“I took my first drink when I was about 14 years old. It was pink champagne. I got so drunk I can’t remember much, but I do remember, for the first time, I felt okay. Most of my childhood, I had a deep-rooted sense of not being enough. A perfect example of this was the spelling bee in third grade. I took second place in the entire school, competing with classes up to the sixth grade. It was quite the accomplishment. When I got home from winning second place, I distinctly remember the lie I told my mom—I had won the spelling bee, because second didn’t seem enough. I wasn’t drinking in the third grade, but I sure needed one. I just wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.
From the moment I took my first drink, I wanted more. By the ninth grade, I was already a bit of a party girl. Anywhere there was alcohol was where I wanted to be. I didn’t stand out too much with my peers at this point, but I also wasn’t satisfied with just drinking. On my 15th birthday, I took my first hit of acid. It wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely was closer to the oblivion I was seeking, and I began taking acid every weekend. At this point in my story, things are about to get a lot darker. I want to remind you of the light filling my life now.
See, as a young girl, I had several hurt people who I crossed paths with, and they hurt me when I was child and preteen. Looking back, I now know some of the oblivion I sought was not surprising, given my history. I left home when I was 15. Ran away. I remember leaving. I felt so grown. In the beginning, I stayed with a few friends and was able to have a roof over my head for about a month before I ran out of options. I remember sitting one night at the bus stop. The bus stop that would take me home—I had run out of places to go. I don’t know how long I was there before a man approached me and asked me if I wanted to do coke. At this point I had never done any ‘hard’ drugs, and it seemed like a better option than home.
This encounter began what was a rapid, destructive decline into the underbelly of my city, and a seriously deadly drug addiction. I found my oblivion. It came in the form of a needle and methamphetamine. I was just 15 years old. I was a runaway. I was surrounded by much older people, adults, and I was a drug addict. At 15-and-a-half, I was arrested for the first time for offering and agreeing. That’s a legal term for prostitution. This was just the first time I was arrested. I had been handing my earnings over to an adult man for quite some time at this point, and I was always high. They now call this sex trafficking, because I was a minor. I just felt nothing.
I can almost hear my mother’s heartbreak when she received the call her missing 15-year-old was arrested. I was one of the fortunate girls. I had a parent who was actively looking for me and wanted me home. The first time my mom was able to interrupt what can only be described as a drive to self-destruct was when she sent me to a teen survival camp—they were popular in the ’80s. I made promises of reform, and we had a meaningful reunion at the trail end after 21 days in the wilderness. I meant every word. Yet, I was suffering from the disease of addiction, and within a week of being home, I was back out on the streets.
Fast forward a few years and I was 17 years old. My parents had accepted I was a drug addict. They had a probation officer tell them I would most likely be dead within a few years, that girls who have been to depths Heather had don’t come back. My mom replied, ‘You don’t know Heather,’ and found a treatment center she got me into before I turned 18 years old, before she would have no parental power.
I wish I could tell you I went to treatment and all was well. Treatment wasn’t my idea. In fact, I wasn’t really asked to go. I wouldn’t have asked me, either. However, it was the first time I got knowledge—real knowledge—about my disease. I found out addiction is a disease, one that without help leads to jails, institutions, or death. I was using drugs again within a week of graduating treatment. Here is what treatment did—it ruined my drug use. I was aware I was killing myself and what my future looked like, as described by three outcomes explained to me in treatment. Jails, institutions, or death.
My bottom was near. I was 18. Any fun, any pretending this was a phase, any hope, was gone. I was an adult. This was my life. I was a junkie. I was completely demoralized. I would most likely die. A thought overwhelmed me. This thought was so strong, I can only describe it as a moment of clarity. ‘YOU WON’T BE DOING THIS WHEN YOU ARE 19.’ What? I clearly envisioned myself at a crossroad, and my moment of clarity opened the very smallest bit of willingness. I saw I could stop, ask for help, right then. I was filled with a sense of urgency. I felt in the moment if I let this pass, the window would close, and I would be lost. I walked to a payphone and to call my parents. I simply said, ‘I’m done.’
In early recovery, I was talking to my dad. I told him I had not mixed drugs, and it was something I wouldn’t do. I think this was a last effort of mine to rationalize that my use was controlled. My dad responded, ‘Heather, that’s like standing in the middle of a busy freeway and just trying not to be killed by a red car.’ I couldn’t really argue his point. The recovery road began in 12-step meetings. I was broken. I was so filled with shame. My shame was like a shadow, a companion. The presence of shame was palpable. It was so heavy. I didn’t expect it to change.
If someone had asked me what I expected out of recovery, I would have said, ‘I just don’t want to die.’ That was enough. When I looked around me, I saw women who had light in their eyes. Easy smiles and laughter. They weren’t faking it. At this point, I felt like I was faking everything. I wondered about the light. If I could feel light again. The word ‘higher power’ was heard often in the meetings I attended. I found out I might need one to stay clean and sober. My very first higher power was the idea I could heal.
Me. Heal. I had felt like an imposter for so long, fear whispered in my ear. The fear that I would do all the things suggested to me, but the magic wouldn’t happen for me. I wanted it to work, and I was willing to try. Another woman who had already been sober for a few years took me under her wing and began doing the work with me. My mentor in recovery, as we did the work and I would begin to place blame, she would stop me and say, ‘Heather, as long as you are talking about other people, you are not in recovery. Let’s focus on how you can be different.’
The healing began. The shame lifted. The smile and light arrived. The compulsion to drink or use lifted, and I was surrounded by a recovery community who kept me coming back for more fellowship, light, and laughs. We are not a glum lot. The best part is, I am not unusual. I have seen so many lives transformed. My sober life has been more than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t die, and oh, I have lived!
Today, 32 years later, I can earnestly say the events in my past have no power over me. The only power they hold is to help another, so my experience may benefit them. As promised, I do not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. I am free.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Heather of Seaside, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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