‘I remember screaming, ‘What part of no don’t you understand!’ He looked at me shocked, and asked if I was ‘okay.’ ‘She’s harmless,’ he said. I had no idea what he had. I’d never seen it before.’

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“In early spring of 2014 I met a Facebook friend in town. His name was Michael. We had been friends online for a year, and finally decided to meet up downtown. Michael was young man in his late 20’s. He was very smart, eclectic in his style, full of odd humor and had a love for the outdoors. He quickly became my best friend. I was only 23 and never actually had a true friend in my adult years, so I spent a lot of time with him. I was excited to go see him every day I could.

Michael was carefree. I was a little less carefree, as I had two young children at home to take care of, but I lived vicariously through him. To be honest, I was jealous. I had become a mother at 17 and had to drop out of school. I never got the chance to go to prom, pull a senior prank or have a spring break vacation like my other classmates. For this, I was often resentful of the other people my age living a free life. He knew this, and tried to give me a chance to break free when I could.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

A few months into our friendship, Michael offered me a pill to ‘ease up a bit.’ He said it was Ritalin. I have never taken pills. I was terrified of them. I had unmovable trust in him though, so I took it. I felt amazing. I had energy I never had before and a heightened happiness that was unlike anything else. He started giving them to me often. Eventually, I started to pay him for them. I’d take 3 or 4 at a time. It was the feeling of happiness and freedom I had longed for in a tiny little pill.

A few weeks later, on August 7th, 2014, I was staying the night at his house watching Tosh.0. It was getting close to midnight and I was tired. I had tried falling asleep, but he begged me to stay up. He said he had a friend coming over he wanted me to meet. I stayed awake a bit longer. Moments later, his friend arrives.

‘Emily,’ said Michael. ‘This is Matt. He just got out of jail, but he’s really cool.’ As usual, I didn’t think anything of it, because if Michael said he was cool, then he was cool. Never a second thought to his word. Matt pulled out a wad of a paper towel from his pocket and unwrapped a glass tube. He looked at me shocked, and asked Michael if I was ‘okay.’ He told him I was harmless. I had no idea what Matt had. I have never seen it before.

‘You want to smoke with us?,’ asked Matt, then he paused. ‘Have you smoked this before?’ I said, ‘No, but I mean, I was going to at some point in my life. I’ve done everything else!’ I was lying. I still had no idea what Matt had in his hand was actually Crystal Meth. I had smoked DMT a month ago, but other than that, I had only ever smoked weed or cigarettes. I didn’t know anything about drugs or what they looked like.

After Matt talked to a quite inebriated Michael, he agreed to let me smoke with them. I was still exhausted, but I didn’t like missing out on things. Matt held a glass tube up to my lips. He told me to breathe out as much as I could and when he says ‘go,’ to breathe in as slowly as I could. He lit his lighter and said go. Smoke went up the tube and into my lungs. It felt like forever. I exhaled. I didn’t feel any different, or so I thought. This went on for about half an hour between the 3 of us. I looked over at Matt and I remember him saying, ‘Whoa! Look at Emily’s eyes! She’s rolling on dubs!’ My pupils were huge. I realized I wasn’t tired anymore. I was happy and excited. Happier than Ritalin had ever made me. I stayed up all night conversing about anything and everything. I was on top of the world.

I remember watching the sun come up. It made me feel sick, but I wasn’t tired. Matt and I had become great friends. I had started coming over more often, staying up for days at a time, and leaving my kids with my family more often.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

It took me three weeks to figure out what I had smoked. When I finally knew, it was too late. I was fully addicted and I didn’t care. I quit my job. I stayed out every night. I didn’t go home often. Sadly, I didn’t even think of my kids most of the time. All I cared about was getting high.

I don’t know when my family found out. They never directly said anything to me about it. I was still living with my grandmother and my two sons. I wasn’t there often, and when I was, I was locked in my room getting high. I like to think I had it easy while I was using. I had a car that belonged to me. I had access to money and no warrants. I wasn’t someone you came across often in the ‘dope game.’ That’s what everyone called it.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

This led me to meeting more people. Dangerous people. Felons convicted of capital murder. People who were absconded. People who were big time dealers in my town. They were always happy to give me meth for a free ride.

After a month or so, I met Jim. Jim was a quiet guy who had a way with words. The first time I met him, he said, ‘There’s only two ways out of this lifestyle. You go to jail, or you die.’

Jim took the place of Michael. He became my new best friend. He showed me how to deal drugs, how to ‘hit a lick,’ how to break a lock, how to steal, and how to manipulate anyone to get what you want. Michael was angry with me. He was angry I got addicted. He said I shouldn’t have since he didn’t. He started blaming me for all the things that went wrong in his life. I didn’t listen, nor did I care.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

I wouldn’t worry about Michael. I had to worry about myself. As a female in the dope world, your word matters very little. I was almost raped one night by one of Jim’s friends. I stopped him by pulling a knife out on him and nearly stabbing him in the stomach. I remember screaming, ‘What part of no don’t you understand!’ I tried to tell his friends, but they just laughed. No one ever believed me. Later on down the road, we would meet again and we fought. I had a metal baseball bat. I swung at his head, and I blacked out. I remember two grown men trying to push me back against a wall while I threw a long stick with a blade on it at him as he fell down the front stairs. I had never been so violent, but when you are using, you know a rage unlike anything else.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

The thing about meth is that it will make you emotionless. You don’t care if your son in crying for you to come back home. You don’t care that your grandmother is crying in the store because she can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner. You don’t care that you need to take your oldest son to the ER because he’s having an asthma attack. It makes you care about one thing. Getting high.

When you come down, you have to face everything you did. You have to face your family’s disappointment, your children’s cries, your life that is shattering before your eyes. It’s a lot to handle, so you keep getting high to keep running from it.

I met a lot of people after Jim, but the ones I called my ‘family’ while I was using were Paul and Rebecca. They were a married couple who shot dope and cooked it too. They took me in when I decided I didn’t want to stay at home anymore. I became so scared if I left their house I would miss the opportunity to get high, so I never left.

I left my family. I left my kids. I packed up all my things one night and I moved out. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t kiss my kids goodbye. I left without a second thought.

I remember when I got there, I went in the bathroom and started bawling. I haven’t cried since I started using. My brain didn’t understand why I was crying, but my heart did. I couldn’t stop. Paul came and got me and he got me high. The crying stopped and yet again, I was carefree. At that moment I said, ‘I will quit when I’m ready, but for now I’m going to have a good time.’

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

Living with Paul and Rebecca was different. They were dealers, so there was a lot of traffic in and out. People bringing in stolen items, sometimes even cars and boats. They also didn’t smoke. They were IV users. I was the only one in the house who ever smoked. It became harder to do. Either we had run out of light bulbs or lighters and I couldn’t get high.

I got tired of it one day. I went to Paul’s room and sat on the edge of his bed. I was covered in sores where I picked my face or my arms. My hair was falling out. My teeth and body hurt. I lied to him. I told him that I’ve been shooting up, but I wasn’t good at it. He looked at my arm and mistook the picking scars for where I was supposedly shooting up at. He was so upset. He told me, ‘I will be the only one to shoot you up from now on. Rebecca, give me a point!’

I was suddenly scared to death. I hadn’t experienced a needle before, and they were getting one ready for me. I didn’t know what to expect. He grabbed my arm, felt for a vein, and before I knew it, he has sticking a needle in my arm. Blood was filling the syringe and he pushed it in. I expected it to hurt, but I didn’t feel a thing. I could feel the drug rushing up my arm. My chest started to get hot and I coughed. Paul laughed and said, ‘That’s some good sh*t right there, isn’t it?’ My body went fully numb. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move. I felt a sense of euphoria. This was nothing like smoking. It was a whole new world.

Paul kept doing this for me until the day I quit. I started out only using a little, then I started using more than he was, and he had been using for over 20 years.

I didn’t see or talk to my family much during this time. I can’t tell you how my kids were doing in school. I can’t tell you what exciting things they did on the weekend. I don’t know how many times they asked, ‘When is mommy coming home?’

I did come home for Christmas, but I stayed in what used to be my bedroom. Now only a mattress on the floor and a chair. I remember my dad coming in. He was yelling and screaming. He got violent. He pushed me down and shook me. He knew exactly what I was doing. He was upset with me. I was his only child, and I had turned into a junkie. I don’t blame him for his anger. I just wished he had helped me instead.

During the time of my using, I actually had a boyfriend. His name was Mason. We met that same year, only months before I started using. We met March 17th, 2014, at work. I was working on becoming a trainer at a call center, and he was in the class I was shadowing at the time. The strange thing was is that neither of us were supposed to be there. He was supposed to be in a different class, and I was supposed to wait another month to start training, but in a turn of events, we were in the same class.

We had an instant connection. We were both seeing different people, but we had become close friends. We went different ways a month or so later. He had moved to Wisconsin and I, well I got caught up in drugs.

One night when I was high, I had messaged him on Facebook out of the blue. We connected, and we started dating in October.

Mason was with me through everything. He was 1,000 miles away, but we Skyped. He heard my adventures of thievery, rape, and drugs. He was so far away but he stood by me through it all.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

January 29th, 2015, Mason left everything behind in Wisconsin. He left his job, his friends and family to be with me. At the time, I was heavily using. I was still living in a trap house. Yet he came to be with me. He witnessed firsthand what the lifestyle was like. He never used. He didn’t do anything but stayed in our bedroom.

The reason I bring up Mason is important because he is the one who saved my life. After Mason came down, I became more worried about his well-being than my own. It hurts to say I cared about him more than my children, but it was true. After a few weeks, the house had more traffic than usual. People started coming in and doing heroin, coke and popping pills. Paul and Rebecca had stayed in their room and stopped talking to me. I knew Mason couldn’t live this way.

I called my grandma and asked her to come pick us up. Mason gathered his things, I got a few of mine and we left. I didn’t have a plan, but I’d like to say God did. I went back a few more times to get high. The last time was when I knew this had to end.

Paul had made his yearly batch of ‘Paul’s dope’ that was supposed to be the purest meth in the state. I remember when he gave me my last shot. It was different than the rest because I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel the rush. My heart didn’t race. I didn’t cough. I remember thinking, ‘Oh sh*t. If I can’t get high on Paul’s dope, I’m going to end up killing myself.’

We went back to my grandmas. It was February 11th. Valentine’s Day was almost here and I told myself I wouldn’t be high on our first holiday together. February 12th, 2015, was my first day clean. I had no idea that the day prior was the last day I would ever use. I stayed clean because of Mason.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

I believe we met under the circumstances we did because God knew what was going to happen and he put Mason in my life to save me. He watched me cry, struggle, and get angry because I wanted to use, but he never left my side. Still to this day I have flashbacks and I struggle with the thoughts and memories of my past. I will for the rest of my life, but it has gotten easier over time.

Less than a month after getting clean, I got job and a pink scooter to get to work. I actually got a job doing drug testing! A few months down the line, I found out I was pregnant with twins. God put Mason here to help me through this journey and he gave me my twins to stay clean.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley
Courtesy of Emily Tilley

It took me over a year to truly recover and find myself again. When I look back on pictures of myself before I used, I don’t see me. It hurts unlike anything else. I was a creative, colorful person and I feel like that part of me was killed off. Finding yourself again, along with everything else that comes with recovery, such as making amends with the people you hurt and facing your mistakes are some of the hardest parts of it.

Today I am over four years clean. I am the Director of Community Events at a marketing company that raises money for Children’s Hospitals nationwide. I have my own car and house where all my children live, and Mason and I have been married for almost 2 years on March 17th of this year. I’ve made a complete 180 change.

Photo by Bobby Hitt

There is hope for those in addiction. There is hope for the families who have to see their loved ones struggle. I can honestly say this though, I never met an addict who didn’t want to get clean. The will is there. If you know someone struggling with drugs, please don’t give up on them. There comes a point when you must stop supporting them with money or rides, but never give up on them. An addict will get clean when they are ready, they just have to reach their own rock bottom first. Love those who are suffering, because I am proof that you can change your life. There is hope.

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

If you see an addict on the streets or on TV, please remember they are someone’s daughter, son, mother, father, grandfather. They were just like you and I promise you, they never wanted to end up like that.”

Courtesy of Emily Tilley

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emily Tilley of Hot Springs, Arkansas. You can follow her recovery journey on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more empowering stories of people overcoming their addictions:

‘I went to see my OBGYN, cried over an evil man being the baby’s father, and screamed about my sobriety. She calmly sat next to my hospital bed, and handed me the ultrasound pictures.’

‘I was ABANDONED on my grandma’s front porch with a note that said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ My own mother said those five words about me when I was only 8 months old.’

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