Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of substance abuse that may be triggering to some.
“I would say I was born into a relatively ‘normal’ family. Father, mother, married with four children. Family vacations, big holiday gatherings, a summer condo in Rocky Point, Mexico. I was the youngest of the four. I was too young to know anything was wrong at the time but later found out my father suffered from severe alcoholism. My parents’ marriage eventually disintegrated after 13 years. They were divorced by the time I was 4. That would affect me and my siblings for the rest of our lives.
The next few years were spent between both parents, mostly with my mom because my dad wasn’t capable of always taking care of us. There were many visiting weekends, even while my dad was in the depths of his addiction. There was court battle after court battle, but eventually, it was chalked up to the decision of the child, dependent on the age of the child, which parent they wanted to live with. My mom was remarried in 1995 and shortly after, in 1996, my step-dad passed away from a heart attack in his sleep.
My mom was devastated. She eventually became close with a coworker of my deceased step-dad, who she fell in love with. They got married and my mom decided to move my brother, Anthony, my sister, Tori, and myself to California around 1997. Eventually, Anthony and Tori, moved back to Arizona to be with my dad. I was doing well in California, but the summer going into my freshman year, I decided to attend summer school to get ahead.
I took the bus to school. Suddenly, there I was, 14-years-old, riding the bus with 18 and 19-year-old men who were attending summer school to catch up, not get ahead. I was young and impressionable. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be liked. I started spending time with these seniors, second-year seniors. I’d ask my mom to drop me off at the mall, but really, I was going to meet these men. I started wanting to do the things they were doing, and I wanted to be wanted.
I was a little girl who chose to lose her virginity to a 19-year-old man, not knowing the mental anguish and damage it would cause. I began drinking, smoking weed, and sneaking out regularly. I was taking medications from my parents’ cabinets, not knowing what it was but hoping something in there would get me high. I was getting in trouble frequently, and my relationships with my mom and stepdad were deteriorating. I stayed a bit longer with my mom, but they began to battle teenage defiance and daily screaming matches. Eventually, my stepdad had enough after a weekend out of town when I let my ‘friends’ party in our home while we were gone. My step-dad decided it was time for me to go live with my dad in Arizona.
What should have been a fresh start was just a continuance of the destruction I had created in California. My dad was sober at this time but was very lenient with us kids. I didn’t have much structure or guidance for school, or goals once I was done with high school. I was allowed to essentially go wherever I wanted until all hours of the night. I was still smoking weed and drinking heavily when I discovered illicit drugs. I vividly remember my first time trying cocaine, ecstasy, PCP, promethazine with codeine, you name it. But the moment I will never forget, the moment that changed my life, was the first time I tried opiates.
If I had to describe taking opiates, I would say it feels like you are weightless — floating, with no worries, with nothing on your shoulders. It’s as if your world stops for those moments, and all the anxiety, depression, and worries…. they are all gone. I fell in love with that feeling immediately. I longed for it every day, waiting for the sun to fall so I could enter my carefree world.
At first, it was just the weekends, or here and there on the weeknights. It seemed like just for fun. It was around this time I discovered my older brother, Anthony, was using as well, oxycodone and oxycontin. I almost felt a sense of relief, like it made it okay because he was too. I looked up to my brother. It made me feel pardoned from the guilt I was feeling. Slowly, I began using every night, and earlier each day. I was involved in a very toxic off-and-on relationship with a man who was off-and-on with another woman at the same time. This caused a lot of feeling unworthy and not important enough for his commitment.
The escape I got from drugs began to feel like a constant need. Eventually, I became physically dependent, something I was too young to know would happen when I first tried opiates. I began to need it every morning before I could even get out of bed. I couldn’t make it all but a few hours with needing more. I was working two jobs and spending every dime. I began stealing from friends and family, making stories up to get financial help, and losing jobs from never showing up.
By this time, my brother and I had been living together for about a year in our mom’s rental property. We weren’t paying rent and were constantly covering for each other when his girlfriend or our mom would question odd behavior. My mom finally decided she couldn’t have us living in her home without contributing, so she asked us to leave. My brother lost his fiancé of 5 years, something that would alter so many future decisions. We got our own apartment, and this is when life really began to spiral down.
We would get high together, make sure one another was covered if ever in a bind, and find drugs for one another. Our habits started to become too expensive for us to handle. We started stealing from retail stores and returning the merchandise for gift cards we could sell for cash. We were printing counterfeit bills and running any scam we could think of to get more money to pick up. It finally came to the point where opiates were too expensive and heroin was cheaper, a decision that catapulted us deeper into our addictions.
We started with smoking heroin, refusing to use it intravenously because that would mean we ‘didn’t have control anymore.’ We lost our apartment after 5 months and moved into an old, rundown trailer my dad used for his pool business years prior. Using intravenously quickly became the best option to get high, and the quickest from preventing us from getting dope sick. The trailer we moved into had no heat, no running water, and no electricity. We were stealing electricity from our neighbors, not showering for weeks on end, and using the McDonalds bathrooms.
In the winter of 2012, it got down to 28 degrees in Phoenix. I remember many nights sleeping in my car, running the heater because we were too cold to sleep in the trailer. We spent our days begging and stealing to get money, finding dope, getting high, and repeating. We would have days where I would want to get clean or days he would. But never would we want to at the same time. Anthony decided he wanted to get his commercial driver’s license, thinking if he could get a real, consistent job, he could stay clean and get away from the hell we were living. My mom and step-dad agreed to pay for Anthony to go to school.
This seemed like a turning point. My mom agreed to pay for us to move into an extended stay hotel so we would have a warm, consistent place to live with water and electricity. Things felt like they were on the up and up. This was our shot. Anthony would get a good job and get clean. I’d follow. We made a deal. It was time. I helped Anthony make sure he passed his random drug tests from the CDL school by staying ‘on-call’ while he was at school. I’d bring synthetic urine to him, heated to the human body temperature, in the event the school called a random drug test. We continued to run our scams around school hours, to keep our habit fed. It was a day in early March when everything changed.
Anthony went to Home Depot to steal merchandise to return. As he went to exit the store with his goods, an undercover loss prevention officer went to grab him. Anthony took off through the back of the store. He ran out the rear entrance, hopped over a small retaining wall, and jumped down into a wash. But what he didn’t know was on the other side of the retaining wall was a 20-foot drop. Anthony landed and shattered his heel.
As you can imagine, the pain was excruciating. Anthony saw an orthopedic doctor who prescribed Percocet. While this would absolutely alleviate pain for a normal person, for an addict, these are like candy and do nothing to reduce pain. Anthony and I started alternating between an Ibuprofen and Tylenol regimen to help manage his pain. About 4 days after breaking his foot, Anthony started to present symptoms of what seemed to be the flu. He was very lethargic, said his skin hurt and had severe body aches.
It was Saturday afternoon when I called my sister, who at the time was 38 weeks pregnant, and told her Anthony was very sick and I felt like he was dying. My sister said to keep an eye on him and on Monday, we could get an old wheelchair from my eldest brother and take him to the doctor. Since we were living on the second floor of the hotel, it was difficult getting Anthony up and down on my own, especially with him being very ill. I was known to exaggerate or be dramatic at times, so it made the most sense at the time.
Sunday night, I went to go pick up dope for us. I was out all night. When I got back to the hotel, it was about 7 a.m. Monday morning. Anthony was asleep. I shot up, took a Xanax and a Soma, and went to bed. I slept until about 11 p.m. that night. When I woke up, I was starting to withdraw. I went out to the living room to cook a shot. I asked Anthony if he wanted one and he grunted. At this time, because Anthony was sick AND dope sick, I was helping him shoot up. I was about to go sit down next to him to tie him off and shoot him up. He was laying on the floor of the hotel room. When I looked down at him, his eyes were rolled back into his head. I jumped down next to him and started hitting him in his chest to wake him up, screaming his name. He wasn’t responding.
I called my eldest brother and told him Anthony wasn’t responding to me. He told me to hang up and call 911. I was scared and not thinking clearly. The operator instructed me to start CPR. I began to work on my brother. He was making grunting noises each time I pumped his chest as if he was breathing. The paramedics finally arrived after what felt like hours. They took over and hooked him up to a heart monitor. The line was flat. They tried injection after injection of epinephrine. They asked if he was a drug addict. I shook my head yes. They tried injection after injection of Narcan. Nothing was working. I was shaking, watching this horror film before my eyes.
After more than 30 minutes of working on him, a firefighter walked up to me. He said, ‘I’m sorry. There is nothing more we can do.’ I screamed, ‘What do you mean?! You have to do more! There is a hospital across the street!’ But there was nothing more they could do. We tragically lost our sweet Anthony on March 12, 2013.
The following 2 weeks are very blurry. My world was turned upside down. I spent the remaining hours of that night being interrogated by the homicide detective. They found several ounces of heroin, many prescription drugs, and a pile of paraphernalia. I was told I wouldn’t be charged for the possession, given the circumstances. Because I was the last person to shoot Anthony up, I could be charged with manslaughter.
Weeks later, we received the toxicology report and his cause of death. Anthony didn’t die of an overdose of heroin. He died from an overdose of acetaminophen. We were shocked and incredibly more heartbroken. Anthony had a secondary cause of death of mixed drug intoxication. He had heroin, methamphetamines, oxycodone, Benadryl, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen in his system. We believe if Anthony was a healthy adult, he would have survived the overdose of Tylenol. Because he was sick with his addiction, the perfect storm occurred.
The night he died, I was swept away immediately after to be admitted into detox. I spent 5 days in an inpatient detox. I snuck pills in with me and had two friends bring me heroin. I was put on Methadone but never detoxed. I was released on the day of my brother’s funeral. I was in full-blown withdrawals by this time. I sat through a blurry ceremony, more dope sick than I could ever imagine was possible, and was then immediately shipped to California for inpatient treatment.
I spent 60 days in an inpatient facility and 90 days in an outpatient facility. I went through a rough few months. I experienced a relapse, a seizure from detoxing from Xanax, and a hospital stay due to an adverse reaction from a medication I was taking to reduce the night terrors I was having from the death of my brother. I moved into sober living and began to rebuild my life. About 6 months later, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I was struggling to fight depression and addiction. Every day was a battle that got easier with time. I was so incredibly blessed to have my family backing me. Every step of the way. I got a job, started taking care of myself, and began to learn to live without drugs, and without my brother.
I felt like I was learning things all over again. I began seeing the same man from my earlier days in my addiction, but this time I was clean. Everything was different. I decided at 8 months clean, I wanted to move back to Phoenix to be with my family. I moved into my boyfriend’s home in December of 2013. Things didn’t last long. Although we were madly in love, we were both very fragile. He had gone through some very hard times before we started talking again. We were unhealthy and not ready to love one another the way we should have.
3 short months later, he woke me up one day and told me he needed time. He felt like things were going too fast. He asked me to move out, and I was crushed. I had worked so hard to put my life back together. I was supposed to marry this man. We talked about starting our lives together, children, the future. I picked up the pieces, once again, and moved into my own apartment by myself. I was balancing on the wall of relapse. I look back now and can’t believe, after all that occurred that year, I didn’t go back to using. I held my head up and got three jobs to make it work. Again, without my family’s support, I wouldn’t be here telling my story.
During this time, I met my now-husband. He would forever change the narrative. I had only known him for less than 3 months at the time, but I consciously made the decision to close the chapter with my ex-boyfriend and venture into something new, bright, and intriguing. I had found my person. I found what I always dreamed of. I found my reason to stay clean.
We married after 4 years of dating. He brought a wonderful son from a previous marriage into my life, to who I have proudly been a bonus mom for nearly 6 years now. I was able to get a real career and quit my three jobs. We bought our first home in 2017. We are working on expanding our family. Everything finally felt like it made sense. My world aligned.
I will have 8 years clean on April 30, 2021. Looking back, I am so grateful for all that happened that brought me to today. I don’t share my story much. It is difficult at times to speak of it. I was a shell of a person, isolated from my family, couldn’t keep a job, nearly homeless. After losing my brother and everything else, by the grace of God and my wonderful family, I was able to get clean. To say my life is different now is an understatement. I have a beautiful family, a great career, the safety and comfort of many things… I have true happiness, and so so much love in my heart.
It is possible. If you or someone you know is suffering, if my story could give even one person hope they can recover, then my heart is even fuller.”
Read more stories like this:
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