“She picked me up from school 30 minutes late. Drunk. Again. We went to the bar in the plaza where she always drank. She handed me a roll of quarters to play pinball. We stayed long after the quarters were gone. I would beg her to leave, but I knew from experience that it wouldn’t get me anywhere. Later we would drive home and I’d clench my gut the whole time, scared of what she might hit or, maybe worse, that she’d go to jail again. Once we arrived home, I would cry myself to sleep and tell myself that I would never be like her. I would have a family and kids and I would never be like her. I’d dream about my father (whom I’d never met) rescuing me. I just knew he was out there somewhere missing me. He would love me in a way she hadn’t.
At 14 I got to test this theory. She was on her way to prison; a warrant was out for her arrest and it was only a matter of time. She knew it, so she took me on a summer long road trip from Texas to Oregon to meet the man I’d been dreaming about ever since I could remember. I was drinking every chance I got at this point. I had started the summer before when, in a vain attempt to get her to stop drinking, I chugged a bottle of liqueur thinking it would scare her. If it did, she didn’t show it.
I still remember the first time I saw him. It wasn’t what I was expecting. The fireworks weren’t there. There was no connection. He felt like a stranger… because he was. She was arrested the day after we arrived in Oregon, which made for hardly a smooth transition. I lived with him for the next year and a half, the whole time he felt like a stranger. We never connected. That longing to feel wanted and loved lingered still… maybe even grew deeper. I left when I was 15 after a huge falling out. He wanted me to be someone I wasn’t: a normal kid. He didn’t realize how broken I was and that lingering hole that I thought he could fill made me angry. So I left.
The partying took off from there and I became pregnant with my oldest daughter at 16. I dropped out of school and spent the next 3 years trying to fill that hole with my first husband… and alcohol, of course. It didn’t work and the rage continued. Thinking back to the love we shared when my daughter was born, we decided to have another baby. That would solve the distance that was widening between us… right? Wrong.
When our son was 6 months old, we separated and I joined the Army, where my alcoholism flourished and evolved into a pill addiction. It’s a shame, really, because I would have truly loved the Army had I been sober during that time. It offered so many of the things I craved: structure, family, security. But instead it became an enabler. If I was hurt, I got pills. If I was anxious, I got pills. If I was sad, I got pills. Pills, pills, and more pills to stop whatever ailment I claimed to have. I quickly learned to manipulate the doctors and get what I wanted. Drinking was widely accepted and no one in the company ever even suggested that I may have a problem or that I should get help. Ironically, my mother was the only one to voice any concern about my drinking and using… and I certainly wasn’t going to listen to her. ‘Well isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?’
I got out of the Army even more broken than before. I had a life full of trauma and a newly acquired pill addiction. My other addiction was men. It always had been. Always trying to fill that emptiness in me with someone or something else… but always ending up even more broken and empty than before.
After a series of bad relationships, I ultimately got involved with a man with addictions of his own. He introduced me to drugs I’d never done before and kept me strung out so that I was too foggy to realize he was abusing my son. One morning the police came to our door to arrest me for a warrant that had been issued for a robbery I committed while high. That night, after I was taken to jail, the man I had allowed into my home put my son in a coma. My ex-in-laws came to the house to make sure I was ok and found my son blue and unconscious. He was life flighted to Portland, 4 hours away, where he spent the next 3 weeks in ICU. Upon hearing of his condition and being told that I could not see him, I sunk to a low point in my addiction and stayed there for the next 2 years.
I packed up my belongings and threw them into a storage unit and took off to live homeless with a different ex-boyfriend. We got drunk while camped out one night and got into a fight. I was arrested and when I got out, he was gone. I was released from jail with a group of people, one of whom was a guy I thought was attractive. I’m sure you’re seeing a trend by now. I went with him to the coast, where I started using meth heavily. I stripped to maintain my habit, but when the money from that fell short I turned to prostitution. I didn’t care about myself anymore. I didn’t care about that hole inside of me or feeling loved. I didn’t want to feel anything at all. I wanted to die, but I was afraid.
I went to treatment at the VA once, but I really didn’t want to be sober; I just wanted out of the cold. While there, with a sliver of sobriety, I remember crying out to God: ‘God, if you’re there… if you’re real… why have you let this happen to me? Why did I deserve this horrible life?’ That night I heard God in a way I never had, and haven’t ever since. He responded to me nearly audibly: ‘I’ve been walking with you through it all along; I’ve never left you.’ That was in November 2013. I wish I could say I stayed sober at that point, but I didn’t. I wasn’t ready, but I was close.
A few months later, after being kicked out of rehab for an argument with a guy I had gotten involved with there, I was back to prostituting to pay for my habit and hopping from dope house to dope house. Most of the guys that contacted me were married men wanting to cheat and thinking that it was an easy way to not get caught. They disgusted me; but then again, I disgusted me too.
One night, I got a text from someone new. A John that would become more than that. He picked me up and we went to his house, where I got high in his bathroom. We had sex and he paid me, but I didn’t leave right away after. Instead we laid in his bed and talked, which is not something that usually happens in these situations, as you may assume. We talked about life and I told him my story, then he told me some of his. He had been sober for many years and he encouraged me that I could do it too. I was infatuated with him. He contacted me a few more times and what started as a business deal turned into a very unhealthy relationship. He was controlling and I was codependent; but I got sober. I stayed sober for him at first. Anything to keep him from leaving me. I felt a connection with another person for the first time in what felt like forever and I was scared to lose it, so I did whatever he asked, including staying sober.
When we had been dating for six months, I became pregnant with our daughter. The pregnancy was awful. I was crazy and he was abusive. I lived in fear of him taking her from me, and when she was 6 months old, he tried and failed. With nearly 2 years of recovery under my belt, we underwent a brutal, four-day custody battle and, by the grace of God, I was granted custody of our daughter. A few years later, my first husband fell to his own addiction and my older two children came back to me as well. I can’t take the credit for any of this. I may have done the work, but these were outcomes that I know my Higher Power had a hand in.
Today, I have 5 years and 9 months sober from any mind-altering substance. I’ve worked hard to heal the brokenness that led me to drink and use the way that I did. Sometimes I fall back into old behaviors (last year I rushed into a marriage that was annulled 3 months later), but I’m growing. It doesn’t happen all at once. When I got sober, I wanted everything to go back to ‘normal’ right away. Which was silly, really, since things had never been normal for me at all. I had to create a new normal. I had to create a new life… a new me. I had to change everything. I could no longer use my past traumas as a crutch to justify my behavior. I had to accept that I was more than just a victim of circumstance; I had choices.
Today I hold myself accountable for my behavior, and it’s empowering. For the most part, I get to decide how my life will go, and when things happen that are out of my control, I get to make choices about how to handle those situations. It’s freeing to live in a way that’s not held hostage by my past. I still struggle with PTSD, anxiety, depression. But today I know I can face those issues without a drink, a drug, or a man to make me feel better. That hole I lived with for so long has been filled with God and recovery, and no one can take that away from me. The promises of a better life, a life that I never could have dreamed for myself, have truly come true and more continues to manifest as long as I show up to do the work. I got sober for a man, I stayed sober for my baby, and now I stay sober for me.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tiffany Howell. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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‘Sweetheart, you were dead. Your lips were blue. CPR didn’t bring you back. Please don’t get high again.’: Woman battles heroin addiction alongside her mother, gets clean after surprise pregnancy in jail, ‘my son is a daily reminder to do the right thing’
‘I’ll shoot you up for the first time,’ the man I was sleeping with offered. I agreed. I lived a double life.’: 25-year-old overcomes prostitution to feed addiction, now manages sober living home for women
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