“I come from a big, loving family with six kids. My parents divorced when I was 2 but were amazing co-parents; my mother remarried and gave birth to a stillborn son. That is when things began to change.
We went through hard times with my mother, who was clinically depressed, checked into a hospital and became addicted to pills in order to cope. She was present physically, but not mentally or emotionally. Early on, my siblings and I learned not to talk about ‘it,’ and our emotions were not heard or validated. I became angry, bitter, and rebellious. I couldn’t understand how she could get high when she had 6 children to care for.
Even before high school, I used gateway drugs like weed and alcohol. After failing 9th grade, I was sent to a continuation school, where I would first experience hard drugs and my drug of choice. I remember one day on the way to a volleyball game, my teammates asked to borrow my folder. I agreed, only for a drug sniffing dog to alert to my backpack upon our return. I was sent to the office, where I learned my teammates had secretly used it to cut lines of meth to get high.
Fueled by curiosity, I befriended a girl from my team and tried meth for the first time. It was a Wednesday, just before school ended. I sniffed a line in the bathroom with her and went home to wait for the feeling she described. I felt some of it, but nothing like I expected, and thought to myself, ‘people really get addicted to this stuff?’ I never imagined it would happen to me.
I made friends with another girl from school, who would come along on my drug-induced rollercoaster ride. One day, she came to my house with some meth from a guy she had met off the ‘party line.’ She crushed up the meth and we used an ink pen I had cut in half to snort it in my bedroom. The high was incredible. I instantly felt amazing. I felt on top of the world, like I could do and accomplish anything. I spent the night talking with my Mom, promising her that I would do better in school. I did not sleep that entire night or the next. Despite my experience with weed and alcohol, nothing would compare to the grip that meth would have on me.
The next day, my life started changing. That was the day I realized I would need to hide my habit. I went to my best friend’s house and admitted what I had done. She told me not to visit her while high, and that she would not participate with me. My schoolmate and I soon found dealers and began using daily in the school bathrooms.
Over time, we used more and more. On September 11th of my sophomore year, my friend and I had purchased an eight ball from a dealer at school. Soon afterward, police arrived and started searching students as they entered the school. We didn’t get searched since we were already on campus, but were so afraid of getting caught that we called some girls into the bathroom and finished the eight ball within a matter of minutes. We were higher than ever, and it did not go unnoticed. We were called to the office and placed in a room where police officers would observe us. I was certain we would be discovered right then, but it took a couple days before my school counselor eventually informed my mom. It was a phone call no mother ever wants to receive.
Soon after the office incident, my mom picked me up from school and told me I had a follow-up appointment to ensure a recent kidney infection was gone. I knew instantly that she was taking me to get drug tested. I wanted to kick and scream and not get in the van but knew I didn’t have that option. 48 hours later my mother received a phone call that would turn her world upside down. She was informed that I tested positive for cocaine, meth, and weed.
I was at a friend’s house smoking weed when my mom received the test results. She called to tell me to come home, but I had fallen asleep. My friend tried, but couldn’t wake me. I vaguely remember mumbling to Mom on the phone, while she was on her way to get me. I couldn’t move. It felt as if something was holding me down. Certain I had overdosed, my mom called 911 in a panic. Emergency responders showed up at the same time as her, and rushed me to the hospital. Despite being in and out of consciousness, I remember seeing the worry on my Mom and stepdad’s face. Unbeknown to us, the weed I had smoked was laced with PCP.
After returning home, I convinced my mom I could stop if I was homeschooled, since the only place I knew where to get meth was at school. I continued to hang out and smoke weed with my best friend who lived nearby. 4 months went by and I hadn’t used meth. That ended when I met Wendy. She was a woman who was already deep in her addiction and had lost custody of her children. Our relationship started out innocently, I let her borrow my cell phone to call her kids.
Before long, Wendy introduced me to smoking meth. I would take as big a hit as I could and watch the following cloud. It gave me an amazing high each time. Soon, she had introduced me to all the users in my neighborhood. There were at least four of them. Despite trying to hide it, my addiction quickly progressed. I was sleeping in cars, motels, using all night, not eating or sleeping for days during the week. The weekend would come and I would spend it with my boyfriend, pretending that I was okay.
I was a 16-year old, dating a 21-year old. My parents forbade it, but that made me want him more. On the weekends, I wouldn’t use so I could hide it and lie to myself that I had control. In reality, I spent all weekend sleeping and coming down, to the point that I brought drugs with me in order to stay awake. I hid my addiction from him for 2 years. Eventually, he started to suspect something was wrong but never asked.
During the week I would get high whenever I could. I would sleep for days when I couldn’t get high. When I wasn’t asleep and withdrawing, I began to steal money from my sisters and parents to support my habit. I became violent with my sisters, and our fights lead them to speculate about my unnatural strength. One day I was so desperate that I returned home to steal my little brother’s Xbox games and bike money he saved. With a haunting look on his face, my 10-year old brother followed me out of the house and confronted me for taking his games. I could’ve fought him but guilt took over. I always prided myself on never being violent with my little brother and sister. I turned over the games and left with the bike money he hadn’t noticed. I felt awful that day but did what I needed to do to stay high.
I met a much older man who happened to sell drugs and lived an hour away. It wasn’t long before I left my hometown to slip away and continue to use. He was a high-functioning addict that was able to keep a job. He would go to work and I would stay at his place getting high all day. My absence didn’t go unnoticed, and my mom eventually reported me as a runaway. Staying at his place, I knew I had to provide something in order to keep receiving my drugs for free. I took to cleaning the house, doing his laundry, etc. However, it wasn’t long before our relationship turned sexual.
Despite my addiction, I knew something was wrong. Shame took over as I was appalled at the lengths went in order to stay high. I would write letters to my family, apologizing for all the pain I was causing and that I wanted to stop but didn’t know how. I had done so many bad things that I had to stay high to avoid my emotions. I eventually returned home and entered an outpatient program. My third day of rehab ended with expulsion, after my friend met me over lunch to do lines on the dashboard of his car.
By this time I was 50 lbs. lighter, had pick marks all over my chest, legs, arms, and face, and looked the part of the drug addict. After failing at outpatient rehab, the next try was a 30-day stint of inpatient rehab that cost my parents $10,000. My Mom, Dad, and Stepdad helped check me in, which was an odd feeling because most of my addiction was kept from my Dad. He found out just as it was time for me to enter rehab. I remember being so scared, looking at him and seeing the disappointment and fear in his eyes. He wrapped his arm around me as we entered the building together. Between the high I was coming down from and the painful look on my family’s faces, I don’t remember much about that day. The thing that sticks out to me is sitting in the corner of the office while my parents forked out that $10 grand, in desperate hope of saving me.
I stayed for 30 days learning all about the disease of addiction and was introduced to Narcotics Anonymous. During my stay at the rehab facility, my family would come visit every weekend, bring me cartons of cigarettes, participate in family therapy sessions, and attend every event. The support and love they poured out was amazing, but it still wasn’t enough to keep me clean. The night before I was due to exit the program, I called my parents crying, begging to keep me in the program for one more month because I was terrified of returning home, where all the drugs were so easily accessible. Unfortunately, staying wasn’t an option due to finances and I returned home. I stayed clean for about 3 weeks before relapsing. I was subsequently kicked out of the house and my keys were taken from me.
By this point, I was 18-years old and was sleeping in a friend’s car when I was introduced me to the man that would change my life in the worst way. When I met him, fireworks set off. He lived in a trailer park a few miles from my house. One night I returned to buy from him and he invited me to stay. I stayed all night getting high with him. I moved in with this man that was 17 years older than me and that I had only met twice. For the next 9 months I never came down. He told me he loved me and I believed him. I played house and convinced myself everything was fine. I found a love of gardening and did it frequently. When the holidays came around, we got a Christmas tree and exchanged gifts. I missed my family traditions terribly and did my best to recreate them with him.
As a deal, we had his friends over all the time buying, selling and using drugs. He started to slowly convince me to do things sexually that I had never tried, including recording our sexual encounters.
‘These are just for us to see and watch,’ he promised.
Of course I believed him. Slowly I started to realize things weren’t right. People would come over and say things directly related to videos we recorded. I started to suspect that things he asked me to do weren’t just for us. One day, I went home early, faking a stomach ache, and went straight to his computer. I looked in the browser history and was horrified at what I found. Our sexual encounters were being posted on a pornography site. He came home and I faced him about it, we fought, and I cried. Even that wasn’t enough to leave or stop my using.
That night I realized I didn’t matter to him, and he didn’t care about my feelings. I was just a prop that he kept isolated, with no means to reach the outside world. The only way I could reach the outside world was through email on his computer. I was a slave to him as he was my source of drugs. I would get high all day while he worked as maintenance in the park. A woman in the park came to me and told me the horrible things that had happened to the woman before me. Everyone in the park claimed she had done porn, when she was actually being drugged and raped. His total control over me was terrifying.
The horror continued and the treatment I endured was awful. I became terrified of him and his cameras. I knew he had a loaded gun and was waiting for the day that something would happen to me. Yet I stayed. I had nowhere else to go and needed my drugs. One night, things took a turn for the worse when we got into a fight about him calling his ex-girlfriend. I left for a couple hours, walking around the park to clear my mind. When I came home, he tried to apologize by showing me weed he had bought. I smoked two hits of that weed and my head began to spin. I remember putting my head in my hands and thinking ‘what is happening?’ That is the last thing I remember.
The next several weeks passed in a terrifying haze. I went into fight or flight mode when I was awake, but it wouldn’t be long before I would pass out again. I would wake up and be in different clothes, it would be daytime when the last thing I remember it was nighttime. I would have memories of sexual encounters such as being tied up, having more than one person in the room, and even waking up in the public showers at the trailer park. I could never hang onto those thoughts because I would black out again. Each time I woke up, I was more terrified and couldn’t remember anything before.
One night, after having guests over then waking up in different clothes, I convinced him to let me use his phone. I called my mom. I knew he could hear me so I never screamed to ‘come and get me’ like I wanted to. I talked as though everything was okay, but at a tone of voice that I hoped would alert her. The longer we talked, the more frantic her voice became. She began to ask me yes or no questions. ‘Is everything okay?’ I replied a simple ‘no,’ with zero emotion in my voice, out of fear of being caught. A few more questions followed and she finally asked the winning question. ‘Are you in danger?’ I replied a simple, ‘I think so.’ She began to cry hysterically and assured me that my stepdad was coming to get me. I got off the phone and told this man that my mom was demanding to see me so I was going to stay the night there. My stepdad came and picked me up. When we got home, I ran upstairs to my mom’s room where she was waiting. I jumped on the bed and began to sob, saying over and over, ‘Mom, something is happening to me, something awful is happening to me.’ She kept asking me what but I couldn’t tell her because I could no longer remember.
For the first time in a long time, I felt safe and took a bath at home. This man had somehow convinced me he had more power than he really did, making me feel like I had to go back. For the next couple of weeks, I went between homes, going from feeling completely unsafe to running home and feeling safe around people I trusted. I stayed in this tortured frame of mind and couldn’t trust anything, not even my own thoughts.
One time at home, I remember unloading the dishwasher and my oldest sister was in the room. As my memories came back to me, I snapped, horrified at what had been happening to me. I grabbed her by the shoulders, shaking her and saying, ‘terrible things are happening to me!’ I had been repeating this for weeks, unable to articulate exactly what. She was frustrated until I told her for the first time that I thought I was being violated by other men while it was being recorded. I couldn’t bear hearing it out loud so I shut back down.
Even at home, he still had this ridiculous amount of power over me. I stayed in touch with him, and one night he had said something over the phone that absolutely terrified me. I can’t fully remember what it was, but I remember screaming at the top of my lungs for my sister and nephew to get in mom’s room. I thought we were in danger and he was coming for me. I dialed 911, hoping the police would keep us safe. When I heard ‘911 what is your emergency,’ I realized I had no idea what to say, so I hung up.
I thought I had to protect my family. So I thought that if I told them I was on drugs and needed an ambulance that the cops would come too. So I did just that. I was so panicked and terrified that I was starting to hyperventilate and lose consciousness. My sister took the phone and said that I was on drugs and she thought I had overdosed. Knowing the police were on their way, I went to my mom’s bed to lie down and wait for them. My tiny nephew came over to me and asked me, ‘Aunt Ashleigh, how is the ambulance going to drive up the stairs to get you?’ I replied they will get me just fine. He then offered to hold my hand and help me down the stairs. I couldn’t say no and let him down. To this day, that crushes my soul to know I put him through these moments.
As we walked down the stairs, the police, fire department, and EMT’s came bursting through the front door. I remember the police having a camera and microphone and I completely lost it, screaming at them to get out. At the time I didn’t understand why that terrified me. I also remember seeing only men standing in my living room starting at me and that was awful as well. My sister made the cameras and men leave and shut the front door.
There was a woman EMT and she caught on that I was having issues with having men in the room and decided to talk to me and ask me questions, regularly reminding me to only look at her. I couldn’t think clearly and they asked where I was getting my drugs from, but I was so terrified of telling them so I refused. They got me on the gurney and began rolling me down the driveway to the ambulance. The further away from my family I got, the more scared I became. I wanted so badly to tell them where I was getting my drugs from and find out what was happening to me that I yelled for my sister and hysterically blurted out my boyfriend’s full name and address before being taken away.
My parents met me at the hospital and I remember hearing my mom hysterically asking the nurses where I was. I hadn’t overdosed but they did say I had methamphetamines in the lining of my stomach and that I must’ve ingested it somehow. I slept most of that night and then went home with my parents after being released. That was one the scariest night of my life.
After a lot of convincing my parents got me to agree to another rehab program called Teen Challenge. I went back to this man’s house and informed him of my plan. At this point, he knew that I knew something was going on so his whole demeanor changed to caring and loving which was confusing me even more. I would have massive moments of denial and his behavior helped keep me there as it was so much easier to deny the reality of the life I had been living and what had been happening to me.
‘I know something is happening to me, and it’s happening to me here,’ I told him. ‘I don’t know what, but I do know it’s something mental, emotional or physical.’
I began to sob in front of him. He tried to pull me into his lap and I pulled away but then gave in to a hug. While he hugged me he kept apologizing. I still don’t understand why. I will never understand if that was him admitting to me everything was true and it still tortures me to this day.
I had to have a physical for my health and a specific wardrobe as Teen Challenge was Christian-based. My Stepdad was on vacation that week and took me to prepare for my trip to rehab for yet another time. I was prescribed a sedative to help me in the moments I would freak out. The results of the physical came back and it revealed embalming fluid in my system. That would cause all the symptoms of blacking out, not remembering, etc. I went to Teen Challenge but lasted three days before I called the same man to come pick me up so I could go back to his house.
To my surprise, he did and back I went. It only took a couple weeks for me to realize that if I stayed there I was going to die. I called my mom and told her I was willing to do whatever it took. She called my aunt and asked if I could stay with her. I told him I was leaving for good and that I wouldn’t be coming back. He gave me some drugs for the road and I left.
I did my last two lines in the bathroom of my parents’ home on May 18th, 2006, and never looked back. I left the next day to my aunt’s. I stayed a couple weeks and then went to my oldest sister’s house. I decided to go to the police and report the sexual abuse. It became so real.
‘Do you know who was hurting you?,’ they asked.
I had to say his name out loud. They told me it was best for me to get out of town while the investigation took place. I left for my aunt and uncle’s house in Reno within the next few days.
Before I left, I gave all pictures, paraphernalia, and videos to my oldest sister who would be meeting the investigator on my behalf. I told her to not look at anything. The investigator had her watch a video of me doing drugs naked to verify it was me and she said it was the worst thing she had ever seen. She said something to me that I will never forget.
‘Either this is going to be the nail in your coffin, or the beginning of the rest of your life.’
I knew she was right.
What began as a two week stay became two years. Nothing came of the investigation. My investigator and I communicated frequently. He said if he didn’t have such strict parameters to work within, he felt we could’ve found something. ‘For what it’s worth, I believe you. I believe that all things in the darkness will come to light.’
The day I arrived in Reno is the day my life began. I attended NA meetings every day and got a sponsor. I worked the steps and received the most amazing support from my aunt and uncle. Their love and endless hours of listening to my stories set me free. My uncle would tell me every day how strong and how proud of me he was. My aunt and uncle flew my parents to Reno for my meeting and watch me receive my one year chip. By this time I had a job and had made friends who were clean and sober. My aunt and uncle hosted a party for me and all the friends I had made and shared my story with came and celebrated with me. I was finally being an adult. I had a job, car, and moved into an apartment, paid bills, and had responsibilities.
After two years I felt strong enough to move back to California. I moved in with my cousin and my Aunt who were about an hour away from where my addiction took place. I attended meetings regularly. I began to forgive myself for all the choices I made during my addiction and the pain I caused my family. I did intense therapy to heal from the abuse, shame, and guilt. It was HARD work but I wanted it so badly that no matter how bad it hurt I kept going. I went to institutions and shared my story with young girls and gave hope to newcomers like myself.
I began attending church with my NA friends and formed the most amazing relationships with people who had healed and stayed clean before me. Relationships with my family were repaired little by little and trust was regained.
I would visit my dad and Grandma every Tuesday for dinner and my Grandma would listen to me. She would say her prayers were finally answered. I would make the hour drive to the same house where everything began for visits every weekend with my family and managed to stay clean one day at a time.
This disease is fierce, cunning, and fatal, but there is ALWAYS hope. As long as you’re breathing, there is hope. Addicts do recover and stay clean. It may take several tries before you’re able to stay clean, but never give up. The hope I want to give is that relapse after getting clean doesn’t have to be a part of your story. The major thing I learned is that this didn’t just affect me, it’s a family disease. Although one person may be the addict, the entire family suffers.
I learned so much about myself such as my weaknesses and massive amounts of strength I had deep within me. I feel it had to happen the way it did or I was never going to get clean. As awful as the memories I have are, they no longer haunt me or consume me. By the grace of God I am healed, forgiven, and best of all – clean for the last 13 years. I have a beautiful life and God has blessed me with an amazing daughter. I don’t attend meetings regularly but I never think of using. I have a healthy respect for my addiction and know what it is a capable of if I let it back in. I knew that death was next for me but I realized I have so much to live for. I truly believe that the support from my ENTIRE family saved me as well as my desire to be clean.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashleigh A., 33, of Riverside, California. 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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