Stephanie Svehlak has traveled a long, hard road to recovery from drug addiction. The travels even led the local business owner to name her daughter “Journey,” as a way to always remember the one that she went through herself.
Svehlak was 21 when she began using methamphetamine for the first time. She said she was dating someone who was using the drug himself and he got her into it.
Svehlak was hooked after three days.
“I was very lonely,” Svehlak recalled. “Meth gave me energy and caused me to lose weight.”
Svehlak explained that she was living with her father when she began to use. Two weeks later, she had moved in with her boyfriend.
Svehlak said it didn’t take long for him to show his true colors.
“He abused me and fraudulently used my credit card,” she recalled. “He left me in debt for $25,000. He would beat me, and at one time when we were arrested, my face was so messed up, they let me go. That’s when you know you’re really bad off — when they release you on a felony charge so you can stay in the hospital.”
Svehlak soon found herself homeless, living in the cold with only a sweatshirt, often looking for the warmest stairwell she could spot.
For a while, Svehlak said that she lived in a house with other addicts.
“I tried to stop,” she remarked. “I was on probation for credit card fraud. There was a warrant for my arrest. I hated myself. I was tired and knew I couldn’t run anymore.”
Then, about four years into her addiction, a "miracle" came that changed her life forever.
“I found out I was pregnant,” she said. “Pregnant and on drugs. I went to jail while I was pregnant and remained there until three weeks before my baby was born.”
Svehlak explained that there were foster care agencies that will keep a baby until a mother is released from jail. But she did not find sanction with the agencies she tried.
“I had talked to these agencies and got no help,” Svehlak recalled. “My family would not help me. No one would help me. I didn’t think I would ever get out.”
During this time, Svehlak came across an old Bible. It had a prayer inside that she prayed to herself.
Svehlak decided she wanted to get out of jail.
The time came for her and four other pregnant inmates to appear in court. All five of them were put on high-risk probation. Svehlak said she couldn’t believe she was finally getting out.
“My attorney, Monica Bishop, had spoken with me before the probation was granted and said 'don’t take this if you can’t do it,'” Svehlak remembered. “It is a hard thing to do. Think before you sign this. It’s not just you.”
Svehlak added that she was full of anxiety and that her parents were mad that she would soon be free.
“I called my grandma, and she agreed to take me to my other grandma, MeMe,” she said.
Svehlak first had to stop at the Ellis County Probation Office where she was assigned a probation officer, Hector Verdin, who she recalled being very hard on her that day.
“Hector Verdin told me to be honest with myself. He was very hard on me, but he was also very kind,” Svehlak said. “It actually motivated me to do it.”
Upon her arrival at her grandmother's house, Svehlek said her MeMe allowed her to use her Walmart card to buy herself three outfits.
“I only had what I wore in jail,” Svehlak explained. “She allowed me to stay at her other house. I had three new outfits and a mattress on the floor.”
Svehlak later gave birth to her daughter, Journey.
Svehlak said she wanted to go to beauty school and blocked all the people from her past. She said it was nice to be around people that weren’t on drugs.
“Journey’s father came around and wanted me to do drugs,” Svehlak recalled. “But when I looked at my daughter, I knew I couldn’t go back to doing that.”
Svehlak beamed a big smile when she said that she is going on five years of sobriety.
“My baby is the reason I was able to turn the corner,” she expressed. “I was so close to losing her to the state.”
Another chapter of Svehlak's new life began in March 2017, which was when she married Jeffery Svehlak. Both of Jeffrey’s parents were drug addicts, and he was very adamant about not being around drugs.
“He has a lot of anger over this,” she explained.
Journey, now an active four-year-old, has a little brother who just turned two on Christmas Eve.
Svehlak is currently the co-owner of the Wicked Beauty Salon, which she has owned with her partner Anna Burris since February 22, 2018. She said the success of the salon had exceeded their expectations.
“We had a small place and needed something bigger,” she explained. “We were able to come up with a large amount of money to move to our current location. We now have eight or nine people working here. People are comfortable here.”
Svehlak thinks it is essential to reach out to others in need. Her favorite quote is “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and she tries to help people as much as she can.
Svehlak explained that she was part of a Facebook group that matched children with sponsors for each age group to provide Christmas to children of families in need. She smiled broadly as she explained that she matched up 108 children with a sponsor.
And that isn’t Svehlak's only example of reaching out. She and two others also recently did hair and makeup for a cancer patient that was having a family portrait made.
“The photographer was doing this as a donation, so I felt we could too,” she said. “The lady didn’t know we were doing it as a surprise.”
Svehlak has come a long way on her journey, but now that she’s come so far she doesn’t want to go back.
“I no longer have a desire to do drugs,” she commented. “I no longer crave them.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment, 897,000 people 12 and older currently use meth. An estimated 135,264 people got treatment for meth addiction in publicly-funded facilities in 2015, with treatment admissions increasing by three percent from 2014 to 2015.
According to the assessment, 5,716 people died as a result of a stimulant overdose in 2015, with 85-90 percent of those deaths involving meth.
Svehlak is one of the exceptions.
Because of her success, family members and countless addicts have reached out to her for help. She hopes to one day counsel others who are addicted like she was.
“It upsets me to think about ones who do drugs with kids around,” she remarked. “I wish I was able to let them know how much better it is on this side. You are worth more. You cannot keep saying you’re tired and don’t want to do them. You must stop.”
Svehlak said it is a good feeling to know that others are proud of her, and she hopes to help other people reach that same feeling.
“I have done something many people cannot do,” Svehlak said. “If my story helps just one person, it will make me happy.”
The Wicked Beauty Salon is located at 120 N. Highway 77, Suite B in Waxahachie. To contact them, call the salon at 469-901-2388.
Additional reporting by David Dunn/Daily Light