Good to see you, thanks for coming and having this conversation. Why don’t we start off with a discussion of what language you use to describe your recovery and why that’s important to you?
I say clean and sober because I go to AA but I’m a recovering addict. So when I talk about my clean time, that’s all encompassing for heroin, for weed, for drinking, I don’t do any of it. I say both because people that are not recovering addicts or active addicts don’t really know when I say clean time I mean I don’t drink as well. Or when you say sober, a lot of people think that you’re just the DD for the night, not that you live a life of recovery. So anytime I talk about it I say clean and sober and in recovery for however long. Today it’s 976 days.
That’s awesome! Alright, can you talk to me a little bit about when you started? Either when you started drinking or when you started using something else, or what feels like the beginning of your active addiction?
The beginning? Okay, so at 15 was the first time I smoked weed and I hated it, I had play practice that night and I couldn’t remember my lines because I was stoned. It wasn’t my thing. I came from a family of alcoholics, so when I started drinking it was with alcoholic tendencies and that was probably about 16 going on 17. I was drinking really hard and I was thinking I don’t want to be an alcoholic like everybody else in my family so I’m going to stop drinking, but I thought I would be okay to do drugs and not become a drug addict. I thought I was too smart. I was an AP student. They wanted me to skip grades in school. I always had straight A’s, 4.0 without trying, so I thought I was better than everybody and it wouldn’t happen to me. So the first hard drug per se I used, I did a lot of acid. I just kind of experimented, wanted to have fun.
The first time I really did drugs as a means to escape from things and not just recreationally, I was 17. I had moved out on my own when I was 16, and I was on a really high dose of antidepressants and my stepmom took me off my dad’s insurance without me knowing it. So I went to go get my prescription and I was on a really high dose of Wellbutrin, went to go get my prescription and they didn’t have it for me. They said, “Well you don’t have insurance, so it’ll be a couple hundred dollars”, which at 17 years old I didn’t have. I’d been around drugs, it wasn’t my thing, again smart kid, hanging out with older people, but I started going through withdrawals from the antidepressants and having brain zaps. Smoking two hits of heroin would make it all go away. So I said okay, I’m only going to do this until I can get my pills again. At this point I didn’t really know what was going on. I didn’t have contact with my dad and my step-mom; I didn’t know that I’d been taken off the insurance. All I knew is I couldn’t get my pills. And again, thought I was too smart to become an addict. So I started smoking heroin. And then my tolerance went up, and I probably used every day for a year without thinking that I was a heroin addict because I always had money, I was always working, I was only using a little bit. And then my tolerance started to grow and one day I couldn’t get it. There were raids all of that and nobody in town had heroin, and I started getting sick. I told myself I was just having the flu or getting a cold or something, and then I realized that everybody else around me that was also using was also sick and those were heroin withdrawals. So at that point I started using to no longer have withdrawals. I started using because I didn’t have a choice. I probably didn’t have a choice for the year before that, but I told myself I did, because I didn’t wake up every day craving heroin. I just did it because that’s the people I was around. I was still going to school, I still graduated.
And so by the time I was 18 I was a full blown heroin addict for about a year. And like I said I still graduated high school, and then I decided to go to massage school. Put myself through massage school as a heroin addict. And by that point at 18 years old I was full blown. Every day. Had to use it or I would go through withdrawals.
So that was the point that you started having some challenges with it?
Yeah, um, so it was challenges for myself at that point, because I’ve lived on my own since I was 16. I hadn’t talked to my mom for a year when I moved out on my own, and I didn’t have contact with my dad or my stepmom, so I wasn’t really like around parents. You know, I was a kid still, but I wasn’t around anybody that would be able to judge like whether or not I was using drugs. I think that it kind of came into question a few times at that point because I was different, but I think that they kind of credited that to me just having my own brain issues that I’ve had forever. Um, and puberty and all of that.
Well, and it sounds like you’d always been a smart kid, and smart kids are often a little different.
Yeah, I was always weird, so you know I was just weird. But, when it really started to cause problems was I think after I got myself through massage school. I barely made it through massage school; I don’t know how I did. I was high every day going to class. I was high when I took exams. I was high when I gave massages. I was a full blown heroin addict putting myself through Anatomy & Physiology and all of this. But once I actually graduated and got my massage license was when it like actually became a problem because I didn’t have money all of the time, and that’s when I started to lie, that’s when I started to steal. I would be hanging out with all of these people and in neighborhoods that obviously were drug neighborhoods, and I lived in Moses Lake, it was a small community and so people started asking questions. And so, then I just had to lie about my whereabouts, and if I didn’t have drugs for the day, or for like the evening, I wouldn’t go and follow through with plans. I was flaky. If I had to go and see my grandma or something, I would not go unless I had drugs and so I continuously was lying to make up—like if I’d go missing for a day and a half I’d be like “Well I had laryngitis and slept through it”. Weird dumb excuses that started making people question what was going on with me, and that’s when it started causing problems for everybody else around me as well.
Okay. Was there a specific incident or moment that prompted you to consider recovery or seek treatment?
Um, I don’t know if it was a specific moment per se, but I realized I was a slave. I was a slave to the drug. I was no longer getting high to have fun like I used to when I did acid and drank and all of that, I was getting up every day and I had to have drugs or I would get sick. I couldn’t go anywhere. I used to go on road trips whenever I wanted. I used to go to Seattle just because I wanted to go to Seattle. I had best friends in Wenatchee and Cashmere and would drive there whenever just to go do fun things, and I couldn’t do that anymore because it was always on my mind. Whether or not I was going to be able to get by. Whether or not I was going to get sick while I was there. I always had to make sure I had enough. And then, honestly, I got contact with my dad again, and he and my stepmom had divorced. He was living in Colorado, and for my birthday he said “I’m going to buy you a plane ticket to come up for a week in Colorado”. And I took drugs with me on a plane to Colorado to go spend time with my family who I hadn’t seen in forever and all I was worried about the entire time was getting high. And because I was a drug addict I obviously used up my portion of drugs before I was supposed to and then I started going through withdrawals the last two days that I was there. Pretending that I was just coming down with the flu, and I was sick, and them knowing I looked like shit. When I got back, it was like a wakeup call that I really needed to do something different, but I didn’t for another year or so. I started looking into rehab. At that point a couple of people that I knew had gotten clean, they were living in California and different things, and put me onto some different rehabs and I started looking into it. But I was dating a guy at the time that also used, we were selling together, and so I had all I needed right there. We had a system. Because I was selling I could always get high, I always had stuff. But I knew that’s not who I wanted to be. It was an abusive relationship that I was in, and I grew up in an abusive home, but I told myself it was okay because I was getting high and that was all that mattered. But about a year after that, I was just kind of done, and I told my mom. I told her I’d been using pills, I didn’t say heroin because saying heroin is--
It’s a big word.
Big word. And I never even thought of myself as a heroin addict because we would always say we were “doing H” or “smoking brown” or “down”, we never said, “Oh, I am a heroin addict” you know that’s not something that crosses your mind. And she called my dad, and my dad drove from Okanogan to Moses Lake, and the three of us sat in a room together—in my massage room—and they hadn’t been in a room together since I was like 3 or 4, so it was very surreal and very weird. And I just told them that I had a problem with pills, and I went to rehab the next day. It was kind of like a moment where I was like, okay my parents know, there’s no going back, I need to do this, and I did an assessment over the phone the next morning and was on a plane to California like three hours later.
That’s amazing, so you got some family support in making that expedited—
---Huge. Yeah, no absolutely. I was supposed to go to Sundown. My mom like looked up recovery stuff, like rehab, and she thought she was calling Sundown, and she must’ve like clicked on an ad or something, and she called a place in CA and set everything up and it was good with my insurance. My dad immediately put me on his insurance, like that day, too. And they said, “Where is she flying out of?” And my mom was like, “You’re an idiot, it’s like an hour and a half away.” And they were like, “No, this is California.” And I was like, screw it. I need to get out of here, I need to get away from this relationship, from this town and so I left. I went.
Cool. That makes a lot of sense. So how did you progress from there? How did you get clean and sober?
So relapse is part of my story, as it is a lot of people’s. I went to rehab. I knew I did not want to come back to Washington. I’d been to 26 states but I’d never been to the East Coast, so I was like screw it, let’s move to Philadelphia. ‘Cause at 28 days clean you know what’s best for your life. [laughs] And so I moved to a sober living in Philadelphia, because if you completed the treatment center in CA they would pay for your plane ticket home or wherever you wanted to go. And so I went to Philly, I went from a town of 23,000 to a city of 1.5 million, which was a huge change, but it was super cool.
So then I wanted to visit my dad for the summer, and in May of 2016 I flew back to Okanogan and spent the summer with my dad, and I thought it was a good idea to go visit people in Moses Lake. I thought, you know, it’s been 7 months since I’ve done heroin. I’ll be okay. I went down to visit friends, walked in, old friends I used to sell to who were now selling, and I mean within an hour I was doing heroin again. I relapsed for about a month and a half, I kept driving back and forth from Moses Lake to Okanogan, and immediately, I was right back to how bad I was after 4.5 years of use. Within a month, I was spending all of my money on drugs, I was driving literally 2.5 hours just to get drugs and then driving back. And I was miserable again. But I had grown up in a household that I didn’t really know what unconditional love was, because I had grown up in an abusive household with a sociopath mom, and I was really scared to tell my dad. And finally I texted him and said, “Dad, I’ve been f&%ing up” and he said, “Yeah, I know”. I thought I’d been keeping it a secret, but apparently not. So I got some suboxone and some weed, and I detoxed myself on my grandma’s couch.
It was horrible, I hated every minute of it, but by September 1st of 2016, I was clean again. That’s the date that I claim. It might have been a few days before that that I was actually clean, but that’s the date that I have stuck with because it’s easier to remember. So I may have a few more days that I actually claim. And then, 20 days after that, eight o’clock in the morning, I was driving down to get a pack of cigarettes. My dad lives eight miles up the mountain in Okanogan, and I hadn’t put my seatbelt on yet, because it was a chilly morning, and I was just driving. And there was this fluke thing where there was gravel on the right hand side of the road, and when I came around the corner my tire went from gravel to the pavement and my car flipped so it was facing up the mountain. And I toppled off about 30 feet side to side. Because I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt I went flying around the car. It came down on its wheels, all the windows were shattered, except the front one which was just hanging. The driver door was popped open and I was hanging halfway out of it. My shoes had flown off, the stereo deck of my car had flown out, everything that was in my car flew out. And I broke my back. So I had to call my dad. I went to the hospital and I just kept telling them, I’m a recovering addict and I have 20 days clean, I can’t take pills, I can’t take pills, I can’t take pills. And they prescribed me pills for 4-6 months. And I knew that I couldn’t do that, so I made a week and a half prescription last for three weeks, and then I went on muscle relaxers for a month, and then I just started rehabbing my back myself. But six days after I broke my back, my best friend of 13 years and my first love got in a car accident and he passed away. And as weird as that sounds, that was what really solidified me being clean. Because within my first 30 days of sobriety I had a broken back and a broken heart and I didn’t know what to do. And I realized I was going to have to either change my life or I was going to kill myself, and that’s really what set the point of me continuing on the path of recovery.
That makes a lot of sense.
So do you have any advice for people who are new in recovery?
It seems hard. It seems hard to go from using every day and not knowing how to get by without a drink or a drug, but the hard thing is getting up every day and trying to figure out how you’re going to get money, how you’re going to get high, being with family and friends but not actually being there because your mind is just thinking about your next one. That’s the real work. I realized, I actually had this epiphany not too long ago, that when I was using—I realized I was going through withdrawals a year into being an addict, and I was an addict in active addiction for five years. I fought for four years for a life I didn’t even want. I fought so hard every day to get high and to preserve that life of being an addict, and I hated it. I hated myself, I hated where I was at. I thought that if I didn’t try to get clean, I wouldn’t find out that I couldn’t. I had this complex where—what happens if I try to get clean and I find out I can’t and I really have to take a look at my life and go this is going to be my forever. I’m going to be a heroin addict forever. And that kept me from seeking help for a really long time. The other thing that kept me from seeking help was thinking that being clean was a feeling of not having. You know, I thought that when I got clean it was just going to be that feeling in the pit of my stomach when I woke up and I didn’t have dope. I thought that’s what being clean was.
My advice is to give yourself a chance. My life today is beyond anything I deserve. I cried on my way here out of pure happiness because of the fact that these are things that are coming to fruition for me that I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined. When I was at my darkest point and not knowing if I was going to OD or kill myself or what, I never imagined that my life is what it is today, and it takes changing everything. If you’re new, you can’t save other people, you can only save yourself. And it’s just so worth it. Give yourself a chance, because the worst thing that can happen is you find out that it’s not for you. Right? Being clean, being happy, it’s not your thing, you don’t like it. You don’t lose any time. I’ve been away from the streets, even including my relapse stuff, away from the streets for three and a half years and nothing has changed. The only thing that’s different is I’m down 30 people. In the 3 years that I’ve been gone, 30 of my friends have died because of this disease. The people that are still out there are still miserable, are still talking about getting clean, are still wishing that it wasn’t their life. It doesn’t get better. Nobody gets clean and then goes back out and then comes back in talking about how they wish they never would have gotten clean. For the most part, life isn’t easy but you learn how to manage it, and you surround yourself with good people. And you cling to the ones that know what they’re talking about, that have some time under their belt not just being clean but living a life of recovery because there’s a solid difference.
Can you talk a little bit about that difference?
So, yeah, I have 976 days clean and sober today but I probably have 800 days of recovery. I’ve been clean that entire time, but I started working the steps—and I don’t believe that the 12 steps is the only way to go—but the basis of being in recovery is changing your life. Because the drugs and the alcohol were not my problem. They were a symptom of my problem. My problem was me. And it’s hard to admit that, right, that I am the problem, I am the maker of all my own issues. But it was, I knew that I’d always struggled with depression and with issues, not feeling like I fit in, and growing up in an abusive household just searching for love in everything. And I knew those things and I hid them with drugs because I didn’t want to feel them. But being in recovery means taking a look at yourself, and changing those things and working on those things. Every day trying to be a little—everybody says be a little bit better than you were the day before—but my goal is to be a little less shitty than I was the day before because sometimes it’s daunting to be better than I was yesterday. But being in recovery is helping others, it’s not being so self-centered. And that’s hard for me because I’m a very self-centered individual, completely. But I every day help somebody else, whether they’re in the program or just somebody that I know needs that help, because I stay clean and I stay living this better life by changing those things and by looking to do good to make up for all the bad I did for five years.
So would you say that you think the most important aspect of maintaining recovery and continuing to strive for recovery is service, for you?
For me, yeah. I think it’s one of the most important things. One of the clichés is “We only keep what we have by giving it away.” But for me, personally, none of this matters if I can’t help somebody else out. It’s not enough for me to just wake up and be clean. That’s a miracle in and of itself, and anybody that wakes up today and doesn’t get high when they want to get high is a miracle. But what’s the point, if I know that other people are out there and are suffering and are going through the same emotions and the same turmoil that I did, and I know the solution? I know that there’s a better way and I don’t do anything to help them. I have to every day wake up and help somebody else. And it helps me! It helps me get out of my head, because that’s the worst place to be as an addict is stuck in your own head and thinking about your own shit, and when I help others it selfishly helps myself.
It sounds like you do participate in some recovery support groups?
Mhmm, I sponsor other women; I am just of service in general. Facebook is a weird platform, but it’s the one that I speak my truth on a lot, and because I am so open and honest I am able to help people in Moses Lake. I’ve had old massage clients of mine contact me to help get their son into rehab, and now write him letters. He’s in a year-long program. And people that I didn’t even know were using come to me now and are in my inbox, and that’s the most beautiful thing to me. I just filled out an application to go into the jails and take meetings into the jails, because I think women are very overlooked when it comes to recovery because there are so many more men’s Oxford Houses than there are women’s. Women suffer, too, and we tend to get overlooked and fall through the cracks and I want to do something to make a difference about that.
That’s legit. Thank you for doing that work.
I can’t wait to hear about what some of that experience is like for you. Without violating anonymity, obviously, but just like a sense of what that dynamic is. Is there anything else that you’d like to share that seems really pressing for folks that are considering recovery or folks who have been in recovery a while, or folks who are serving folks in recovery? What are the insights that you think that maybe “normies” who are providing services need to have?
I think, and I’m going to say this in a way that’s going to make me sound like a jerk, but I think that a lot of people who are serving others in recovery think that they have a grasp of what addiction is like without actually have that grasp of what addiction is like. I think that if you’re going to give counseling and give of yourself to somebody who is in addiction or in recovery, you need to spend your time around people who are actually in recovery and working a program. You need to get into the mind of an addict. When I went to rehab and somebody was trying to tell me what I needed to do, I wanted to tell them to go &^%*&$% because they have no idea, they’ve never lived this life. It’s really hard for an addict to listen to somebody that has never lived addiction, because it takes a hold of your brain and makes it work backwards, basically, and when somebody tells you, “Well just don’t pick up and you won’t get high,” or “Don’t drink and you won’t get drunk” and they’ve never lived it, it’s very hard. But if you spend your time around addicts before giving advice and start to get a grasp of what it really truly is like…having recovering addicts on your board and having multiple facets of recovery, because like I said, 12 steps isn’t the only way to go. It’s what’s worked for me. But whether it’s church, or Celebrate Recovery, or CBT, DBT, there are multiple ways to get clean and to stay clean. I think that it’s very important that we explore all avenues, because all that matters is one more day. I think that’s very important for people that are going to be working with addicts. One addict working with another addict or one alcoholic working with another alcoholic is unparalleled. So if you’re going to be a mentor to those, you need to have a good grasp of what it’s really like so that you’re not just talking out of your ass.
I appreciate your insight, thank you.
(Interview by Malia, Trilogy's Recovery Intern)