An Inspiring Story of Recovery & Advocacy

For this week’s blog, we continue on the theme of recognizing women in recovery for Women’s History Month, this week’s guest blogger is Chekesha Kay Ellis, the Founder of Chase No More, an organization that provides direct support and community outreach to individuals suffering from substance use disorder.

Kay has her own personal recovery journey and has a passion for helping others suffering from substance use disorder and has made it her life’s work to help others.  She has detailed her story in a book titled, “A Life of Kayos: My Opioid Journey Through Hell, Hope & Healing". Kay will also be featured in an ABC and PBS documentary, "Listen to the Silence Women Trapped in the Opioid Crisis" airing on May 21, as well as a guest speaker at Rowan College on April 12.

Below Kay shares her personal story of addiction, recovery and the advocacy work she does today.


By Chekesha Kay Ellis

My name is Chekesha Kay Ellis and this is my story. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew

up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I was raised in the 1980s and 90’s in a strict Christian household. My father was a Pastor and my mother his first lady. My mother used to say "a woman's work is never done". I had a load of responsibilities, curfews and allowances. I was never interested in any drugs. I had no desire to drink or smoke.

In 2000, I was a 27-year-old professional New York model and had a great job as a social worker in Philadelphia. I fell down some stairs at work, and this work-related injury led to knee surgery, where I was given a prescription for a powerful opioid that led to a nine-year addiction to Lorcet Hydrocodone.

The doctor prescribed one pill every four to six hours and I took them as prescribed but then at some point, I noticed that I liked how they made me feel. I felt so powerful, so I thought, you know what? Let me take two more. Let me see if I can heighten the feeling and that is how my addiction was born. I began to realize that I had a serious problem when I began to get very sick. I was vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, extreme restlessness and body aches, irritability and paranoia. This was in the early 2000’s when there were no warning labels on pill bottles that told of the possibility of dependence. 

I noticed that when I ran out of pills I would start feeling sick again but when I got more pills the symptoms disappeared.  I FELT GOOD AGAIN! I didn't want to feel awful so I began to "doctor shop" and "pharmacy hop". If I lost a doctor because they found out that I was visiting other doctors for the same opioid prescription I would get two or three more doctors to replace them. I learned the system and managed to slip through the cracks. I had close to 65 doctors over my nine years of addiction and possessed thousands of painkillers a month. Throughout the entire time of my addiction, I didn't know I was addicted.

I began to isolate myself and became depressed. I found comfort in nodding off on my couch watching Lifetime and binge-eating. I only went out to doctor shop or to the pharmacy. My life became so consumed with my addiction. My parents, close friends and coworkers, had no clue what I was going through. Not even my pastor father, but my mom kind of had an inkling that something was going on with me, but she couldn't predict it.

My life was in a haze. Every day I would say to myself I'm going to get my life back, I can't live like this anymore. Nine years passed. I used to sit in my car and watch people come and go and wish that my life could be normal again. I couldn't even remember what my life looked like before opioids.

Sometimes in our darkest moments, we find redemption. Mine came in the form of an “Aha moment”. A moment of sudden insight or discovery- in one of these moments you know you have to risk it all". I knew I was fighting for my life.

The first moment was in 2009. I started losing my hearing. I thought I had an ear infection at first, but I was going deaf. I lost my hearing in eight months.  I later learned that I went deaf from opioid toxicity. One day I woke up and couldn't hear at all. I was deaf for four years.

The second moment came after the DEA was knocking on doors looking for me because they thought I was running a prescription drug ring. I knew I would have to quit cold turkey in jail. That was my biggest fear. I had reached rock bottom. My back was up against the wall. I was desperate to get my life back. I was deaf, suicidal, depressed and paranoid.  I weighed a bit over 90 pounds.

One hot steamy summer night in August of 2010. I gave up my fight. I surrendered everything to God. I prayed on my hands and knees to be delivered. I texted my parents and told them I need help. I can't live like this anymore. The very next day, my parents came to my home with a Bible and prayers and my dad said, baby doll. You have to surrender everything and realize that you cannot do this alone…

Recovery is so AMAZING ! Like Luther Vandross sings in his 80s ballad So Amazing!

I had my first baby in 2012 and I was still deaf at that time. I underwent cochlear implant surgery in 2013.  I heard my baby's voice for the very first time when he was two years old. His first words were bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, it was a very humbling, emotional experience. My son will soon be 11 years old. 

This August I will celebrate thirteen years of recovery. On my recovery journey, I travel with these tools in my recovery backpack. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Give yourself favor.  When you step into the ring of recovery your circle will change. Be okay with that.

When a season begins with someone, embrace it, when it ends say goodbye and keep moving forward. Don't chase people, places or opportunities. What is meant for you will be. Take care of your mental health. Follow people in real life and in person who genuinely love and support you. People who understand your sacrifices and your journey.

People need to see people like me in active recovery because addiction does not discriminate.

I remain humble and take one day at a time. If one person can learn from what I went through then it was all exactly as it was supposed to be. Please remember that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed. We do recover!

Today I am actively involved in numerous advocacy efforts.  I am a Peer Recovery Specialist and a National Ambassador for Shatterproof.  I have been featured in both print and broadcast media outlets around the world, including Google, YouTube, Today Magazine, Jerseys Best magazine, The Star-Ledger, Bucks County Courier Times, and featured in Penn State University ‘The Story Powered Initiative’ documentary about addiction and recovery.

I also have partnered with supermarkets to do meet and greet events and have distributed over 75 boxes of Naloxone in sixteen supermarkets in Pennsylvania, and was also honored as a local "Shero" for my community service by IHeart Radio and Philadelphia WDAS radio.


Notice: This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ). This information should not be construed as legal advice from the author or PDFNJ. Please consult your own attorney before making any legal decisions

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