On November 21, 2010 I woke up underneath a bridge for the last time.  I had spent more time than I ever planned sleeping outdoors, getting arrested and lying to everyone I loved.  November 22 is the day my life started over again.  It was the day my life truly began.  A lot happened leading up to that day, and it all started during my childhood.

I grew up in a household where there wasn’t a lot of parental guidance.  I have four siblings and we spent a great deal of time taking care of and looking out for each other.  There was a lot of emotional and physical abuse in the house.  My mother was an alcoholic and so were the many different boyfriends she brought home.  None of those things made me an alcoholic.  There were many years where I felt uncomfortable inside.  I moved around a lot and that made it difficult to make and keep friends.  Between the circumstances of school and home I began to feel lonely.  I had a lot of pain trapped inside of me and I had no idea how to remove it.  I remember being ten years old and making the decision that I would never use drugs or alcohol.  Again, nothing that happened to me during my childhood made me an alcoholic.  The reason why I say that is because I spent so many years trying to figure out exactly why I became an alcoholic, only to learn that it didn’t really matter.  What matters is that I am an alcoholic.

When I was twelve I met someone at school who had a long history of depression.  She used to cut herself and she said it made her feel better.  I had nothing to lose, so I went home to try it out.  I remember feeling a sense of relief I had never felt before in my life.  It was as if the pain I was causing myself physically, immediately took away all the emotional pain I was hiding, but only temporarily.

As the years went by I began to find different other things that temporarily took away that pain.  I knew some people who were smoking pot at the time, and I desperately wanted to try it.  I didn’t want to go back on the promise that I made to myself a couple years back, but it was only pot.  The first time I smoked pot it wasn’t a great experience, but for some reason I couldn’t wait to try it again.  The next time was more successful and slowly it became a part of my daily life.  I liked feeling outside of myself.  I liked that for a short time I didn’t feel pain, or fear, or anything at all.

Next thing I knew, the people around me were drinking.  Even though I said I would never try drinking I figured out a way to make it work.  I would only have one, and I wouldn’t do it all the time.  There was NO way I was going to end up like my mother. I really liked the way I felt when I put alcohol in my body.  It made me feel like I fit in better, I was funnier, and a much better dancer.  I would keep it under control and I wouldn’t let it get to the point where it was a problem.

One thing led to another, and before I knew it I had found cocaine.  After that it was pills.  After that it was heroin.  It is easy to look back and see how my addiction progressed over time.  I remember waking up one day and feeling like I had the flu.  I told my boyfriend at the time that I wasn’t feeling well and he gave me a Percocet and said it would make me feel better.  That was a huge moment for me because I started to realize that something was wrong.  Before that point, I didn’t know you could be physically addicted to drugs.  I was pretty young and I didn’t know better.

One day I was hanging out with a friend and she had gotten involved in heroin.  Another one of those things I said I would never do happened.  I didn’t have any pills, so I asked her to let me try some of her heroin.  I’ll never forget her response.  She told me that heroin would ruin my life.  She then outlined every bad thing that would happen to me.  She told me that I would lose my family and my friends.  She told me I would become homeless and that I would never be able to finish school.  She told me I would become a prostitute and that nothing in the world would matter to me other than heroin if I put it in my body.  I laughed her off and quickly explained that nothing like those things would ever happen to me.  With that exchange, for the very first time, I put a needle in my arm.  I remember in that moment feeling like I had finally found what I had been searching for my whole entire life.  I immediately felt overwhelming peace and comfort.  I felt like everything would finally be okay.  I remember knowing in that moment if I could just do heroin everyday for the rest of my life, I would be just fine.

Fast forward three months, everything my friend told me would happen, happened.  I was homeless, jobless, dropped out of school and was doing questionable things for money.  I couldn’t believe where my life was heading.  I was involved in full on denial at this point and nobody could tell me different.  After that friend of mine went to jail, I ended up homeless and things continued to get worse.  It got to the point where I would do anything and hurt anyone in order to get what I needed.  I remember one winter day my father came out to Worcester to visit me. I was sleeping under a bridge at the time, although I told him I had an apartment across the city.  I didn’t have a winter jacket and I was wearing slippers.  My father was horrified.  I assured him that everything was fine and I just needed a little bit of money for clothes.  I remember him, on the brink of tears tell me he would bring me to the store and buy me clothes.  I told him I just needed the money and I had already lined up a ride.  As soon as he handed me the money, I left the Dunkin Donuts and didn’t return.  These were the types of things my addiction made me do.  I didn’t want to hurt my father, but I could not stop.

Over the next few years I tried a number of different things to achieve long-term sobriety.  I tried Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  I tried moving across the country.  I tried changing my phone number.  I tried just smoking marijuana.  I tried a Suboxone maintenance program through a local clinic.  Through out these years, I could occasionally get a couple months together, but I was always missing something.  I was never truly happy in sobriety.  This played a big role in every relapse I had.  I didn’t see the point in staying sober if I was going to be miserable!  I also could never quite shake the feeling of needing to drink and drug.  No matter how much time I put together, I never stopped thinking about my next high.

I’ll never forget November 22, 2010.  I went to court for a hearing about a probation violation.  Apparently when part of your probation is to stay clean and sober, going to detox counts as a violation.  My lawyer assured me that there was no way I would be held, so I was not worried in the least.   Imagine the surprise when the judge gave me the choice between eighteen months in jail and nine months in a treatment facility.  I went for the latter.  Unfortunately upon my arrival to treatment they denied me due to the inability to pass a drug test.  Without realizing I was stipulated they let me go and told me to return the following Monday with a clean urine.  I had nowhere to go, nothing to eat, and no one with good intentions to spend time with.  I went back to the bridge I was living under and gathered my things (my blanket) and I headed to the local homeless shelter.  For the next three days I detoxed in an environment where the majority of people were drinking or drugging.  I had to leave from the hours of six AM to six PM.  I spent my days hiding out in the library and the soup kitchen, just trying not to pick up.  Looking back, there is absolutely no way I could have survived those three days alone.  There was absolutely a power greater than myself, guiding me each moment of each day.

I figured that living at a halfway house would help me not use long enough to feel better emotionally and physically. I knew that my problem was heroin and the solution was not doing it anymore.  Pretty simple, right?  The first couple months of my sobriety were the most difficult.  I felt like I hated myself.  I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the horrible things I had done in my life.  I couldn’t stop thinking about getting high.  I was depressed and anxious.  I was mad at everyone and petrified of what you thought of me.  If this was sobriety I didn’t want it!

After seven months of obsessing over my next high, hating everyone, and replacing my substance abuse with other destructive behaviors, I learned the most valuable lesson that changed my entire life.

THERE IS A SOLUTION!

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Wait, what?  I thought the solution was not using heroin.  I was wrong.  I learned that the problem was the way I think and the solution is changing that.  The way to integrate this magical solution into my life was the twelve steps.  I didn’t know anything about the twelve steps except that they involved God and they would definitely not work for me.  That began my journey of doing the steps because I KNEW they wouldn’t work for me and I wanted to be able to say I tried everything.  I went to a meeting that talked about the steps and I found myself a sponsor that said she could help me.  Unlike most of my other sponsors, this one didn’t threaten me with things like, “call me everyday! Or do 90 in 90!”  She just told me we were going to do the steps together and that’s what we did.  A few months into doing this step work I began to notice changes in my life.  It was an amazing day when I realized that it had been at least an entire month where I didn’t think about getting high.  That was a miracle and if that was all the steps gave me I would have been satisfied.  But, they kept giving and giving, and they keep on giving!  I learned how to pray and believe in something bigger than myself.  I learned that when I try to arrange life the way I think it should be, it is pure chaos!  I learned how to have healthy relationships.  I learned how to love myself.  I learned how to work through fear and resentment.

Five years ago I was a homeless, hopeless, jobless drug addicted lying thief.  I couldn’t hold a job or stay in school.  I had no idea how to have a healthy relationship.  Today I am a hopeful, useful, happy, peaceful employed miracle.  I recently received a college degree and have an amazing job.  I live indoors and am a part of a healthy, loving, caring relationship.  Before I did the steps I always had endless thoughts racing through my head.  One of the greatest gifts I have received is the ability to sit quietly with myself and be okay with who I am.  The things that the twelve steps gave me are nothing short of a miracle.  I will never forget what it was like for me before November of 2010, and because of that I will never stop working the steps.