An up-close look at the Columbia women who help us feel beautiful. Photos by Keith Borgmeyer Whether your beauty regimen includes facials, mani–pedis, and...
Photos by Keith Borgmeyer
“It was like battery acid was eating my nasal cavity,” says Gina Ridgeway Long. “I was crying and screaming. Within 10 minutes, the burn was gone and that something that had been missing — I thought I had found it in drugs.”
For Gina, that night started an almost decade-long addiction to methamphetamine. She says those were the darkest years of her life.“I used to say that I lost everything, but the truth is, I gave it all away for meth,” she says. “That was really hard to face. It’s still hard to talk about.”
Twenty-one years later, Gina is a happy wife, mother of five, director of non-acute services for Phoenix Home Care, and an inspiration for others. Every morning, she starts her day in her “war chair.” This is the place where she sits, drinks coffee, reads — whether it’s her 12-step fellowship, her Bible, or some other spiritual material — and reflects on her life thus far.
The Early Years
Gina’s story starts in a rough neighborhood in north St. Louis, where her childhood took a toll on her and her siblings. Her mom suffered from mental illness, and by the time she was 10 years old, Gina had already seen an overdose on the church steps across the street. She was pregnant by the age of 15.
“Over the course of the next several years,” Gina shares, “I started to experiment with drugs and with people. I wanted attention, I wanted to be liked and to be popular.”
When Gina got older, she entered an unhealthy relationship that mimicked that of her parents.“I entered a mad love, toxic, and often violent relationship,” Gina says. “It lasted
Gina and her partner had three kids together. During this time, Gina would smoke marijuana occasionally, and she drank regularly. Since she thought the high from marijuana wasn’t harmful, she began to dabble in other drugs, thinking they’d be the same. She tried mushrooms, cocaine, pills — at the time, she was willing to try anything at least once if her kids weren’t around.
“I didn’t really like any of the drugs,” Gina shares. “I used them to numb the pain of my present life.”
In 1996, Gina and her partner were in Illinois without the kids for a wedding. She loved her kids more than anything else, but she still felt like something was missing. Her partner asked if she wanted to try something called crank. Gina didn’t know what crank was; he described it as “cocaine with a kick.” When she tried it, she immediately began to feel a burning sensation in her sinus cavity. After 10 minutes, the pain was gone. The drug gave her the something she had been searching for.
“It felt like a warm, fuzzy blanket had just been placed around me,” she says. “I felt like I was pretty, smart, witty, loved.”
During this time, Gina used intravenously every day. The addiction ended up costing her the things she cared about most: her kids and their home.
A Renewed Motivation
Between 1999 and 2005, Gina was in and out of treatment facilities nine times. Only one of those times was she asked to go as part of her probation. The other eight times, Gina made herself go.
“I wanted to be a mom again,” she says. “I wanted normalcy for my kids. I wanted for them to feel loved and comforted and stable.”
She finally felt so consumed by self-pity and hopelessness that she surrendered.
On March 22, 2005, with the encouragement of her two boys, Gina walked into a 12-step fellowship. She identified on some level with everyone who shared that day; the group became a way for her to see what her life could be. “They were like a life source or life energy,” Gina says.
If they could do it, she could too. So she got a sponsor, joined a home group, started being of service, and attended meetings every night. To this day, she still attends 12-step meetings regularly.
“I asked God for one more day clean,” Gina says. “That’s how I got through it: taking it day by day, minute by minute.” She believed if she could stay clean for the next five minutes, she could stay clean for the following five minutes. Then, before she knew it, she was able to stay clean for 12 years.
“If it had not been for the support network,” Gina shares, “I don’t know where I would be today.”
A Fulfilling Life
Gina has now overcome something she never thought she could. Her relationship with her family and extended family has completely changed — it’s close, beautiful, and wonderful.
“My life is flipping amazing today,” Gina says. “I have an amazing career, marriage, family, friends, community and business relationships, and a solid and trusting relationship with God.“
As a transformed woman, Gina is now giving back. She is happily married to Steve Long, whom she met in recovery. They are parents to five children and grandparents to nine (soon to be 10). They are also building a nonprofit, the Just One Foundation.
“I want to help the still-suffering addict,” Gina shares. The foundation will help identify the needs of the community and respond to them. Gina and Steve started the nonprofit as a way “to be of selfless service to our community in whatever way we can.”
Gina’s advice for anyone who is currently addicted or suffering is to be willing to change, ask for help, and be willing to accept the help that is available. “Just let me hold your hand,” she says.
Gina also encourages addicts to stop trying to fill the void with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or shopping. “That hole you’re trying to fill can only be filled with God,” she says. “Give yourself a break and love yourself enough to want more for yourself.”