The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 15, 2021 1:00 am

Turning trauma, addiction into Pure Gold

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

Tyhria Williams has a busy day.

Williams is dressed in a black-and-white, sleeveless polka dot outfit with red shoes and her hair and makeup are on point. It's a Tuesday in late July and she is scheduled to talk to a group of women at lunch, followed by work later that afternoon.

It's a long way from just a few years ago when she was nowhere as put together as she is on this day.

That's when she found herself in a recovery center in Fort Wayne after an 11-day drug binge – a culmination to more than 20 years of addiction.

Williams now shares her story with others about her struggles to get clean.

Her story is difficult to hear at times, and Williams is raw and unfiltered when she tells it: molested by her babysitter when she was 10; got hooked on drugs when she was 16; a battered wife; raped; went to prison; married a man who was HIV positive; and lost contact with her children for years. 

Even with all that, it's the recovering part that she wants people to focus on. Through her talks to different groups about being a recovering addict, she tells women how they are enough and warns teens about the ugly side of drugs and sexual promiscuity. She also urges other addicts to get help through her job as a group facilitator at Avenues Recovery. 

But her recovery has not been easy, the 48-year-old says, and there have been relapses and additional trauma, including being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.

Williams has self-published two books, “Pure Gold: Processed in the Fire” and “Pure Gold II: Some Things Must Die in Order to Live,” about her life and started her own business, Pure Gold Enterprises. She writes in her first book that she shares her story not to glorify her past but instead to show others that through God and determination that they can survive too.

“I like that I'm honest,” Williams says. “I'm real.”

Illness diagnosis

Williams was getting ready for work in February 2019 when she couldn't put on her lipstick because her lips didn't match up as one side was drooping. She thought she was having an allergic reaction, but unknown to her at the time, Bell's palsy, a type of facial paralysis, had set up on the one side of her face.

Williams says she tried to get up and go but her legs were also paralyzed. “I was looking at my legs and saying, 'Hey, you know what to do,'” but they wouldn't move.

She was taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves. The exact cause is unknown and it can attack anyone at any age.

Williams spent months in the hospital recovering. She had to relearn to walk and even after coming home, she couldn't take care of herself and had to have the help of family and friends.

She ultimately had to leave her job at the time at the Rescue Mission's Charis House because of her illness.

Williams was able to get better with IV infusions, which she now takes monthly to prevent a GBS flare-up. It's something she'll have to do for the rest of her life.

Her struggles with her neurological disorder only adds to her continual battle with addiction – something she will also have to deal with for the rest of her life as well, Williams says. 

Even now, Williams has to watch what drugs she takes. Williams can't and doesn't take certain medications for fear that she might fall back into addiction. A recent doctor's visit in which a small dose of Percocet was prescribed sent her into tears and fears.

Although it's been 20 years later, she says, “You're still on a roller coaster.”

Williams admits that she has had relapses. “It makes my story more honest,” she says.

When her mother passed away a year ago, she turned to alcohol to ease the pain. She says all an addict needs is a reason to go back to abusing substances. So she sought help because “I didn't want to go back to what I used to be.”

An only child, Williams says her mother's death has been hard and she is in grief counseling.

“This is a new one,” Williams says of her battle with grief. “I would do drugs, get raped, all the trauma. I would do it again to get my mom back.”

Early traumas

Williams' mother had her when she was 15. Her mother also was addicted to drugs.

In “Pure Gold,” Williams writes, “As a child, I said I will never do my children like this; ... but I did. I became my mother.”

Williams says her addiction started with traumas that occurred as a child. She was 10 years old when her female babysitter, the sister of a man her mother was dating, began molesting her. Williams became attached to the woman who would fix Williams' hair, paint her nails and let her stay up late and watch TV. “When I think about it, I get emotional,” Williams says.

Williams grew up in East Chicago. Dealing with her mother's addiction and her own trauma, Williams began to find things to self-medicate in order to take away the pain, she says. In high school she began to drink and smoke marijuana. Then one day a friend passed her a primo – a joint mixed with cocaine – and she found a new way to get high. By the time she graduated high school, she was an addict.

Williams became pregnant in high school, having her first child at age 19. She married her high school boyfriend who thought he could end the addiction by punching and kicking his wife. But it only made her want more.

When her second baby was born, he suffered the effects of Williams' addiction.

Eventually, primos turned into straight cocaine.

After years of being physically abused, Williams finally decided she'd had enough and divorced her husband. She was living in Texas at the time and later met another man who she describes as her “knight in shining armor.” This man didn't hit her and treated her well, she says. The relationship prompted her to go to rehab in 1998, she writes in her book. 

Things seemed to be getting better, but on the day she was released from rehab, she intercepted a letter to her partner from the Texas Department of Health. It was then she found out that he was HIV positive and he didn't tell her. Despite the betrayal, Williams stuck with her husband and got regularly tested – all which came back that she was HIV negative.

Williams had two children with her second husband. Both children also tested negative for HIV.

Williams and her second husband later ended their relationship. He passed away from complications of HIV in 2018.

After her divorce, Williams turned to drugs once again. She began to associate with other women who were doing illegal activities and she was arrested for theft. She spent three years in prison.

After she got out, Williams returned to Indiana where her mother had taken her children.

Williams stayed clean for seven years before a family death sent her spiraling again. After a drug binge that lasted more than a week, a loved one intervened and found a treatment center in Fort Wayne that could help. In 2017, Williams' father drove her to The Genesis House, dropped her off and then left.

She was now left in a different city to get clean by herself.

“When I left, I had a three-bedroom apartment, a car; ... I left it all to live with 13 females,” she says, “but I did it.” 

Life back on track

When Williams graduated from the program, she says Genesis House helped her find a home. She was able to find a job and get her life back on track.

She also was able to reconnect with her children, which she didn't have contact with for many years because of her addiction. She is a grandmother of nine.

In 2018, she published her first book, “Pure Gold,”  followed by her second in 2020. Williams says writing is therapeutic for her.

She began writing while in prison. She would write her thoughts and memories down and send them in a sealed envelope to her father, instructing him not to open them.

When Williams got out of prison, she had all these envelopes which ultimately became the basis for her books. The books have been a testament to her journey to help herself, as well as others.

She believes God gave her a front seat to understand addiction so she could help others.

“She recognizes through her own recovery process that every addiction has a trauma attached to it,” says Whitney Straight, executive director of Avenues Recovery Center where Williams works. 

The 100-bed addiction treatment center sees people from all walks of life, including “high-class citizens all the way to homeless,” Straight says. Straight says Williams is able to relate to them all.

The center frequently gets letters from patients who have graduated from the program about how Williams has helped them, Straight says.

“Ty forces them to face their demons,” she says. “I can't tell you how many people have said that exact phrase.”

Straight says Williams has been writing a blog for the corporate office because her story is so incredible.

“Her story allows people to see that you can not only start from rock bottom,” but also help others get back to the top.

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