“I grew up in a ‘normal’ home. My parents were constantly telling my sister and I that we were beautiful, smart and capable of anything. I was given everything I needed and most everything I wanted. I was a very active child and teenager, involved in ballet, tap, jazz, piano, theater, basketball, volleyball, cheerleading and softball. I have always been known as a social butterfly. Perhaps it’s surprising, then, that addiction was going to eventually take over my life. The stigma attached to addiction presumes ‘there must be a reason an addict is the way he or she is,’ like a traumatic event or a difficult upbringing. But that’s the thing about this disease: it does not discriminate, and my ‘normal’ life did not exempt me from its grasp.
My parents had a flea market business, which was a much different field of work than the rest of the kids I went to Catholic school with, in an upper middle-class suburb of Detroit. As a result, I remember feeling different or less than at any early age. I would lie about what they did for work or be embarrassed about my Dad’s box truck or semi because all my friends’ parents had a Lexus or BMW.
When I was 9 my parents got divorced and my dad moved to Florida to grow his business in the Flea Market world. A few years later, in 7th grade, my mom moved my sister, Katie, and I to Daytona Beach so that we could grow up in the same city as my dad. She always wanted to be sure we had our dad in our lives. The move was very difficult at first. I was really close with my family in Michigan, and it was hard being away from them. I was also scared about starting a new school where groups and friendships were already formed. Feeling like I wasn’t going to fit in, and my brain telling me that I was different and not good enough.
The next year I got drunk for the first time, on New Year’s (of course). My mom had bought my friends and I sparkling grape juice, and I stole her vodka to mix with it. I spent the evening dancing with the Christmas tree and vomiting everywhere. I remember I thought this would make me seem ‘cool’ and have a ‘cool story’ to tell. This behavior progressed through my next 2 years of high school. I wanted to fit in with some kids that went to a different school in my area so I started smoking cigarettes. I didn’t like smoking, I just wanted to be like them, so I did what they did. Cigarettes eventually turned into weed and that turned in to drinking and smoking weed whenever I could.
By sophomore year I stopped participating in anything that didn’t involve being ‘rebellious.’ I would cut class, buy weed in sketchy neighborhoods, sneak people in or me out of my house, steal my mom’s car, and sneak into clubs. At 16, I got pregnant! This was well before ‘16 and Pregnant’ was on TV, and was not as socially tolerated as it is today, especially at a Catholic High School. I remember feeling like I was worthless and that it brought so much shame to my family.
I switched schools and on March 25th, 2002, I gave birth to my son, Zachary. His dad and I tried to make it work, but we were just two kids trying to raise a kid. Luckily, we both came from loving and supportive families who were very helpful, and we both were able to finish school.
At this point in my life all of my friends were enjoying being young and having endless opportunities in front of them. I was a teen mom. I tried to go to community college but was more excited about going to bars and clubs and partying as much as possible. I pretended like I didn’t have responsibilities. I would put Zach to bed at my mom’s, be out all night and then be back by morning to take him to school and get to work. By this time I was starting to explore party drugs like ecstasy and cocaine. I thought this was normal. I didn’t see a problem with my behavior at all.
I felt like I always needed something to help me deal with life. If I was sad over a guy, I drank. If I was celebrating something, I drank and did coke all night. If it was a special night, I’d eat a bunch of Ecstasy. I would get up and do it again and again night after night. This was just normal to me. I hung out with a crowd that partied every night, I didn’t see myself as having a problem. Drugs and alcohol made me feel like I fit in and would mask all my insecurities and fears.
When I was given a Lortab for the first time I remember I felt like, ‘This is it! I found the magic pill that will cure it all.’ I could work harder, faster, stronger- and just get life done with some help from this magic pill. My tolerance quickly grew, and I started having to take them all the time. I started off buying a few pills for a week and would swallow them, which turned into having to snort a few pills at a time. Eventually these pills, no matter how many I took, were no longer doing the job. So again, the progression took me down the rabbit hole of opiates where I found myself in a full-blown Oxycodone addiction.
At the time I still had NO CLUE I was an addict. This was during the huge Oxycodone epidemic, and it was super easy to obtain prescriptions. I was able to find a few different doctors to prescribe me 150- 30mg oxy, 120 -15mg oxy and Adderall – every month! I was 26 and had become unemployable because fueling my addiction became my full-time job. When you’re hooked on opiates you’re literally sick- flu sick – when you don’t use. So I tried to make sure I always had my drugs. I spent my days trying to find a pharmacy to fill scripts or driving across the state for another shady doctor I had heard about.
Something happened where they made it harder for anyone to fill Oxy scripts, so all the doctors started writing everyone Dilaudid. Disclaimer: for all those who don’t know anything about opiates, Dilaudid can only really be felt if you inject it. Snorting and swallowing don’t do anything. Previously I had always been scared of needles, hated getting shots. In fact, just the words ‘shooting up’ made me think of some inner-city crime show that couldn’t be further from who I thought I was. However, after a visit to the hospital and being prescribed Dilaudid for kidney stones, I saw what I was missing out on and I phased up to level Junkie.
I had gone to Cotillion and participated in Girl Scouts until I was in 7th grade, went to Catholic school most of my life and had a family who had loved and supported me. Now I was a junkie, using needles to inject anything I could fill it with.
The next few years of my life were absolute insanity. Once I got on the needle, my life as I knew it was over. My entire life was about getting, using and finding ways and means to get more. My family didn’t understand what was happening, all they knew was that I was always sick and lying or trying to steal something. I remember one time my mom hid her money in her pillowcase while she slept, and I cut it out with her laying on it. I stole and sold anything of value, from anyone I knew. Again my addiction progressed and I found myself shooting heroin and meth and staying up for days on end. This progression also led to a change in my friends. Shooting dope every day is not something you can do while hanging out with the friends I had grown up with, or really anyone who actually cared about me. The people I surrounded myself with were sketchy and broken like me, which would only make me increase my using to mask my feelings of loneliness and sadness. I had no one who actually cared about me in my life. I lived in ‘trap houses’ and scummy motels that made Motel 6 look like the Four Seasons.
My family wanted nothing to do with me. Every time they would try and help me out, I would end up stealing whatever I could. They had to protect themselves and chose to stay away from me. I couldn’t care for my son, and he went to live with his dad and step mom. I would barely get to see him because I was never ‘well enough’ to make it to whatever function or football game I said I would be at. My life was so unmanageable. I had track marks from the needles all over my body and had to wear a jacket to the beach to cover them up.
I really wanted to stop! I had every intention of stopping ‘tomorrow!’ Using drugs was not fun anymore. It was mandatory, I no longer had a choice. It literally made every decision for me – if and when I showered, if and when I ate, if and when I slept, who my friends were, if I answered the phone.
I remember time moving so slowly and I could never get anything accomplished. On top of it I was doing Meth. I started to lose my mind and was always ‘tweaking’ and even became a ‘dumpster diver’ thinking I was finding ‘treasures.’ I know that probably sounds crazy to a normal person, but it was my every day life for years.
I was 29 when I found out I was pregnant again, this time with twins. I continued to use every 4-6 hours. I know most people don’t understand how someone can use, knowing there is a baby inside of them, but I just couldn’t not use drugs. I tried! I tried so many times. The agony and pain, of not just the physical withdrawal but the mental, literally makes dying sound like a better option. So I tried to ‘manage’ my using. I tried to do less, or only do certain drugs or whatever new genius plan I had to be able to pull it together, but I always ended up in the same spot – with a needle in my arm.
I was about 25 weeks pregnant when I became really sick. Think about the worst flu you’ve ever had, now times that by 10 and add a combination of extreme shortness of breath and shooting back pains where the only position you can be is sitting straight up. I went to the hospital here in Daytona and was quickly rushed to a larger hospital in Orlando because of my serious condition. I had endocarditis, which is vegetation of the heart – caused from being a junkie.
I had open heart surgery, my lung also collapsed, and I had two more surgeries after that. I also lost both of the twins – one during open heart, and one shortly after. Their names are Kennedy and Cameron. Delivering them was extremely hard on my body after just going through open heart, but my body just naturally went into child birth. I don’t remember much from this time, I was very out of it. I just remember having a lot of problems, at one point I was read my last rights. I remember having my sister hold my hand crying, and saying, ‘Don’t go, please fight!’ I had no idea how bad things were. I had no idea that I literally deteriorated in front of everyone’s eyes and looked like a zombie from the walking dead. I didn’t know that my family had started to plan my funeral, and that everyone assumed there was no way I could pull through this, too much was wrong. I couldn’t imagine being my mom or my son, having to look at me and see me basically die in front of them, knowing I did this to myself.
I spent almost 4 months in the hospital, 3 of which I can only recall small flashbacks of moments. During my last month, I started to get better. My health started to finally turn around, and my mind started to get clear for the first time in many, many years. I also started to realize how sad everyone looked when they would come see me. I still had no clue what my disease looked like or even begin to understand the magnitude of what I had just gone through. However, I did start to finally realize I might possibly have a problem. I wanted to make a change in my life. I didn’t want to go back to my old ways. I knew God saved me for a reason. Even though I thought I might need some help, I didn’t know what ‘help’ meant. There’s not a magical rehab fairy that picks you up and helps you change your life. So I got out the hospital, with every intention of doing something different, but having no idea what that means or what that looks like, and I ended up going back to the people, places, and things that were familiar to me.
Birds fly, fish swim, and addicts use. That’s what I did. I went right back to what I was doing, except now I was 100% killing myself. It’s crazy looking back because growing up, the town I’m from and the group of friends I had, was known for losing so many young people, way too early in life. Prior to my surgery I thought I was invincible, like it would never happen to me, but with endocarditis, it’s not if you’ll die if you continue using, it’s when! The infection will come back, and they will only do surgery once to correct it. The success rate is extremely low because of this. Most people die from endocarditis because they’re either not strong enough to endure surgery or can’t stay clean after. I used for about a month. Every time I used I knew I was literally killing myself.
One night, enough was enough. I had just enough willingness to call my sister, Katie, and I asked for help. I knew I didn’t want to die a junkie. I knew I had to do something – that my children, Zach, Kennedy, and Cameron, deserved for me to try. Just try and do something different.
I got on a plane, and I moved to Virginia for 3 months. My sister and her husband were kind enough to take me in and help me try to rebuild my life. They also brought me to church twice a week, which was the only relief I would have, mentally. I was withdrawing cold turkey and was dealing with depression at this time. I had no clue how to do life again. I was, for the first time in 10 years, drug-free but still absolutely, 100% miserable. I thought about dying every day and how it seemed like a better option. I didn’t think living or life was for me. I put the drugs down, but I still wasn’t capable of being what I should have been – a mom, sister, daughter. I would beg God to let me die.
I got really sick again while I was there and thought my endocarditis had come back. I went to the hospital and was admitted. For days I was convinced they were going to tell me the endocarditis was back and they were putting me on hospice. I thought that I would be 30 years old and die a junkie. I had a chance to change and didn’t take it. I was in the hospital for 5 days. I spent most of them begging God to let me live. Promising Him I would love and appreciate my life if He did so.
On the 5th day the doctors told me my endocarditis had not come back, but I did have a heart problem that was related to my first surgery. They said when/if I get more time clean, I could have it fixed. This is really when something changed inside of me. Every ounce of me wanted to live! So I decided to do something different.
I had a lot of childhood friends reach out to me over those last few months. They told me they too lost their way but were now in recovery and had beautiful lives. On social media they looked so happy. That was so attractive to me! They said if I ever wanted to go to a 12-step meeting to call them, and they would take me. I moved back to Florida with my mom, and I reached out to those people who had invited me to the meetings with them.
I remember my first meeting, very clearly. I remember feeling like I had found everything I was missing. For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me internally, like I was so far gone that I could never make my way back. But these people were talking about things I had experienced, and I was able to say and hear the most comforting words: ‘me too!’ Not to mention they all looked genuinely happy. They all had smiles and hugged each other. They had nice cars and spoke of their children and their families. For the first time, in what seemed like forever, I felt like I belonged. I felt like this is where I needed to be.
I dove into this 12-step program. I decided I knew what my life would look like if I went back to my old ways, but I had no clue what my life would look like if I took a chance on myself and did these simple things people suggested. 90 meetings in 90 days, call people, read, say a prayer about staying clean, and above all, don’t use, no matter what. I did all the things, and my life got better- I got better! It still doesn’t make sense how or why these things work, but they just do. The obsession to use drugs was lifted from me, and I just kept tackling one obstacle after the other. For so long I hoped it was possible for me to get my life together, but the more I kept doing the next right thing, the more the good would just organically flow for me.
One of the greatest gifts of recovery was the fact that I got my family back. They slowly started to come around. They could trust me and start counting on me again. Above all, I stopped making them worry. My son is back in my life, and he couldn’t be more proud of me. We are so close, and I am just so grateful to be his mom. Another priceless gift of recovery is the relationships I have formed over the last few years. I have not had to face any challenge in life alone, and truly don’t know what I’d do without some of these men and women I am blessed to call my friends.
I believe God saved me through all of this to make my way into recovery. He gave me this shiny, positive spirit when He healed my heart. I know that I’m 100% a different person today. My clean date is 4/28/15. As I write this, I have almost 3.5 years with no mood or mind altering substances in my body. I have gone through my father dying, my 2nd open heart surgery, heartbreak, gaining 100lbs as well as all the feelings associated with those things, all the while never picking up a drink or a drug to deal with whatever situation I am in.
I believe in continuing to grow and change. This work has allowed me to address a lot of the inside issues I’ve faced my entire life. The insecurities, feelings of inadequacy and not being good enough combined with being selfish, entitled and self-centered to my very core. I realized I had a Stacey problem. Drugs and alcohol are just the things I used to deal with my problem. My way of thinking is what is screwed up. I was obsessive and compulsive in so many areas and my brain would always tell me the worst possible things. The drugs quieted the voices but didn’t make them go away. I am finally able to accept responsibility for all of my actions, and I realize I was the cause, and accepting that was the solution for everything. It opened the door to healing. This job I’ve been tasked with is something I’ve taken very seriously, and I want to continue peeling back the layers.
The gift of recovery has changed me in a way that I am able to utilize it for everything now. I wanted to quit smoking, so I applied what I’ve learned in recovery. I wanted to lose the weight I had gained when I first got clean. So again, I applied what I’ve learned, did the work (the healthy way) and today I’m down 50 lbs!
The life I have lived in this 3.5 years is truly ‘my best life!’ There is so much tangible evidence of an intangible power greater then myself at work and I am so grateful to be in a place where I can not only see it, but feel it around me. God has a way of showing himself to me to remind me to keep going. This article, in fact, I believe to be a ‘wink’ from God. I have recently been going through a tough, personal situation when I was asked to write this article. This is my life’s passion, this is what I live for. To give hope to the hopeless! To show people what a mess I once was, and if I can do it, ANYONE can. I know I am lucky to be alive and believe that with my second chance at life, I have a purpose. For that reason, I choose to break my anonymity. I am a grateful recovering addict!
If you’re reading this and are an addict, know an addict, or love an addict, just know there is a different way out there. Change is possible.
Resources are limited but are slowly getting better. There are many different fellowships, 1-800 numbers and websites all offering help. Find a meeting. Raise your hand, and ask for help, God will do the rest.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stacey Johnson, 33, of Dayton, Florida. Do you have a compelling overcoming addiction story? We’d like to hear about your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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