Most people who know me would say I am a people person. It is no surprise to me that I spend my days doing what I love, helping people. As I continue my graduate studies in addiction counseling, I thank God that I have been chosen to impact the lives of so many hurting and hopeless amid their addictions. I just never thought it would take surviving my own battle with heroin to qualify me for the position.
As I begin to tell you my personal story of opioid addiction, I wish I could say that my addiction bloomed out of some sort of accident, where too many pain pills were prescribed, and I was just an innocent victim of circumstance. But sadly, that is not my story. You see, my addiction did not take hold of me until my late twenties and worse yet, the choice to use heroin was ultimately mine; a choice I will live with the rest of my life.
As the middle child in the family, I was never old enough to do anything and always old enough to know better. I battled with finding my place within the family, never really feeling like I fit in. My relationship with my mother was a volatile one, mainly because we are so much alike. We were both stubborn, opinionated, and strong-willed. Growing up, we were not a loving or affectionate family, and I struggled with grasping what real love was for most of my life. My mother wrestled with this too because she moved us from one bad relationship to the next. Eventually, my mother, in her search for love, married a man who emotionally and physically abused her. At the age of 11, that man turned his attention on me and sexually assaulted me. I was the only one of my siblings who was abused by this man, confirming for me that I was less than and not worthy of love. That is when I realized how alone and powerless I really was. Sadly, my mother did not believe my abuse, and I felt abandoned with no one to protect me.
When I was 13 years old, feeling defeated and seeking reprieve from the pain and abuse, I swallowed my sister’s entire bottle of Darvocet and was hospitalized for psychiatric care. I didn’t tell anyone else about the abuse until I was in my thirties. Even while in the hospital as a teen, I was convinced my confession of abuse would fall on deaf ears. After my release from the hospital, that man never touched me again, and soon after he moved out to never return. Sadly, the shame and guilt I felt as a little girl followed me like a shadow for decades to come.
I fell in love with a boy who mirrored the men of my mother’s life when I was only 15. My boyfriend was very abusive, both physically and emotionally. I can recall an argument when we were only 16 years old, where my boyfriend wearing steel-toed boots, kicked my ankle so hard that it shattered instantly. My lack of self-esteem and longing to be loved propelled me to lie and cover up his abuse for seven more years. At the age of 21, broken and beaten, I left that relationship and began bouncing from one man to another. I was still searching for love, even if only for the night.
When I was 23, I thought I finally found the love I longed for and got married. We had three beautiful children together. But as the next eight years past, my husband spent less time with me and more time on the internet. I became invisible among the women of the pornography sites, and I found myself feeling alone and abandoned in my marriage. I began going out with my single girlfriends, drinking far too much, and looking for love once again, finding it in the arms of a man who was lost on his own journey. It was this man who introduced me to the devil that hijacked my mind, my body, and my life. It was this man who introduced me to heroin. From that very first shot, my heart felt no pain, no shame, no guilt; my heart felt nothing, and that numbness became the love I had longed for. This is the part of my story that many people find so hard to comprehend. I grew up in the “Say NO to DRUGS” era. I was an educated, professional woman who was not ignorant to the damage and devastation that drug use leaves in its wake. All I can honestly say is that the pain in my heart was a weight so much stronger than I thought I could carry, and I was willing do whatever it took to make it stop. Little did I know that this was just the preamble to my pain and suffering; I was about to experience more pain and devastation than I had ever known.
I saw myself unworthy of anyone’s affection and I hated myself so much that I walked away from that marriage and my babies, finding solace for my pain in the drug that consumed every part of me. I wish I could say that my children were enough to give me the strength to keep fighting for them, but sadly I cannot. Heroin became my lover, my best friend, my family, and my children. I was the shell of a person I once knew, and as the world passed by, I stood frozen in time with nothing but heroin and my self-loathing to keep me company.
Numerous stents in psychiatric facilities, rehabs, and a six–month stay in the county jail were not enough to tame my addiction to heroin. For the next five years, every minute of my life was lived for one purpose: to numb my pain and bury the shame that I carried from one poor choice to the next. One July morning, no longer recognizable as myself, and a slave to drug that I hated and loved, I walked deep into the woods and gave myself a lethal dose of the drug that owned my every breath. Waking from a coma eleven days later, I found myself crying inconsolably. I cried not because of gratitude for being alive. I cried because I had failed. I had failed at life and I had failed at death. I could not break free from heroin’s prison and death seduced me as the only answer to silence my suffering.
Thank God that is not where my story ends. This May (2019) I celebrate eight years clean and sober from opiates. I am so grateful for my life coming full circle and blessed to give to others what has been given to me: a hope and a chance at a better life. I am married again to a wonderful man who encourages me to reach for the stars and never give up on myself. I have found the love that I longed for, not in another person, but in myself. I wish I could say that my recovery has led to the healing of my family, but that is not my story. Addiction is a family disease, and everyone has their own scars to bear. My family is no different. The relationship with my mother has improved, and we love and accept each other for who we are, not for who we want each other to be. Forgiveness has not come easily for either of us, but we have moved past our hurts and resentments.
This is why I am sharing my story. The ones who have suffered the most are my children. They are the innocent victims of heroin. I have not seen or spoken to my children in over ten years and not a day goes by that I don’t long to have them in my life. Until that day comes, I continue to do everything I can to be the woman and the mother they can be proud of. The one lesson that everyone in addiction learns is that you cannot run away from your choices; they follow you wherever you go. Nonetheless, if there is breath in your lungs and a heart beating in your chest, then there is hope, and hope is the first step in recovery.