“I remember being a young child sitting in the back of our VW BUG, watching my dad shoot up heroin in the front seat. I remember never having a stable living situation and always being around random people. I didn’t know at the time that my life was far from normal, it was all I knew, and it was what was normal for me. The drug houses, the crime, the camping all the time, the parents in and out of jail, the moving all the time, the physical + mental + emotional abuse. This was my norm.
I was the oldest of 4 kids, I have 2 younger brothers and a younger sister. I was the one responsible to care for them. All of this chaos happening and having the weight of the world on your shoulders, trying to care for your younger siblings is a lot to deal with as a kid. There are very few things I remember from my childhood. I blocked it all out because of the trauma it caused me. There is not a single childhood memory with my parents that I remember feeling happy or feeling like I was loved. I was always scared, lonely, and felt like I didn’t belong. What kind of childhood is that? For a child to feel like they aren’t loved and don’t belong in their own family is absolutely heart breaking. I don’t say this for pity. I say this because this is the reality of children whose parents’ lives are consumed by addiction.
My dad and step mom were constantly in and out of jail. I never knew where they were, I just thought they were gone. There is one day I distinctly remember watching my dad get taken away by the police. I was playing in the neighbor’s yard across the street from my grandma’s house (this is where we were staying at the time). I watched as the cops pulled up a few houses past ours. We all stopped what we were doing to watch. The police officers got out of their cars and started walking towards my house, then they pulled out their guns and crept up the driveway… MY DRIVEWAY. They knocked on the door and my grandma answered, next thing you know they are in and arresting my dad. I was still sitting across the street just watching as they pulled him from the house. I ran across the street in a full sprint screaming and yelling, begging them not to take my dad. I hugged onto the bottom of his legs and wouldn’t let go until I was pulled off him. I was absolutely devastated.
Growing up I remember always telling myself I would never be like my Dad. I would do any and everything to not be like him. Little did I know that I’d end up just like him. He ended up going to prison for several years for bank robbery stemming from another arrest. My brothers, sister, and I were all torn apart. DHS stepped in and I went to live with my grandma and my siblings went into foster care. I didn’t understand that I was never going to see them again. I was just a little girl whose world was torn apart. My parents were gone. My siblings were gone, and I had to start over without them. I started going to school regularly and did well. My grandma put me in sports, and I did all the after-school activities. I saw all these other kids with normal lives, they had both parents, lived in nice homes, had nice things, and then there was me. My grandma was working all the time just to barely make it by for us. Anytime I was asked about where my parents were, I’d lie. I was too ashamed to tell them the reality. My go-to story was, ‘My parents work out of state that’s why they can’t be here.’ How could I tell these kids and their parents the truth? How does a 3rd grader explain to other people the hell they’ve been through?
I lived a pretty ‘normal’ life once I moved in with my grandma, all the way up until my sophomore year in high school. I always had the feeling of not being good enough and that I never fit in anywhere. This is when I first started drinking. I drank and immediately felt the liquid courage kick in. I was amazing. I was awesome. Everybody loved me! I’d drink until oblivion and was the happiest I’d ever been. Happy to not have to feel anything, happy to be away from my reality, I was happy to numb the world around me. We lived across the street from the High School, so we’d skip class and go to my house to drink. This happened up until the school officer caught on to what was happening, and I was expelled my junior year.
Drinking started a very slippery slope for me and lead to every other drug under the sun. Once I found my true love, heroin, my life was over. Nothing in the world mattered besides how I was going to get my next fix. I had sold everything I owned that was worth any value, and even my grandmothers’ things. I was doing any and everything I could to get money to get that next bag. They call it ‘chasing the dragon.’ I ended up in jail multiple times for theft and possession. This was my hustle to get by. I turned into the person I said I would never be. I betrayed everybody’s trust, I lied, I stole, I cheated. I was a monster.
Life on the streets is dangerous and most of my addiction I can’t remember. I will never forget the time I got my jaw broken by a grown man. I was walking through the parking lot of K-Mart when a guy I thought was my friend ran up to me yelling at me. Screaming in my face. ‘Women don’t disrespect me, you owe me money.’ Bam. Right hook straight to my face. I fell to the ground and blood was leaking everywhere. I then got up and ran because I was scared somebody would have called the cops and I had a warrant. A car pulled up next to me and I realized I knew who they were. They took me to an apartment where I sat in the bathroom for hours trying to get high enough to numb the pain. My whole face was swollen, and it was obvious my jaw was broken. I decided to go to the hospital using a different name so I couldn’t go to jail for my warrant. They dropped me off at the hospital and it was the last thing I remembered. I was in a daze for 2 weeks. I stayed at random people’s houses while I recovered from my injury. My possessions were stolen from me. My dope was gone. My phone was gone. I was helpless and they robbed me. But this wasn’t enough for me to quit. I couldn’t quit.
Shortly after this happened, I went to somebody’s house to pick up money he owed me, and his girlfriend came out with a long kitchen knife threatening me. He held her back and took the knife, but she came at me and next thing you know I’m smashed up against a fence with a pit bull lock-jawed, hanging from my arm. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I thought I was going to die if they didn’t get the dog off me. Once he was off, I ran as fast as I could to the end of the street where my ride was waiting. Another hospital visit it was. I put myself in a lot of risky situations and I am truly lucky to be alive.
I’ve overdosed 7 times and had to be brought back to life with Narcan each time. One time I specifically remember I was driving down the freeway in the passenger seat of my friend’s Chevy. We were dope sick and had just picked up. We were headed back to my grandma’s house, just 1 exit away, when I cooked up some heroin, pulled it up in the syringe and shot up in my neck. I do not remember what happened next but can tell you what I’ve been told. My friend pulled over on the side of the freeway to give me CPR. I started breathing again, barely just enough for him to make it to my house. He carried my lifeless body into the living room of my grandma’s house, laid me on the floor and called 911. This sounds crazy, but I remember seeing ‘the light.’ I could hear voices of my grandma and aunt yelling at me to wake up, but I couldn’t wake up. I feel like I was on the verge of passing when I got a shot of Narcan and was able to open my eyes. ‘What year is it? What’s your name? What day is it?,’ the paramedics were asking me. I could barely answer them. Another hospital stay it was.
All these things happened to me, but I couldn’t stop using. I couldn’t imagine my life without the use of drugs. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with life on life’s terms. I was constantly in and out of jail, and on March 13th, 2013, I was arrested for the last time.
Just two days later, March 15th, 2013, is my clean date – and it’s one that I’ve never jeopardized. I was given the opportunity to go to an intensive 6-month minimum inpatient program. I sat in jail for 60 days before going, and even I got there I wanted to leave but couldn’t because I was still considered an inmate. During my time there, I did extensive work on myself and my traumas from my childhood. I learned I would be okay without drugs and that I could live with the pain. I learned to not be the victim and to take accountability for my own actions. I learned I can break the cycle and start over.
Since being clean I have lived a life I could have never even imaged possible for myself. I get to show up for myself and my daughter, who I’ve had since being clean. She’s 3 years old and never has to see me loaded. I must be the mother to her that I never had and always wanted.
I now celebrate 6 years of complete sobriety. If you looked at my current life from the outside, you’d see the nice house, nice belongings, nice car, and vacations. But what you don’t see is the internal growth. You don’t get to see that I feel free. I feel free from my demons.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kortnie Smith, 29, of Portland, Oregon. You can follow her recovery journey on Instagram. Do 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.
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