‘The look on his face told me everything. He said 3 letters that changed my life. ‘D.O.A.’ Dead on arrival.’: Young woman feels ‘overwhelming guilt’ after roommate dies from heroin overdose, finally gets clean

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“I grew up in an upper-middle-class home. I have the most loving parents a child could have ever asked for. I am the only girl of three brothers. Every want and need we had as children my parents were capable of providing for us. My life was normal. I was passionate about things like dolls and horses. I got my first horse when I was 6 years old, and that became my passion. It became everything I lived and breathed.

I was having a conversation with my roommates last night. I was telling them how I have heard a lot of people’s stories over the years, and I often hear that before active addiction, people always felt different. Like they didn’t fit in. Like they weren’t ever entirely accepted.

Before the trauma I experienced, that wasn’t the case for me. I am a sexual abuse survivor. The situation occurred at a young age. Too young to realize that what happened to me was wrong. Too young to understand that what happened was something that would have a hold on me for a very long time. I didn’t tell anyone about it until I told my parents about five years ago.

And then, on November 18th, 2006, my brother died suddenly. I was in fifth grade. At 10 years old, I felt like I was forced to grow up. I took on the role of being the rock in my family. I thought I had to hold everyone together. I stuffed every emotion I had relating to my brother’s death. After about a year, that caught up to me. I battled with severe depression throughout middle school and going into high school. The kind that keeps you in bed for days straight. The kind that doesn’t let you shower. The kind that leaves clothes, food, dishes, and garbage scattered across your entire bedroom for months. I quickly fell out of love with everything I was passionate about and fell into love with anything outside of myself that would make me feel good right now, anything to help me escape, even if it was toxic for me.

Courtesy of Kaelan Lanie

At the beginning of my freshman year in high school, I tried drugs for the first time. Weed, alcohol, pills — for me, the progression happened quickly, and my life became unmanageable no matter what the substance was. My parents caught on very quickly. They tried everything they could to keep me involved in things that could be positive in my life. They fought their hardest for me.

By 10th grade, I failed out of almost all of my classes, was on truancy for missing school, and in my first intensive outpatient program. I remember getting a lot of diagnoses’ from the psychiatrist that worked there and feeling powerless. Like there was something wrong with me that they thought a diagnosis and a prescription would ‘fix.’ I felt misunderstood.

I completed the program and very shortly after, diverted back to drugs. My life was a cycle of a different substance and a different boyfriend. I was spiraling completely out of control. And as it spiraled, my addiction progressed, and the emotional consequences hurt worse. It wasn’t fun anymore. And I felt like it would never get better. I was sick of not knowing what was wrong with me, of always feeling like I was hurting the people around me, and not knowing how to stop.

I attempted suicide in my senior year in high school. I spent my 18th birthday in a psychiatric unit, and I hated every single second of it. But still, when I got out, I relapsed. My parents tried so hard to understand. Searching for answers and even a glimmer of hope consumed just about every second of their time.

By the time I was 19 years old, I was in my 3rd treatment center. And I was finally at a point in my life where I wanted to want this thing. I longed to know how. My heart sought to learn about this disease that I was suffering from so that I could learn how to fight it. I was more willing than I ever had been.

For me, I have learned today that the substances I was using are only a symptom of what is going on internally. And behind methamphetamines, my second drug of choice was a relationship. Codependency is something that I have had to work on, which has been equally as crucial to my recovery.

I started dating a guy that I had met in treatment and two weeks into our relationship; I was convinced that I had found the man that I wanted to marry.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse when he relapsed. I hung on by a thread for 10 months. I was living in a sober house, I was maintaining a job, I had just gone back to college when one day, the weight of the world came crashing down on my shoulders and I relapsed with him.

I remember the night of my relapse very vividly, and the rest of those three months were a complete blur. We went to a friend’s house. We sat on the couch in his basement. I remember my ex getting the pipe ready as I carried on a conversation with his friend. He asked me if I had ever done it before, and I told him no. He then went onto say, ‘if you have an addictive personality, you should stay away from it.’ Little did he know, I had just thrown my entire life away to be there.

He put the clear, meth filled pipe to my lips, he flicked the lighter, and he started to tilt it back and forth. I looked at him, and then I looked down to see the little white crystals turning into a liquid as the smoke traveled up the stem of the pipe and into my lungs. ‘Breathe in slowly,’ he said. I was now addicted to meth.

I spent the next 24 hours locked in a room obsessing over a drawing. I didn’t take breaks. I left the room one time in 24 hours to use the restroom.

At this point in my life, I had a heart full of sobriety and a head full of dope. What I mean by that, was I knew what I was doing was wrong, I knew the only successful path for me was a life free from substances, but the grip my addiction had on me was too powerful.

My ex was selling drugs at the time, and I would spend days and nights riding around with him with drugs in my bra and guns in my purse. My life became utterly unrecognizable to me.

My parents were terrified of what my future held. They hoped and prayed that I would make it out alive. Conversations with them ended in blowouts until I started isolating more and more until we didn’t communicate at all.

And then I got a text from my 13-year-old brother saying, ‘I wish you would get sober so we could have our family back.’

That broke me. But it still wasn’t enough. It’s hard for me to put into words where my head was. I spent days locked in a room with the blinds closed — nothing but me, a pipe, a lighter, and a heart full of guilt and shame. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t.

And then one night my ex and I got into an argument. Arguments that involved screaming, name-calling, and threats were a regular occurrence for us. I remember looking at him, and it hit me, I was looking at a stranger. I didn’t know who he was anymore. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had a brief moment of clarity, and I got down on my knees next to the mattress on the floor, and I started praying. I asked I begged; I pleaded for God to give me a sign.

Moments later, I heard sirens. We lived in the city, so this wasn’t out of the ordinary. But I knew from the moment I heard them that they were coming to our house. I looked out the window of our bedroom and saw two fire trucks screeching to a stop. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could towards the pounding on the door. By the time I got there, I was entirely out of breath. I opened the door, and before I could get a word out, the man standing behind it told me they got a call that someone had overdosed.

We lived in a house with five other roommates. Two of my roommates were active heroin users who lived downstairs. I pointed him down the stairs, and as soon as he reached the bottom, the look on his face told me everything I need to know. He reached for his radio and said three letters that changed my life.


Dead on arrival.

After B died, I watched her family come into our house and gather some of the things she left behind. I saw the shattered look on their faces. I remember walking downstairs and seeing her belongings scattered across our living room. It was like she was still supposed to be here, but she wasn’t. I felt overwhelming guilt. I realized the amount of pain I was putting my family through and thought about how it would feel to leave my own family behind with that same, broken look on their face.

A few days later, I had been up all night. I remember creeping through the blinds and watching the sun come up. The world was waking up all around me. People were on their way to work, walking their dogs, dropping their kids off at school, and I wondered what it would be like to be a normal person, living a normal life. To not be crippled by a disease that wanted me dead but settled for me suffering.

I made a phone call to my parents, and within a few hours, I had my bags packed, and I was on my way to treatment. I was terrified, but I continued to put one foot in front of the other.

Courtesy of Kaelan Lanie

In early sobriety, I was blessed enough to have so many examples in my life of what recovery could look like for me. I heard people talk about living a life beyond their wildest dreams, and I wanted that for myself, so I clung to those people.

They told me in the beginning, to show up and let God do the rest. So that’s what I continued to do. I took the suggestions that were laid out for me, and I did the work. I remember beginning to make positive choices in my life, and when people would tell me they were proud of me, I would say, ‘I don’t know who I am anymore.’ They kept telling me I was figuring it out. They kept believing in me. They kept meeting me where I was at and loving me until I could learn to love myself. They breathed life back into my soul.

I developed a relationship with a higher power of my understanding.

I realized how loved I was. I realized that God had a plan for my life. A purpose for the pain. I started to recognize my life, my mistakes, my trauma, my struggles, no longer as my weakness, but as my biggest strength. I learned that struggling is okay, crying is okay, and feeling negative emotions is okay because that is where we find healing. I became comfortable with getting uncomfortable because that is where we find growth.

I began to see everything in my life as a miracle; A full tank of gas in my car. Sunsets. Trees. A gentle breeze on a hot summer day. The way the waves of the ocean met the shore on the beach. The way the sun felt when it touched my face. Sitting with my friends and laughing until we cried. I began to appreciate how it felt to be loyal to a friend and how it felt, knowing that I was making my parents proud, how it felt to be the most real, raw, vulnerable, authentic, and genuinely free version of myself. And I have strived for that every day since.

Courtesy of Kaelan Lanie

I spent my 21st birthday, surrounded by the people who love me the most, without a drink or a drug. Let me repeat that, I spent my 21st birthday, surrounded by the people who love me the most, without a drink or a drug. If you would have told me five years ago that was possible for me outside of an institution; I would have told you that you have lost your mind.

Recovery has allowed me to be a daughter my parents are proud of, a big sister that my little brother calls for advice, an example of what recovery looks like to be young, sober, and free. It has given me the opportunity to be a loyal friend, an amazing girlfriend to a man who loves me and treats me like a queen. It has given me a job that I love, the ability to pay my bills and be a responsible member of society. Recovery has given me the freedom to try new things, to continue to learn what I’m passionate about and what sets my soul on fire. I live a life today that used to seem completely out of reach for me; I live a life beyond my wildest dreams.

Courtesy of Kaelan Lanie
Courtesy of Kaelan Lanie

A LOT has happened in two years. I have grown, I have evolved, I have struggled, I have made PLENTY of mistakes, I have worked through a lot of things within myself that had held me captive for so many years, but at no point during my sobriety have I felt it necessary to pick up a drink or a drug. I still have a long way to go. But I have realized that each day, each month, each year, has been a new opportunity to discover something new about myself. A unique opportunity for growth. A new opportunity for healing. And new chance to share my story of hope with the next person who is still struggling.

I still don’t have it all figured out. But today I am blessed to be here, to show up and be present as my most genuine and authentic self. I am blessed not to live a life that is crippled with fear, but instead, to have found freedom.

I used to think that when I got sober, my life would end. Little did I know it was only the beginning of the most beautiful, messy, and amazing journey I could’ve ever asked for. And I thank God for that.”

Courtesy of Kaelan Lanie
Courtesy of Kaelan Lanie

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kaelan Lanie. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more inspiring stories of people overcoming their addictions:

‘I let a man who I wanted to love me, put a needle full of meth into my arm. Within 6 months, I lost my son.’ Woman’s journey from ‘successful businesswoman’ to ‘dying drug addict’

‘I was sitting in a hotel room. I had on a tight black dress, listening to my client say what ‘he wants to do.’ My gut was screaming to leave, but if I left, there is no money, and my ‘boss’ will be upset.’

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