Woman on the Rise – Lilly

Woman on the Rise: Lilly Monroe

Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is trust enough to let someone help, especially when we’ve made ourselves vulnerable before and gotten burned.

Lilly Monroe came to Together We Bake in the spring after she served a four-month jail sentence and narrowly avoided additional time for breaking her probation. Skeptical that anyone would have her best interest at heart, she spent weeks resisting the people and the process before summoning the courage to commit.

“I have a really hard time when people put their hand out and say, ‘I’m here to help you.’ My reaction is to shut the door when somebody is getting close. I feel like I have to run,” she says. “But they hung in there with me. I realized these ladies believed in me and if I didn’t change my pattern I might lose their friendship. And that became important to me.”

Lilly’s journey from near program drop-out to gainfully employed graduate who scored the highest marks among her classmates on her ServSafe food safety test is a triumphant reminder both of the power we have to lift each other and to accept qualified support.

“I was in jail just sitting there on dead time and I realized I wanted to do something with my life, not just be another woman wasting my time. I’m a mom, I’m a sister,” she says. “When I left jail I made a solid commitment to myself that I was going to be real with myself, not even tell little white lies.”

Courageous words from someone who’d experienced tremendous personal loss in the years leading up to her conviction—loss that led to despondency and a domino effect of unhealthy decisions.

Not so long ago Lilly, now 38, was married with three kids (now aged 21, 18 and 8) and living near her extended family in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. But five years ago the ground under her began to give way. Lilly lost her mother, a year later her grandmother died, and two months after that her father passed. It was an unimaginable spiral of loss, compounded by infighting Lilly and her sisters engaged in with their aunt about how to deal with the estates. The pressure eventually began to take a toll.

“My husband and I started drifting apart after my dad died, and I started using my prescription pain pills for migraines to go to sleep and just not deal with anything,” Lilly says. Her heightened stress got her a prescription for Xanax, which she began coupling with alcohol in a potent elixir that let her escape the grief.

Soon, even that wasn’t enough. “I thought, Why are you doing this? You can run out of prescription medicine in a week. So I found something harder; I went to meth amphetamines. I could stay up for weeks and not eat, not sleep, get things done around the house.” Engaging in credit card fraud was the last domino to fall. “Now I didn’t have to pay for anything,” she says.

Lilly’s husband, himself struggling with addiction, offered to take their young daughter and live with his mother as a way, he said at the time, to relieve some of Lilly’s stress. What Lilly found out soon after he moved out was he’d already filed court papers seeking full custody.

“When I found out he had filed the court papers for full custody of our daughter way before he moved out, I was devastated. He planned it before we even talked,” she says. “Going through so much loss, for someone to kick you so hard when you were down already… I needed help, and he turned his back on me. I tired to fight it in court but it was nobody’s fault but my own. I kept messing up.”

Thankfully, Lilly’s son Seth, her sister Leslie and Leslie’s boyfriend Jason remained steadfast in their support.

Lilly describes herself as a spiritual person, and she has an inner constitution of iron. So when a Together We Bake recruiter visited the halfway house where she was staying after serving time, she decided to give the program a go. “I thought, it sounded pretty good, like it might be another link to rebuilding my life,” she says.

But her defensiveness quickly set in. “I came to the program, and I didn’t want to do it. There were too many women, and they were too headstrong where I was a quiet person who didn’t fit in. I thought, This isn’t even something I want to do. I don’t want to cook, I don’t want to have any of these skills, I was like, Crap, what am I going to do now?“

Faced with the chance to escape again, Lilly made a life-altering decision: To stay the course.

“I would miss a class—it was hard for me to feel like somebody cared, somebody accepted me—but these women were really interested and really wanted to help. And that was really odd to me,” she says. “One day I told them I needed help. That I liked it here, but to not get mad and scold me and point the finger. They understood, and asked me to stick it out. So I started picking up my attendance, showing up on time, showing more interest. I passed my ServSafe test and got the high score in the class. The more I stopped fighting someone wanting to help me, the better I was.”

Today Lilly is not only employed full time at a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria with plans to pursue classes in auto mechanics—but her newly affirmed sense of trust for those who prove themselves worthy is warming into other parts of her life.

“I also realized, I don’t know how to do this sober thing, so someone has to help me,” she says. “My first AA meting scared me so bad. I didn’t know what was going on and I was so mad at friends who took me… but I knew it was the right thing for me.”

Lilly’s advice for women considering joining a Together We Bake session but having doubts? “Keep your eyes open, keep your heart open, keep your mind open. The ladies here aren’t going to hurt you—they really have your best interest at heart.”

–Cathy Applefeld Olson