Student Excels in Recovery
Published on Mar 6, 2020
Harlan, KY – Southeast student Elizabeth “Liz” Brock has a story to tell, and it’s one of perseverance.
Her childhood memories are a maze of dysfunction and chaos. Born and raised in Harlan County, Liz lived with her alcoholic mother from infancy until she reached first grade, when her mother’s increasing substance abuse prompted her father to step in. He gained custody, and Liz settled in with her father and grandfather.
This normalcy lasted for several years, but when Liz was 13, she and her father moved out of her grandfather’s home. At their new location, her mother moved in following the sudden death of a boyfriend. Liz began to drink with her mother and soon became addicted. To make matters worse, her father’s live-in girlfriend was an opioid abuser, and an entourage of fellow substance abusers and hangers on lived in the house with them.
Although her father maintained a steady job in coal mining, Liz says that his house was no longer a true home. It was simply “a place to be hung over. I done whatever I wanted because Daddy worked all the time in the mines.”
It wasn’t long before Liz graduated from alcohol to harder substances.
“I was addicted to Suboxone for 10 years,” she said. “Somebody gave it to me while I was drunk, and from there, I was hooked.”
Unfortunately, she did not graduate with her high school diploma. After failing her freshman year, the discouraged and chemically dependent young woman would go on to drop out her junior year, as soon as she turned 18.
Eventually, the house burned down due to faulty wiring. The family relocated into a trailer on the property. Her mother left, and her father and his girlfriend welcomed a new baby girl they named Shaeleigh.
“For a while, all those other folks stayed away. But when they realized they could come to the trailer, it was more of the same,” said Brock.
Perhaps a blessing in disguise, Liz’s father was laid off a few years after that. He broke his back in a mining accident on a scoop and fell ill with black lung disease shortly thereafter.
“He tried to go back but couldn’t do much, said Liz. “They wouldn’t give him his black lung [benefits] because they believed he was sick from smoking.”
While her father’s constant presence in the home provided much needed stability—the entourage and the girlfriend eventually moved on—the die had already been cast for Liz. She wound up incarcerated for nine months in Meade County for drug possession. Out of boredom, Liz began pretesting for her high school equivalency exam. She admits that she requested this service because she “didn’t have anything better to do.” The judicial system had not provided an incentive. “It didn’t get me out any earlier,” she said.
It wasn’t until she was released from another stint in jail on March 15, 2018, that Liz made the decision to turn her life around. “I waited a while before I came out [to Southeast]. My probation officer told me about PACE, and I came out and talked to Erica.”
The PACE program—which stands for Providing Accelerated Career Employment—is a one-year program funded by an entrepreneurial award from KCTCS. Erica Farmer, Southeast’s PACE Coordinator, says the college is “committed to providing its nontraditional students, like Liz, and others in recovery with the skill-building and support necessary to return to their lives before addiction and to achieve their academic goals.”
In fall 2019, Liz enrolled fulltime at Southeast as a GED-seeking college student. She earned her GED quickly, and despite working 30 hours a week as a secretary and peer tutor for the Ready to Work program, she made the President’s List – earning a perfect 4.0.
Liz said that at first, she suffered from anxiety and rarely left the house other than to attend classes. Clean for three years, she said, “It has been a challenge. I realized real quick I could not be around the same people as before. I have been tempted, but I want to do right by my family.”
Liz credits taking classes with keeping her focus on positive goals. “Every day I ask, what good thing can I do next?” she said. “Once I finish that, what is the next thing I can do?” She has also become involved in church, attending the Harvest Worship Center in Harlan. She takes her one-year-old daughter Madison and Shaeleigh, who is now 9, to church with her so that they can have other children to play with in a safe environment.
Farmer calls her a “superstar” and said, “Liz as is as good as they come! She has recruited other recovering individuals into our programs, and she has helped mentor displaced coal miners. She goes into that counseling mode and calms men down who are in tears. ‘This is your chance,’ she tells them.”
When asked what advice she would give someone else facing similar obstacles, Liz offers encouragement: “People feel like they’ve messed up so much—they feel like ‘What’s the point?’ But if you invest your time, it would be worth it.”
Liz will earn her Recovery Coach certificate in May and her associate of arts degree in 2021. After that, she plans to transfer to Lindsey Wilson and earn a bachelor’s in counseling psychology so that she can help others in similar situations.
Most of all, she is grateful, and she credits Southeast with giving her a fresh start right in her own backyard.
“If it weren’t for Southeast, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to go to school around here,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t.”
Liz Brock credits the PACE program and the support she has received at Southeast for her success.