‘My parents broke the news. ‘You were adopted at age 2.’ For the first time, I understood my parents had left me behind, forever.’: Adoptee overcomes addiction, ‘I needed to fall in love with myself again’

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“I am the oldest of three siblings. My younger sister I grew up with shares the same mother, and my even younger sister shares the same father, whom I met at the age of 20. She was only 5 when we met. I have two loving parents who have been married practically my whole life, and still to this day. One is biological and the other, my father, is technically my stepfather who adopted me at the age of 2.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

My parents broke the news about my adoption in early grade school when my name was legally changed to my father’s name. This was very traumatic for me because it was the moment that first ignited my abandonment issues. It was the moment I was first introduced to the idea that parents could leave you. That anyone, at any time, could walk out of your life forever and leave you behind. This made me feel unloved, unimportant, and alone for the majority of my life. It made me feel like I had to prove my worth or act out in order to keep the ones I loved around me and their attention.

We were not the wealthiest family. My father worked full time at an assembly plant and my mother worked a series of part-time and full-time jobs. Nonetheless, it was still a very loving home. My sister and I were both involved in sports, but moved three times within our school years, so making friends without today’s technology was hard.

At about 8 years old, I was molested by a baseball coach. This was also very traumatic for me. After this experience, I started having extremely bad lucid and vivid nightmares. I was a very challenging teenager. I fought everyone’s love for me, was extremely insecure, and had a hard time with my identity and personality. I was very manic in my activities and had to be out and be entertained constantly otherwise I would self sabotage, sometimes even creating fights and making my environment hostile. I was consumed with people loving me but when they did, I challenged them because deep down I thought everyone would leave me. Because of my actions, they usually would leave. I even wanted to leave myself. I hated myself.

I started experimenting with drugs at 14 and continued on a rampage until I found heroin at the age of 15 with the help of an older boyfriend. I didn’t become an injection user until 16, but was still physically addicted beforehand. By the unconditional love from my parents, they fought for me always by putting me in rehabs and even jail when necessary. They fought and managed to help me graduate high school, even in my addicted state.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

But after graduation, I became even worse. I moved in with this boyfriend and went on a full Sid and Nancy ride for the next 3 years.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

I’ve stolen, I’ve sold, I’ve danced, and I’ve manipulated for my drugs, all of which has landed me in the worst possible situations. But at the end of the day, I didn’t care because I got my heroin and, suddenly, everything was okay for a few minutes. That’s what people don’t tell you about. It’s the first few times you experience the drug and the effect it has on you that traps you.

As human beings, we strive for happiness. To feel that rush of chemicals when we are happy. Heroin chemically alters your brain, sending a flood of those chemicals in just a few moments. In an instant, you’re in this relaxed, euphoric state. For the entirety of my life, it was very difficult for me to experience this kind of rush of happiness naturally. I didn’t believe it was possible for me. So, when I experienced this high at such a young age, it stuck with me deeply. I thought this was the only way to feel this good.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl
Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

Of course this feeling diminishes behind guilt, shame, and the pain that addiction afflicts upon the soul. I began only using so I would not be physically sick. It was no longer enjoyable. No longer an escape, but a hell I was creating for myself. Maybe a few seconds of serenity, then reality always slaps you in the face, causing many addicts to use more and more with their tolerance. Every time I used, afterward I would feel so guilty. Guilty about the damage I was causing to the people that loved me, the pain I was inflicting on not only myself but everyone around me, the hatred and anger I felt from all the things I had no control over, and the fear I felt of my entire existence because of my traumas.

Within my addiction, my nightmares got so out of hand I was sometimes in a state of psychosis at times where I didn’t know reality from a dream. This was extremely traumatic for me. I was not only plagued with the shame of what I had become, but I could no longer have any kind of peace. Even when I slept, I was forced to my knees by my fears and regret.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

To this day, I am unaware of whether some of the things I experienced were reality or a vivid nightmare. I’m not sure what actually happened. Throughout my addiction, I tried to stop many times, begging to come back home, withdrawing, being sober, then relapsing. I even overdosed during a withdrawal, tried to sleep through it, sent myself into RENO failure, and actually momentarily died.

After this near-death experience, I was clean for a while within a rehab, then eventually relapsed again. It wasn’t until I met another man at the age of 19, broke up with my drug addicted boyfriend, moved back home, deleted all my contacts, and truly gave working the program a chance that I was finally able to stay clean. This was the start of a whole new world of struggles and problems for me. It truly takes so much work on yourself to be able to happily live a clean life.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

Using substances at such a young age severely stunted my mental growth and I had to explore and endure a lot to become a healthy human being again. Not just physically, but mentally. My recovery journey has not been an easy one. I was nearly two years sober before I had my first child and became a mother. The pregnancy was very rough on me and ignited a condition I suffer from called sleep paralysis. I had experienced something like this throughout my life, but never this bad where it involved my unborn child.

I would wake up in full-blown panic attacks and throw up. It got to a point where I was afraid to sleep, which is very much needed while pregnant. It was difficult to keep myself physically healthy, let alone my baby inside of me. Luckily, he was completely healthy and went full term. Unfortunately, however, after birth I experienced many struggles. Lack of proper breastfeeding caused an infection within my breast I had to have surgery on, the stress of living with my parents, uncertainty within the relationship of the father of my child, postpartum depression, vividly traumatic dreams, and the real life fear of not being able to handle motherhood were paralyzing.

But even through this, I never used heroin. After that baby was made inside of me, it was over. The moment I heard that heartbeat, it was the sound of a chapter of my life closing forever. Never again would I use. I had no choice. The choice was made for me the second I heard that thump. Heroin was no longer an option.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

Thankfully, the father of my child stuck around and helped me, supporting me all the way into therapy. I was put on medication and it worked for me. Assisting me into being able to work on myself more thoroughly. I went to my sessions, I worked hard on myself, and looked deep down into all the things I kept hidden. I was diagnosed with bi polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, generalized anxiety, depression and sleep paralysis. I got some answers and explanations on why I react some of the ways I do.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

Today, I am 8 years clean, have two beautiful, healthy children, and I am with their father. I’m employed full time at a job lasting 6 years and counting, have healthy relationships with my family, see my therapist and psychiatrist monthly, am on medication, and am an author to two of my very own published poetry books ‘Nothing Was a Waste’ (actually consisting of my life throughout my addiction) and ‘A Beautiful Difference’ (consisting of my life clean but still struggling with mental illnesses).

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl
Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl
Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl
Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

My biggest message I can give is that we have control. You have to believe you have it. How you react, what you say, how you respond, what you allow to stick, what you put into your body, your power, your self love. What you chose to believe has an enormous impact on you.

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

Educate yourself as much as you can. Look, find, explore, and see. A lot of time, the world we surround ourselves with is such a small one in retrospect to the entire world around us. People sometimes forget about the real truth of survival. No matter what you go through in your life, you got through it. You cried, you broke, you failed, you lost, you screamed, but you lived another day. You closed your eyes and woke up again. You won a chance to rebuild. To start again. You made it no matter what happened.

You have to remember that you can only make it if you try. That’s the only thing we can guarantee in this life full of spontaneity. The assurance and comforting feeling that we tried our best.

And with that, I’d like to leave you with a final poem about my addiction:

She didn’t
need to be saved.
Your love couldn’t rescue her.
She needed to look inside
and accept herself for
exactly who she was.
She needed forgiveness.
She needed to fall in love
with herself again.”

Courtesy of Ashleigh Rayl

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashleigh Rayl of Downriver, Michigan. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more inspiring stories about overcoming addiction:

‘How did I end up here?!’ I awoke in jail to the sound of a cell door slamming, no idea what happened the night before.’: Man beats life-long addiction, says ‘as long as you’re still breathing’ there’s hope for recovery

‘I bumped into an old childhood friend. ‘What have you been up to?’ ‘I’m in rehab.’ I laughed, thinking it was a joke. Soon after, I asked him to meet me. I warned him about my appearance.’

‘I crawled out of my sunroof. I saw flashing lights behind my car and burst into tears. ‘How many times can 2 loving parents bail out their idiot child?,’ I thought. This was the last straw.’

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