Carla Banks was at home when her mother killed herself.
“Growing up, I lived in a home with drugs,” she said the week before Christmas. “My mother and father had both done drugs in their lives and drank. When I was 13 years old my mama committed suicide. I was there when she shot herself in the head with a gun. I called 911 and we tried to save her but we couldn’t.”
Understandably, Carla’s like “took a spiral” from there, she recalled. Her father had just been released from prison for armed robbery.
“I started doing drugs and used drugs to fill every problem in my life,” she said. “I did anything I could get my hands on — meth, cocaine, acid, drank alcohol, pills ... there were several times when I almost overdosed.”
A Dalton resident, Carla became pregnant at 14 and had her first son at 15. But she wasn’t ready to be a mom.
“My drug use was always a problem, so I would just take off (to party) and he would stay with my dad,” she remembered. “Or I would be somewhere (high) and my dad would have to come get him.”
After getting pregnant again at 19 she cleaned up, but her addiction returned after her second son was born.
“I finally got in trouble for drugs,” she said of an arrest in 2008. “I got eight felonies — possession of meth, tools for the commission of a crime, selling meth, everything. I was pregnant with my daughter.”
Fortunately, a newborn daughter was not affected.
“My dad had died in 2009 and I just spiraled out of control further.”
DFACS removed the children — ages 9, 6 and 1 — from her care in 2010. After serving a month in jail, Carla said God was “knocking on my heart ... but I had nowhere to go.”
But she had a secret weapon. An aunt, Gail Morris, had never given up on her, Carla said.
“She had been praying for me for years and had tried to help me,” she continued. “But every time I would lie to her and go right back to drugs. Every time I needed something she would get it for me. If I was hungry, my aunt would bring me food.”
But that knocking included the realization that “what I had done was wrong and I started realizing the love that I had for my children.”
In August 2010, Aunt Gail dropped her Carla at Providence Ministries. In October, right before she started a nine-month rehab program, she had an unexpected appointment. It calls to mind a place called Bethlehem where another confluence of events resulted in a divine rendezvous between God and man.
Carla met the Prince of Peace.
“It was at a Providence church service on a Wednesday night,” she recalled. “I was in the service and just prayed to God, I was hurting so bad inside. I said, ‘God, I can’t do it any more. The drugs, everything, I can’t do this.’ It was like God pushed me up there. I said, ‘Jesus, come here and take the load off.’ I had a peace then that you could not even imagine. God worked it out just right till he had me ready, had my heart ready to endure the program.”
However, there was heartbreak on the horizon.
“I missed Christmas of 2010 with my children — I didn’t see them Christmas Eve or Christmas Day,” she said. “It was the hardest thing going through that you could ever imagine.”
But it got better in 2011.
“I got one of my children back while I was in the program,” she said of her recovery, “and got the other two back in June (of 2011). “I have hope now for life, I have dreams. It’s all healthy, it’s not destroying myself — no more destruction.”
What would Carla say to someone else who is struggling with substance abuse?
“Be strong and trust in God,” she shared. “Believe in yourself because you can conquer anything as long as you put your mind to it, with God’s help.”
So what was Christmas like last year after being reunited with her children?
“It was wonderful,” she replied. “I got to get up with my kids on Christmas morning and watch them open their presents and we got to have family time. We got to be a family.”
Now she’s married to a “wonderful Christian man” whom she believes God brought her way. And about those dreams birthed inside her?
“I’m proud to say I’m a stay-at-home mom,” she began. “But I feel like God is preparing me for some type of children’s ministry.”
At age 28, it appears those dreams could come to pass.
Mark Millican is editor of the Ellijay Times-Courier.