“This is me the day before I overdosed on heroin. I was almost off probation, a year out of jail, and I had a job. What people didn’t see was the exhaustion and chronic pain. The constant thought in my head saying, ‘I can never make it without drugs.’ People thought I was staying clean, but I was drinking with muscle relaxers after work abusing Xanax to not have to worry about how I was going to survive because I could hardly do my job. I was also doing heroin every time I was around it. Addiction has many faces. It is not always the person nodding out downtown, or the person wearing long sleeves in the summer to hide their tracks marks. Pay attention to your loved ones. Addiction can affect anyone and it might not look like what you think it would be.
Let me back up a bit.
Most children at the age of 10 or 11 are just learning about drugs; I was already on them and on the edge of full-fledged addiction. I was born with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which causes chronic dislocations and subluxation, skeletal defects and many other symptoms, the worst being chronic pain. I started going to doctors complaining about back pain when I was 10. Other than that, I was a normal, active child and I played basketball. I found out I had scoliosis, so the doctors gave me painkillers. Of course, being a child, I did not see this as taking drugs. I saw it as something that made me better. Back then the world was not worried about narcotics or opiates like they are today. A few years later, I hurt my knee playing basketball; I did a summer of physical therapy, this whole time taking Percocet or Vicodin.
I went on to play basketball continuing to take the pills so I could play. I ended up shredding my ligament, getting surgery where the anesthesiologist messed up; giving me an epidural. Which led to me having a spinal headache and two spinal taps where I was given a very strong opiate drug. When they injected the drug in me, I felt that massive head rush – the feeling of relief and warmth. I knew I was high then, and I knew I loved it. This is when I had my first experience of withdrawal; it was awful, I never wanted to go through that again. As I was in therapy for recovery of the knee surgery, I started having more problems with my shoulders, hips and knees. I was finally diagnosed at 15. They told me to keep going to therapy and to stop playing sports. This was heartbreaking, and when the anger started to build inside of me.
I lived my high school life being homeschooled, going to church, worked at church camp, went to Bible study. Someone you wouldn’t think would be a drug addict. After I graduated, I couldn’t go to school like everyone else. I definitely could not work and go to school. I had also started drinking, smoking weed and trying whatever drug possible and I loved it because I felt normal. I fit in. I was not in unbearable pain.
Around 20 I did a report on Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS). I read that I was just going to worse and that I could die from one of my organs or heart exploding. So I was like, if I’m going to die doing nothing, why should I be scared of anything? I went even more crazy doing drugs every day, selling drugs so I would have money for drugs. I was doing about anything offered to me, whether it was cocaine, LSD, molly, benzos, or opiates. It was not until I broke my rib still at 20 years old that I did heroin for the first time. Some friend asked if I had money to put in to get some, so I did. I was probably getting ripped off and knew it, but I knew it would make the pain stop. This time I snorted it. It was the first time in my life I was pain free. I was in love, but I knew that heroin would lead me down a bad path and I guess I still had some will to live. After a few months of using, I told my dad and got myself off it. I still did every other drug, but told myself it was ok because I was not using opiates.
It wasn’t until I was 21 when I went to rehab for the first time that I realized I had been addict most of my life. I had relied on drugs pretty much to do everything. Play basketball, go to church camp, hang out with friends, and even go on vacation. When I look back, I’m high in most of my family vacation photos. I would black out playing basketball because of the pain killers I was on. You could say I was not an addict because they were given to me, but I was. My body needed opiates and when I did not have them, I would be sick.
At this point though, I was just pissed. It wasn’t fair. I shouldn’t do drugs, but if I didn’t, I’d be miserable. It did not matter what illnesses I was living with, because of my appearance, I was viewed has worthless drug addict. I had also picked up charges and had been a arrested a few times. ‘You’re going to end up in jail no matter what,’ my probation officer told me. I took money for ASAP (alcohol and drug classes, the court ordered ones) and skipped class to get high. What is the point? I’m drug addict. That’s what I am, that’s what I’ll always be, and I will never change.
Around this time I met my best friend Taylor Lee Belford. When I first met him, he asked me, ‘Why do so many hard drugs?’ It made me really think. He showed how I was a better person without them and that I’m strong enough to not use. We had the best times for a few years smoking weed, drinking and driving around the country. We sold pot so we always had money. Then he got deeper in his addiction, and so did I. We cared for each other. Neither of us wanted to end up like are drug addict dads. It just snuck up on us – when I was 22 I broke my arm and got opiates painkillers. I was instantly in love again.
Taylor had already started doing pills, mostly because I think he just wanted to fit in and chill with his friends. These were people he grew up with. I started selling my pain pills to get roxy 30s. You can smoke pills. I did not know how, but Taylor did so he taught me. We went on just doing roxy for a while. I would steal, pawn, lie – whatever I had to do to get more roxy. I stole from too many people to count. It was not long till we were doing heroin. Taylor had been kicked out and was living with me. Almost every day it would be the same thing – ‘how are we going to get more drugs?’ Then it got to the point we were both waiting for jail time; his charges more serious than mine. We had decided we could use until we go to jail because what is the point of trying to get a job or anything? After jail though, we would get clean.
We were supposed to go to jail at the same time, but I went in and he did not. While in jail I was mostly scared to leave because on the streets there is drugs and if I’m around them, I will do them. Also, Taylor kept on using and overdosed three times. It broke my heart. I could not stop crying. At the same time, I was thinking, ‘That could have been me.’ When I got out of jail, I saw him once and we did do heroin. I was less than a week out of jail. Not much longer than that, Taylor went to a court ordered detention center and reversion center for distribution of heroin for 11 months. I tried my best to stay clean and go to work. I struggled a lot and even ended up using sometimes. I would talk to Taylor and say, ‘I have no idea how to live without drugs.’ He would say, ‘You don’t want to go back to jail.’ Then I would reply, ‘It’s not fair, I’m in pain and expected to work. Every day I have dislocations.’ He would tell me I was the strongest person he knew, and if anyone could do it, it was me.
Throughout that year Taylor was my rock, even though he was in jail. We talked and wrote each other all the time. Even though it was only on the phone, he would know when I was high or using and would call me on my sh*t. One day I ended up overdosing. I was with my friend Sara. We had already done some Xanax by the time we got to a friend’s house to get some heroin. I did a huge line and overdosed. My friend Sara took me to the hospital where I was giving Narcan, grilled by the DEA and was told I was going to die. I fought them – I did not want help. I never wanted the feeling to stop. I told them, ‘Let me die, I cannot be fixed.’ I was put on suicide attempt watch, and strapped down to where I could only move my head for almost 40 hours. I had to wait a day to get ahold of my family. My parents were out of town so my Memaw came to the hospital and sat with me. Today I have a tattoo on my chest of her favorite Bible verse. It says, ‘I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.’
Eventually my sister came and I got to go home. It was not long until I was out that Taylor called and I told him what happened. He was not surprised, asked to talk to my sister, and told her not to leave me alone, which she did any way. A few months after this I had a total breakdown. I wanted drugs, I was in pain but no one would give them to me. I ended up getting a knife, cutting myself to prove it doesn’t hurt and threatening suicide. My dad called the cops. I get taken to the hospital. I would still not calm down. I just kept screaming, ‘I need something for the pain!’ They wanted to give me a mental health drug. Everyone was treating me like I was crazy, when in fact, I was just a person in pain pleading for help. I ended going to the state psych hospital, where all the doctor did was ask me about my problems then say, ‘How do you deal with it?’ I said, ‘If I knew how to deal with it, I wouldn’t be here.’ I was there a week with no help. Honestly, that place was worse than jail. After this, I knew I had to find away to deal and drugs were not the answer. I was going to have to figure it out on my own. I had great friends and loved ones that wanted to see me do well. No one knew how I was going to do it but believed I could.
I had a few friends that stayed by my side even when I was in deep addiction. My friend Cassidy always knew it was the real me, same with Taylor. Without their support and belief in me, it would have been a lot harder to stay clean. Only a month after this, Taylor got out of jail. He did not go home or with a clean friend. A few times I saw him, he was doing well. I knew he wanted to prove to himself he could hang with the same people who used and stay clean. This was not the case. The day or two before he died, he came to my house because someone else had overdosed where he was located. I was clean. I could tell he was high, and it made me cry. He left my house that morning saying I was his best friend in the whole world. I had no idea this would be the last time I would see him. That night, his mom texted me. ‘Do you know if he was using?,’ she asked. I said yes. ‘I’m concerned. I texted him, but never got an answer back,’ she replied.
The next day, his mom and one of his friends asked me if I had heard from him because they could not get ahold of him. Not long after that, his dad went to look for him at the house we knew he was last staying. I got a call from his mom. ‘He’s dead,’ she said. I immediately left to go where he was. His mom, dad and brothers were there. We all just cried and hugged each other. I will never get the image of his mom running down the street and fighting the cops to get to him out my mind. That day, I made a promise to Taylor that I would stay off drugs and live the best life I can, and help has many addicts as I can. He was young and an addict. Heroin stole his life and many other of my friends at a young age. That day was August 21, 2016. I have kept my promise with the help of others, and by accepting my disability and pain, admitting it’s a part of me and I wouldn’t be me without it.
It is not easy, and some days are extremely hard. I’m better off than what I was. Instead of drugs I do things I enjoy like making art or jewelry, going swimming to distract me from the pain. I also had to forgive myself for all of those bad things I had done, and realize that was not me – that was the addiction. Today I’m happy. I’m not a slave to drugs. I meditate and exercise to deal with my emotions. I had three years clean May 7, 2019. I’m extremely proud of myself, and I still take it one day at a time. Taylor believed I could do it, my friends and family believe I can do it, and now, so do I. Before you know it, I bet I’ll be five years opiate free. If someone like me, who was on painkillers at least half of their life and lives with EDS can, I believe anyone can do it. Go be free.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amy Parker. You can follow her journey on Instagram. 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:
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‘Our daughter has been placed in protective custody,’ my husband said. ‘We will deal with that later,’ I remember replying. Because first, I needed to get high.’
‘I was ABANDONED on my grandma’s front porch with a note that said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ My own mother said those five words about me when I was only 8 months old.’
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