I went to an open-door dorm party on a college campus,” Dana said. “Every single room had cocaine or heroin. I tried heroin for the first time, and I honestly thought I was going to die. I did way too much. I swore I’d never do it again.”
But she did.
Dana Brown was always a girl on the run. A string of toxic relationships and horrific childhood events had Dana more than ready to leave her home state after high school.
“I’d been horribly ridiculed through school,” Dana remembered. “I was raped at age fourteen. I had two abortions. I had horrible relationships where I was usually the only one trying. I decided to leave and try to escape — really from myself. Little did I know I was going with me.”
She didn’t look back as North Carolina disappeared in the rearview mirror. With a bit of money in her pocket and the desire to prove she could do something good with her life, Dana headed for New York. There, she moved in with her boyfriend and landed a job at a graphic design firm.
Things were going her way. Then she collided with heroin at a college party.
It was the escape Dana longed for: Heroin numbed every painful memory. But numbness quickly turned to physical pain as Dana’s body literally ached for her next fix. With heroin in the driver’s seat, Dana Brown’s days took on measured predictability.
“Each day, my motivation was to make money, buy drugs and get high,” Dana said. “I repeated that cycle several times a day.”
No longer able to hold down a steady job, Dana needed to earn coin quickly to feed her addiction. The only way to squash the withdrawal sickness was to buy more heroin.
And the fastest way to make cash was prostitution.
“When you know what will make you feel better, you do whatever you have to do to get what you need,” Dana confessed. “As soon as I got up in the morning, I’d go down and walk the street before the withdrawals got so bad I couldn’t do anything.”
Dana racked up a file of misdemeanors and a felony. She was arrested and served a four-month prison sentence, but left still battling addiction.
Mom Knows Best
“When I got out of jail, I had nowhere to go, no winter clothes and no desire to prostitute,” Dana said. “I went and borrowed a bag of heroin from my dealer, used it and checked myself into a detox. Then, I called my mom and told her I was tired.”
Dana’s mother sent her a plane ticket. Traveling with only the clothes on her back, Dana returned to North Carolina in time to spend Christmas with her family.
After Christmas, Dana’s mom asked her to stay a while longer. When she agreed, her mom threw in a caveat: Dana would have to attend church three times a week with a family member.
“She’d never been like that before,” Dana said. “But it’s like she took the opportunity to take charge, and she was like, ‘You can go with me, or you can go with your sister, but you’re going to church.’ “
Dana chose to go to church with her sister.
When God Means Business
Dana, still going through withdrawals, could not sit still during the sermons and walked out several times. Finally, Dana’s sister asked her to stay seated long enough to finish the sermon, and then they’d leave together.
“At the end of the sermon, the pastor asked, ‘If you died tonight, would you want to know you’d go to Heaven?’“ Dana remembered. “I thought that was a logical question and the logical answer was yes, so I raised my hand. Really, I thought I was just playing along. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know that?”
But God wasn’t playing. He had a plan for Dana, and it didn’t include remaining a slave to addiction.
Dana prayed with a church member, went home and heard her sister tell their parents she “got saved.” Still not sure what that meant, Dana went to bed feeling no different.
New Day, New Dana
But the next morning, Dana woke up and made her bed. That’s when she knew something was different. She’d never cared about making her bed before.
She stood looking at the neat arrangement of pillows and bed linens and realized she had slept all night for the first time in months. The desire to steal her mom’s television, sell it and jump on a train to New York was gone — replaced for the first time with clear, rational thoughts.
Dana felt the presence of God fill her room.
“It was like God just slammed His hand on the bed and said, ‘I am God,’“ Dana remembered. “And I was just like, ‘Yes, You are.’“
Dana no longer felt physically ill from withdrawals. She had no desire to hunt down a bag of heroin. Instead, she felt released from the shackles of addiction.
“The Lord delivered me,” Dana said. “Everyone could tell. It doesn’t happen like that for everyone, and I don’t know how to explain to them why. But I know that God can free. He wants everyone free. He freed me. It still amazes me today.”
Life and Freedom
A pastor at a local church took a chance on Dana and gave her a job.
“This pastor mentored me for seven years,” Dana said. “While I worked at his church, he asked my opinion about outreach and ministry, which instilled value in me. I knew I had value vertically with God, but I never knew I had value horizontally with people.”
While ministering at the church, Dana met and married Mark Brown. Eventually, the couple moved to Virginia where they adopted three children from foster care — a miracle in itself, considering Dana’s record.
But God still wasn’t finished working in Dana’s life. He planted a vision in her heart of ministering directly to those wanting freedom from addiction.
Born from Dana’s desire to show others the difference Jesus made in her own life, Mark and Dana opened Zoe Freedom Center.
“Zoe” means “life” in Greek.
“Not just life as we think of it — living or being alive,” Dana explained. “But the word ‘zoe’ means eternal life, never-ending life, God’s life.”
By means of Life Meetings, Bible studies and peer coaching, Zoe Freedom Center aims to show others that one good decision can set those struggling with addiction on the path to healing.
“God has a unique plan for your life,” Dana said. “Part of that plan is freedom from addiction. Jesus died for your freedom. You can achieve that and there is such a good life waiting.”
Dana’s life stands as proof that Jesus did, indeed, come to set the captive free. Now she’s pointing the way for others to follow.
Dana chronicles her journey in her book, “Desperate For a Fix: If You Only Knew How One Good Decision Could Change Your Life.”