By Theresa Cottom
Beacon Journal staff writer
On some days she works as a pewter production artist, and on others, she works children’s events for the business she founded, Chroma Fun Face Painting.
But the work that holds a special place in Lassiter-White’s heart is her position as a residential supervisor at the IBH Addiction Recovery Center, where she teaches recovering addicts how to channel their troubles into intricate doodles called Zentangles.
“There is nothing more beautiful than seeing someone who is mired in darkness be able to look up and see a glimmer of light,” Lassiter-White said. “I was that person.”
Before 2011, that light in Lassiter-White was eclipsed by her own struggle with addiction.
Now, with five years of sobriety under her belt, Lassiter-White has been using her art and her experiences to help others find themselves again.
On May 20, that self-discovery came full circle when Lassiter-White’s design was displayed on the medal that hung around nearly 350 recovering addicts’ necks as they crossed the finish line at IBH during the Recovery Challenge 5K.
Lassiter-White grew up in Hudson, where her childhood was shiny on the surface.
“I had everything and anything I ever wanted,” Lassiter-White said. “None of that mattered, because inside I felt less-than. I always felt like the black sheep in the family.”
After she spent her adolescence self-medicating depression with marijuana and alcohol, Lassiter-White began using meth at age 21.
The manipulation, the lies, the broken relationships that often come with addiction — all of it became part of Lassiter-White’s life “in an instant,” she said.
“Drugs brought me to my knees,” Lassiter-White said.
Lassiter-White spent the next eight years in and out of employment, in and out of relationships, in and out of a blur. She had her son in 2006, but shortly after, she turned back to drugs and gave up custody.
All the while, Lassiter-White’s suffering reflected on paper. Her artwork had been reduced to rabid scribbling that took on what she calls an “insane fury.”
“It wasn’t art, it was insanity,” Lassiter-White said.
In 2011, she had a year and a half clean from meth but was still drinking every day. That year, she relapsed to bath salts, and then back to meth.
Her relapse landed her in jail, and then on to her first treatment facility.
After she got kicked out of one treatment facility, Lassiter-White found herself at IBH in 2012.
Although she had been clean for a few months already, Lassiter-White’s last-needed push toward sobriety came in the form of a bowl of cereal.
Patients at IBH weren’t supposed to eat cereal at any other time of day besides the morning. Staffers there told patients that if they weren’t disciplined enough to do that, they couldn’t expect to be disciplined enough to stay sober.
When Lassiter-White heard that, something clicked.
“I surrounded myself in recovery” after that, Lassiter-White said. “I feel like I live, sleep and eat sobriety.”
Lassiter-White stayed clean after her five months at IBH.
A year into her sobriety, she heard about a job there, and over the next three years, she worked her way up to a residential supervisor.
Along the way, Lassiter-White, now 34 and living in Akron, began piecing her life back together — she now has three jobs instead of none, she retrained herself to create art and she regained custody of her son.
Then, a few months ago — five years into Lassiter-White’s sobriety — the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADM) Board selected her to design the medal for the five-year anniversary of its Recovery Challenge 5K, which ends at IBH.
“It was a natural evolution of things,” said Jerry Craig, the executive director of the ADM Board. “It was just a nice way for her to use the gifts she has to be able to give back.”
“It was such a big honor,” Lassiter-White said. “They saved my life. They changed my son’s life.”
Lassiter-White spent the next month sketching out several designs for the medal, but she was suddenly struck with tragedy when her mother died unexpectedly in the middle of March. Despite a wave of numbness, Lassiter-White pushed through the grief and rounded out her final design in time for the race on May 20 — all the while remaining sober.
“She got to see the designs. She was so proud of me,” Lassiter-White said. “The day of the race, I know she was there with me.”
Fighting the good fight
In the end, Lassiter-White settled on a design with a pair of giant red boxing gloves dangling from a mountaintop. In the background, the race’s mascot “Adam” scales the mountain, coming just inches away from the summit “because you never quite reach it,” Lassiter-White said.
Even five years into sobriety, Lassiter-White said her struggle against addiction is still daily and conscious, but it’s something she needed to do to gain her life back.
When asked what she would tell her younger self now that she’s sober, Lassiter-White paused and thought for a moment.
“You’re loved,” she said finally. “And there’s a better way. It’s not easier, but there’s definitely a better way.”
She paused another moment to reflect on the hardships that came with her addiction — the lying, the manipulation, the hurt relationships — and she reconsidered.
“Sobriety is easier,” Lassiter-White said. “Just a different kind of easier.”