Free Indeed: A Story of Redemption

When Milisa Van Steenis was growing up, she saw the consequences of addiction firsthand.

By: Bailey Gerber & Jake Hreha

When Milisa Van Steenis was growing up, she saw the consequences of addiction firsthand. Her parents struggled with drug addiction and substance abuse for most of her childhood, and she told herself it would never happen to her. She enlisted in the army reserves and spent two years in active duty as a combat medic before leaving the military in 2003.

As a veteran, Van Steenis knew the value of freedom; it was important enough to defend. However, when it came to Van Steenis’s own life, true freedom proved harder to attain. She applied her medic’s training as a medical assistant in Ohio, earning enough to support herself and her two daughters. Then she shattered her ankle in an accident.

A Downward Turn Into Drug Abuse

“I had two surgeries on my ankle, and my body got so used to the pain medication my doctors prescribed,” Van Steenis says. “I didn’t even recognize the withdrawal symptoms when I had them; I just knew I needed more meds. When my doctors wouldn’t give them to me, I started buying drugs.” This began her drug abuse problems which took a toll on her family members.

In November of 2013, the Fayette County of Job and Family Services took Van Steenis’s daughters away, giving her one year to get clean of her drug use. She couldn’t do it. “I failed all my drug tests,” Van Steenis says. “My daughters were 13 and 14, and I lost permanent custody. I couldn’t contact them.” The drug addiction treatment was not helping and she struggled to find a way forward in her addiction recovery.

With the loss of her kids, Van Steenis also lost her hope. “I went to jail about a month after they took my kids away, and I was in and out of jail for more than a year,” she says. “I just didn’t care anymore. I actually liked going to jail. I got fed; I got to take a shower; I was safe.”

When she wasn’t in jail, Van Steenis lived on the streets, eating food out of trash cans and finding drugs where she could. Her time in and out of jail took a toll on her mental health and made the recovery from addiction even more challenging. She overdosed three times, spent a week in the ICU with double pneumonia, and finally hit bottom in 2016. She knew she needed to seek treatment and bring an end to her drug cravings.

Finding Hope in the Recovery from Addiction

Van Steenis called a drug treatment center in Columbus, Ohio that specialized in substance use disorder recovery. She left her town and her life behind, committed to loosening the chains of her addiction and begin the recovery process. “As soon as I got to the treatment center, I felt like I was home,” Van Steenis remembers. “But I didn’t think God would want anything to do with me. I’d done terrible things.”

With the help of case managers and counselors, Van Steenis learned of the deep, relentless love of God – and the freedom He was inviting her to accept. As she detoxed through the different treatment programs, she finally felt hope again. “After a month, I moved to a homeless shelter in Columbus,” Van Steenis says. “I got a job in a restaurant, and after a while, I could afford an apartment. Then I decided I wanted to work with people like me – people who struggled with substance use disorders and felt like they couldn’t get out.” She wanted to show people there are treatment options that work, support groups ready to help, and recovery community centers where you can take steps forward in your treatment.

Taking a New Step Forward

When Van Steenis began to seriously consider going to school, she kept seeing commercials for IWU on TV. “After the fourth or fifth time seeing the same commercial, I thought, ‘Okay. That’s what I’m going to do.’ I felt so much peace about it; I knew it had to be from God – so I started classes right away.”

Today, Van Steenis is in proud possession of an associate degree in human services, and she recently started IWU’s Bachelor of Social Work program, where she was able to transfer 38 credit hours from her military training and experience. “I’m not stopping until I have a master’s degree in social work,” she says with a smile.

Van Steenis works as a clinical administrative coordinator at a successful company in Columbus, and she has high hopes for future advancement. “My boss is so supportive here,” she says. “She wants me to shadow social workers here, do my clinicals here, and eventually move up to be a case manager.”

As she reflects on her life, Van Steenis sees redemption in every detail. She’s sober, has a steady job, owns a home, and – best of all – sees her daughters regularly. “My kids are so proud of me now,” she says. “I know God has me exactly where He wants me.”

This July, “freedom” has taken on a deeper meaning for Van Steenis. She recognizes the importance of our nation’s freedom and the sacrifices required to protect it. But she also knows the freedom of Christ, which has released her from bondage and invited her into extravagant love.

For if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Happy Independence Day. May freedom ring across the nations and into the centuries.

Bailey Gerber

Content Creator, IWU-National and Global

Bailey Gerber is a vocabulary geek and grammar enthusiast at IWU – National and Global, so she spends most of her time writing and reviewing webpages, video scripts, flyers, and – of course – blog articles. She loves all things involving words, and in her spare time you’ll find her buried in a book (probably with a cup of coffee in hand).

Jake Hreha

SEO Copywriter, IWU

Jake Hreha is a graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in advertising with a concentration in media presentation and design. He is passionate about design, and in his free time he enjoys cycling, traveling, and reading.

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