I recall taking a road trip with my parents as a young girl. We were driving down a busy interstate in Arkansas. The cars were rushing by and the radio was playing an old Led Zeppelin song that my dad liked. I saw a tunnel ahead that took us straight through a large hill. The tunnel was dark, with bright orange lights guiding the cars to the other side. When we entered the tunnel, the radio cut out. There was no wind rushing past us. My surroundings became dim. Everything was calm. Everything was quiet.
This is what it was like the first time I used heroin.
I began drinking and using drugs at age 13. From the start, I used them in excess because the more I used, the more comfortable I felt in my own skin. I was always the nerdy, awkward, slightly overweight girl who suffered from anxiety in social situations. I quickly learned that drugs could take those feelings away.
My addiction progressed rapidly. When one drug quit producing the desired effects for me, I moved on to the next stronger, more addictive substance. I was kicked out of college as a result of my drug use, and I began using heroin. In just two years, heroin brought me to my knees. It introduced me to an emotional desperation that I will never forget.
When I had finally become convinced that I couldn’t get sober on my own, I sought out the help of my parents. They brought me into their home that I hadn’t been to in years and I detoxed in their guest bedroom. I will never forget the consistent chills that covered my body as I was profusely sweating at the same time. My bones were persistently aching and every muscle in my body hurt when I moved the slightest bit. Thoughts and voices raced through my head and all I could think about was getting high.
The withdrawals weren’t getting any better and the thoughts weren’t slowing down, so I entered a detox facility where I did a three-day methadone detox to help the withdrawals subside. A woman working for the detox developed an aftercare plan for me. She said I could go to treatment in Arkansas, or I could get on the next flight to South Florida. It was my decision. I had never been to Florida, so palm trees and miles of beach sounded like the perfect place to get sober.
I did nearly three months of inpatient treatment in a dual-diagnosis treatment centre. Dual-diagnosis clients are those who suffer from both mental illness and substance use disorders. I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed the appropriate medication. I had never been diagnosed with a behavioural health disorder before, so it was surprising to me to be diagnosed with depression. Previously, I thought that drugs were my only problem.
Through the proper medication and different kinds of therapy, I learned about coping methods for both my addiction and my depression. Growing up, I never talked about my emotions. I held up a facade that I was happy. In reality, I was always discontent. I thought that as long as things looked good out the outside, everything would turn out okay. Therapy taught me the importance of vocalizing my thoughts and feelings. This was the beginning of the healing process for me. I also learned how to build honest, genuine relationships with others. In the midst of addiction, I had been selfish and inconsiderate towards the needs of others, but I quickly learned that in sobriety, the more selfless I was and the more I helped others, the more fulfilled my life would become.
When I got out of treatment, I began to surround myself with women who had more clean time than me. These women seemed happy and successful which was all I ever wanted to be. I would hear them say “I have a life beyond my wildest dreams.” In early sobriety, I found that statement completely ridiculous.
Today, I can honestly say that I, too, have a life beyond my wildest dreams. When I was using drugs I didn’t have dreams. I didn’t want life. I was a heroin addict with clinical depression and I wanted to die. Today I have friendships with people who understand my struggles and support me through all the ups and downs that life has to offer. I have a relationship with my parents where I can be a daughter who is present in their lives, both emotionally and physically. My mother no longer has to live in the fear that she will have to bury her daughter. Other women ask me what I did to get sober and I get the honour of showing them just how I did it. Today, I can wake up in the morning excited to be alive. I have the ability to be grateful for the little things in life, such as watching the sunrise over the ocean in the morning as I meditate on the beautiful life I have been given.
I live on spiritual principles today. I do my best to practice absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. But what if I fall short of these spiritual principles? Well, I know that I have a daily reprieve. I can make right my wrongs and overcome my shortcomings. I can wake up tomorrow and start again. I have the luxury of living each day happy with life, sober from mood and mind-altering substances, and free from the bondage of addiction.
Cassidy Webb is a 24-year-old avid writer from South Florida. She works for a digital marketing company that advocates spreading awareness of the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.