What It's Really Like to Be Addicted to Painkillers: 'I Didn't Care If I Lived or Died'
I believe addiction is a disease. I think no matter what happened in my life, I was going to end up where I did. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut to two parents who loved each other and loved me and told me I was smart and capable. I can’t pinpoint a single traumatic childhood situation that you might think would point me to becoming an addict.
From a very young age I had a lot of anxiety issues. School was really hard for me, and I started to act out. Around 12 or 13, I started drinking and smoking pot. It became a problem almost immediately. I have heard people say that there are three phases of drug use: fun, fun with consequences, and just consequences. I totally skipped the fun part. I never got away with anything. The first time I drank I blacked out and threw up in my basement. My mom found me, and I was grounded.
Alcohol was like liquid courage. It let me take on this persona of an outspoken party girl, which at my core was not me. Under its influence, I tried ecstasy and cocaine, really anything I could find. I had a friend who knew someone with leftover prescription painkillers. We took them after school in my friend’s bathroom in April of my junior year of high school. My anxiety immediately quieted, and I stopped seeking out any other substances.
The painkillers became a daily thing. I wasn’t even interested in my friends anymore. I was skipping school a lot and getting suspended. My grades slipped. I totaled my car. My parents sent me to therapists and tried anything they could to help me. They even kicked me out of the house for a couple of days, but I came crawling back. One of my parents’ conditions was that I go to rehab. I had no choice. By November of my senior year of high school, I was in inpatient rehab.
Because it was adolescent rehab, it was half school and half rehab. It didn’t work for me. I had it in my mind that I just had to bide my time for the 60 days before I could get out and return to using. I remember a tech there telling me, “You have to pay attention or by the time you’re 21, you’re going to have a needle in your arm.” I remember thinking she was crazy. The first night I was out, I took pills and drank. I crashed my car a week after that.
I barely graduated from high school, but I made it to college in Boston. I met a guy who was into painkillers. We started using regularly together. My whole life became my boyfriend and drugs; I lived in such a small world. I was not going to class. I had no other friends in Boston.
Eventually, the drugs became a really expensive habit. Economically speaking, heroin was a better option, so we started doing heroin. The first time I shot up, I remember thinking, “That’s it. You found it. Nothing else is ever going to matter.”
My boyfriend and I stayed together for about eight months. During that period, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and going through chemo. My maternal grandmother, who I was really close to, passed away. It was an excuse to go crazy. I was using all day, every day. My boyfriend stole from his job. He was gambling online to get money. I wrote bad checks. We were using his parents’ credit cards to buy things to sell for cash to get drugs. I really had no moral compass. Nothing mattered. I didn’t care if I lived or died.
My boyfriend moved to Las Vegas to gamble, and I called my parents and manipulated them into letting me come home without telling them how I was doing. I moved home and stole from my parents. I was stealing out of my mom’s purse and my dad’s briefcase, even from a big jar of change my dad kept.
Eventually, my parents figured out I was stealing from them. I got kicked out of the house again, and I started getting sick because I didn’t have much heroin. I called my parents and told them I needed to come home. I truly believed I was going to die in the next year. They told me I couldn’t come home and that I had to go to Florida to go to rehab instead. I didn’t think it was going to work for me, but I had no other options.
I detoxed for seven to 10 days with Suboxone, and then I went into rehab. Getting sober was so painful–and not just physically. I had lived numb to my actions for so long. When I was getting sober, they all came rushing towards me. I thought of all the people I had hurt. It felt like salt on wounds all the time.
I started to listen in rehab and do my homework, and things started to get better. After 45 days in treatment, I went to a step-down program and then a halfway house, a sober-living facility. I had made friends during treatment, and we decided to stay sober together. I created this life with all these other young sober people.
I lived in Florida for seven years. Last year, I decided to move back to Connecticut. I felt like I was strong enough finally, and I wanted to be with my family and experience the changing seasons again. I work full-time and have a really full life now. I became an ambassador for Shatterproof, an organization working to end the stigma of addiction. The CEO and founder is from my town; I actually went to high school with his son, who encouraged me to stay sober while I was transitioning.
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I ended up being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after I got sober. I’m a dual diagnosis: OCD and substance abuse disorder. I went on medication. That’s a big part of my sobriety; there was a psychic shift that happened. I am not the same person I was. I’m really close to my family now. In October 2017, we participated in Shatterproof’s 5K run/walk to raise awareness about the need to destigmatize substance use disorder.
I’ve talked to people who are where I was 10 years ago, and the biggest point I make is that there is a solution, but it really has to come from within you. Addiction is not a moral failure. I don’t think anybody thinks, “I want to be a drug addict when I grew up.” It just crept up on me.