Mary Smith’s Fresh Beginning at Gateway

Mary Smith and her wife, Jackie DeCaro-Smith

(December 2022)

For Gateway Nursing student Mary Smith, now 35, college is the proverbial “three-times-a-charm” experience.

Mary came out at 16, but her family had trouble accepting her sexual orientation. After graduating high school, she entered college, majoring in accounting. She completed three semesters, but began struggling emotionally and dropped out of school.

“Alcohol became a problem when I was 18,” according to Mary, who later turned to drugs, too. “It was hard to be who I was, when I was.” After one serious binge, she found herself in a psychiatric ward. “I realized I would die If I kept going like this.”

Mary entered a six-week inpatient rehab program in Connecticut and later moved to Florida, where she continued her recovery. She enrolled in Palm Beach State College and met her now-wife, Jackie DeCaro-Smith, also in recovery, while they were both working as techs in a treatment center there.

Mary, who received the NewAlliance Foundation Nursing Fellowship, hopes to graduate in 2024 and continue to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She plans to work as an R.N. in a drug and alcohol treatment facility.

In 2012, she developed bilateral uveitis, which eventually caused near-blindness in her left eye and forced her to drop out of college again. Mary returned to Connecticut and started working at Trader Joe’s. In 2019, she had an “aha” moment. “I realized I was meant to help people like me, people who had reached the end of their rope. That’s when I decided to become a nurse.”

With the support of Jackie, now a Wallingford postal worker, Mary started taking courses at Gateway. “Because of my visual impairment, I have to take things slower,” she said. Still, she is determined to cross the finish line – graduation in 2024.

Mary is grateful for her wife’s unconditional love and support. “Jackie’s the most understanding person I know. This is a journey we’re on together.” Mary also believes that her challenges, including her continuing recovery and visual impairment, were transformative. “Sobriety is a gift,” she said. “Without that, I wouldn’t have the life – or the future – I have now.”

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