My Struggle with Addiction

Welcome back!  Just to recap, my last blog post was about what it was like being the sister of an addict.  I wanted to share it because it was a big part of my life for nearly a decade.  More importantly, though, is my sister’s story behind her struggle with addiction.  She has been through a lot. It’s hard to turn over a new leaf.  It’s hard to turn your life around.  But I can only imagine that all of that pales in comparison to airing it out for everyone to read.  It takes guts.  It takes courage.  It takes someone with a heart who wants to help others.  ❤  Heather, take it away!! 

Let me start off by saying that I never thought it would be me. I never thought I would become a slave to drugs. It’s hard to put into words the pain and suffering one goes through during addiction. I know for myself, even my lowest of lows was not enough for me to get my act together. Nothing anyone could ever say or do could make me want to change. Looking back, I see how my behaviors could have foreshadowed the rough years ahead. 

I have always had the characteristics of someone with an addictive personality. When I was younger, I would lie about the silliest things, I would always do things in excess, I always wanted instant gratification and I was a master manipulator. I always felt different- I didn’t feel like all of the other kids. Instead of focusing on what normal kids should focus on, I was always too busy worrying about what others thought, I tried way too hard to fit in and I was overly sensitive to what other people said about me. 

My long run with drugs started when I was 18 years old. I had dabbled in stuff when I was in middle and high school, and I definitely tried more than the average kid,  but it wasn’t a serious habit…yet. At the time, I was dating Boyfriend #1 who was addicted to Oxycontin. I did not understand what that was or what withdrawals were. Either he was great at hiding it, or I was just super oblivious and naive. Regardless, when I found out, I was shocked and disgusted. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that someone could give everything up for drugs. How could someone do that? How could someone lie and steal from their family? How could they spend every last dollar they had for a fix? I hate to admit it, but I used to look down on addicts at that time in my life. It was hard for me to empathize with something I just couldn’t relate to. 

I stayed with Boyfriend #1 hoping I could change him and show him that he didn’t need drugs. Well, it wasn’t long until I decided to give it a try. There’s this saying in AA  “if you hang out in a barber shop long enough, you’re going to get a cut”. Even though I didn’t do hard drugs, I still hung around with people that did. It was only a matter of time before I joined them.  I remember trying a half a pill, throwing up my dinner, and having a headache. It further solidified my idea that pills were gross. Time went on, me and Boyfriend #1 broke up, and I ended up meeting a new guy, same problem. 

I’d like to point out that even though I wasn’t physically addicted to any drugs at this time, I definitely was no angel. I would smoke weed everyday, dabble in coke and ecstasy, and I started getting into adderall. I suffered from an eating disorder that I was unaware I had, and I was an absolute terror to my family. No one wanted to be around me and I don’t blame them. I had no respect for anyone or anything. I did not care about how my actions would affect those around me. 

It was with Boyfriend #2 that I tried pills again for the second time. I remember a good friend of our’s was coming to the house and she brought them with her. He looked at me and asked if he could do one. I don’t know why that day was different but I responded “yes as long as I can split it with you”. And so we did. And I loved it. I don’t know why that day was different and I always wondered if it had gone like the first time, would I have still gone down such a dark, destructive path. 

You see, I didn’t understand the consequences of my actions. I didn’t know it was going to turn out the way it did. I hate when people say “well, you knew trying it that it was addictive.” And while yes that is true, I  had the “it won’t be me” attitude. My dad used to tell me “Heather, you’re consequences will get bigger as you get older.” And he was right. 

That relationship lasted a little over a year and shortly after I found Boyfriend #3. Boyfriend #3 was not an addict but he certainly didn’t help. I didn’t have a job and he sold weed so I relied on him completely to survive. He would hold it over my head, use drugs as a bribe, and enabled my behavior. It was with this boyfriend that I was held at gunpoint…twice. These kids around the neighborhood where we were living heard about what was in the house and decided they wanted it. The first time, we were all getting together for a friend’s birthday. At around 3 in the morning the birthday boy decided to go home so it was rather odd that he came right back in the door. Well, following behind him were two men in masks with guns. I was sleeping at the time and got woken up by a guy screaming and pointing a gun at me. He dragged me out of bed into the living room where I saw everyone else huddled on the ground with their hands over their heads. I remember being so scared. I had no idea if that night was going to be my last. They ended up running everyone’s pockets and leaving. A week or so went by and it happened again. Boyfriend #3 and I were sleeping when it happened. The same fear and panic came over me. They rummaged through the room, took what they wanted, and left. 

For most people those two scenarios would be enough to take a look at their lives, But not me. I went through another 5 years of hell. I felt trapped in a cycle that I couldn’t get out of. 

I remember going to detox for the first time to get help. I had tried an outpatient program before but I wasn’t willing to let go of my old friends and behaviors. This time I really wanted it to be different. Lauren took me to St. Charles emergency room so I could be admitted. I was covered by Medicaid and they only covered two days. If anyone knows anything about detoxing from opiates, two days is not enough. I ended up staying clean off of opiates for two weeks before relapsing. 

The second time I took a bit more drastic measures. Boyfriend #3 and I were on the brink of breaking up because he feared for my life. He reached out to my dad to come talk to me. They both sat there and told me I needed help. Any time before that if you would have tried telling me I needed any help I would have come up with a thousand reasons why you were wrong. This time I knew they were right and I admitted it. 

I had a good friend who went down to Florida to get sober. She seemed to be doing well and getting her act together. I figured if she could do it, I could do it and that was the decision that changed the direction of my life. 

Within a week of the sit-down talk with Boyfriend #3 and my dad, I was on the plane down to Florida. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of my dads car, already going through withdrawals. I flew down to Florida with one suitcase and $23 my dad gave me before boarding. While I was waiting for my bag at baggage claim I debated on whether to run. I don’t know where I thought I was running to but that was my natural instinct when I was afraid. 

I am so happy I didn’t run because it was the start to a new life. I went through the 30-day program and moved into a halfway house. I got a job (my favorite one to date) and started to rebuild my life. For once I could finally see myself having a future filled with happiness, love, my family and friends. 

I did really well down in Florida for a while until I experienced something traumatic. I was dating Jono. Things were going really well until he unexpectedly passed away. After that, I just couldn’t cope and reverted back to my old ways. I started using again to numb the pain. I felt like it was okay because I knew why I was using. Well because of that action, I lost my job that I loved and nearly all of my friends. That last run took everything out of me. I had known a better, more amazing way of life and I turned away from it. I felt guilty and ashamed and like a total loser. Shortly after Jono died, Jonathan and I got together. Just a few months into our relationship, I got pregnant. 

At the time, I was an absolute mess. I remember looking at the pregnancy test and seeing “positive”. I cried a lot. I was very scared. I knew what I had to do. I would be damned if I had a child and could not take care of it. The next day, I reached out for help. It is because of that help that I am able to be a mother to my child today. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, saw the potential that I couldn’t see, and kept pushing me to keep going. 

At 8 months pregnant we decided to move back up north to be closer to family and on September 15, 2018 Zoey Faith was born. This little girl has no idea what she has done for me. I call her my lifesaver because she literally saved my life. Everyday she teaches me something new and makes being her mother an absolute joy.

As much as I would love to tell you why I became addicted to drugs, I don’t think I can really pinpoint a certain reason. I feel like for myself, it was a combination of how my brain is wired, exterior circumstances, and the feelings I wanted to escape from. I believe some people are just born with an addictive personality and others go through certain experiences in their lives that can turn them in that direction. I can tell you that I have lost a lot along the way – friends, money, self-love, etc. but I have gained a lot too.  My hope is that I can take the lessons addiction has taught me and help other women. If you or a loved one you know is struggling with addiction, I am here to talk. Also, below, I have listed a few resources. 

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255

www.drugabuse.gov

 

Part 2: Heather’s Take

Ahh, I’m so excited this day has arrived!  I finally get to feature my sister’s writing on my blog.  I’ve expressed this before but maybe not everyone caught it so let me start by saying this: even though we’ve been sisters for 28+ years, our relationship hasn’t always been like a lot of sisters we know.  We are so different, but also share some qualities (like we’re both HIIIIII-larious; or at least we both think we are 😉 ).  And we both truly want to help people become the very best versions of themselves… and I think that’s because we both recognize (in such amazingly different ways) that no matter where your life journey takes you, it’s important to love yourself and spread that love to as many people as possible.  So without any further adieu… 

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My mom, Zoey, and Heather ❤

Hey everyone! My name is Heather and I am Lauren’s younger sister. Before I jump right into it, I wanted to introduce myself a bit. I am 28 years old and I live in New Jersey with my boyfriend Jonathan, my 10 month old baby girl Zoey, and my 18 month old pup named Charlotte. I am a recovering heroin addict (more on this in my next post) and I want to make it my mission in life to help others who feel as hopeless and helpless as I felt, and guide them on a journey filled with self-love and happiness.

It’s not hard for me to remember the moment when I felt as though my life would never be normal again. I remember the exact day as if it were yesterday. I remember waking up and going downstairs to my brother telling me that my dad had taken my mom to the hospital because she had a “headache”. I didn’t understand why anyone would go to the hospital for a headache but as a (relatively) innocent 12 year old, I didn’t question it. I only sensed something was wrong when my dad sent a neighbor to pick me up and bring me back to their house. 

When we got there, they sent me down the stairs into the basement to play. It wasn’t too long until they came downstairs to get me.  My dad wanted me at the hospital. At that point I knew it was more serious than just a bad headache. The whole ride I sat anxiously in the backseat.  I had no idea what I was walking into. I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

 As we pulled up to the hospital, I saw my entire family huddled outside of the entrance. They brought me into the room where my mom was. I walked into the room to find her lying what appeared to be lifeless on the hospital bed and my dad and brother crying next to her. I don’t recall what my dad said to me or how he tried to explain to me that it didn’t look like my mom was going to live.  But I do remember feeling completely helpless. And scared.   

I remember feeling like a terrible daughter for not crying right away. Now I look back and realize I was in shock and trying to process the situation. I carried around a lot of guilt for that for a long time.  I was also trying to stay strong for everyone else who seemed to be falling apart around me. Thankfully, things turned around and my mom survived the brain bleed.

But the weeks and months to follow were filled with a lot of anxiety and worry. The doctors were doing everything they could to help my mom re-learn to walk and talk. It was really hard to see my mom like this.  One time I remember walking into one of her physical therapy sessions to see her and there she was struggling, trying to hold herself up between these two bars. She looked so helpless and there was nothing I could do to help her. 

Over the next few months our lives adjusted to what would become our new routine.  Me and my sister would go to school everyday. Our brother was up at college. My mom couldn’t drive but she was alive and recovering quite well considering what happened.  And then, my dad told us he was moving out. This is another moment that I remember quite vividly. We were all at the kitchen table in our usual spots eating dinner and my dad said he had something to tell us. I knew what was coming. I remember feeling nervous and scared because I knew my life was about to change drastically.  Again.

Within a year of my dad moving out, we sold my childhood home. My mom and I moved into a condo and that’s when my behavior started to get worse. I would burst out in verbal and physical attacks on my mom. I started skipping school and dabbling in drugs.  I would steal, lie, and manipulate to get what I wanted. I was an absolute terror. I developed very little self-confidence and low self-worth. I never felt good enough at anything. Being the youngest of three, I was always compared to my siblings. “Why can’t you be like your brother and sister?” were the famous words of my high school principal. I felt like an outsider all of the time. I remember always comparing myself to other girls in my grade. I always felt like they were smarter or prettier than me. 

My parents didn’t know how to handle me. They tried sending me to therapy but I manipulated my way out of that. They sent me to a wilderness program for 7 weeks in the Adirondack mountains, which was one of the coolest experiences of my life, but within months of being home I was back at it with the atrocious behavior. Eventually, I was sent off to boarding school for 16 months until I graduated high school.

For a long time, I carried around a lot of resentment regarding those situations. I felt like if my dad never left, or my mom never got sick, I wouldn’t have felt or acted that way. And maybe I wouldn’t have. I was just so angry at everyone and everything. I was angry at God for letting this happen to me and to my family. I was angry at my mom for getting sick. I was angry at my dad for leaving. I was angry at my sister for coping with it better than me. I felt like there was this recurring theme in my life of everyone leaving me and I had no choice in the matter.

Looking back on the situation, I see it for what it really was – everyone doing their best to keep it together during a shitty situation. Unfortunately all of these events were just beginning to more troubling times. My next post is dedicated to sharing my journey about how it all started, what it was like during my addiction, and what it is like now on the other side. When I was younger, I wasn’t even able to imagine my life at 28 because I didn’t know if I was going to make it. All of those life experiences brought me to where I am today – sober, happy, and healthy.  Today, my mother and I have a relationship that I hold dear to my heart and that I love and respect. I thank God I am able to be the daughter my mother always deserved.

Taking Control of Your Body & Mind

Let’s take a trip down memory lane… For a long time I was in a vicious cycle of overeating, gaining weight, and feeling like crap.  I  was completely out of control- and not just with my weight or what I was putting into my mouth, but with everything.  I didn’t even realize that something wasn’t right. All I knew was that didn’t like the way I looked in clothes and I was constantly comparing myself and my body to others.  I was very insecure.  It wasn’t a good look.

I hate that I wasted the better part of my 20’s feeling so badly about myself and my body.  Unfortunately, I can’t go back and change what was, so my hope in sharing this is to shake you awake if you feel this way right now.  Taking control of my health was the very first step for me in becoming who I am today.  It gave me more confidence because I proved to myself that I could do something BIG.  And when I say big, I’m talking about the way I shifted my mindset regarding food.  Losing weight can be super easy once you put your mind to it.  The challenge really starts when you reach your goal weight– you have to figure out how to maintain it!  It requires changes to your diet, your movement and most importantly your mindset. And THAT is a big deal.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it I was using food for all the wrong reasons.  I was using it as a coping mechanism.  Nervous?  Eat.  Anxious?  Eat.  Angry?  Eat.  Sad?  Eat.  And that isn’t an uncommon theme.  A lot of people do that.  And that’s OK… sometimes.  But you can’t use food as a way to deal with every emotion you ever have (uhh, hi, old me).

Think about the actual purpose of food for one second– food is measured in calories and calories are energy.  Calories are meant to fuel you so that you can get through your day to day activities.  That’s it.  They’re not meant to be consumed in excess or at a deficit.  The goal is to consume as many calories from foods that provide you with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as possible. (Rather than wasting your calories on foods that provide little to no nutritional value.)  But we all know the truth: the ones that provide little to no nutritional value are the ones that we like most!!  Why?  Because they taste good! Because they have sugar in them.  Because they make us feel good (even if just temporarily).

But these foods are “bad” so we tell ourselves we can’t eat them.  But after a week or two or three, we cave.  And then we don’t just eat two Oreos, we eat a whole sleeve of them!!  If you are constantly depriving yourself of food Monday through Friday and then over the weekend you go ape shit on everything you see… are you really solving the underlying problem?  Because at some point, those “cheat days” go from just Saturday to Saturday and Sunday… and then Friday, Saturday and Sunday and before you know it, you’re back to your old habits and the weight comes back on.  And then you feel like crap about yourself.  I’ve been there… repeatedly.

But one day it just clicked for me:  I control what I eat.  I control how I feel about my body.  I control how I look.  I control how I feel about myself.  I AM IN CONTROL.  And since that day everything has been a lot easier for me.  My temperament is better.  I have more patience.  I am less irritable.  I am happier.  I am able to be the mom I want to be.  I don’t complain that I feel fat.  I feel more confident. I have more pep in my step.  I feel in control of myself and my life.

Only you can make the decision to take control.  Control is a very powerful thing.  It’s exciting but it’s also scary.  When you finally take control, you can’t use excuses anymore. I think this is why people shy away from it. It’s easier. It’s an excuse. It’s a way out. But if you have that mindset regarding your health, it usually trickles into other areas, as well. Being in control forces you to take responsibility. Ick!  Take responsibility for my poor food choices?  No thanks!  But the cool thing about taking responsibility and taking control means that you can literally do anything  you want to do!  You have complete control over your own destiny.  And that should excite the hell out of you!!

If food is a struggle for you say this everyday, repeatedly, until you believe it:

YOU are in control of FOOD.  FOOD does not control YOU.

I know it sounds a little silly to do, but trust me!

Your thoughts

It took work for me to get to this point.  It didn’t happen overnight.  But I had to start somewhere.  It started with recognizing that I wasn’t in control.  I let myself be controlled by food rather than me controlling food.  Then I had to figure out why.  If you know me at all, you read my blog, or you follow me on social media, you know one thing about me:  I’m not afraid to tell you that I’m a hot mess of a young lady that’s just trying to figure out life (Spoiler Alert: I’ll never “figure it out”).  I’m 100% happy to share the experiences of my life because I know that I’m not the only person who struggles with stuff– especially food.  And since I feel like I have a pretty good handle on this I’m even more excited to share it.

The day I realized that I was in complete control of my health was the first day of the rest of my life.  It showed me that I can do anything as long as I believed I could do it.   It taught me I could do hard things.  It taught me I could change my mindset and how I thought about food (and everything else while I was at it).  There’s not doubt in my mind that I could never have gotten through the last couple of years of my life if I didn’t have the confidence, mental strength and positive outlook I worked so hard for through my wellness journey. I am so grateful that I had the courage to take so many steps over the past few years to get to where I am today. This wellness wave has been an amazing ride and I’ll continue to show up for it every single day. 😉