Relating to people with shared experiences can be key in overcoming drug addiction.
Carla Bugg, 59, of Huntsville, uses her life story as “an open book” to let other people know there is hope.
“I’ve been homeless. I’m a vet. I’ve been on drugs. I’ve been to prison,” said Bugg, who now holds a full-time job with a nonprofit organization whose sole mission is “to advocate, empower and collaborate” with those seeking recovery from addiction.
As the criminal justice services coordinator for R.O.S.S. (Recovery Organization of Support Specialists), Bugg manages staff members who provide peer support for incarcerated people with substance abuse disorders.
Every peer support specialist is a person in long-term recovery who has been drug-free for at least two years, provided references, completed 40 hours of coursework, and passed an exam to become certified by the state.
Telling her story lets other addicts know they are not alone.
Bugg, originally from Gadsden, joined the Alabama Air National Guard directly out of high school, and soon after transferred to the California Air National Guard.
She had smoked pot as a teenager but did not try other drugs until later.
While in the military, she was a victim of sexual trauma that she said played a part in her escalating drug use. She experimented with several other drugs and eventually started free-basing cocaine on a regular basis.
“They call it smoking rock, smoking crack, now,” said Bugg, who was honorably discharged from the military after six years because of her drug use.
Things got worse.
“I couldn’t seem to get it together,” she said. At age 29, Bugg was arrested and sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiracy with intent to distribute drugs. “I did 20 years in prison.”
While incarcerated, “I prayed a lot,” Bugg said. “That God would create a job for me, in purpose and on purpose.”
She was introduced to the concept of peer support and after her release from prison, was among the first 50 people certified in Alabama as a recovery support specialist.
Her job as outreach specialist for Jobs for Veterans brought her to Huntsville. In that role, “I combed the streets looking for homeless vets and we found jobs for them,” Bugg said.
When funding ran out, she began working for R.O.S.S. as a peer support specialist, and in 2019, started her current job.
She now finds joy in her five grown children and their children. Her youngest child was a newborn when she went to prison.
“The last one was a month old,” Bugg said. “I came home, and he was a 20-year-old man.”
It’s just one of the many things she can’t take back. But she continues to move forward.
“My message is to never give up,” she said. “To embrace the good and the bad and the ugly because it all works together. If you find your purpose, you can find your life.”
For more information on R.O.S.S., visit ross4u.org.