‘I can tell by the tears in your eyes no one has believed you, have they?,’ he asked. ‘No, they haven’t.’ He then replied, ‘Well I believe you.’ I had felt like a crazy person.’

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“Hi my name is Hope. I am currently 36 years old and have a son who is 17 years old. I have had so many hard times and many ups and downs. I don’t even know where to start.

I started my independence as a rebellious teen who started partying and abusing alcohol pretty early on. I ended up getting kicked out of my house at 18 and pregnant by 19. I didn’t know at the time, because at that time I just wanted to feel loved and accepted, what I thought was love was with a very scary person who was a compulsive liar. This man was 11 years older than me and we ended up getting married. I felt pressured into this marriage, as if I had no other option but to get married. So I did. Turns out he had some dark secrets he carried around like that he continued to secretly cheat on me the whole relationship with multiple women. I didn’t find out until afterwards how many there really were. I was always made to feel crazy if I ever questioned him. I got so reliant upon him I could not even leave my own house. I would not leave without him, I could not do anything by myself. He got me where I needed him for everything. I isolated myself from my family and friends. I had to drink nightly to avoid panic attacks and to help me get through the fight I knew we would have that night. I was sexually and emotionally abused by him for a few years. He even told me many times I would never find anyone that would love me better than him. That no one else would put up with me like he has. The day finally came when I got the courage to confront him to ask if he was on drugs. That’s when I was physically hit, and pinned up against the wall, as he spit in my face and called me all kinds of awful names. That was the day I said enough was enough. I don’t know what it was that gave me the strength to move forward. I call it God and my amazing friends and family. I know not everyone is that lucky. But my dad and my best friend came and helped me back up the next day and my son and I moved in with my parents. I ended up putting myself through medical assisting school and waitressing at the same time at some local diner and passed my school with a very high GPA above 3.5 and was always on the honor roll.

Courtesy of Hope Vago

A few months later my son’s father was in custody and arrested for raping another young girl and sexually molesting her. With these charges he was facing he was no longer allowed to see our son anymore or be around any minors. My son was around 3 or 4 at that age and he still has not seen or talked to his dad since then.

Courtesy of Hope Vago

Shortly after that I fell in love with a man I knew from high school who was always amazing and such a good friend. He ended up dying of leukemia within a year after we had just started seeing each other. I took that really hard. So between my divorce and the death my drinking started getting out of hand again and I started to spiral down.This left me vulnerable and I again became a victim of sexual abuse by many men. But then I did good for a while, being involved in church, until my health started to decline.

I ended up having to have a few surgeries back to back and had some health conditions that left me taking pain meds, which also left me very addicted to them. I had not dealt with the pain of the loss I had experienced quite yet so the pills helped me numb the physical pain and the emotional pain.

The pill intake got so bad I almost overdosed a few times. I got close to having my son taken away from me and was advised I needed to go to rehab. So I did. I went to a 3 month program and was inpatient for those 3 months and had never felt better. I decided to relocate my life to where the rehab program was located since there was a lot of like minded people there in the same community to all help one another stay clean. I got a good job at an urgent care there and then an even better job at their best hospital. But my health started to decline again and no one really believed my needs due to me being an addict. Even a lot of the friends I had made thought that I was just wanting a ‘fix’ and making things up to get more pain meds. But I was in severe body pain all over and I could barely function. I was weak, exhausted, and frustrated no one believed my pain. I ended up seeking a doctor that gave out pain meds because that was the only way I could think of to help myself since no one would believe me and I couldn’t function in that much pain. I was pretty sure I had lupus but everyone just continued to think I was making it up and was crazy. Well being on pain meds again you can imagine I didn’t last long before my relapse came quick and people started noticing my fast decline.

I didn’t want to live anymore. I was so tired of it and was wanting it to end. I even got as far as me offering my body up for drugs. It never happened but that was as far as I was willing to go. I ended up getting some pills from someone I knew in the recovery program who had also relapsed and I only had gotten part of it and was planning on getting the rest of it after work. I had a plan. With the second half of the pills I was going to use an IV and I was going to end it. I was tired of no one listening or treating me like a person but just treating me like a junky. Somehow by the grace of God one of my coworkers offered to take me to the ER to help with detox meds and somehow she got me to open up and tell the staff I wanted to die. Well today I am glad I did, but at the time I regretted it shortly after I said something because I was treated horribly. I got to see the initial ER doctor that put me on the pysch hold and then no other doctors would see me. They ALL refused to see me because they all claimed I was just manipulating them all to get drugs. I was crying in pain for literally 3 days straight because not only was I coming off pain meds and heroin which is painful, I was also in so much physical pain and it was like pulling teeth just to get someone to give me some Tylenol. I just remember screaming out for help and that someone would listen or see me. But no one would. I finally got sent to the pysch ward and the intake nurse was sweet and she said they would take care of me  and I was ok now and safe. And they were going to treat me better. WRONG. Their doctor told me I was just an addict and there was nothing wrong with me. He said no one believed I was sick and I was just acting out to get my meds and just wanted a fix. I felt lower than I ever felt. I was in there for like 5 days with no help so I begged them to let me go to treatment just so I could get out of there. And so they agreed and let me go.

Courtesy of Hope Vago

I went to the best treatment center I had ever been to in West Hollywood, CA and they saved my life. The intake doctor had me tell my story to him and what happened, and he said ‘I can tell by the tears in your eyes no one has believed you have they?’ I said no they haven’t. He then replied ‘Well I believe you.’  I had felt like a crazy person and no one would listen to me and here was this top doctor saying he believed me. So he said ‘tell you what, let’s start from scratch we will test you for everything, including lupus and find out what’s going on and we will go from there.’

A couple days later I go back into his office worried I was going to get the same inconclusive results as all the other doctors, but he said ‘well, you were right. Not only do you have lupus, but you are in a horrible flare right now so that is why you are in so much pain. So we need to start treatment asap.’ I was in tears yet again that I wasn’t crazy, I was right, and now there is evidence that shows I am physically ill. One of their nurses took the time to call my mom and my best friend to explain why I was in pain and the lupus process and what to expect etc. I was sent to one of the rheumatologists where he confirmed the lupus diagnosis and he started me on chemo shots once a week. The whole staff there treated me so well and would always tell me how brave and strong I was. I finally felt listened to but heard, and they believed in me.

I got a really good job I was able to hold for quite some time working as a Certified Medical Assistant for a pediatric clinic and got promoted to their lead triage medical assistant. I ended up getting sick while working there, and was in the hospital for 2 weeks because my heart was going way too fast and felt like passing out every time I stood up.

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My health has now declined even more so I had to quit that amazing job I loved. I have what’s called POTs syndrome now, and gastroparesis, making it difficult to keep foods down. There is the potential for a big stomach surgery coming up. I go in once a week to get fluids and IV potassium. I have lost almost all my hair. I don’t have a car and am broke from not working. BUT I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I am 3 1/2 years clean now and I am with the most amazing friends and family. I am rebuilding trust and that relationship with my son. And my son does so much for the community and volunteers with Youth Ending Slavery which is all about anti-human trafficking. Even through all these trials I face I see the beauty in life around me everyday. I try and do what I can in the community and for others. I, myself, am very passionate about anti-human trafficking and I do photography on the side. 10% of all my photography business and merchandise goes to help the victims of human trafficking and I specifically donate it to my son’s cause. I have also done a podcast on my domestic violence story

Courtesy of Hope Vago

There really needs to be more awareness regarding addiction and chronic disease. You can’t just treat addicts this way or assume every addict is bad. I needed help and I finally got it, but at what cost? I almost lost my life. I can’t even count the amount of friends I have lost to this disease. It is so hard to watch your friends continue to die but someone needs to be a voice as well. It’s time for a change.

I hope this story encourages you. If I can make it out and be ok, so can you. You can do anything you want to, and I would not be here today if it were not for God and all the people He has placed in my life . Something that has always stuck with me is, we may not always be able to change our situation, but we can CHOOSE on how we react or respond to our situations. People always ask me how can I be so happy, or have a smile on my face through everything I go through. My answers:

1. God.

2. I am not always happy, I am human, and I struggle just like everyone else, but….

3. I CHOOSE I to not let it get me down and define me. I CHOOSE to make the best of my situation by encouraging others and being the best possible version of myself for today. We don’t always get tomorrow, so let’s make the best of it. And if no one has told you yet today, I believe in you. You can do anything you want to do, and I have faith and believe in you. You are worth it and you are beautiful. You are valuable and worth so much more than gold. I always try to smile even if I am having a bad day because sometimes smiling helps me change my attitude and it can also help change someone else’s day. You got this!”

Courtesy of Hope Vago

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hope Vago. You can follow her on Instagram here. Listen to her Podcast here and check out her merch store hereSubmit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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Read more inspiring stories about women that have survived difficult life experiences here:

‘I was pregnant with a little boy and a little girl after a decade of trauma. I limped out of his house and drove home over 100 miles away with $20 in my pocket.’ 

‘You are a 13-year-old girl with a sick dad, you must just want attention.’ I was heartbroken, betrayed by my best friends. There were YEARS of doctors saying, ‘We don’t have an answer why she’s in pain.’

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