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How a homeless Utah woman became SL County office receptionist

Sep 10, 2019, 10:11 AM
Destiny Garcia joins the Project Recovery podcast to talk about her struggle with addiction....
Destiny Garcia joins the Project Recovery podcast to talk about her struggle with addiction.

A week ago, Destiny Garcia sat in her house, surrounded by a documentary film crew. The documentary features Destiny and her story of addiction. Particularly, how she was able to transcend being homeless to become the receptionist for the Salt Lake County Mayor’s office.

Destiny sat there, thinking back on all of the darkness in her life as crew lights beamed down upon her. Sitting beside Destiny, her son, who had just said something that caught her off guard.

“Mom, you remind me of Michael Jordan.”

Thinking back, she remembered when she was homeless, addicted to drugs, and stealing store merchandise to trade for heroin. But somehow, her son had just compared her to one of the brightest and most influential athletes of all time.

How? How could she be compared to such an unbelievable athlete?

Simply put, she was changing the landscape.

How abuse fueled addiction for Destiny

“I was a single mom of two. I got into a bad relationship and I was in that relationship for seven years,” Destiny began. [It] turned to be very abusive, physically and emotionally.”

Emergency room visits were not uncommon for Destiny. Throughout the tenure of her relationship, she would experience both “multiple broken eye sockets and broken noses.”

She recalls a visit to the ER that took place in 2010, after she was the victim of such assault; her face? Black and blue. A physician prescribed over 300 pain relievers to help ease the discomfort.

After being prescribed such an inordinate amount of opioids, it’s not completely surprising that changed Destiny’s life forever.

“I became widely addicted on multiple levels,” she added.

Addiction causes Destiny to spiral out of control

While she began to struggle with her addiction, she was able to leave her abusive relationship a year and a half later. Nonchalantly, Destiny addressed why she chose to leave the relationship.

“I had to leave. I was going to die or I was going to leave.”

She picked up her kids from school, packed their bags, and moved into her mother’s house, addicted to opioids more than ever.

“I felt like my whole entire world was crashing down, even worse than being in the relationship,” she said.

Destiny had received a second chance to rebuild her life but she began to lie to everyone about her addiction: her mother, her children, and even herself.

She enrolled in college as a criminal justice major in an attempt to turn things around. Destiny even excelled at college, making the Dean’s list every month. Unfortunately, her addiction followed her everywhere she went.

“I was still taking the pills, and then I started smoking [Crystal] meth a lot to keep me more awake at school because I was addicted to pain pills,” she described.

She started shoplifting to pay for her addiction while in school. During the last class of her program, she was arrested and sent to jail.

Destiny never finished.

“Running and gunning” to stay alive

Destiny’s first stint with jail sparked something inside her. A fire started inside her. She started “running and gunning” — a term used in the addiction world that describes doing whatever it takes to feed said addiction.

She started losing everything. Destiny would serve multiple stints in jail, lose contact with her daughter, and begin to lose her battle with addiction.

She quickly realized that it was much easier to get heroin instead of opioids due to the system. Destiny didn’t have any money and she definitely didn’t have anything of value to a doctor, so she improvised.

She stole everything she could.

“Everyday, I was waking up to figure out what I was going to go shoplift, what I was going to go steal, what I could trade to get high,” she described.

Destiny frequented North Temple in downtown Salt Lake City to fuel her addiction. She would do whatever she could, however she could, and whenever she could to keep moving. She would sleep outside in parks, on preschool playgrounds, or would even stay up all night, out of fear.

Until Operation Rio Grande.

Operation Rio Grande becomes Destiny’s saving grace

Destiny’s poor decisions had finally caught up with her. The increased police force began arresting the addicts and homeless who had charges on their records. Destiny would have to find a way to get clean in jail. Thankfully, officers informed Destiny that there was plenty of funding to help her get treatment.

She was going to come clean; that was her one goal. Fifteen days after being booked into jail, she began her inpatient care at Odyssey House of Utah, an addiction treatment center in Salt Lake City. To avoid the cliques and the drama of treatment, she focused on herself and worked as hard as she could.

Along with getting clean, she was able to speak with her family again.

“I called and I talked to my son. He said, ‘Mom, I am so proud of you for choosing treatment,'” Destiny said. “That’s all it took. That’s all I needed to hear, that he had my back.”

Destiny turns over a new leaf

Destiny completed the program after only four months. She also became the first person in the program to complete substance abuse inpatient treatment.

She also used the first Salt Lake County Living voucher, which prompted a press release and allowed her to meet then-mayor, Ben McAdams. Destiny went on television, showed her arms where she had injected heroin just months before, and told her whole story.

Due to McAdam’s drive for Utah businesses to hire from within the drug court program, he eventually hired Destiny as the receptionist for the Salt Lake Mayor’s County office.

She recently celebrated two years of sobriety and is raising awareness surrounding addiction.

“I would have never, never, ever, in my wildest dreams, even in my sober days when I was going to school for Criminal Justice, would I think that I could have the impact I have today,” she concluded.

To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts and be sure to check out the ‘Project Recovery‘ page on KSLTV.com

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How a homeless Utah woman became SL County office receptionist