Six months into her new job managing Santa Maria Super Thrift, the Mission’s thrift store, Deja is seeing how the trauma she experienced as a daughter of an addict, can result in a perspective that’s helpful in her role.
Deja grew up locally with two younger siblings—their mother was addicted to heroin. “It was pretty much the three of us since the time I was really little,” she said. “It wasn’t a traditional upbringing. My mom was an addict, so I grew up seeing addiction. I saw how it can destroy families.”
Deja left the home when she was 16, moving in with an aunt. “I finished school, got a job and paid rent,” she said. “I’m the only one of my siblings who graduated high school.”
Deja avoided the lifestyle—there was nothing glamorous about it to her. “I’ve never done a drug in my life— seeing what it did to my family, it always scared me,” she said. “It’s why I focus so much on church and God. Once I found Jesus, I found great comfort in being around people who believed the same things I did.”
However, Deja’s road hasn’t been without hiccups. “After high school, I felt a bit lost,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what to do, and church wasn’t bringing me the same comfort it used to. I got pregnant and my whole life changed after that.”
Down the line, Deja suffered a tragic family loss, and she spiraled. “For two to three years, I was very numb,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I believed in God, and if I did, I didn’t like Him. I was bitter and angry at everything and everyone.
“One day, I was flipping through the radio station—I hadn’t listened to Christian music in years—and I stopped and listened. I told God, ‘If you are who you say you are, please show me (a sign).’ I knew I couldn’t be angry for the rest of my life. I knew I couldn’t keep living like this. When I woke up, I heard clearly: ‘You have a life to live.’ ”
Deja had never experienced anything like that, and she immediately rededicated her life to God at 25. She didn’t however, want to return to church. “No one had wanted to help me in my pain,” Deja said, “so the church doors were closed to me. I didn’t want any part of religion. I had sought out comfort from church for so long—it wasn’t comfort from God, it was comfort from church. It took me about a year to work through that.”
Meanwhile, Deja’s daughter, now 13, was attending church with her grandmother, and she was constantly requesting her mom join them. She finally did. “I don’t find the same comfort in church now,” Deja said. “It’s about seeking God. The fellowship is nice, but I should’ve been finding my comfort in God. Now, I see my flaws as a human. I see how I need to change. My pastor makes me dig deep and it can be uncomfortable. I needed that. I love my church. It was the right church at the right time, and it still is. I still go with my daughter every Sunday.”
Deja’s mom died two years ago from complications of her addiction. “She was clean 10 years and relapsed, then was clean five years and relapsed again … After she died, my brother went really deep into addiction and died a year later.”
A few months later, Deja started her new job. She’s been running the store since December. “It felt like the perfect place for me,” she said. “I love retail. I love customer service. I love people. And I want to help people struggling with addiction in a way that I couldn’t help my family members. I can relate to the aspect of how it destroys your family. You wish you could help.”
Men in the Mission’s Life Recovery Program often volunteer at the store as part of their vocational training.
“It’s challenging at times, but so rewarding,” said Deja, of working with the men. “They are all motivated to change their lives. Even if it’s just giving them a couple words of advice, telling them my perspective—it’s so great. I know they’ll be using these skills they are learning and (turn it) into a job.”