A Long Road Back From Addiction Ends With a New Home For a Dunn Family

After twelve years of sobriety, the moment Brenda Dominguez began to take control of her life is as fresh in her mind as if it were yesterday. She is 38 now. At age 25, in the wee hours after another day of drugs, she recalls, she was in a single bed, wide awake, with her two young sons sleeping on either side of her. In the next room her parents, also drug addicts, slept. It was their apartment; the place was home to the extended family and gave them what little stability they had.

Dominguez stared at the ceiling, in the quiet and the dark, thinking about her addictions to alcohol, marijuana, crystal meth, acid, ecstasy, even mushrooms. And she wondered, “How in the world am I going to get out of this?”

On a bright November day, in the living room of her new Habitat for Humanity home in Dunn, she is trim, clear-eyed and confident, with a warm smile and an engaging personality. Her sons, Nicholas Reese Jr., 17, and Joseph Lee Reese, 15, are the kind of teens all parents hope to have.

“They both have their hearts on sports,” Dominguez says. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Up from addictions

It’s hard to imagine how she got to this point from the despair she suffered as a young, single mother. And she did it all on her own. No counseling. No official rehab programs. No runs-ins with the law. She credits her budding faith.

“I wasn’t raised in church,” Dominguez says. “What little I knew of God came from a female friend of mine. She was raised in a religious family. Along the way she was planting seeds in my heart about God.”

Her transformation from drugs and despair was not done in an instant, and it wasn’t without some relapses; the arc was long but the goal was clear: She was going to beat her addictions and do right by her sons.

A long path to health

When asked how she broke her bad habits, Dominguez exhales slowly and takes a long pause. She has to reach way back to explain it.

“I lived with my parents, with them being on crack. That took most of their money. Month after month we didn’t know whether we were going to have lights or a place to stay. We didn’t know if we were going to have food.”

Another pause. She goes on.

Dominguez describes the crowded apartment where, if her boys needed food she couldn’t go straight to the kitchen; she would have to knock on the door of what passed for her parents’ bedroom. “I’d have to tell my mom what my boys needed. She’d get it from the kitchen, and she would put her arm through the cracked door. She didn’t want to face me. She knew I knew she was on drugs.”

Even her youngest memories are of her parents struggling with money.

“My dad was on it for 20 years. He was going out every weekend and spending all his money on gambling.”

Her mother finally gave in. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That’s what happened to my mom.”

There aren’t many happy memories of that time for Dominguez. “We didn’t know if we were going to have Christmas. We didn’t look forward to the beginning of school because we didn’t know if we were going to have clothes or school supplies because my dad didn’t do what he needed to do with his money.”

The Dominguez family’s home was built by Habitat for Humanity of Harnett County. The house was built as part of the State Employees Credit Union Foundation’s Mountains-to-the-Sea Challenge, a $10 million initiative to build a Habitat home in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Once the homeowner assumes a zero-percent-interest mortgage from SECU, the money is returned to the Habitat affiliate so that another home can be built.

Day of reckoning

There was an epiphany when she was pregnant with her second child. She was terrified that the drugs and drinking had damaged her baby. “I prayed one night. I talked to the Lord. I said, if you heal my son, whatever might be wrong with him, all the drugs I was doing, the drinking, the marijuana, I just knew inside myself that something was going to be wrong with him. I said, Lord, if you just heal whatever I may have damaged. If you heal whatever is wrong I promise I will never touch that stuff again.

“I had the baby. He came out healthy.”

But breaking her addictions was still hard. “I smoked again, got high again. For the first year of his life.”

But she continued weaning herself off her dependencies. The crystal meth went first. “I started attending church. I got baptized. My boys got baptized.”

“It’s a question of how much do you love yourself?” Dominguez says. “How much do you love your children? Neither of them asked to be here. And it’s not fair to them that they struggle because of my choices.” Eventually, she put the marijuana aside, and even the alcohol.

Well into her march toward sobriety, she clung to the small vice of stopping at a convenience store for a cold beer after work. “But I got to the point where I couldn’t even drink that anymore. The taste for it just left me.”

And that was it. Today she is free of all addictions, with a steady job she’s held for about three years and a brand-new home thanks to Harnett County Habitat for Humanity. Dominguez’s house is part of the State Employees Credit Union Foundation’s $10 million Mountains-to-the-Sea Challenge, to build a Habitat home in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Once the homeowner assumes a zero-interest-rate mortgage from SECU, the money is returned to the affiliate so that another home can be built.

For Dominguez, there’s more good news. Her parents have followed her lead and given up drugs. They’re still together and doing well.

What advice does she have for others struggling to overcome addictions? “People’s addictions come from different things,” Dominguez explains. “A lot of our failures come from selfishness.”

She chuckles at the thought. “When we’re stuck in something that we don’t need to be in, whether it’s an addiction or a relationship, we’re stuck in it because we are selfish. We want it and we don’t care how bad it’s hurting us. The bottom line is what is feeding that is selfishness.”

Dominguez would like to use her experiences to help others.

“One of my desires is to encourage and inspire people. I know where I come from, and it was from the bottom. I didn’t start with my choices, it comes from the choices of my parents. If I can do it – and I’m one of ‘the least of these’ – the Lord will do it for anyone who will trust Him.”

Her next goal is to become a licensed pastoral counselor. But even if that doesn’t happen, she will go on trying to help others who struggle. “I don’t have to have a title. My desire is to help.”


Bill DuPre, Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina