Looking back on the turmoil of her life just two years ago, Morganton native Chelsee McConnell said it’s sometimes hard to believe how far she has come.
On Dec. 20, 2018, McConnell had flipped her car on Kirksey Drive near River Trail. She was charged with a DWI and misdemeanor resist, delay or obstructing a police officer. Only a month before, a Morganton Department of Public Safety officer administered a dose of NARCAN, an agent used to reverse drug overdoses, on McConnell.
The wreck made local news, with The News Herald covering the story.
“It was really bad. I was really not in a good place,” McConnell said. “I was doing a lot of drugs and really unhappy and hopeless. I had been in recovery before but I had just lost the connection with that. I hated myself, I hated my partner.”
After the wreck, McConnell continued to struggle with substance abuse, but with some nudging from someone close to her, she made the decision to better her life.
“Finally, I put it out into the universe and said, ‘I think I should go back to treatment,’” McConnell said. “My oldest child’s father (William Stephenson) helped me very much. He told me to make that phone call (to get into treatment.) Even though I wasn’t doing well, he was one person who didn’t completely hate me and was supportive.”
McConnell said she has a unique aspect to her story in that she, her ex-husband, Dustin McConnell and Stephenson are “like a tribe,” and are all really close.
“It was not good – we split (on bad terms,)” she said. “There was lots of trauma, hurt and pain. Now we have a really great relationship. Our kids get to see their parents work really well together and speak well of each other. I can’t be more grateful for that.”
McConnell has three children of her own – Nova, 6 and twins Niko and Eve, 4.
Additionally, she and her fiancé, Cubb Hope, take care of his two children – Mila, 5 and Mason, 8, part time as well. Hope manages ACG Green, a California-based shipping and receiving company located near Salem Elementary.
Hope and McConnell met while in rehab, and their recovery started off very strong. However, the pair slipped up early on in their relationship.
But that is just another unique component of McConnell’s story – she and Hope are now engaged to be married, and both are now committed to their relationship and to leading healthy lives.
"He supported me when I had no job and just worked recovery 24/7," she said. "He supported me financially and emotionally. I was still traumatized when I came back from treatment and it took a while to be normal again. He didn't push me. But as I added things back into life, he supported each goal and dream I had.
“We’re very much in love and very happy,” she said.
A day in the life
Fortunately for McConnell, Nova, Niko and Eve are enrolled in Giggles N’ Grins, a daycare/pre-K child care and learning center in Morganton that is offering in-person instruction through the pandemic.
Despite how busy she stays with her parenting duties, she remembers when during her days of substance abuse, she may not have been able to take care of the children.
“I feel like I can instill things in my children that I want them to learn from me, where before I wouldn’t want anyone to pick up my behaviors or my traits,” she said.
As if parenting five children wasn’t enough on her plate, McConnell has a slew of other accomplishments she is currently working on as well.
In April 2020, she received a two-year certification from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to be a peer support specialist.
She is set to receive her yoga teacher certification through Breathe Yoga and Wellness in Morganton and Subtle Yoga, a program based out of Asheville.
“(Yoga) has been a huge tool in my recovery and also my support network,” she said. “I use yoga as a huge part of my recovery tools. The yoga studio has been a really wonderful, safe place for me.”
McConnell teaches a free yoga class on Sundays at 1 p.m. at Bethel Park, too.
She’s also enrolled at Western Piedmont Community College, where she earned dean’s list honors. When she isn’t doing yoga or working on her education, or helping her kids working on school, she manages to find time to clean houses for some extra cash.
“When I think about where I was at years ago, I was in this hopeless cycle of using and being so upset but continuing to use to keep me away from these (goals and) things,” McConnell said. “Looking back, today, I know I don’t have to live like that anymore. Today I have self-esteem. I feel good about myself – I can be a good friend, a good mom, a good partner. I can be accountable and dependable.”
“That’s the message of hope that I wanted to share. Before recovery, I flunked out of college because of my grades – and not for the first time either. I never thought that I would be back in school and have good grades. (I never thought I’d) have the life I have today. Anything is really possible if you are just determined and keep focused.”
McConnell said staying busy helps her to stay focused on her goals. She often attends one to two AA meetings per day.
At the time of her arrest, she said she didn’t know whether she would be able to face the people in her community again.
“Addiction wants us to stay isolated and sick and suffering,” she said. “I stay connected in the community in many ways – church, yoga, giving rides, Bigfoot Climbing Gym -- a community I thought I could never face again after (the DUI.)
“The past does not define me and accepting myself allows other to accept me. (If we) make positive connections, whatever fits our needs, that is a step towards recovery.”
Giving back to others is another way she is able to stay grounded.
“I’m a really giving person, and I think I learned that from my dad,” she said. “One thing that’s really important in my recovery and in (my 12-step recovery program) is service and giving back.”
McConnell said she remembers when she was young her father would visit nursing homes and spend time with the residents.
“He’s a very inspiring man,” she said. “Any way you can give back is a way to get outside of yourself and a good way to take the mind off of a negative thing. If you’re feeling down or feel like using, doing something for someone else is a good way to get distracted.
“I just hope (my dad’s) proud of me today.”
Johnny Casey is a staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com or 828-432-8907.