I Surrendered My Will to Him
In 1997, Carol Almeida was sitting in a jail cell in York, Pa., exhausted by her life on drugs. She longed to be a free woman again—free from the grip of addiction.
The path to that defining moment had been long and twisted. It began in Bridgeport, Conn., where Almeida grew up in a broken home as the child of alcoholics. As a teenager, she abused alcohol herself and soon descended into smoking marijuana and sniffing glue. She also used speed, downers, and LSD.
“I basically tried every drug there was,” she says.
At age 21, Almeida ventured into the world of heroin.
“I just got hooked on it,” she recalls. “I fell in love with it. I did it on and off for the next 20 years.”
She funded her drug habit by stealing and working as a prostitute. While she found herself in “many scary situations” working the streets, she was undeterred.
“I was just looking to get money,” she said. “I didn’t have any feelings. I didn’t care about anything. All I cared about was getting that next drug.”
A new life
By the time she turned 29, Almeida was close to losing custody of her four children.
“At that point, I didn’t care if I was going to live or die,” she said. “I thought my life was over. I made up my mind that if I died, I didn’t care.
“Then I met these Christians. They would come and talk to me all the time. They talked me into going to the New Life for Girls program. I just decided to go. Things were getting really bad. That was the only option I felt I had at the time.”
Almeida left for Dover, Pa., where she entered the Christian-based residential program for young women struggling with substance abuse and other issues. For the next 11 months, she was in New Life for Girls.
“If I had stayed in Bridgeport, I definitely would have died,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have lived out that year. A lot of people in Bridgeport thought I had died when they didn’t see me around anymore. That’s how bad I looked and how bad I was doing.”
Almeida said she learned several Bible verses in New Life for Girls. But at that point, the 12 inches from her stubborn head to her hardened heart proved too difficult for God’s Word to travel.
“I had all this head knowledge, but that was it,” she said. “I knew it.”
“I was still dead inside,” she said. “Even when I went through New Life for Girls, I still didn’t have any feelings.”
During Almeida’s relapse, she was on a methadone program three times and was often in jail for retail theft. In 1997 during her last incarceration, she vowed to attend church and turn her life around following her release.
“I got tired of living that lifestyle,” she said. “I was just sick of that vicious cycle of going to jail, getting out, going back to jail, and getting out.
“I decided to give my life to the Lord and be serious about it. I surrendered my will to Him. That’s when my life started changing.”
Almeida attended a nondenominational church where God’s love penetrated her soul from the minute she entered.
“I would go to church and listen to the music. It was so healing and so comforting,” she said. “For probably the first two years, all I did was cry. That was my healing. God had to soften my heart. My heart was so hard that nothing could penetrate it but Him and His love. And that’s what He did.”
Almeida said she believes what trapped her in decades of addiction was her resentment toward her mother.
“For years, I blamed my mother for my addiction,” she said. “I never wanted to acknowledge my part in it.
“I chose to hate her. That kept me in constant relapse for years. When I finally decided to forgive her, that’s when things started changing for me.”
Almeida asked for that forgiveness in a phone call not long before her mother’s death.
“That’s when everything broke,” she said. “Then my mother asked me to forgive her. That’s really when I started getting healing in my life. That resentment is a bitter root that has to be pulled out.”
Body and soul
Almeida also found physical healing from the years of drug abuse. She had been diagnosed with Hepatitis B and C.
“Once I got cleaned up, God cured me of that,” she said. “I don’t have that anymore.
“My doctor even said he had never seen anything like that. He said I was one of the few people he treated where he couldn’t find any sign of infection. He even said it was a miracle. The Lord restored my health.”
Almeida said once she accepted the Lord, she still had to overcome one other major obstacle. She needed to fully understand forgiveness and God’s grace.
“I was never able to forgive myself for what I put my children through,” she said. “One thing I found out is that a lot had to do with me feeling sorry for myself. And once I was free of that stronghold, things started to change.
“I’m finally able to forgive myself for everything I’ve done. I’m working on myself and letting Jesus work in my life so He can show me how to forgive myself and let all this stuff go. I’m letting it all go and things are getting better for me now.”
Almeida said today she attends church and has a “close relationship with Jesus.”
“I seek Him every day,” she said. “I read the Bible every day. I surrender my will to Him every day and He’s right there with me. Jesus is always on my mind. I’m so grateful for what He’s done for me.
“Every year for the last four or five years, my relationship with Jesus has been getting better. I’ve surrendered my will to Him.”
Almeida landed a job with The Salvation Army in York working in a food pantry. She later earned an associate’s degree and was hired as a caseworker, a job she “loved.” Almeida worked at the corps for 10 years and touched many lives.
“I didn’t have much of a work history before The Salvation Army,” she said. “They’re the only ones who allowed me to get a work history. They’re the only ones who gave me an opportunity.
“I really liked helping the people who came in,” she said. “I identified with them. Many came from the same background as me.”
Almeida also shared her experiences with clients from York’s inner city who were addicts.
“I knew the people who were struggling with drugs and alcohol. I listened to them, talked to them, and encouraged them by telling them how I got set free from years of addiction,” she said.
“A lot of it was just letting them get stuff off their chest. People knew me and how my life had changed.”
Almeida retired from her work, but she returned recently to a retail jobl. She believes God put her there to learn patience. Today, she has a wonderful relationship with her children and grandchildren and is growing in faith.
“When I go over my life, I can see what Jesus has done for me,” she said. “I’m grateful the Lord opened the way for me to come into contact with believers, including at The Salvation Army.”
by Robert Mitchell