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‘Recovery is possible’: Staunton City Council member shares story of addiction, recovery

Staunton City Council member Alice Woods speaks to seniors at Staunton High School on Friday, March 8, 2024, about her 25 years of sobriety after an addiction to cocaine. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Principal Tammy Lightner spoke to a group of seniors at Staunton High School before introducing a special speaker who had spoken to other grades earlier in the day.

She made it clear to the students what the speaker’s message would be.

“No matter what decisions that you make in your life, that whatever those decisions are don’t have to be the final resting point for you. That your decisions don’t define your future,” Lightner said.

Alice Woods was elected to Staunton City Council in 2023. Born in New York City, she moved to Staunton in 1987 to raise her children where her mother grew up. Woods said what she would be sharing with Staunton High seniors was about her past and that recovery is possible.

“Sometimes we like to dismiss our history or our past,” she said, “because maybe there’s something we don’t like.” The parts about her past she does not like she shared with students.

Growing up in New York City the youngest of seven children, Woods watched the heroine epidemic and her brother become addicted. For her, addiction began with alcohol and marijuana before she moved on to cocaine.

“I didn’t set out to be addicted to anything. It happened,” she told students.

Woods said she sees the same epidemic now but with fentanyl, which should never have been introduced to the public.

“I didn’t think I had an addiction until it became an addiction, because I was a social user.”

In the beginning, she was able to stop and then start again.

Addiction took hold of Woods when she lost her mother in between the births of her two daughters. “Back then, I didn’t know what a joy I had in [my mother], until I didn’t have her. When she died, it just broke me.”

Woods said that she and her oldest daughter have reconciled what happened. Otherwise, she thinks she would still be addicted.

“I had to forgive myself,” she said of the pain her addiction caused her oldest daughter.

On February 12, 2024, Woods marked 25 years of sobriety.

She said that stopping using cocaine and crack was difficult.

“Once you start using it, there’s no stopping until you get help.”

While she didn’t want to keep hurting her loved ones, she admitted that a residential recovery program failed because she was not ready to stop.

An intensive outpatient treatment program also failed because she was not ready.

“It was not until I could not do it anymore that it became so hard that I was just so dependent on it. I lost a job. I couldn’t even go to work anymore. It was just taking over my whole life,” Woods said.

She was hurting her husband and her oldest daughter who had just had Woods’ first grandchild.

Her addiction and recovery led to the job she has now as a case manager for Pathways, funded through the Augusta County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Woods is also a certified nursing assistant.

“I had no idea I would be working where I’m working today,” Woods said.

Courtesy of Alice Woods.

Her past and her mistakes did not prevent the future that was meant for her to live.

Therapy today for her is having opportunities like Friday’s to speak with students about her experiences.

Woods said that if her words and experiences could impact the lives of the students who heard her speak Friday, then her life and what she went through was worth the struggle.

Her six siblings and her mother are gone.

“Now, I’m in the city that she grew up in,” Woods said. Woods has cousins, uncles and other family in Staunton.

She strongly encouraged the students that if anything is bothering them, to talk it out with someone and not to keep anything inside. Keeping emotions inside is what causes addiction.

“Addiction happens when you need to have something to cover it up, to take your mind away from those things that really are hurting you,” she said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.