‘I spent 50% of my life in active addiction.’: Young woman recounts journey to sobriety after years-long battle with addiction

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of addiction, substance abuse, and self-harm that may be upsetting to some.

My Upbringing

“My name is Manda Nicole. This story is one of hardship and of hope for anyone who suffers with substance use disorder, as well as anyone who may struggle with mental illness, domestic abuse, complex trauma, or those who have encountered childhood adversities. I would like to be a voice for the loved ones who were taken too soon and a light to those who do not see any way out of the torment and grips of the disease of addiction. This is my story, and my hope is to give some understanding to those who may not get it and a light for those who suffer. I would like for those who have closed their minds or turned a blind eye to find compassion for the lives surrounding them, no matter the circumstances.

Growing up, life was hectic. I was raised an only child by a single parent starting early on. My father had two boys before meeting my mom through a mutual friend; two boys whom I had never spent any substantial amount of time with, who were also raised without their father. I was raised by my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother. I was always surrounded by other kids, like my younger cousins and kids of my mom’s friends. I was always the oldest, and always the most troubled. From as far back as I can remember, we were always moving around. Sometimes we were in British Columbia and other times we were back in Alberta. Sometimes I was being raised by my grandma and other times by my aunt, or Mom, or all three. It was always confusing to have things changing drastically all the time and having to move from city to city and make new friends. Ultimately, Calgary became home and the few friends I made in childhood are the friends I would not hesitate to call my family today.

Single mother and young daughter looking into camera
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

My experience with addiction began at quite an early age; having addiction ran so strong through our bloodline, it was almost inevitable I would end up dabbling in substances with such predisposition. There was a time I blamed my adverse childhood, or having an addict mom. I also blamed my father for not being there to support us when mom needed to get help in order to raise me. I blamed the sudden wealth  our family fell into unexpectedly for distracting the adults from taking better care of us (us being my two younger cousins and I). Or the private school which was intended to assist in helping gifted kids with their learning disabilities, but ended up being the most detrimental experience of it all. Between being severely bullied by other students, being sexually and verbally assaulted regularly on the bus to and from school, and being physically and emotionally harassed by the teachers who should have been there to protect us from such harm, I was led to trying substances at an unfathomably immature age. With the experience I have today, I can honestly say it was the unfortunate circumstance of finding escape in substances more than anything else. I am unsure if proper understanding of the possible outcome would have changed the trajectory of where I ended up, but I no longer look to the past for something to blame or even for answers as to why I spent 50% of my life in active addiction.

Young redheaded girl with a red hat
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

The Start of Addiction

The day I realized I was an addict was the very first time I tried substances. My best friend and I were babysitting her little sister over the weekend; she was eleven and I was twelve. All it took for myself was the feeling of what alcohol did once it hit my stomach, the laughter that followed ‘smoking’ marijuana, and the obscure feeling of going in and out of consciousness without actually being asleep. I now know that feeling is called a blackout; it is your body’s last effort to keep you alive and would very much later be what lead me to get the necessary help I needed to be alive today. Although I understood what addiction meant by definition, I would not understand the magnitude of it until it was far too late to just stop.

Young female drug addict blowing a cloud of smoke
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

My journey to recovery had been long drawn out. At age thirteen, I was expelled from private school for possession of marijuana and for having self-inflicted cuts on my arms. At that point, I was trying anything and everything to not feel the dread and anguish I felt daily. Maybe if I feel the tiny sting of harming myself enough times, I will begin to feel what every other kid my age was meant to feel, alive! After having an assessment by a mental health professional, whatever I had said lead to a lot of confusion from both my mom and I and landed me in my very first psychiatric ward for youth. It was an extensive program; we had to do physical activity and continue our education within the facility. There were many groups around mental illness and substance abuse. They took the time to make a diagnosis and work through medication combinations to help alleviate the stress once having been discharged. At that time, I was diagnosed officially with ADHD, major depressive disorder, alcohol-dependency disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder accompanied by family dysfunction. I was put on several medications, and things began to look brighter in the eyes of the adults, so I was discharged to go home over the summer before starting high school.

High School

I wish that was the bright end to the story where everything got better from there, but it was only the beginning of the worst of it. By the time summer had ended, my boyfriend and I in our fully co-dependent relationship had fallen into a scary addiction to pressed pills. The person who supplied it called it Ecstasy. They looked pretty, had a nice name, and made life feel exactly like what I thought it would. I remember saying, ‘I’m going to replace sleeping, eating, and all depression medications with this one pill.’ The doctor told me I would not have survived much longer if I had not been arrested and brought back to the hospital. Between running away from home, running away from the hospital, and running away from the authorities, I exhausted myself to the point of having no choice but to smarten up before high school.

I had managed to keep myself from using Ecstasy after that summer, but throughout school, I had used excessive amounts of LSD, had a summer stint smoking crack, and had made it through to graduation by a hair and a 26oz bottle of Royal Reserve Canadian Whisky a day. Little did I know how lucky I was to get a diploma without being expelled; all thanks to my mom for never giving up on me and continuing to advocate for me. I spent most of grade 10–12 living with my dad near the school I was attending. I stayed in the basement where people were always smoking, drinking, skipping school to smoke weed and not risking getting caught. It felt ideal at the time, it felt normal, but it was far from normal.

High school drug addict sitting on couch in basement
Courtesy of Manda Nicole
High School female drug addict in basement
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

I had small stints of sobriety over the years following graduation in 2011 until 2017. There was a lot of partying going on, but I managed to maintain a job and keep myself stable. In 2017, I had been living in Edmonton, Alberta, which was only a 3.5-hour drive to where my mom lived. After getting the call mom had a brain tumor, I made the decision to leave the man I had started a life with to return home to be with her. I thought I’d see if I could get myself sober and deal with the depression I had fallen into as well. My mom was not sober at the time, so going home to live with her was a recipe for not finding success in sobriety, especially during such weird times of her health quickly declining. This is a trend I better understand about myself now; I am always running. Running from relationships due to hardship, running from my mom so as to not have to face past resentments, running from my emotions surrounding the diagnosis, running from any emotion other than the anger I would cling so strong to in order to mask how terrified and broken I really was. All which landed me so deep in an addiction to stimulants and alcohol that would ultimately take everything I had.

Female drug addict selfie in black and white
Courtesy of Manda Nicole
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

Hardships

I lost my apartment. I lost my job I once loved due to having been a danger on the job site. I surrendered my kitty to a lovely foster family, knowing I could not give her the care she deserved. I lost friends, I lost my trustworthiness, I lost any judgment for dangerous situations, financial stability, and my good credit score. I lost any glimpse of self-worth and sanity I had, ultimately finding myself tangled in abusive relationship after abusive relationship.

By the time 2019 rolled around, I thought I had had enough. I began attending 12-step recovery meetings in hopes of finding someone who could save me; someone to tell me everything I needed to hear to live the life they had worked so hard for. It turns out there is no magic switch to take it all away; moving through the motions of 12-step programs without honesty did not get me anywhere when it came time for life throwing curve balls. Just when things were falling into place, the government let me down literally minutes before the deadline to getting into a treatment center. It turned out they were not going to help with funding my stay at an all woman’s program; I had been under the impression for the past 3 months there was no issues. The center had given me the weekend to appeal their decision, which I did all myself; I walked in Monday morning to speak with the manager of the office I had been dealing with only to be met by someone that stated, ‘The manager is on vacation for the next two weeks, don’t expect anyone to go over this today and approve it.’ Queue relapse.

Female drug addict holding a cold drink and smoking
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

By February of 2020, I thought I had enough… again. I got myself to a detox center, maintained meetings to stay sober while awaiting treatment once again, and finally got myself into a three-month program for addiction work. It was going to be what saved me, finally! March 15th, 2020, everything changed; not just for me but for the entire world as we knew it. Covid lockdown. Everyone was frantic, and the program had decided to entirely lock down. No one was to leave to see their families, and if you did leave, you could come back to finish the program where you left off so long as you did not relapse. And even if you did, you had first dibs on a bed when all this ‘blew over.’ Obviously, it did not just blow over. Between not being able to leave the house for anything but groceries, no 12-step meetings open in person, and having extremely limited friends by this point, things got bad quick. Queue relapse.

They say relapse is usually a part of anyone’s success story. It was for mine. They also say it gets worse every time you go back out. I can say for sure that was the case for myself. My last relapse was a time which makes my stomach turn to think about. It was not much more than two months, but I feel more than lucky to have come out of those two months alive; between having full 12-hour gaps in memory to waking up from a black out in my vehicle wondering how I got there, and if I had hurt anyone. I thank my Higher Power every day for never having hurt or killed anyone while learning the lessons I needed to finally stay sober. I am one of the statistics for early Covid suicide attempts, landing myself in the psychiatric ward with stitches in my arm, and no one having a clue I had lost my soul so deep in the darkness.

I wish that had been the end. The point where I got the help I needed. It was not long before I had crashed my pride and joy truck in a ditch on a back road while ‘star gazing.’ That’s what I said I was doing anyway. I was parked far into darkness of the night, wondering how far I could push this until it finally killed me. I believe if I would have made it to the highway that night, I very well could have died. Knowing how this stuff works though, I more likely would have killed someone else, and I would have lived to see another day. Luckily, I made it far enough to land myself in a ditch swamp. Was this enough to end it? No. My truck being as broken as it was, I continued to find any conceivable way to get alcohol. Day after day, I was breaking my mom’s heart. She stayed sober for those months my life was burning to the ground, doing everything she could to be sure I would not be able to drink again. The thing about addiction is somehow it will outsmart those around you for as long as possible. It will even outsmart you. I would tell myself I am going to just get cigarettes, tell mom the same thing, but the addict inside of me knew I would have to park beside a liquor store to get smokes. It is cunning, baffling, and powerful.

Courtesy of Manda Nicole
Woman in surgical mask and hospital gown after attempting suicide
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

Sobriety Journey

I could write a book on the torment I went through in active addiction and my journey to recovery, and someday I will. This is where things begin to turn around, though. I cannot begin to pin down what the turning point really was. June 4th, 2020, after spending a good 24 hours detoxing on mom’s couch after having been on a 3-day disappearance, blacked out, I drove myself to a detox center out of town. There, I spent five days eating wholesome food and smoking far too many cigarettes. From detox, I went to an 18-day treatment center for addiction where I continued to eat great food, make bonds with people, and re-discover my love for physical activity, crafting, and drawing. Throughout my stay there, I had met with a lady to discuss my mental health and the potential for undiagnosed mental illness. She may have saved my life, having pulled some strings at a nearby rehab facility which did long-term rehabilitation and psychiatric assessment/therapy.

I landed myself a bed following discharge. I got myself a diagnosis for severe OCD, got stable on my medications, and did exposure therapy for the difficulties I had endured with intrusive thoughts and incessant obsessing. What was expected to be a brief time away from home, because of Covid, ended up being time away from everything and everyone I knew for an entire five months. My time there was hard. I missed my family. A friend had died only days after I got my phone back and I wasn’t allowed to leave to attend his memorial. I was bullied by staff and girls from a different unit, but I also made connections with people that I will never forget. I had so much time to go over and rethink with a clear mind what I wanted my future to look like. I found my faith with my Higher Power to be stronger than ever before and an understanding of how individual spirituality truly is.

My sobriety has a birthday: June 4th, 2020. I got sober, and I stayed sober. It has been 760 days since the last time I used substances to escape from reality. My relationship with my mom over the years has grown to be one of the biggest blessings in my life. She is my best friend, my constant, my absolute rock and the first person I would go to in a heartbeat if I felt afraid or weak in my recovery. I have rekindled my love for snowboarding and art that had long been on hold. I have made it through great loss in my time and I made it through without leading to substances to drown out how incredibly challenging it is to go through waves of grief. I do not say this out of pride, I say this to show it is possible!

Courtesy of Manda Nicole

Even if this reaches one person, and they decide to face their demons and feel their feelings over becoming numb, all because I could show them it is possible, then my life purpose has been filled. My passion to help others and my love for putting my thoughts into writing is what has brought me to writing this today. I hope if you are reading this, and you can relate to any part of my story, you find it in you to reach out. You find it in you to see you are worthy and to never give up on yourself!”

Woman sitting on snowy hill while snowboarding
Courtesy of Manda Nicole
Recovered female drug addict smiling
Courtesy of Manda Nicole

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Manda Nicole from Okotoks, Alberta. You can follow her journey on her personal Instagram, art Instagram, and TikTok. 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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