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September 17, 2012 07:26 PM

SF Woman Uses Own Experience To Help Others

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After seven DUIs and two stints in prison, a Sioux Falls woman says her life finally began and it's never been better.

Now, with her partner Christine Peters by her side and surrounded by their pets, Terri Brown couldn't imagine being any happier.

"I tell people I wouldn't trade my life. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to the way I used to be," Brown said.

For most of her life, she lived in the shadow of a severe alcohol problem. 

"It was just crazy," Brown said.

It started when she was 12. Brown grew up in urban San Francisco and was raised by a mother struggling with addiction.

"People drank and drugged. That's what I did," Brown said. "I picked it up in my teens and [I went] off and running with it."

In 1993, she says she had enough of California and moved to Sioux Falls to get away from the drugs and alcohol.

"I wanted a change. I thought relocating the old geography would, but I brought me with me," Brown said

Soon her disease spiraled out of control and Brown says it became bigger than herself.

"So in four years, I got seven DUIs. It was just ridiculous. Some I got a couple in the same year. Before I was sentenced for the first one, I got another one," Brown said.

Brown was sentenced to two years in prison, but time behind bars didn't address her underlying disease. It wasn't long after she got out before she was sent to prison again.

"Unfortunately when you get incarcerated, you tell yourself, well this sucks. I've done it, I won't do it again and that was the problem," Brown said.

She served two years of a five year sentence in Pierre and emerged with a resolve to turn her life around. Brown says she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

"I just want to do everything right this time. I didn't want to do the instant gratification. I took my time, did everything I was told to do and I humbled myself," Brown said. "That was the main thing. I had never humbled myself in life before."

As soon as she was released, Brown moved to Rapid City. She wanted to get away from her bad influences and ended up participating in a women's substance recovery group. After a couple years, she was strong enough to move back to Sioux Falls.  It's now been nearly 15-years since taking her last drink.

"I am comfortable in my own skin now. That's the best way to put it. I can just be me without having to put something in me to alter how I'm going to feel," Brown said.

Brown volunteers at Face it Together and also works closely with people in the local gay community who are dealing with drug and alcohol problems. She says the stresses of coming out and living in a conservative state can sometimes lead people to addiction.

"When you keep things inside, you build resentments and that creates a negativity, so you act negative and you do negative and you stay negative," Brown said.

But in recovery, Brown says her negativity is gone. She says she's living a life she could never have if she hadn't asked for help.

"I just know that we would have never lasted in a relationship if it hadn't been for her sobriety,"  partner Christine Peters said. "It's important."

And while the worst days are behind her, Brown stays vigilant everyday to ensure she doesn't relapse.

"There is no more excuses. There is no more feeling, okay, I can't live like this, but maybe tomorrow will be different. Nothing changes unless you change," Brown said.

And that's a message she'll share with anyone who is willing to listen.

Since she began her recovery, Terri has helped nearly 20 people recover from alcoholism.

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