This is not a fashion story ladies. It is a story of strength, survival, determination, courage, and love. Kristina Wandzilak chose life and faced every fear and hardship in her journey up. I am awe-stricken by Kristina’s courage, faith and willingness to go to places she has not returned to since being homeless on the streets of San Francisco 21-years ago. I thank her for this bravery, for facing her fears, and for being such an extraordinary and beautiful person in life.
“If I gave up each time I was afraid I would be dead.”
I am a fighter. A survivor with a brave heart. I am a mother. A widow. A friend. A daughter. A sister. An international business owner. An author. An all-american athlete. And an all-american drug addict with over 20 years sobriety and recovery.
I am now an addiction interventionist and the co-founder of Full Circle Intervention, Addiction and Recovery Services, an organization working with families and individuals who are in crisis with the disease of addiction. It is a thriving practice, which has taken me on adventures all across the US and internationally.
I am the author of the critically acclaimed addiction memoir, The Lost Years; Surviving a Mother and Daughter’s Worst Nightmare, which I co-authored with my mother. I have had the pleasure of traveling throughout the country for speaking engagements and appearances alongside my mom. Through writing and traveling side-by-side, we have built a new relationship, one which has brought me peace of mind and spirit. It has been an extraordinary experience and I am humbled by the strength of my mom. She is the hero of my story and has touched and inspired so many people through her words, more lives than I can possibly imagine.
In my latest project, I am the interventionist for Discovery Communications, Prism Award winning docu-series Addicted, which premiered on TLC and Discovery Fit and Health. Addicted follows the lives of addicts and their families, through addiction, the intervention process with treatment, their home-coming and my work throughout the final stages. It was huge compliment and honor to have the opportunity in sharing my work and in shining a light on the beautiful process of recovery, for millions. We addicts do recover and go on to live beautiful accountable filling lives.
The story…In short.
I had my first drink at 13. I loved it.
I am very shy and alcohol took my fears and insecurities away, instantly.
I tried cocaine at 15 and I was hooked from the start. In a matter of a year, I lost everything of value to me-my family, my school, my swimming, and my friends.
My parents put me in treatment center after treatment center and I ran from everyone. They tried everything to help me. Until finally my mom realized that in trying to save me, she was losing all four of her children and closed her door on me. She said, “you are not welcome in my home or life until you are living a life of recovery and if I never see you alive again please know how much I love you.
She closed the door.
I descended into the depths of addiction. I began smoking crack. I robbed 22 homes and eventually I landed homeless in the streets of SF. I begged for money, broke into cars, and ate out of dumpsters. I did whatever I could to stay warm and alive.
The end came, when I was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and put in a homeless shelter on a 6-hour detox hold. On the floor of the homeless shelter I believe I died. I was 21 years old. The last thing I remember thinking is how sad my mom will be that it ended this way.
I was in a bright light. It was extraordinary. The most beautiful feeling of home. There was no time or regret, only love. There was complete understanding that everything that happens is exactly how it is meant to be. No regret. No pain. No longing or missing, only peace. The light began to move away and I came to with the knowing that I needed help and could no longer live this way. I went to treatment for 6 months. Then I moved into a van, a broken-down van, and began to slowly put my life back together.
Coming back from homelessness has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is very hard to get a job when you have no address, phone number, high school education or references. I heard “no” more during this time than any other time in my life. But giving up was simply not an option. I had the choice to keep moving forward or die.
It was truly that simple. I kept trudging along, as I knew I didn’t want to fall back into my hopeless and fatal addicted life. I needed one person, just one, to give me a chance. I knew if I could have the chance, I could change my life. I did finally get a job and began to rebuild my life.
Before I could truly move forward, I knew I had to make peace with the homes I had robbed. I knocked on the door of each of the 22 homes and I made direct amends to the families that lived there. From there, my life has gotten bigger and brighter with each passing year. I put myself through school, I started a business, I wrote a book, I got married and had a beautiful family. I filmed a TV show, buried my husband, and today, I run a thriving business. I raise my sweet children today and try to be an example in every interaction that we addicts can and do recover.
I live a purpose driven life, waking up each morning asking myself how can I make the lives of the people I love better and how can I be of service to the suffering addict today.
Things that propel growth and inspire me:
My children-Sebastian-age 13 & Savannah-age 11. They inspire me to challenge myself each day to dig deeper than the day before. I am a widow; the only parent to my children. I am the provider and the caretaker of their tender hearts. I am the mother and the father. The weight I carry, at times, feels unbearable and my children with their sweet spirits and uncommon sense of bravery, keep me motivated and renew my strength reminding me that I can and I will survive. I cannot always see it but I do have faith that if I keep moving forward the path can and will lie down beneath my feet.
My clients-Every day, I witness the breaking of the spirit. I meet clients in their darkest moments and days. Addiction is a black, despairing desperate disease. I have spent half my life, watching my clients come back from impossible odds. Healing the broken parts, facing and mending their past, and taking their rightful place in the world. I have spent 18 years watching my clients recover from a progressive, fatal disease and go on to live beyond anything they felt possible. I have my life with a front-row seat watching unbelievable change and transformation. My clients inspire each day to stay strong and well. Each of them, even though they do not know it, teach me something about myself and give me strength to keep waging the war against addiction.
My family-I would not be where I am today without my family. My mom, my siblings, their spouses, my nieces and nephews and my amazing extended family in Texas have all carried me from addiction to health. I am asked how I have recovered so well from my addiction and time in the street. The answer is simple. I have recovered as well as I have because of my family and the solid foundation of love that I was born into and raised with. I knew every day of my addiction that I was loved and wanted.
My grandparents set the bar high and were living examples of family love, loyalty, commitment, honor and undying devotion to each other. I feel inspired by my family each day, to continue my journey up, to make them proud and to make peace with all the pain I caused the ones who loved me most.
My friends-I am a very lucky woman to be surrounded by a group of strong, empowered friends who help guide, support and cheer me on. The women in my life inspire me to stay strong and fill me with energy to keep on with the path I am forging.
People often say to me that I am fearless. I am not fearless. I am afraid every single day. But I made a decision long ago not to allow fear to define me, my life or my choices.
If I gave up each time I was afraid, I would be dead. I approach fear head on. As a female business owner, in a male dominated industry, my fear propels me into action and inspires me to continually take on projects that intimidate me and set a steady pace of creativity and passion for my work.
Fear, inspires me to dig deeper and challenge my old ways of thinking allowing me to grow stronger. I have accepted fear as a part of my daily life, but do not accept or allow it to drive any of my choices or sway me off course. Ironically, fear has become my greatest ally and my greatest competitor. Fear keeps me sharp, prepared, eager, and thirsty for knowledge and education.
Fear keeps me humble, grateful and firefly inspired to fight harder, to play longer and to achieve the life I dream. As my publisher used to say, “ Feel the fear; then do it anyway.” I am not afraid of failure. I suppose that is the nice thing of having lost everything once in my life. I am not afraid of losing. The greatest failure for me would be the one of a life unlived. Failure is not listening to that voice inside that speaks to the true nature of what I want, that whisper I can hear in the middle of the night, the quietest of voices, screaming, YOU CAN DO THIS.
Failure to me is allowing fear to rob me of the best life I can live.
Kristina, well said you amazing woman! You have opened my eyes to so much. I am humbled and thankful to you for everything you have given to me and this project and I know how many people feel the same way and how deep you have given to their lives. xo!