Lending a Smile
When there’s not a lot to smile about, what do you do? It’s been 20 years since Mary has really smiled, and who could blame her? Broken teeth, a broken smile, and a broken heart has made it hard to smile about anything.
At 32 years old, Mary’s best friend—her brother—committed suicide. That loss, that horrible feeling that you cannot change was much too painful to overcome. “I just took his death really hard and let the pain take over.” When grief and the pain from losing a loved one is left to take over, coping often becomes a challenge. For Mary, the only thing that seemed to help her cope was drugs. She started with cocaine, but it became too expensive. Her life unraveled while she sought asylum from it all by staying high. She lost her house and the trust of everyone around her. “Nobody wanted me around and I couldn’t pay my rent.” Down the rabbit hole she went and before long, Mary was homeless, addicted, and very much alone. Her mother took over the care of her seven children and she was lucky she didn’t lose them.
On the streets, Mary continued to dope up but cocaine was expensive, so she discovered a cheaper alternative that at the time didn’t seem as bad as cocaine—meth. Life on the streets was scary and dangerous. “I’ve been raped, threatened at gun point, been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and have slept in the wrong places…I had to use drugs, or at least I thought I had to use drugs, so that I could stay awake, stay safe. I didn’t want more bad things to happen to me.” The 24-7 game of survival kept her addiction strong and she found herself so lost and without a way to get out.
It wasn’t until January 22, 2014, her 50th birthday, that she took a journey down memory lane. Looking back on the past 20 years, she realized that something had to change. She had to fix herself and her life. “I was 50 years old, full of shame, completely lost, I couldn’t even crack a smile because of the shame and pain…I thought, something has to change.” That same day, she packed up her stuff and headed to Volunteers of America to detox. That day was the defining moment for Mary. She forced herself to complete 2 weeks of detox, and then received outpatient treatment while she stayed at the shelter. Step by step, her life was evolving. As Mary recounted this beyond challenging time, the tears were welling up in her beautiful brown eyes. “I just knew I had to take advantage of all of these services. I did treatment on my own, and I told myself ‘I’m going to do this’.”
Mary did it.
Today, she has housing at Palmer Court and finally can say that she feels safe. With housing and a sober life, Mary’s next step was to fix her broken smile. “Even though I was clean, I just couldn’t smile. I was happy inside, had peace, but I couldn’t smile.”
When she came to Fourth Street Clinic she told Ron and Terri, Fourth Street Clinic’s in-house dentist and dental assistant, how much her teeth and mouth felt like symbols of her shame. She never smiled and she rarely talked. Ron knew that this step was going to be life-changing for Mary. The first appointment was spent building Mary’s missing posterior teeth out of a composite material similar to real teeth. On her second appointment, this same composite material was used to reform the front teeth that had been misused and buzzed down to nothing due to her missing back teeth. It was after this second appointment on March 15th, Mary looked in the mirror and for the first time in 20 years, she smiled and then she couldn’t stop smiling. “I never thought I would get a second chance. I never thought I was worth it. This place always shows me that I am…this place just puts the joy back in my heart…this is better than Christmas!” Ron and Terri instantly realized and observed that with her new smile she regained her confidence and her personality.