Taqiyya smiling among trees

A single mom on her journey out of addiction and into a life fulfilled

In honor of National Recovery Month, we spoke with Taqiyya Haden about her experience with addiction and her inspiring journey to recovery.

Taqiyya Haden lives and works in Jacksonville, Florida with her nine-year-old daughter, who I’ll refer to as “A” throughout this piece for the sake of her privacy.

“We moved here from New York,” she tells me during our phone interview last month. “It was a big change for us, and for me especially. I’d lived in New York my entire life.”

A graduate of The City College of New York, Taqiyya called Harlem home for fifteen years. 

“And it’ll always be home,” she says with a palpable tinge of nostalgia. “But for the past five years, Florida has been very good to us.” 

A was diagnosed with severe asthma at age four, a determination that catalyzed their relocation.

“Initially, I thought we’d just try it for a few weeks. Between the warm weather and significantly better air quality, I had high hopes that she would be more comfortable there.” 

Sure enough, two weeks into their stay, A’s lungs were thrilled. And so was Taqiyya. They made the official move shortly thereafter.

On top of the near-constant sunshine and significantly better air quality, the move also afforded Taqiyya the opportunity to get to know her biological father, who also lives in Jacksonville.

“I grew up in foster care,” she says, “so it’s been an added bonus that we get to reconnect and A can have a relationship with her grandfather.”

No doubt, life is good for Taqiyya. But she has worked day in, day out, for years now to make it that way.

Taqiyya looking out to a body of water

“I’ve struggled”

“I don’t necessarily like to talk about my addiction to drugs and alcohol as something that I’ve recovered from,” Taqiyya explains. “I prefer to refer to it as my transformation.” 

Indeed, she has transformed. Taqiyya’s past is checkered with arduous moments—years, even.

“I’ve used some form of drugs or alcohol since I was nineteen,” she tells me. “I’ve struggled a great deal, specifically with depression—sometimes to the point of not wanting to live—for the better part of my life.”

Taqiyya tells me that her suicidal ideations began as early as age ten.

“Additionally, alcoholism runs in my family,” she explains. “It’s on both sides. But growing up in foster care, I didn’t see it, I suppose. Not that I would have been able to avoid that addictive gene necessarily, but perhaps I would have been better prepared to battle against it? I’m not sure.”

Taqiyya is thoughtful in how she explains her experience with addiction, even in those reflective moments of questioning. Every word she chooses is intentional, and she’s careful not to elicit pity for her past. Instead, as she tells me her story, it becomes increasingly clear that those difficult pieces of her past are exactly what’s made her this strong.

Transformation in-progress

“I first made a solid attempt to completely refrain from all drugs and alcohol when I found out I was pregnant. It was December 3rd, 2011. Throughout my pregnancy and my daughter’s early infancy, I was able to maintain that entirely.”

“I had a strong support group—most notably, a therapist and friend who’s a Chinese medicine practitioner who really helped me gain my footing.”

Taqiyya strayed from her previous vices for “quite some time,” she explains, “but at some point in A’s early youth, I returned to use. Alcohol had become a serious problem for my health, and I was getting back to a place of considering ending my life.” 

It was around that time that Taqiyya also lost her job.

“It was a very difficult few months,” she laments. “But I took it all as a wake-up call.”

Taqiyya was quick to find another job working as a part-time seasonal employee. But for her, just having that job wasn’t enough.

“I set some really high goals for myself during that time. Not only was I going to overcome my addiction, but I was determined to start my next ‘season’ of work as a full-time employee.” 

In some ways, it was a full time job, getting better. It’s so much more than just stopping drinking.

For Taqiyya, working part time meant dipping into her savings to stay afloat, and using her health savings account (HSA) to help cover some of the costs associated with outpatient treatment, which she attended for three months.

“I also worked with trauma specialists a good deal. In some ways, it was a full time job, getting better. It’s so much more than just stopping drinking.”

She cites the support of her close friends and work community for seeing her through the toughest times.

Taqiyya smiling in front of steps Taqiyya smiling behind flowers

“I work for a health insurance company and lead a team of roughly twenty people. I put a lot of myself into work, and that’s been true from the jump.”

By the time she’d finished outpatient treatment, Taqiyya was asked to come aboard as a full time employee. 

“I was 42 years old with this beautiful, brilliant daughter, and surrounded by people who supported me. I’d made this decision that not only did I want to live, but I wanted to turn myself into a joyful being. And finally, I knew with certainty that I could not do that with alcohol in my life.” 

Taqiyya’s last drink was in July of 2019. 

A new way of being

These days, Taqiyya is more in-tune with herself than ever before. 

“I ask myself, body and mind, what I need to feel good. Sometimes that’s a walk on the beach. Time with my daughter. Yoga. I’m a mentor for the Sober Black Girls Club, a community of incredible women who are processing through sobriety. I find myself discovering new ways to live every day. I’m incredibly grateful.”

Also grateful is A, who knows that Taqiyya doesn’t drink anymore. 

“She was just old enough, I think, to understand that there was a version of ‘me’ when I was experiencing addiction. She’s seen the change, and I’m happy to say that my daughter absolutely prefers this mom,” Taqiyya tells me. And though she’s reserved, even through the phone, I can tell that she’s smiling.

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