‘I wish I was dead!’ I called them every single name in the book. I caused complete heartache to my entire family.’: Sobriety warrior shares emotional impact of heroin addiction

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Disclaimer: This story includes details of drug use that may be triggering for some.

“A person doesn’t just go through all the phases of addiction, get clean, stay clean, and not think about their active addiction for the rest of their life.

The meaning of sharing my story is to empower others, educate, and let everyone know that you CAN get through this. My story is for everyone, those still struggling with addiction, those in recovery, anyone who has a loved one struggling with addiction or in recovery, and of course, those who we have lost to addiction. A person can go through the traumatic, degrading, embarrassing roller coaster of emotions, but they can still turn their life around.

I want everyone to know no matter what you have been through or are going through, no matter how many rehabs, jails, courts, or detoxes you have been through, you can’t give up. There is ALWAYS hope, there is ALWAYS a light at the end of the tunnel. There are SO many people supporting you even if you don’t think they are. Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful parts of this life we are living in.

I am 26 years old, born in 1995 in Livingston Manor, New York. I am 5 and a half years clean off of heroin. I have two siblings, an older brother, and a younger brother. We are all 3 years apart. I have two wonderful, healthy parents, Heidi and Chris. I am currently living in Lake Tahoe, California, living the most beautiful life after struggling with addiction for 4 years.

Recovering addict and another woman stand on a rock
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

Once you enter the world of addiction, you don’t ever leave that world, whether you are clean or still struggling with active addiction. Addiction follows you for the rest of your life. You have to be the one with all the power and control the crazy life it brings upon us.

Opiate addiction is a crisis in this world. Over 100 people die each and every day from opiate-related overdoses… do you know how many brothers, sisters, cousins, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, coworkers, teachers, counselors, judges, and therapists are in mourning?

I choose to share my history and my continued journey for several reasons. Not a single day passes when I don’t think about my active addiction, everyone I hurt, everyone who supported me, everyone still struggling with addiction, and everyone I met along this journey.

This is my story.

Alright. This is really intense, emotional, and very hard for me. I’m extremely nervous for my family members to read this. I am extremely embarrassed for my friends who met me after this part of my life to read this and judge me, think differently of me, or be scared of me.

I graduated high school a year early with desperate pains to leave my small town and explore what the world has to offer. I had my wisdom teeth extracted in the spring of 2012 before I graduated high school. The doctor prescribed me Vicodin for the pain and then this path began.

Woman facing heroin addiction by the water
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

I started sniffing Percocets my senior year of high school in the bathroom. I barely remember the day of high school graduation: I ate Roxycodone the night before, slept for 12 hours, and took one before I walked in front of my entire family and friends, visiting from across the country. It was all a blur.

Smoking Roxycodone became an everyday thing, always making trips and seeing who had a new prescription, gas stations for tin foil, smoking them in bathrooms, parking lots—everywhere and anywhere. When roxys weren’t enough and cost too much, I tried heroin for the first time. I will always remember that day, the rush it gives you, that high. The best feeling I have ever felt. This feeling voided every negative emotion.

I ran around with drug dealers, giving them rides to re-up, to the Bronx and back. I would drive sawed-off shotguns to the Bronx for free heroin. Once, twice in a day. All for free bags of heroin. I’ve had masked men put guns to my head, I’ve been robbed countless times. Constant lies to my family about what I was doing, where I was, why I needed money.

The first time I injected heroin is also I day I won’t ever forget. That rush, that body warmth, your entire body melts into a puddle of heaven. Wow, why was I smoking pills and heroin for so long without shooting up?!

Woman addicted to heroin standing outside
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

In February 2016, I overdosed in a McDonald’s bathroom. This person injected heroin into my arm. The last thing I remember is feeling the rush. Then I collapsed. The manager had to break into the bathroom stall and call 911. I was given Narcan and taken away in an ambulance, and I was out for 8 hours. I died. The heroin was laced with fentanyl. I remember waking up, ripping out the IV. The hospital put me in a taxi back to my car. I spent the night at a friend’s, and the next morning…I BOUGHT MORE HEROIN. I didn’t tell anyone about my overdose. But my dad’s fatherly instincts knew for sure.

Ingesting the drugs was a rush itself, but I also was caught up in the lifestyle, stealing money, finding whatever we could to cash in money for drugs, running around with the ‘big guys.’

To this day, I get flashbacks of the drug deals I did, the day of the overdose, the feeling of injecting heroin, every bad thing I did. I’ll be driving to work and my mind gets completely cluttered and uneasy running through everything I did, remembering things I never want to remember. Some days I just sit and cry and go into a slump remembering what a horrible person I was.

At Sullivan County Drug court, the first day was the toughest. I smoked weed a few days before, but I still passed a drug test, I don’t know how. A couple of weeks later, I was taking Xanax. I peed positive for benzos, so the rehab wouldn’t accept me because it’s too dangerous to detox from Benzos. I snuck Xanax into rehab, I ran away from the probation office and the rehab.

I cried and screamed to my parents. I called them every single name in the book, I told them I wished I was dead.

Woman addicted to heroin sitting in a white shirt
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

Usually, when you are first are accepted to treatment a 30-day rehab is mandatory. I’m not sure why, but I was court-mandated to a long-term treatment facility right off the bat for 6-12 months. I was scared and nervous: every single emotion ran through me. I cried myself to sleep for days.

The first detox I was mandated to was terrible. People were sneaking out the windows, sneaking heroin and cocaine into the facility shooting up in the bathrooms. Getting drug drop-offs in the windows.

I ran from this place and had my dad pick me up at a Wendy’s a couple of blocks down. I spent Easter Day with him and then tried to get into several detoxes and rehabs, getting denied because there weren’t enough beds and spaces. I finally found a detox and spent a week there before being mandated to county jail for 7 days.

I went to a drug court date thinking I would be returning, but I wasn’t.

Another vivid memory was being arrested and handcuffed then walking into the Sullivan County Jail. Clueless about what was happening or why it was me. Waiting to be classified in Sullivan County Jail for 24 hours locked in a jail cell, it clicked. What have I done? HOW did I get this far? How am I not dead?

A rehab facility picked me up and transported me an hour away to another part of the county in the middle of nowhere at an all-female facility. Tears wouldn’t stop coming. The fear that haunted me I will never forget.

I spent 8 months in this facility, a therapeutic community, run by struggling addicts and counselors in recovery. 90% of the women have been there before, have been to rehab before, and know the routine and the system. I didn’t. I was devastated I didn’t know what was happening.

My dad visited me every weekend he could, alternating between driving to Vermont to take care of his younger brother who was dying from cancer, and his daughter in rehab struggling from heroin addiction. Could you imagine? My mom worked on weekends but would sneak out to visit me as often as she could. My aunts and uncles flew in from California, Washington, and Minnesota to visit my parents and came to visit me one weekend.

I missed my younger brother’s high school graduation. I missed my older brother’s college graduation. I missed out on a lot of things. Seeing my brothers thriving in Vermont, Wyoming, and California doing things we would grow up doing, skiing, biking, what we used to live for, snapped me out of it.

Woman in the snow skiing
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins
Woman with her siblings at a farm
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

KNOWING I was diagnosed with lupus, ulcerative colitis, and endometriosis of the bladder, I didn’t care. I didn’t care what I was putting into my body even knowing I have these horrible health issues.

There were months on end of lying and hiding all of my motives and thoughts. And then it gets to a point where everyone is trying to save you and you want the help but you’re so incredibly scared of life without the drugs, the high, the lifestyle.

I remember meeting my dad at a pizzeria one afternoon. He was trying to feed me because I weighed 100 pounds. I was wearing a black t-shirt, and I had track marks up and down my arms from trying to find a vein to shoot up. And I told him that’s what I was doing.

Screaming for suboxone, crying in pain from withdrawals. The worst feeling I’ve felt in my life. Withdrawing from heroin, the pain, the cold sweats, the shakes, the pins and needles. It’s unforgettable. I drank NyQuil, taking Advil, Motrin, Benadryl, sleeping pills, and nothing helped.

Drug court saved my life. Sullivan county drug court and Sullivan county probation SAVED MY LIFE. After rehab, I moved an hour away from drug court to live with my mom. Every morning I would have to call at 6 a.m. to see if I was randomly chosen for a drug test. Every time I was called I made it, I dedicated my life and to this program, and they gave it all back. This program WORKS. And I can’t thank this team enough.

I caused complete heartache to my entire family. The people I love the most. I can never take it back or go back and change things, but I can make a difference now.

Recovering heroin addict in the snow with her mom
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins
Woman with her brothers and father in a bright field
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

Days come when I feel so guilty and horrible and embarrassed and all those emotions, but I realize I was a victim of addiction.

It was my choice to take the first drug and to continue.

But I have a disease. Addiction takes over every inch of your body, mind, and soul. It eats you alive and it WILL KILL you and take everything you have, love, and own. Fight like f—ing hell because you CAN overpower addiction.

The transportation, the legal/court fees, the drug test fees—this is why other addicts don’t make it. The fines you get months later, years later. The bank fees, bad credit, trouble opening a bank account. Thousands of dollars in debt that will haunt you for years on end. For the last 5 years I have been paying off all these, and it’s NOT cheap. It hurts. But to be where I am today, it’s all worth it.

I think the breaking point for me was when I had sobered up and realized, ‘Holy crap. WHAT have I done? WHAT have I gotten myself into?’ Even though my mindset shifted and I was off the drugs, I was still deep in the courts and had legal problems. I was mandated to treatment. Mandated to jail. Mandated to drug court and probation or else I would have gone to prison for a felony—intent to sell heroin.

Realizing that my brothers were in Vermont, Jackson Hole, Lake Tahoe, skiing all over the world, biking all over, and living their lives doing what we grew up doing reeled me in. ‘I can do the same thing that they are as long as I stop my routine,’ I realized.

Sober woman and her father in the mountains
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins
Sober woman in the snowy mountains
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

Thinking about everything I had done before I started using, I graduated high school early, traveled to Colombia and Australia, volunteered in a school in Cape Town, South Africa for 4 months. I realized I have so much potential. This world is MINE, and I can make a change.

Today I am living in Lake Tahoe with my younger brother and my cousins. Every day I am so grateful for everything this world has given me, for all the chances I have had. I am so emotional and cry happy tears so often. I can’t believe I am actually living this life.

Woman holds up starfish while standing in water
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

I did go off track for a few years, but I am on the right track now. I think my life and appreciation for life are more beautiful than ever now. I am SOOO blessed, so LOVED, I care so deeply, and I love so hard. I am intensely aware of my surroundings, and my feelings. I’m insanely sensitive to touch, smells, and sounds. Sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way.

I let my grandparents, brothers, and parents know how much I love them almost every single day. I thank them all over and over again for saving my life and supporting me 100%.

The number one reason I have stayed clean and sober and continue to stay clean is my INSANE addiction to learning about addiction and why what happened to me, happened to me, how heroin affected my brain and my body—so it never happens again.”

Sober woman wearing sunglasses and overalls
Courtesy of Lajla Wilkins

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lajla Wilkins of Lake Tahoe, California. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories and YouTube for our best videos.

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