I publicly identify as a person in long-term recovery. My recovery affords me the ability to be a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a sponsor, a counselor, a business owner, and an advocate. It is truly everything to me and the most important facet of my life.
I believe that I was born an addict, as I never remember a time that I wasn’t lying, stealing, and hating myself, even as a young child. I always wanted to change my reality, and I wanted to be anyone other than who I was. I started using alcohol at a very young age. I quickly graduated to marijuana, psychedelics, and cocaine. Those drugs never seemed to really fill the hole inside my soul; they never really “worked” for me. In 1991, at age 20 and a student at Penn State, I discovered heroin. The whole game changed for me. To put it simply, heroin filled that hole inside of me. I remember thinking, “this must be how ‘normal’ people feel; I just need a drug to feel this way.” Heroin consumed my life for the better part of the next 23 years. It became my best friend, my lover, my confidante, my mother, my father, my shelter in the cold…my everything. I chose heroin over my parents, my siblings, my friends, my education, and all the opportunities life had to offer. My life, once so open and full of possibilities, narrowed down to my personal hell of cycling in and out of inpatient facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and jails all over the state of Pennsylvania.
In September of 2001, I woke up one morning in the room I was renting by the day in Kensington. I did not want to open my eyes and face what I knew was coming that day. I did not want to live that way anymore. I was tired of being homeless and doing what I had to do to get my next bag. I truly experienced what it meant to be using against my will. I did not want to use, but I HAD to use. That day, I entered treatment, and everything changed – for a period of several years. I was a model patient at this facility, and I immersed myself into both my therapeutic process and into a 12-step fellowship. Once discharged, my life only got better and better. I was able to finally complete my bachelor’s degree, buy a home, and have two wonderful children. Throughout this time, I continued to attend outpatient therapy and meetings. Years went by, and the memories of my years in active addiction began to fade, as one aspect of our disease is that of amnesia. Unless we actively remember what it was like for us, it is easy to forget. I forgot what it felt like to be dope sick. I forgot how much I hated myself. I forgot that a 12-step fellowship helped me learn to save my life. I forgot that I am an addict. So, the inevitable happened. I used.
As quickly as that relapse began, it spiraled out of control. My life became a living hell again, and this time I dragged my two young children through my addiction. When I say it got bad, it was worse than that. I was not a good mother; as a matter of fact, I was a terrible mother. I was there, but I was not present. I did not put their needs before my own. I did not give them the childhood they deserved. My two beautiful, perfect children were forced to fend for themselves. It breaks my heart when I reflect on this time; however, where there is life, there is hope.
Once again, I was given another opportunity to get clean, and I grabbed on with both hands and refused to let go. My clean date is June 7, 2014. For me, this means I have been free from all mood and mind-altering chemicals on a continuous basis. That is the pathway I have chosen for myself, though I believe all pathways are welcome and valid.
This is why I’m sharing my story. Today, I truly live a life that is beyond my wildest dreams, and have once again been afforded boundless opportunities, all because I stay clean. I wake up every day full of gratitude and excited to see what the day will bring. I have sole custody of my children, and I am an active participant in their lives. I love them fiercely and without reservation. They are survivors of the opioid crisis as well, and they have forgiven me. I have a wonderful husband named John, who is also in long-term recovery. He is the love of my life and the man of my dreams.
We have built a wonderful life together. We own and operate a network of recovery homes in Montgomery County called “Another Day Clean,” where we can use our personal experiences to help others. We also run a non-profit foundation where we help families affected by addiction. In 2019, I graduated with a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Immaculata University. I have a wonderful sponsor and the privilege of being able to sponsor other women in this process. Today, my entire life begins and ends with recovery. All my friends are in recovery. My recovery is everything to me. Everything. “There is hope, we do recover.”