In episode 22 of The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast, Zeinah Estrada and host Ashley Loeb Blassingame talked about Zeinah’s road to recovery and how she’s helped thousands of people who suffer from addiction. We’ve edited and condensed Zeinah’s story for a fast read. You can listen to the entire interview here.

Zeinah was born and raised in Georgia until she was about 11 or 12 years old. She and her six siblings dealt with cultural differences from a young age, as her mom was Christian and her dad was a practicing Muslim. Her parents fought a lot when Zeinah was young and got divorced when Zeinah was 12. After a difficult custody battle, Zeinah, her mom, and siblings moved to Florida where her grandparents lived. 

Zeinah was a gymnast from the time she was three. She shared, “the coach was a horrible person, and he molested a bunch of girls.” She added, “I happened to be one of those girls.” When Zeinah and her family moved to Florida, she decided to quit gymnastics and try cheerleading. She was bullied for being a cheerleader in her new school, and she would “come home bawling.”

From her parent’s divorce, being molested as a child and being turned away by her peers, Zeinah sought acceptance from just about anyone. She became friends with a group of students who encouraged her to skip school. When Zeinah was 14 years old, she continued to skip school, her grades started to drop, and she began to experiment with weed, Lortab (painkiller), and Xanax. One day, Zeinah shared, “I overdosed on Xanax and I passed out in one of my classes. They couldn’t wake me up. I scared them, and I got expelled from school.”

Downward Spiral

This turned into a recurring theme, as Zeinah was expelled from the next three high schools she attended. As her drug use escalated, she grew distant with her family and decided to get emancipated. She moved in with her then-boyfriend, Kevin, who was a drug dealer. 

When Zeinah was 18 years old, she and Kevin who was 24 at the time got married. Two days after the wedding, Zeinah got pregnant with their oldest daughter. Shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Zeinah cheated on her husband. She remained married to Kevin, but abandoned him and her daughter, and left to be in an abusive relationship with her new boyfriend.

“By then I started hating myself, because I cheated on my husband, I abandoned my kid, and so I started just doing so many pills.” (call out)

She quickly became addicted to “Oxies, Roxies, and Methadone.” She would wake up in and out of the hospital from seizures and added, “I would just be so sick. I couldn’t do anything.” 

Zeinah and Kevin were still married, and their daughter was living with his parents at the time. Their daughter was about 3 years old when one day as Zeinah was visiting, she shared, “I passed out and had a seizure.” She added, “I was flopping around like a fish out in the front yard.” Her daughter opened the door to the front yard, ran across the street and said to a neighbor, “my mommy needs help.” Zeinah added, “The helicopter came, took me, and they medically induced me into a coma.” 

Zeinah went to jail for child neglect. After one weekend in jail, her parents bailed her out and tried to detox her. Unfortunately, shortly after Zeinah was released from jail, she suffered through something very traumatic. 

Losing Her First Husband

Six months after Zeinah was released, she and Kevin went on a drive to get their Xanax and Methadone prescriptions filled. She added, “I [didn’t] take any of the Methadone. It [was] a deadly combination.” Then, she and Kevin drove to a friend’s house, and when they arrived, Kevin got out to use the bathroom. Zeinah heard Kevin fall to the floor and she said, “Are you okay?” To which he responded with, “I can’t feel my legs.” At the time, Zeinah didn’t realize that he took both the Xanax and Methadone. Kevin asked Zeinah to pull him outside and she shared, “so he’s outside and he falls asleep, which was completely normal for our relationship because we were nodding off pretty much all the time.” He fell asleep, and she thought, “he’s snoring, he’s sleeping, everything’s fine.” 

Zeinah woke up three hours later and “he was gray.” She shared, “So I just lost it. I didn’t care about anything. My husband’s dead. I don’t have custody of my kid. And I just ran.” She ended up getting married to another man three months later, started “shooting up,” and shared, “I’ve never had a quicker downward spiral in my life.”

“So I just lost it. I didn’t care about anything. My husband’s dead. I don’t have custody of my kid. And I just ran.” (call out)

Intervention

Within six months, Zeinah’s mom recommended her for the A&E show, Intervention. Zeinah agreed to go to treatment and while she shared, “I was probably one of the most difficult clients that they’ve ever had,” she stuck with it. She got a sponsor, attended meetings, and continued to do her step work. Zeinah said, “I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) because of a boy I liked and he wouldn’t date me until I finished my steps.” 

Zeinah’s daughter was 3 years old when Zeinah was having seizures. When Zeinah was in treatment, her daughter was now 6 years old, still living with Kevin’s parents. One day her daughter visited Zeinah at the treatment center. She asked Zeinah, “Mommy, are you done taking pills?” To which Zeinah responded, “I’m done. Don’t you see this chip?” She showed her daughter a chip that she got as a gift for being in recovery and her daughter responded with, “Mommy, this just says for today.” 

Zeinah admitted that she almost started to cry. She added, “Oh my gosh, she can read. I had missed so much, I didn’t even know that my kid could read.” It became clear to her that she had to stay sober for her daughter. 

Living and Helping in Sobriety

Zeinah has been sober for eight years. She started gradually, working in the treatment center, and later running sober living. She met her now-husband, in which Ashley joked, “third time’s a charm,” in the same treatment center. They have two children together, plus Zeinah’s oldest daughter.

Zeinah has an incredible support system and understands the importance of asking for help. She shared, “I didn’t know what to do, but I knew how to get in touch with resources.” Zeinah and her husband started an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and provide sober living and intensive outpatient and trauma therapy. She shared, “We are there for our clients 24 hours.” She added, “It has been a struggle finding balance, but that’s the key to sobriety: recalibrating.” 

Quotes have been edited for clarity.