‘I’d flip the TV off, say goodnight to my parents, head to the bathroom, grab my sunglasses case, opening it up to my spoon, baggies, and needle. Into my veins the heroin would go.’

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“I shouldn’t be alive.

I’m sure you’ve heard of that show before, I Shouldn’t Be Alive. It’s the one where people tell incredible stories of overcoming unbelievable situations, like being trapped in a snowstorm on a mountain in the middle of nowhere for days on end or hiding out in a closet from a maniac killer roaming the house. I always envied their willpower and strength. I’d lay on the couch in the living room struggling to keep my eyes open, nodding off every few minutes but somehow always waking up for the ending of the show, where the person would tell how they did it. How they survived the unthinkable. How they managed to conquer this overwhelming event and go on to live a normal, meaningful life. Every conclusion seemed to speak to me, and I’d come to an epiphany of some sort, thinking to myself, ‘I’ve got this. I can do this. If they can get past these horrible situations, so can I. And I will.’ I’d flip the TV off, say goodnight to my parents who would be watching with me, and head to the bathroom. I’d go underneath the sink and grab my sunglasses case, opening it up to my spoon, baggies, and needle. I’d go through the process of carefully getting everything together, tying off my hand, and into my veins the heroin would go. ‘I can do this, and I will,’ I thought, ‘just not today.’

I started drinking alcohol at 14 and started using drugs at the ripe young age of 15. I can’t remember exactly what I abused first, but I remember being at boarding school downing 10 or more Benadryl at a time because I liked that it made me feel ‘different.’ I had a prescription for Lunesta because I had ‘insomnia’ and would take 3 or 4 at a time, fight to stay awake, and then start hallucinating. I thought it was the coolest thing; I felt happy and creative and unique when I took it. I’d draw and write after downing a bottle of cough syrup and admire my work the next morning because to me it was ‘deep’ and ‘intense,’ something it wouldn’t have been if I were sober. This would go on for a few years until I had to move back home after being expelled for alcohol and drug use. No big deal, I was just a teenager partying.

Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa

When I got home, things really picked up and I got to experience Roxicodone for the first time. Up until this time, I was popping pills. Never had crushed one, rolled up a fresh bill and snorted it; now was the time. Some friends who lived in my neighborhood showed me how and I distinctly remember hating the nasty chemical powder in the back of my throat after snorting a roxy that made me cough and continuously swallow. But the high it gave me was oh so fantastic. Unmatchable. Popping pills was a thing of the past; I was on to the next level and loving every minute of it.

Over the next few years I was buying roxy’s each week, dabbling with cocaine, ecstasy, xanax, and anything else I could get my hands on. I was partying with friends on the weekends, drinking and doing drugs and living life to the fullest. I’d go to my high school classes during the day if I wasn’t feeling too bad from the night before and snort a few roxy’s to mellow me out. I didn’t have a problem, everyone I knew was doing this. Well, maybe not the harder drugs, but no big deal. So what if every night I came home reeking of alcohol, or would nod off while watching TV with my family, or had trouble formulating sentences because I was so xanny’d out? I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa

I got kicked out of the second high school I attended for selling drugs and went on to get my GED and start college classes. I was using roxy’s now daily and would snort 4 or 5 in a 24-hour period. I went through multiple jobs, each one ending for some reason tied to my drug use. I ended up withdrawing from many of my classes because I just didn’t have the time to actually attend class or complete certain assignments because I would be in my car in a parking lot for hours waiting on my dealer. Once I got my roxy’s, though, I was golden. I could show up to work and be the biggest team player or write the most magnificent paper for my classes. These times soon became few and far between.

I decided to try and make a new start by going to a university that was out of state. At this point, I had been to detox and counseling for my drug use and felt like getting out of the area would help keep me on the straight and narrow. I still drank and partied each weekend at university and ended up finding a boyfriend, now my husband. I remember opening up and sharing with him the struggles I had with drug use and partying. He was supportive and sympathetic, and the day I asked him if he knew anyone with roxy’s he shot down the idea immediately. This didn’t stop me from finding them though, and within a month I was back to snorting them every day.

Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa

Where before I was doing drugs at parties and with friends, I was now using in secret. All day, every day. I had to hide the bag of pills I’d keep on me in hidden, self-made compartments of my purse so my boyfriend wouldn’t find them. There were many instances where I’d snort a bunch of pills before a party, drink on top of that, end up passing out at the party house and wake up completely unaware of what happened the night before. My boyfriend was suspicious of my behavior, but I was able to cover up my drug use for the most part. That was before the needle.

I said I’d never use a needle. Never, ever, because a needle was for junkies and that’s not what I was. The day my dealer shot me up, a cop pulled in directly behind us as we were parked in a driveway, flipped his lights on, came up and checked us out, and left. I was having a borderline panic attack so I didn’t really feel the heroin rush, but the second time I did it to myself, I did. I felt everything. It was the most amazing, intense rush of warmth and pure happiness I’d ever experienced, and I would chase that feeling over the next 2 years.

When I decided to move back home after withdrawing from all my university classes, I lasted a week before my parents sent me to a detox and 30-day treatment center. At this point, I was waking up every day and scouring the house for anything and everything I could take to the pawn shop. I took lawn equipment, camcorders, a laptop, a GPS, DVDs, jewelry, clothing, shoes, etc. I remember having only a few shirts, gym pants, and shoes to wear that the consignment store wouldn’t take. I remember taking everything I could from my parent’s jewelry boxes that seemed like it would be of value, having this idea in my head that they wouldn’t notice and even if they did, I’d worry about coming up with an excuse later. One I’ll never forget was a gold charm bracelet of my mom’s that I got $300 for at the pawn shop, what a day for me! I was able to buy a good amount of many bags of heroin to hold me over for a few days. I found out later the bracelet was worth over $3,000, one that my mom had been collecting charms on from different destinations over the years.

I went to multiple detoxes and treatment centers only to come out and drive straight to my dealer. Nothing to me was more important than shooting heroin, not my friends, not my family, not my boyfriend, not eating, not sleeping, nothing. I hooked up with sketchy people and would go to sketchy, run down motels to find my fixes. I started doing crack cocaine for no reason whatsoever, because the people around me were doing it. I was stealing every day, riding around and waiting in parking lots for hours for my dealers. My day consisted of waking up around 6 or 7 a.m. sick as could be, hopping in my car, driving 45 minutes to a trailer park where grungy, zombie-looking individuals would line up outside a trailer. They’d open a little window, slip money in, and a hand would emerge with bags of heroin or cocaine. I’d stay out all day long stealing and selling, driving back to the trailer park, heading back out to find money, getting high in my car, and ending up back at home around 9 or 10 p.m. At one point when the trailer park ran out of heroin, I was so sick and desperate I shot a bag of cocaine. I had a friend on speakerphone, telling them to call 911 if I stopped responding because I had never shot cocaine before and was terrified I might die. But I needed something.

Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa

I remember being pulled over late one night after grabbing a fix. It was so strong that after shooting only half of it with my friend, we almost passed out in the car. We decided to save the rest in a needle in the glove compartment just to be safe, something I immediately regretted when the cop walked up to my window. He made me get out and do a field sobriety test, which after passing, let us go on our way. I nodded off multiple times in parking lots and even driving at certain points, waking up just in time to swerve off the road and not cause a serious collision. I remember shooting up a friend of mine for the first time in our church’s bathroom stall and having her overdose in front of me, falling to the ground, pupils pinpoint, her life seeming to slip away. I called 911, terrified and completely clueless as to what to do. When the paramedics and police showed up, they pumped my friend full of Narcan and took her to the hospital. I still had leftover bags of heroin in my wallet, but when the cops checked my purse they didn’t find anything.

Rock bottom for me was pulling up to the trailer park welcomed by 20-plus cop cars and armed police just minutes after a massive DEA bust went down. I kept driving past the mayhem with one thought in my head, that I could’ve been one of those people in there getting arrested if I had shown up just minutes before. My home life and the relationships I still had were falling apart; no one trusted me and I was days away from moving out to the streets. I had nowhere else to go to buy the amount of heroin I needed after the trailer park bust and because of this I was so sick I couldn’t even move. My boyfriend had given me multiple chances and said he couldn’t handle the lies and manipulation anymore; he was going to leave me. I was completely and utterly defeated.

December 18, 2013, was the last day I stuck a needle in my arm. After spending my 20th birthday in detox, it was time to rebuild my life. Today, I am married and have a 6-month old baby boy with the man who stuck by me through the hell that was my life. I have a strong relationship with my parents and brothers who supported me throughout my entire addiction and never gave up on me.

Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa

The gym has become a big part of my recovery; I currently am a bodybuilder/powerlifter and thrive on health and wellness. I graduated a nursing program in April of this year and work as a registered nurse on a postpartum unit in Framingham, Massachusetts. I get to connect and mentor pregnant women with addictions who give birth at our hospital and comfort their babies as they suffer through withdrawal. I have dedicated a big piece of my life to fighting the opiate epidemic that is sweeping our nation today.

Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa
Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa
Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa

I am alive today purely because of multiple divine interventions. There are so many times when I should’ve been arrested, should’ve overdosed, should’ve died, but I didn’t. The people around me didn’t give up on me and most importantly, neither did God. I am alive and here to show those still struggling that it is possible to survive and conquer this disease. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And if my experiences can help save just one person from this dying to such a senseless illness, it would make it all worth it in the end.”

Courtesy of Cassandra Giampa

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cassandra Giampa, 24, of Boston, Massachusetts. Have you struggled with addiction and are now sober? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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