Meet The Founder
Hi, my name is Velvet Mangan and I am the founder of Safe Harbor Treatment Centers.
For nearly my entire life, it has been my passion to help women find peace and healing from the addictions that can take over their lives. As a recovered alcoholic woman myself, I understand the heartache and hopelessness that comes from an addiction. It was from this understanding that I created Safe Harbor: A unique and encouraging environment where women can learn to regain control of their lives and support one another. Further, I developed Safe Harbor because there was a need for a place for women to recover, a place that was not available to me as I started my own personal journey towards recovery and sobriety.
I think of the path I’ve traveled every day.
I remember every person that has come into my life, who has held out a hand in order to help get me where I am today, and I think of the miracle and grace of God. I know that when I do spend quality time in my relationship with my higher power I am so awake to the world. And I just want to be awake for all of it, even the scary moments. I just want to be awake.
My dad died when I was fourteen, and shortly after that my mom tried to commit suicide. As a result she was institutionalized, and that was how I ended up homeless. Attempts were made to place me in foster care, but I ran away because I’d heard horror stories about living in the foster homes and I just didn’t want to end up there.
The only thing that my dad left us was a car, so I took off in that and ended up homeless, living in a 1970 Buick. I did a lot of cocaine, consumed a lot of alcohol, and was sleeping with a guy who was nearly three times older than me.
I eventually became depressed, and just wanted to die. Life seemed hopeless: I was illiterate and hungry and alone. Every once in a while the family of a friend would let me stay on their couch, and I’d kind of get a reprieve. But for the most part it was a dark, dark time.
I remember going to visit my mom and driving away from that encounter feeling like I had no other option but to take my life: The addiction and the depression were that powerful, and I could not see a way out. So, I got as much drug paraphernalia as I could, and started planning my suicide.
I went on a cocaine binge for days, but just couldn’t make the pain go away. The fear that my life was going to look like this forever was just too much, I didn’t think I could live through another second of this unbearable pain. I was so desperate and my soul was so empty.
In that dark and desperate moment I thought about my Aunt Eleanor.
She was a revered in our family, and she had told me that sometimes it helped her to write to God, and so I thought, “Well, I don’t have much to lose.” I wrote this letter to God, and I simply said, “God, if you exist can you help me? I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know what my life is supposed to look like. I don’t know how to get help. I don’t know who to call.” That was it, and still I stayed up tweaking on drugs into the next day.
On a Tuesday morning, in a suicidal, sleep-deprived, and drug-fueled state I thought I would go to my high school to say good-bye to my favorite teacher. I was in special education classes, and there was a football coach named Coach White who was our teacher. He showed an interest in me, like he cared for me, and after my dad died he would always ask how I was doing. I didn’t show up at school very much, but the times I did, this coach was kind to me. He was just an amazing guy, so I wanted to say good-bye to him and thank him before I killed myself.
By then the drugs and alcohol were starting to really take their toll on my health – I weighed about 98 pounds, I had black eyes, I’d been up on coke for days so my body looked horrific. So, Coach White saw me and, to this day he still says he doesn’t know what came over him, but he grabbed me by the shirt and he said,
“You know what? You’re going to get help and you’re going to get help today.”
“I’m calling the authorities and I’m going to get you put away. I mean if you can’t help yourself, this is just not going to work.” There was no way that he was going to let me walk out the door.
He dragged me, physically dragged me, through the campus of the school. I was crying and screaming. This was the last thing I thought was going to happen, this had not been part of my plan. He’s dragging me through this campus and he opens a door. There’s this little lady with this little bob cut, and her name is Jane. She was at a place called the Stop-In Center, and it was something that the school had developed that I had not known anything about because I was hardly ever there. He interrupted a meeting that was going on at the time, and he told jane that, “if she leaves here, I want you to call the police. We need to get some help, today.” I was just stunned. I sat down and two of my friends, Shannon and Judd, were there. Judd said, “You know Velvet, you can stay with us. There’s this young people’s recovery support group on Tuesdays. You could sleep at my house.” I said all right. He was a good friend of mine. And then Shannon said, “what ever you need. Just name it.”
I remember kind of waking up to that Tuesday meeting and feeling just a glimpse of hope that there might be something good that could happen. Maybe there could be some other plan for me, because all of a sudden people cared.
All of a sudden somebody said, “We care about you and we don’t want to see you kill yourself.”
I thought, “How did they know I was going to kill myself?” I didn’t know then that this was a common feeling of depression and anxiety that all of us felt. That day I felt myself relaxing. An ease came over me. I don’t remember everything I heard in that first meeting, but I was interested, and they promised me a place I could go.
Before the second meeting, I crashed from my cocaine induced high, so they just put me on a couch, and when I woke up the following morning there were all these young people talking about being clean and sober. I had never really heard that before. I mean my uncle was an alcoholic and so he’d take me sometimes to this recovery meeting, but they were all, you know old guys. They didn’t look like me.
When Judd and Shannon took me to this other meeting, everyone did look like me, and they all seemed to laughing and having a good time. All of a sudden I felt warmth, not the anxiety I had always seemed to have. It was like somebody had put their arms around me and said “it’s going to be alright.” I didn’t fight it. That was as close to a feeling of comfort and ease that I had felt in a very, very long time.
I know now that it was God and His grace, because I didn’t even give myself time to think myself out of it.
I just let myself be carried towards sobriety, carried into one more day and then to another, and eventually I was introduced to a recovery club. And that’s where I met my friend Dave, another saving grace, who was just amazing, and he believed in me. He didn’t believe that I was this hopeless little kid. Instead he said, “go to meetings.” And all my friends said, “come with us, Velvet.” Recovery became a group effort, and I just think it was kind of a moment for all of us.
Up until that point, I had nobody I could go to, nobody who I thought could save me. Nobody outside of me could help me, and I couldn’t do anything to help myself. As a human being I felt, “I’m illiterate. My family doesn’t love me. What can I become? Obviously I don’t matter.” My body, mind, and soul had been so emotionally and spiritually abused.
I was just looking for someone to love me, just looking for someone to tell me I’d be okay. The only way out was simple surrender.
Blind faith. I was told early on, “Just keep it simple. Sweep the parking lot and pray for a miracle.” Okay. I sat at a coffee bar and ate noodles and pickled eggs every day. That was the best I could do. I just trusted these people, these strangers. I trusted that they saw something in me, and now I think God was carrying me through the whole thing, and now I know why it all happened. I think I had to see it all in hindsight, because at that time I really, really believed that I was unworthy and unlovable, and that even my mother didn’t think I mattered enough to live for.
I know now my mom did love me, but she just didn’t have it in her to take care of me. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t worth living for. When you’re a teenager, you’re fighting everybody and everything, that’s just what you do. So I had to fight everybody and everything, and then pretty soon I was just in the dark, fighting nobody but myself. Then I had to ask myself: Do I really choose to be this? Do I want to be a drug addict for the rest of my life? I had to go through that struggle, knowing that I was just fighting the dark and losing, knowing that I was done. Surrendering to pain. It was that pain that got me to that new place.
I got sober and my life became better than my wildest dreams.
I got married and I had kids. But the whole time there was still a voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t do the healing work that I needed to do with my God and myself. You know, you get married for better or for worse, for sickness and health, but nobody ever tells you to take yourself. Even in your sobriety, we are told to find someone in recovery that we want to be like, but how does on go about becoming who you want to be?
By 1993 I was serving on the board of directors of the Costa Mesa Alano Club and there was an epidemic of girls that were being violated, and just nowhere for women to go that was affordable and safe.
Sober-living homes didn’t exist for women.
I kept trying to get somebody with money to open something up, because I didn’t have money. My husband was a cable man, I was a failed hairdresser with two little kids, so it was not going to be me, it had to be somebody else. I was begging people to do something for these young girls, to get them off the streets and give them a safe place to go. Everybody said, “No, no, there’s no money in it. It’s high maintenance. You know, girls are just too much trouble.” I was so disheartened.
But God kept giving me these visions, like this dining room table with six girls sitting at it, and they were smiling and they were healthy and they looked put together, like they were ready to go to work or go to school. I could not shake that vision. I knew that I had to do something; I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. I just kept asking God what would He have me do, how could I help.
One day my thought was to open up the newspaper and kind of look around.
I found a two-bedroom house for rent, and it was right around the corner from the Alano Club, so I knew if the girls didn’t have cars they could walk. I thought, “Okay, I’ll just call this person who’s renting the house.” I told him about my vision, everything about what I wanted to do. I figured the worst thing that can happen is he’ll think I’m crazy, so I just told him my whole plan. The guy goes, “Velvet, I really would love to support you in this. I think what you want to do is great. I can waive the deposit. You just come up with eight hundred dollars to start.” And all I could say was, “well, thank you so much,” because eight hundred dollars was like a million dollars for me. At that time I was barely able to pay my rent.
My husband came home from work and I told him about what I had done, and he told me “you’re not going to believe it, honey.”
“Today, a guy offered me eight hundred dollars for my van so he can go on the road with his band. I believe in you. I know that you’re supposed to do this.”
“I see the way you help women, I see what you do and your commitment, and I want to help you. I want you to do this.”
So he fearlessly sold his van, and by the end of the week, there were six girls in this beautifully furnished house. People heard about what I had done and what was happening, and they completely helped me.
That was the beginning of Safe Harbor. And now Safe Harbor is one of the most respected women’s programs in the country.
I get referrals from the greatest of the greats, and we’ve had thousands of success stories. I was twenty-three years old when I started that house. It’s an amazing story of what the mind of God can do it you just step out of yourself to help somebody else.
Despite that success I still couldn’t allow myself to be a work in-progress, I wasn’t willing to grow in public anymore. So I started to internalize the grief of daily living, and that’s when I started to make mistakes. After thirteen years of sobriety I went bankrupt, and was very embarrassed about that. I made bad decisions – almost like I was getting high again. I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment and I didn’t know where to go with it. I was filled with resentment and self-pity. I thought, “I have all these years. I’ve earned my right to have my grievances.” I became so depressed that I created this really painful disease in my body. They thought I had cancer because my muscles would seize up so hard, based on fear and restriction.
Today, I know I’m a spiritual person and I know the only way a girl like me lives is through my relationship to God, by being close to my higher power.
I know that’s my nature, I know that’s my purpose, but at that point in my life I moved far, far away from God. The pain of sobriety, the pain of being in my own skin, became too much for me handle. I internalized that pain, and I made myself sick. Then I became so fearful I developed agoraphobia. I continued to create suffering in my life, in my sobriety: Once more I was rejecting myself. Who I was just wasn’t good enough, and so I couldn’t get close to God anymore. I just felt so shut down.
After about nine months of suffering, the doctor said, “Why don’t you just take some Soma?” I took it and within four months I was completely strung out. I was strung out on fentanyl patches, morphine, liquid morphine, Dilaudid – I had a box full of every pharmaceutical thing I could get. Every day I lay in bed, and there I was again in the dark, totally suicidal, and I understood what I had done. The voice in me was low, but I could hear it, saying, “You relapsed, and you gave up a lot, but you know what you have to do.” But there was that bigger part of me, the ego part that had taken over, that said, “No you’re sick, and screw recovery and screw all those people, because they screwed you over.” All that sick demented thinking came and took over my life. That went on for about four months.
I was lying in my room, wanting to take my life again. My little seven-year-old son came into the room, and he lay down on my bed and he started to sob. He said, “Mama, when you believed in God you were healthy, and as soon as you stopped believing in God you got sick.” At that moment all those clouds, everything that I was trying to convince myself was there, all went away. I could not question the truth when it came from him.
I got up from my bed, I gave him a hug, and I told him, “I love you, son, and I’m going to get better.” I walked down the hall and I asked my husband, “Is it time for me to take my fentanyl patches off?” He said, “Yeah, baby, it’s time.” And so I took off my patches and detoxed like you can’t even imagine.
I was going to have to go to the recovery group that I had been going to for all these years and raise my hand as a newcomer, and be willing to give up everything that I thought I was or wasn’t. I did it because I wanted my relationship with God. I knew happiness, I knew freedom, I knew that when I did pray for a miracle and swept that parking lot, my life was comforted. I just wanted that simplicity again. I wanted to go back to the hope and the freedom of knowing that just being sober today was good enough. Just being happy and smiling and laughing with my friends on the back porch was enough. Being a mother to my child, where we could hold hands was enough. I just wanted that again.
And here I am again.
What I know about that time is that I turned my back on God. God never turned his back on me.
I did it myself. I turned my back on love, I turned my back on faith, I turned my back on the simplest things. I let my ego get the best of me and suffocate that beauty that God gave me. For fun and for free, God gave me a life beyond my wildest dreams. I didn’t do much to get it. I just swept the parking lot and prayed for a miracle every day.
I think a lot of times we just adopt everything our parents thought, everything our family of origin thought. Violence was a big one for me. I was beat up a lot when I was a little girl. I was taught to be violent. That was the only thing I was ever good at. I was completely empowered by being able to go up to the craziest person there was in school and fight a fair fight, and be known as somebody that was good at that. That was a big thing that I had to learn, that I didn’t need to physically protect myself anymore.
And my mom, bless her heart, she was an addict, and so her life was nothing but violence. People beat up on her, so she did the same to me. Or my dad, who was married to another woman and had his own family – he just got my mom pregnant. So I come from a lot of shame. I had to get rid of a lot of ideas I had about me, and I did that through people lovingly teaching me different ways of coping.
The second time in recovery was more about committing to me.
Like saying to myself, “I’m done rejecting you. Yeah, everybody rejected you and you kind of kept that going. But no more.” I kept abandoning me, looking for someone to save me. I wanted somebody to tell me that I’m enough, that I’ve made it and that I’m good enough. I just came to a place where it was like, “you know, God made you the way you are. You are enough. You’re way more than enough.” I committed to not letting my head go on and on and on about what it is that I don’t have or what it is I’m not.
I’ve worked on training my mind to believe in higher things and to live in a place that’s the highest good for everybody. If I could inspire one human being, and love another human being, one-tenth as much as much as I’ve been loved and inspired by others – that is all I want to do. So I’m committed to loving God, loving my fellow man, but first loving me. If I make mistakes or I don’t achieve what I want to achieve … well, you know, tomorrow is another day. I’m learning to just be gentle with myself. I’m learning to really know that God is love and that if I love, that’s enough. That’s the commitment that I’ve made to myself.
But I had to go back to recovery and learn that. You don’t get thirteen years sober, and then relapse, with newcomers saying to you “keep coming back” without … I mean, that’s going to hurt. That’s going to require a lot of faith in God, a real relationship with God. Some of my friends who relapsed never made it back. Some of them are dead. This guy, he had seventeen years and he lost them. He relapsed and he came back in and he said to me, “you know, Velvet, your value is not how many days you’ve been sober. Your value is your experience, strength, and hope.” Because he told me that, and other people told me that, it made it feel like it was not a race that I had lost. I had just forgotten, and so I was able to come back and not be so ashamed.
The thing I’ve always been most afraid of was to be alone, and rejected, and disliked. In my second life of sobriety I had to make a commitment that it didn’t matter what the outside world said.
I was so pleased with pleasing others in my first sobriety because I’d never pleased anybody before. I was so excited about that, and it became what I did, that’s why I didn’t allow myself to talk to anymore. That’s why I didn’t allow myself to be ugly or have anger; I repressed, and I suffered, and then of course that repression took on an outward and physical manifestation, and then … it’s just that whole cycle.
But I learned I could survive the thing I was most afraid of,
and if you don’t learn that, you’re never going to make it. You’re haunted. Those thirteen years, I was never ever in my truest place as I am right here, right now, today. Because when I got up this morning, I did my daily reprieve. I said, “God, this is your deal. And yeah, I’m scared, but let me serve, get my ego out of the way so that I can best serve, serve and keep my desire to be liked out of the way. Let me be of my greatest use.”