‘It was just one tiny white pill that looked like Tylenol. It felt like a warm hug taking away all my pain.’: Survivor of sexual abuse shares addiction, trauma recovery journey

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Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of drug use and sexual abuse that may be triggering to some.

Small Town Childhood

“I was born in the late 80s in a tiny but beautiful rural town on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to grow up. It was a beautiful and rugged playground for me and my friends. We knew everyone; it was safe, and we had all the freedom in the world. Summer days were spent riding our bikes to the lake or swimming in the salty ocean, climbing trees, and catching snakes and frogs. Winters were spent tobogganing in the nearby mountains or curled up by the wood stove drinking hot chocolate with friends and family. Thinking back to the innocence of life back then is comforting.

young Tahnee at lake
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

As I grew older, the freedom I had from living in this small, trusted community was catching up to me, the gap between innocence and experience was closing quickly. When I was nearly 13, I met an older man named Steven. Steven was 38 and from New Zealand, he was a very close friend of my uncles and my whole family knew him, he was a trusted member of our small close-knit community. Everyone loved him, he drank a lot of beer, but he was really funny, and I guess you could say charming. Spending a lot of time at my uncle’s house naturally meant spending a lot of time with Steven. I didn’t mind. He was so funny, he made me laugh all the time. He would sometimes make little inside jokes with me and say, ‘That’s our little secret.’ Looking back, I never realized these little ‘inside jokes’ were of a sexual nature.

I felt very safe and comfortable with this man. We started spending so much time together, going on drives. He was always drinking. Eventually, I started drinking with him. It was fun, and I felt like an adult. He would always tell me, ‘You’re so mature and beautiful,’ ‘I would be so proud to walk into a pub with you on my side.’ My distorted feelings for him grew fast. People started to question our relationship, I madly defended him, and he would tell people I was just a troubled kid who needed attention and guidance and friendship, and that’s what he was giving me.

One day we went on a drive to his trailer, way up in the mountains. There was no one around. Just us. He brought me inside the trailer, which was tiny, stuffy, hot, and smelled like stale booze. I froze with fear and shock as he pinned me against the wall with his body and whispered, ‘You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do this.’ His breath smelled like beer and vodka, and the look in his eyes was as if I was prey he was fixated on. Still paralyzed with fear, he pulled my pants down. Not saying anything, just breathing heavily, he pulled his pants down and forced himself inside me, taking my virginity. The guilt and shame of this secret I have carried since that day.

young girl and her sister
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

As a young teenager, carrying so much guilt and shame, drugs and alcohol became my coping mechanism. The first time I got blackout drunk, I remember vividly the feeling I had waking up, not knowing where I was, bruises and vomit covering my whole body. That didn’t stop me: from there I started using heavy amounts of cocaine and ecstasy. I felt like a bada**, and it made everything so much fun, plus I didn’t have to feel the inadequacy that consumed me when I wasn’t using alcohol or drugs. I was searching for something, but I didn’t know what. Validation and self-worth maybe?

Pregnancy

When I was 15, I met a guy who was 20. He was from a small town just like me, I thought he was everything I was looking for. He also loved to party and do drugs even more than I did, we instantly hit it off, we were crazy in love. He gave me the façade of self-worth and validation I was longing for. After our crazy new love adventures wore off, I craved stability. My dream was to build a life with someone who loved me and wanted the same things as me. My focus was now on him, not on drugs and alcohol. I lived for him, to meet his every need so he wouldn’t leave me. I was addicted to him; it was total chaos.

The morning I found out I was pregnant, I was at work as a waitress in a café. I found a pregnancy test box on one of the unused shelves I was cleaning. I felt a sick feeling run through my body. Oddly enough before this moment, getting pregnant hadn’t even crossed my mind, I was on birth control. But before I even took the test, I was confident I was pregnant. I took the test on my break and within seconds, it came back positive. I spent the rest of my shift in shock, wondering where my life would go from here.

From the moment I felt the first flutter of little kicks inside my belly, I was in love. A love I couldn’t describe. All the stress and anxiety of being a teen mother melted away so fast, and I longed for the day I got to meet her. I knew she was a girl, even though I never confirmed via ultrasound. I just knew. I named her O’sha Rene long before she was born. Nolan was happy about the news and seemed very supportive. He always said, ‘I will always be here for you.’ I was over the moon. We were inching closer every day to being the loving little family I had always dreamed of.

young girl smiling for photo
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

My family was a bit shocked to learn I was going to give birth at 17, but they were very supportive. Nolan’s family was also there for me, his mom was so kind and supportive. Everything was falling into place. Really, I had a false sense of reality. It was easy for me to overlook things because I only saw what I wanted to see, my dream of a little family with a faithful supportive husband. Simplicity at its finest.

The first time I found out Nolan was unfaithful to me, I was about 8 and a half months pregnant. It was mid-December and very rainy and cold outside. We were cuddled up together watching TV by the woodstove, I was excited to meet my baby girl soon as her due date was just 2 weeks away on Jan 1st.

There was a knock at the door, I open it. I was surprised but elated to see it was a close friend of mine named Stacey. Stacey had just given birth to her new baby girl, Cameron, 2 months earlier. I had yet to meet and hold her tiny new baby girl. As I sit there staring at this beautiful baby girl. Stacey turns to Nolan and say, ‘I have something to tell you.’ He looks at her, as she says, ‘Nolan, this is your baby.’

woman and her ex husband
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

My ears start to ring as the whole room turned white. I felt like I was going to faint as I stood up and passed Cameron back to Stacey. I slowly walked to the bathroom, shut the door behind me and lay down on the cold floor, sobbing in crippling pain. My heart was broken, I was broken, I felt like my life and my dreams had shattered into a million pieces. The emotional pain from that moment scarred me.

Dreams of Family

O’sha is 2 years old now, raising her has been the biggest joy of my life. I wake up every day excited to be her mom. She is a busy, outgoing, funny, and smart little girl. We spend almost every moment together. We share a bond like no other. She is my life. We gardened, played at the beach, and swam at the lake. My parents adored her and so did all the rest of my many friends and family. Nolan is around when he chooses to be. He adores O’sha too. But he’s too consumed with drinking to be present. I’m consumed with being a good mother and wife. Still holding onto the idea we can be a perfect little family if I just try harder. If I was everything Nolan wanted me to be, he would want to be around more.

young girl at beach
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Since Osha’s birth, his drinking was out of control. He crashed all our vehicles; I don’t know how many cars we went through. He blamed all his problems on me, and I believed him. That just made me try harder to be better, but it was never enough. Nothing ever changed. He would promise me things would get better, he would be better. I always believed him because he was so sweet to me when he wasn’t drinking, and he really seemed remorseful. Most of all, I saw the bond of love between him and O’sha. That made me hang onto the ‘idea’ of our loving little family for dear life. I would do anything to make it happen. O’sha deserved to grow up in a secure family, not a broken one.

The next few years were a steady pattern of Nolan isolating me from my friends and family so no one knew the truth and he could continue drinking. I did nothing but strive for perfection as a wife and mother, but nothing I ever did was right. I believed him when he said things like ‘Maybe I would stay home more if the house was cleaner’ or ‘Maybe if you lost some weight, you would look better.’ But when he came home drunk, it was more like ‘Look at you! Why would anyone want to be with you?’ Of course, I wouldn’t have told anyone one he treated me this way. What would people think if they knew I let myself be treated this way? It’s very simple from an outside perspective to simply say, ‘Leave him.’

When his drinking got bad, to protect O’sha from seeing her father like that, I’d leave for short periods of time. I’d stay at my parents’ for a few days. But after many apologies and promises from Nolan, I would always go back, filled again with so much hope. It was always the same though. When I left, I would build a bit of strength and self-worth, then I would go back, he would be great for a few days, until he knew he had me complacent and then he would break me down again. It was a torturous cycle.

Hoping for Change

O’sha was 3 when I finally left Nolan and moved into a place of our own. I had built up the courage to leave, knowing when I did, it was going to be brutal. First, he pleaded nicely but when it didn’t work, he moved on to showing up at my house in the middle of the night, threatening me, smashing things. I was so scared, but I stood my ground. After 6 months of this, I saw a change in Nolan. This time I thought he might actually change, and I decided to give it another chance. I wanted so bad for O’sha to grow up with her mom and dad. I will give Nolan credit here, as he loved O’sha so much and did his best to show her. She meant the world to him. But unfortunately, love doesn’t conquer addiction.

young girl sleeping on her mother
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Things did change when we got back together. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better and much closer to my idea of our little family. It seemed Nolan was putting in effort to be a present father and husband.

On Jan 7th, 2010, my second daughter Shayla was born. O’sha was almost 4. Shayla was so tiny with the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen. Her middle name is Wren because she reminded me of a little bird. She was so beautiful, and I was overwhelmed with joy.

baby smiling at camera
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Life was quiet at home, I was a stay-at-home mom and Nolan was a commercial fisherman, sometimes being away for months on end. Every time he came home, it was exciting. He would see all the changes in our girls, they would be excited to see him, I would be excited to see him. Looking back now as an adult, I know I glamorized the change in Nolan because I wanted a perfect little family so bad.

He was still drinking a lot. Less than before, but still crashing all our vehicles pissed drunk, still cheating on me, still gaslighting me. I was just way better at hiding it from everyone and telling myself I was okay.

Tiny White Pills

Shayla is now 4 years old. I love my girls so much, and I spend every second I can with them. We still live on the river with all our animals. I vividly remember the feeling of joy, playing in the yard, playfully chasing the chickens, collecting their eggs, fishing on the river, canoeing, or gardening, that part of my life was great. But underneath, I’m actually in a severely emotionally and mentally abusive relationship with an emotionally unavailable man who is a severe alcoholic. Every day was like living a lie, and from this came this feeling I had known all too well, of guilt and shame. I didn’t bother telling anyone anymore what I was going through, because I knew they would say, ‘Just leave him.’ It wasn’t easy.

sisters and daughter taking photo together
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Nolan was back from one of his fishing trips. I knew he was taking pain medication due to back pain from his physically demanding job. I didn’t think anything of it. His doctor prescribed it to him, so it had to be safe, right? I noticed a big change in Nolan this time around, he was no longer drinking. At all. He seemed happy and way more relaxed. He was taking a lot of medication, but I didn’t care. He was happy and not drinking, so I was happy. One evening, after putting the kids to bed, I was getting a severe migraine. Nolan offered me one of his pain pills. I happily obliged, my migraines could be debilitating. It was just one tiny white pill. It looked just like a Tylenol. I lay on the couch, watching TV as I was hit with a wave of euphoria like I’d never felt before, like a warm hug taking away all my emotional pain. I felt so good, like I could do anything. I was on my way to coasting through life using these little pills as a crutch.

Escalating Habits

The kids are older now, I was running a successful restaurant and catering company. Nolan was still fishing, and when he was home, he helped with business or the kids. We had financial stability, family and friends were proud of how our relationship dynamic had changed, and people commented to me on ‘how good Nolan was doing without drinking.’ It felt so good to feel like a happy successful family. However, the facade of our lives slowly started to crumble. Those pills turned us into the successful power couple were catching up to us. The pills were actually Percocet. Over time, we built up a tolerance to the opioid, and transitioned to Oxycontin, which is stronger. Eventually, we were spending $500 per day on Oxy. Heroin was introduced as a cheaper method, at first, I was completely disturbed I was going to try ‘heroin,’ but little did I know, I was basically already doing heroin, just in the form of a pill. Percocet, Oxycontin, and heroin are all opioids, they all create the same feeling of euphoria in your body. By now, I was way past the point of ‘just stopping using.’ The pain of withdrawal was too much—think about having the worst flu and add on insomnia, restless leg syndrome, body aches, severe vomiting and diarrhea, and the worst anxiety for days and days and days. The crazy thing is with one little puff of heroin, it’s all cured. You are better again. Until you run out of your supply again.

Our lives had crumbled exponentially, the drugs are taking a toll. I am now just hanging by a thread, still, nobody knows about this secret life we were living. I was now injecting heroin just to get the same effect as I felt when I took my first Percocet. Terrified of needles, I don’t know how I was ever able to google ‘how to find a vein for IV drugs’ and teach myself how to do it. But I did. I always used alone because I was so afraid of anybody finding out my secret. I was exhausted, so exhausted with life. Between hiding this huge secret, trying to stay financially afloat to pay for our $500 to $700 a day habit, plus keep a roof over our family’s head, and food in our fridge and to put a smile on my face every day for me kids and pretend like everything was going to be okay. The exhaustion was overwhelming. The gap between functioning addict to non-functioning addict was closing quicker than I could fill it. This is where Meth came into my life. Failing fast as a functioning addict, one day a guy I knew who we bought our heroin from came over. We were sitting in my garage talking when he pulled out a glass pipe, I had never seen meth before, so I asked him ‘what is that?’ In my mind meth was for ‘junkies,’ but so was heroin, right? He passed me the pipe, I took one puff and a rush of euphoria overwhelmed me, washing away my burdens. This was a different rush than the heroin brought me, it gave me energy. I didn’t have to sleep anymore. I could be busy all and night if I had a couple puffs of meth throughout my day.

woman and her children
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Out of Control

It’s about 6 months since the first time I added meth into the mix of my heroin addiction. I’ve collapsed all my veins from shooting up so I’m just back to smoking it. We’ve had to move into a smaller house on a rural acreage which was more affordable. Things are going downhill fast now. Nolan is now smoking Meth with me. I was still functioning the best I could. I guess Nolan was too but from the moment he started smoking Meth, the abuse came with it, full force, but this time it wasn’t just emotional or mental abuse, it was abuse in every form. He was a full-blown narcissist, he isolated me, he would gaslight me to the point of not knowing what was up or what was down, and once he isolated me from my friends and family, he sabotaged my reputation with all of them. He physically abused me, choking me out for no reason. One time, he was on top of me hitting and choking me and yelling, ‘I have to do this so you don’t kill yourself Tahnee,’ as he drowned my face in the dog water bowl.

By Christmas, I knew things were completely out of control. We were going back to the rural town where I grew up and raised my kids to visit my family on Christmas day. It’s a 2-hour drive from where we lived. I stayed for a few days, but soon ran out of my maintenance supply of heroin. I knew I had to leave my girls who were about to turn 11 and 15, with my family while I went back to try and figure out how to get better. On December 28th, I said bye to Shayla and O’sha and told them I would be ‘back soon.’

I left and picked up a couple days’ supply of heroin, and got a cab back to my rural property about 12 mi outside the city. It was lonely: I had no phone, there was nothing around, and the walk to the nearest community was a couple hours. Nolan was MIA with his new girlfriend. He came and left as he pleased.

After my supply of dope had run out, there was nothing I could do but wait for the excruciating withdrawals. I was all alone, I had no food, no phone, no money, and there was no way I could walk anywhere in the condition I was in. I was stuck. I got brutally ill. I threw up for days, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I had a fever so bad it caused me to hallucinate. I was scared and I just lay there in excruciating pain knowing nobody was coming to save me, wishing I would just die.

woman with two children
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Detox Disaster

8 days into my detox, I’m still so sick. But I can actually stand up to get a drink of water now. I’m starving, I look in the cupboards. No food. I thought about trying to walk out of there. But just the thought exhausted me. There was a foot of snow covering the ground. I went back to bed. This time I was actually able to fall asleep, I had been awake for the better part of 8 days during the withdrawals.

I woke up late that evening to find Nolan beside my bed. He was a mess. He also hadn’t slept in what looked like 8 days, except he was in a meth psychosis. Nolan seemed worried by my state. I was still hallucinating a bit and talking crazy. I hadn’t eaten in at least 9 or 10 days and threw up anything in my belly. I remember being afraid as I looked at my body, all I could see was skin and bones. I fall back asleep; I awake to find Nolan with a rolled-up piece of newspaper. He lights it on fire, and I can hear him outside the bedroom: he’s lighting our house on fire. Within minutes, I can hear and see the fire raging outside of my door. I am still. I am content. I have nothing left in me. I just want to perish with the house. The room fills with so much smoke I can barely breathe. Nolan yells at me to get up. I can’t. The fire has spread, and it is blocking my bedroom door.

Nolan helps me out of the room, running through the hot flames to safety outside. The cold air takes my breath away. I’m only wearing a blanket, nothing else. No shoes into the freezing snow. I wanted to stay warm by the fire, but the power lines are starting to shoot flames, and I know my car in the garage will explode any minute. As I get further away from the heat of the fire, walking through the snow barefoot and exhausted, I just lie on the snow wrapped in my little blanket in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, with no phone to call for help. It was so cold; I was so angry at Nolan for not just letting me burn in the fire. I was so content. Now I’m back in even worse agony. After about an hour, I hear sirens. Someone must have seen or heard the house exploding. By the time they arrived, there was no saving the house, it was already burnt to the ground.

Alone and in Crisis

At 4 p.m. the next afternoon, I’ve been in the hospital for about 16 hours, being treated for smoke inhalation. They gave me food and an IV drip for dehydration. Physically, I’m feeling better after 9 days of severe withdrawals. But I’m soon released from the hospital with no clothes, no ID, no money, and nowhere to go. It’s cold outside, snow is still on the ground. I can’t go to my parents’ house because since I left, the Ministry has gotten involved, and I’m not allowed to see my kids. That was the hardest news I had ever received. I loved my kids more than anything. My mom and sister bought me clothes, and I spent the night at a bank’s enclosed 24-hour ATM. That was the best I could do to stay warm.

I didn’t stay clean for much longer. Being on the streets now with nothing, I traded in heroin for Fentanyl, and it became my best friend for the next year. I was so devastated by the loss of my children, the shame and guilt of losing them was excruciating. I lived in a state of pain and torture every day. The only thing I could do to take away my pain was use. Living on the street was like hell on earth. Nobody cared, the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming. I met other addicts, and sometimes we would help each other get drugs, but most of the time, if you have anything of value, money, drugs, possessions, you will just get taken advantage of, which is why I spent most of my time alone. Being alone all the time left me at risk, but at the time you don’t think of the dangers. You don’t care about yourself.

It’s late at night in November, it’s pouring rain. I’ve been on and off the streets now for almost a year. I’m walking down a dark path on my way back to the shelter I was staying at. I can hear footsteps quickly approaching from behind, but it’s dark and I can’t see. Before I knew what was happening, a gloved hand with a cloth covers my mouth, I can’t breathe. As I slowly awake into a semi-conscious state, I begin to yell out, I feel a sharp blade press into my neck. There is a man on top on me, holding a knife to my throat violently raping me. ‘Be quiet and I won’t kill you.’ I look up and see another man standing over me, watching. My pants are down around my ankles and my shirt is ripped in half. I can feel the gravel scraping my back as he slams his body onto mine. Once he’s done, he high-fives the other man, he spits on me and kicks me in the ribs as I go unconscious again. I awake later, bloody, beaten, and bruised all over. The next two months fly by as I stay high to try to forget the trauma I’ve endured.

Treatment and Recovery

The day in January when my mom called me to tell me they were going to pay for me to go to treatment was bittersweet. On one side, I was going to have to leave the only thing I now knew, the only thing I felt loved by…Fentanyl. But on the other side, I desperately missed my children and wanted my life back so bad. Deep down, I knew they loved me and missed me. But when you are broken, it’s hard to believe you are worthy of love. I thought my kids and family were far better off without me in their lives.

parents smiling for photo
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Leaving everything I knew for treatment where I didn’t know anybody was scary, but it turned out getting treatment for my addiction was the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. Getting off Fentanyl has been one thing; it has been a long brutal ride. But what came along with my recovery from heroin addiction has been the most amazing journey of self-discovery and learning to love and respect myself. I am only 5 months into this journey, and I have my family back, my mom, my dad, my sister, and my kids. I have also made new meaningful connections, I have a loving supportive boyfriend who has been there since day one supporting me through thick and thin, as well as his mother. I love you guys so much, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for your support. I’ve learned when you love and respect yourself, you don’t allow people in your life who don’t love and respect you back. Today, I can say without a doubt those are the only kind people I let in my life. This chapter of my life is invite-only.

woman and her boyfriend
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

Writing this story has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. So much trauma and pain, some of it I had never even spoken about before…ever. If I can help just one person get through a hard day by relating in some way to my story, I am happy. I also want to remind people to have compassion for others. Addiction is one of the hardest things to go through in life, and it may even be harder on the family of an addict.

I want the mother who cries herself to sleep every night, fearing the dreaded phone call her child has overdosed, to know there is hope. I want the addict who is homeless on the streets, suffering, to know there is still hope. I want all the addicts suffering in silence to feel it’s okay to tell somebody without judgment…

Recovery doesn’t come by ‘just stopping using.’ Recovery comes from really wanting it and digging deep into your soul to find the missing pieces and slowly putting them back together. It is a long journey of self-discovery and finding your inner traumas and working through them. Every day, I am going to dedicate my recovery to those still suffering in addiction and do what I can to help those in need.”

woman taking selfie
Courtesy of Tahnee Kuzman

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tahnee Lea Kuzman of Kelowna, British Columbia. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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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