I first started experimenting with different prescription pain medications, marijuana, and alcohol while in middle school. When I got to high school, I didn’t stay connected with many of the friends I had grown up with, and began using anything that made me feel different. Sometimes I would use a drug and it would make me feel worse, other times I would use the same drug and feel like nothing could ever hurt me. I just wanted to have a good time. I was so self-conscious, I would do anything to loosen up a bit.
Not too long after I began my college career, I got the phone call no one ever wants to receive. A good friend of mine had passed away overnight from an overdose. I wish I could say the bad news stopped there, but a couple months later, another friend passed away from a heroin overdose. Fast forward a few more months, and a couple more people were gone. I began to feel completely alone, and eventually, the drugs I was using stopped working. So, I found a new drug that could numb me from all the pain I was going through—heroin.
After several years of detachment and numbness, I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. I had destroyed relationships with my family members and friends, gotten kicked out of the university I was attending, and had become a willing participant in my own misery. I knew I wasn’t happy, and I knew if I didn’t stop shooting up dope every day, then I was going to die. My boyfriend at the time had checked into rehab, and when he got out, he took me to my first 12-step meeting. It took me many, many attempts to get clean and stay clean, but finally, I did it. Along the way, I had to focus on myself and other people in recovery, because even seeing an old friend would make me fiend for just one more bag. I had to completely re-learn how to live, because I didn’t know how to without using drugs.
I stayed with that same 12-step fellowship until I had a little over a year clean, then made the personal decision to look for other ways to recover because it just didn’t seem to be working for me anymore. When I got clean, I began building back meaningful relationships with my family, who became my biggest support system.
Most people see me and would never expect me to be a recovering heroin addict. I came from a loving family with both parents, I got good grades all the way through high school, I stayed out of trouble with the law, and quite frankly—I am not what the “stereotypical” addict would look like. I participated in a lot of forums, spoke to women in local county jails, and even worked with MRN to get legislations passed to provide more help for those in recovery. I can’t tell you how many addicts would approach me afterwards and ask for my contact information and told me how much I had inspired them. That had to be one of the greatest gifts I was given in recovery, the ability to give hope to anyone who felt hopeless.
As I do believe awareness and education programs are an asset, I don’t think anything could have prevented me from choosing the path I did. In a way, I feel fortunate, because without my past, I don’t know if I would appreciate this beautiful life I have today quite as much. I now have over two years clean from heroin. Within the next year, I will both graduate from college with a BA in Operations Management, along with get married to the love of my life/best friend. I am able to maintain relationships with my friends and family, and be held accountable. Recovery has given me the opportunity to pay tribute to all of my friends who have passed away as a direct or indirect result of addiction through enacting and pursuing change, both within myself and the community.
I think addiction will always change a person’s life—whether it’s through death, recovery, or something in between. And even if someone is simply affected by another person’s addiction, it can still change their life for better or for worse. The bottom line is, when we share our experiences with others, we also share hope for other addicts who are still suffering.