didn’t get anything from those 21 times, because I did. I just wasn’t ready.”

Johnson stated.

“He said he wouldn’t be able to rest if he left me here like that. So, I made the promise and I kept it. I knew he only wanted the best for me. He wanted me to be whole,” Johnson stated.

“She was real humble, like a broken spirit,” Donald Bower, a peer recovery specialist, said Johnson.

Bower was on duty at Park Heights’ Gaudenzia Recovery Center when Johnson attempted rehab for the 22nd consecutive time. He could relate to it as a recovering addict.

“I lost count of the attempts I made to try to be successful. I just lost count. I commend Iona when she has the exact number. I just lost count,” He said.

“This time, I let my guard down and I allowed some people to help me,” Johnson said.

Johnson stated that Bower has watched over Johnson since the beginning. They now work side by side at Gaudenzia, where Bower cares for others in recovery.

“She is a different person. I can see that. It’s like a new person has been born,” Bower said.

Gaudenzia officials said that despite 22 failed attempts, the story of multiple recovery attempts is not uncommon.

“It’s very, very hard to get it the first try, because there’s so many layers of a person that need to get healthy,” Kristy Blalock is the regional director of Gaurdenzia. “We want the community to know the doors are always open. And whether it’s your first time, second time or 23rd time, you are still welcome back.”

“I surrendered. I thoroughly and deeply surrendered from the deepest part of myself,” Johnson said.

Johnson is just one semester away from graduation college as an addictions counselor. She is on the Dean’s List, which is something she knows would have made her father proud — a man who she says always believed in her.

Maryland mental health resources

Maryland Public Mental Health System — Provides inpatient and outpatient mental health services for individuals with mental health illness for those with Medicaid and for others. Some services may not be included in the benefits package due to the severity of their condition and their financial need. There may be a small fee or co-pay required for individuals non-eligible for Medicaid.MentalHealth.gov — Information on a variety of mental health topics and resources.

Helping veterans with mental health

The Veterans Crisis Line connects service members and veterans in crisis, as well as their family members and friends, with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text messaging service. To speak to someone, call 800-273-8255 and press 1, or send a message to 838255. You can also start a confidential online chat session at veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat.

How to connect with care for Veterans needing help coping with PTSD

The following informati0n is provided by the VA Maryland Healthcare System.

For veterans who are enrolled at VA Maryland Healthcare System, call 410-605-7000 Extension 57417 to make an appointment for a mental healthcare triage appointment. The Baltimore VA Medical Center’s sixth floor has a Mental Health Triage Walk In Clinic. Except for federal holidays, the clinic is open daily at 12:30 p.m.

Veterans can also contact their VA primary care team via phone or secure messaging via My HealtheVet. Veterans who are currently enrolled in VA Maryland Healthcare System’s mental health services are encouraged to speak to their provider to request a referral for PTSD specialty care.

Register at www.maryland.va.gov to sign up or visit the facility to register for veterans who are not yet enrolled in VA Maryland Healthcare System.

If the situation is an emergency, veterans can go to the emergency department at the Baltimore VA Medical Center or call 911. Veterans can also reach the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 by pressing 1 (24/7). Chat online with The Veterans Crisis Line, or send a message to 838255.

VA Maryland Healthcare System Trauma Recovery Program Services

We continue to meet with veterans virtually or in person. The Trauma Recovery Program focuses primarily on short-term PTSD treatments based upon evidence with the goal to help veterans return to their valued activities. Call 410-637-1230 for more information about the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Trauma Recovery Program.

IF YOU ARE NOT A VETERAN:

The National Center for PTSD has information for veterans and non-veterans on how to find a PTSD therapist.

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