(A version of this post was picked up and published by The Huffington Post, which you can find linked here).
Hi! I hope everyone is having a fantastic day!
In the past couple weeks I have done something that I didn’t really plan on doing. I told people that I work with that I am in recovery. I didn’t withhold this information because I was ashamed of it (considering I write about it on here for the entire world), but I was wary of how it would impact my work life and job in general. I had been turned down for many jobs because of my past, so it was easier for me to omit that fact in my day to day life at work.
There then came a time, however, when I developed deeper relationships with some of these people and it felt weird for me to keep such a big part of me from them. I still didn’t divulge anything for awhile because there’s not really a good time to interject “HEY GUYS, BY THE WAY I SUFFER FROM ALL SORTS OF ADDICTIONS NOW LET’S BE FRIENDS.” I had decided that I would tell them, but when a reason came up for it to be appropriate to do so.
Once I let them know, the reception was way better than I had imagined. I got all kinds of support and acceptance and it made me realize just how much of a separation I was keeping between work and life. I understand that it is not appropriate in all work settings for this information to be public knowledge, but in my case I feel like it has helped those relationships improve. I wasn’t even able to share the fact that I have this blog with anyone because of the content. I feel so much better now and I am really grateful for the compassion and understanding that my friends have shown me.
I have talked about giving speeches at forums on drug abuse, and in keeping with the spirit of divulgence, I wanted to share one of those speeches with you. WARNING: THIS WILL BE A LONG POST. I want to thank everyone who reads this blog as well for your acceptance and support as I have shared my journey along the way. The road has been long, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
I want to first take the time to thank you all for having me here tonight. It is a privilege to be here to share my story, where drug use took me, and where I am today.
I am an addict. I was also on the honor roll and I graduated college in 3 years. I hope through sharing the events of the past few years I will be able to illustrate that addiction is not a discriminatory disease and just like anyone can be an addict, anyone is capable of making it through if they have the desire.
I didn’t use drugs until I was 18 years old. Until that point, I was an overachiever in school, participated in sports, and behaved like a typical child and teenager. I had friends and an active social life. When I was a senior in high school, I also got a part time job at a pharmacy and continued to work there while I attended college.
I went to St. Mary’s and when I got there, I found out that my boyfriend at the time was smoking pot. I was incredibly against drugs and I almost ended the relationship over it. I had a number of people ask me what the big deal was and so I began to question my values on the subject. I saw other people getting high and managing to succeed at school, so I decided that I would try it too.
My using escalated quickly. While other people were able to recreationally party, I found the escape it offered me too appealing. I knew I had a problem with alcohol because when I started drinking I was unable to stop. I minimized it because I was in college and “that’s what college kids do.” I had access to a lot of drugs during my time at school and I made sure to try whichever ones I could. If there was something I could take to make myself feel differently, I did.
Despite my drug use, I was still able to maintain my successes at school. With the AP credits I came in with and a heavy course load, I graduated college in 3 years. I figured the next logical step for me was to go to pharmacy school because I really enjoyed it and I was good at my job. I applied and was accepted on my first try.
I moved to Montgomery County in order to go to pharmacy school. I moved into an apartment by myself, which allowed my addiction to progress even further. Isolation is a key component of addiction and with no one to answer to I became more out of control. In 2008, while visiting friends back home, I was pulled over and charged with a DWI. I was put on probation, my license was suspended, and I was required to go to a treatment program. At this point I decided that alcohol was too conspicuous and I began taking random pills from the pharmacy. I went to my treatment program high on pills but blowing clean on the Breathalyzer. I wasn’t ready to stop.
I decided to rely more on prescription medications because they were easily accessible and they didn’t leave any odors or obvious signs of consumption like alcohol or marijuana did. That doesn’t mean that I stopped doing either of those, but I cut their use back unless I was alone in my apartment. I was under no misconceptions about the abuse potential of these drugs, but you or your children may be. Just because they are prescribed by a doctor does not mean that they can’t be abused. I refined my taste in prescription drugs and started abusing solely opiates. Because of the heavy physical dependence that they cause, I was unable to stop without experiencing severe withdrawals.
No one knew what was going on with me. My family, my friends, my school, no one. I became locked in a cycle of using for a number of reasons. In order to keep up appearances, I couldn’t afford to go through withdrawals. Even if I had wanted to, the psychological aspects of addiction never would have let me. The obsession and compulsion that goes with addiction is so crushing and consuming that I could not stop. As things got worse for me, the stress and guilt I felt became so overwhelming that the only thing I knew to do was take more drugs to escape it. I knew that things were getting out of hand but I was past the point where I could stop.
In the summer of 2009 I came back to work at the pharmacy periodically. I had built up such a tolerance that I had to take pills continuously throughout the day. When I woke up, at lunch, at home, etc. The high at this point was also almost nonexistent and I needed to use just to maintain. After work one day I received a call from the Sherriff’s office notifying me that the state had done a random inspection of our inventory and there was a severe discrepancy in the count of some of the medications. I remember feeling a horrible sense of dread as I agreed to meet with him the next day and discuss this.
To make a long story short, I denied everything. When I was told that I would only be charged with a misdemeanor for turning in the bottle that I had in my possession, I complied with the police. Shortly after that I was served with papers that charged me with everything that was missing from the store. This added up to a number of felonies that carried double digit maximum sentences. The police thought I was distributing prescription drugs because of the quantity that they found to be missing. I was asked to turn in any associates, but even if I wanted to, there was no one but me.
Needless to say I lost my job that day. I didn’t only lose my job and the keys to the store, I lost a second family. I had worked with those people almost 8 years and had betrayed the trust of every single one of them. Most of them I have not spoken to to this day. I didn’t make these choices to intentionally hurt those people I cared about, my addiction made them for me. It is extremely difficult to try and explain addiction to someone who is not an addict. The actions and decisions are contrary to common sense. If I could have willed myself to stop, I would have. It’s just not that simple.
I was still unable to tell my family or my friends. Rather than reach out and ask for help, I started buying the same drugs that I had been abusing. With no more income, however, I quickly realized that this was a habit I could not afford. So I did what I had told myself I would never do. I switched from pills to heroin.
I had told myself that I had my using under control. I would never follow the progression of pills to heroin that I had heard happen so often. I was better than that. Yet my next step was to drive to Baltimore and ask people where I could find drugs. I didn’t know anyone in Montgomery County besides my peers in pharmacy school. I didn’t know where to find drugs. I was so desperate that I asked random strangers on random streets in Baltimore where I could get a fix.
I continued this for another 3 months. I used exclusively by myself. With my pharmacy background and the internet, I taught myself how to shoot heroin. Looking back now, it is a miracle that I did not overdose and die alone in my apartment or in my car on the streets of Baltimore when driving home was too long to wait. This still wasn’t enough for me to stop. I started to sell my belongings and get cash advances on my credit cards to afford to keep using. I alienated everyone that I knew.
The overbearing sadness I felt every time I woke up is still palpable. I was so tired of living this double life day after day. I was living with so many secrets that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. One day I woke up and I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew I would have to do something because my court charges were still pending and at that point I was out of options for money. I could either continue down a road that would kill me or do something different. I started making calls to rehabs in the area. I had $15 to my name which was just enough money to put gas in my car and drive to the office. I took that as a sign.
My clean date is May 20, 2010. I have been in recovery ever since and I will be for the remainder of my life. Addiction is not a disease that goes away and that is something that I can never forget. After I got clean, I told my school about being arrested. On top of my job, I now lost my future career. The only job experience and career path that I had was no longer an option to me. Rather than go back to using, I continued to stay clean because I knew that nothing positive could come from returning to that life.
I was clean for 100 days when I had my sentencing. I had incorrectly assumed that my lack of a criminal record and the work I had put into staying clean would get me off the hook. I was wrong. I was sentenced to 12 months in jail, restitution, community service, and 5 years of probation. I was immediately taken from the court room in handcuffs while my family and friends cried or sat in disbelief. It was one of the most devastating and humbling moments of my life.
The state’s attorney happened to be in the courtroom the day I was sentenced. She reached out and asked if I would be interested in speaking at the county’s first forum on prescription drug abuse, which meant I would be able to leave jail for a night. Of course I accepted!
I came to speak at that forum on October 20th, 2010. I remember the date because it was my 5 month clean date. It was the first time I had not worn an orange jumpsuit in months. I was able to see those same friends who testified for me. I was able to hug my mom. It was one of the first times that I was able to be honest about what I had done, not only to her but also to myself.
I served 9 out of the 12 months that I was sentenced. I moved in with my sister in Montgomery County and immediately returned to working on my recovery because it was the only thing I knew how to do. I was released 9 days before my clean date and was able to celebrate a year with those people who were there for me when I didn’t know where else to go. Once back in the real world, however, I didn’t know what my next step would be. I couldn’t go back to pharmacy. I tried getting retail jobs but I was unsuccessful once they found out about my theft charges.
In September of 2011 I moved in with my boyfriend who lived in Virginia. I spent every day applying for jobs. I went to interviews and I didn’t receive calls back. One day I came across an ad for an open interview at an office right across the street from our apt. On a whim I went. It had taken me 3 months of nonstop trying, but I finally got a job as a receptionist. After another 3 months, they promoted me to office manager.
That was 2 years ago. Since then, I have changed jobs, paid back $20K in credit card debt, bought a car, and married that boyfriend. I have repaired friendships and family relationships. I started a blog that I use to help people live a healthier way of life by sharing my past and my present. I have learned who I am as a person and I can value that today. My life today is nothing like I imagined it would be, but I wouldn’t change any of it.
I am grateful for everything that has happened to me. I have learned a tremendous deal about myself and the amount of strength that I possess. I have learned that this disease is something that will stay with me for life. I do not only have to be addicted to drugs. I can become addicted to anything that changes the way that I feel. I can abuse anything that allows me to escape the moment because what addiction is for me is an escape. It is a way for me to escape the fear that comes with life.
Again, I am honored to be able to share my story with you tonight. I am grateful to be able to present a face of addiction that differs from society’s definition. I am under no illusions that this speech will stop people from using drugs. When I was a teenager I knew without a doubt that I would never be a drug addict. So I empathized with stories I heard about addiction, but they didn’t apply to me and in the end they were not a deterrent to my using. What those stories did do, though, was show me, however far back I kept them in my mind, that it is possible to get through the pain, shame, guilt, and destruction and be able to stand with my head held high. They showed me hope.
If nothing else tonight, I hope that sharing my story has offered you more information on addiction and drug abuse. For anyone personally affected by addiction in any capacity, just as listening to stories of others did for me, I offer you hope.
Thought of the day: Thank you all for reading and for all your support!!!