Recovery Spotlight: Sarah W

The majority of my teen and early adult years are a total blur, because I was high or drunk for most of them. I sat down and tried my best to make a timeline of my life, and what I realized is there were SO many pivotal moments where I could have chosen to do the right thing and help myself, but instead I chose drugs.

Both of my parents are great parents and they both had great jobs. I wasn’t abused as a child, and I didn’t have anything traumatic happen to me at a young age. However, I have memories of myself in preschool and always feeling uncomfortable. I wouldn’t know this until I was in high school, but what I was experiencing was anxiety. From such a young age I always struggled with intrusive thoughts, extreme anxiety, depression, and OCD. I smiled and acted like I was happy and everything was okay, even though I was dying inside. I hid that from my family and friends until I was a freshman in high school. One of my friends found out I was cutting myself and he told a counselor- who then told my Mom. I remember sitting down at our kitchen table, and her asking me to pull up my sleeves so she could see- and she cried. It was actually a blessing, because I was then able to tell her how I had been feeling and my parents took me to get help. Through medication and counseling I started feeling better.

Unfortunately, at the age of 15 I decided to have my first drink, and the following 8 years became the blur I was referring to earlier. All throughout high school I was a terrible student. I skipped school to get drunk, I was at all the parties every weekend, I snuck out of the house at night, and tried cocaine for the first time at 16. I drove drunk and didn’t care about anyone but myself. I had friends, but only ones who liked to party like me. I have a memory of being at a party, and the girl I went with was sick from drinking too much- and I had the nerve to get mad at HER because she was ruining my night. This happened more times than I’d like to admit. If you didn’t want to party like me, I basically had no use for you. The week before graduation, the school held mandatory graduation practice. On the last day of practice, I showed up LATE- wearing the exact same outfit I had been wearing the previous morning; because I had been up all night drinking and doing coke.

I continued to drink on a regular basis the remainder of my teen years, and around the age of 20 I started working in Baltimore at nightclubs dancing. This was great for me because I could get drunk and make money at the same time. I had a minor surgery around this time, and this is where I was introduced to pain pills for the first time. I loved how they made me feel and I sought them out. The first time I bought one from someone, I took WAY too much, and I would spend the remainder of my early twenties chasing that high. It sounds sick, but I was in love with the feeling. I started taking pain pills on a regular basis, and soon was met with my first pivotal moment. It was a random afternoon, and I was getting ready for work. I started feeling sweaty, achy, and just overall uncomfortable. I literally remember thinking to myself- “Is this withdrawal? I think I’m starting to withdrawal. This isn’t good- I should probably stop before it gets worse.” But did I stop? NO! I left for work, made some calls on the way, and made sure I would have what I needed by the time I got there so I could feel better. I moved in with a couple friends in Towson, and continued to use. This is when I went through what I refer to as my “everything” phase. Basically, I would take anything and everything I could get my hands on- coke, benzos, pain killers, all while getting black out drunk on a daily basis- which led to my second pivotal moment. All my roommates were gone for the holidays and I was alone in our apartment. I had worked that night until 2am, then went home and passed out on the couch. I woke up a couple hours later and immediately fell off the couch onto the floor in excruciating pain in my stomach. I had to crawl to the bathroom and was so sick and in so much pain. I don’t know what happened that night specifically, but I thought I was going to die. It scared me enough that I went to my Mom’s the next day and told her I needed to move back home because I thought I might have a problem. So, I completely bailed on my portion of the rent and my responsibilities in Towson, with no regard to how that would affect my roommates, who were also my friends. I continued to use and still worked in a club in Baltimore, and really didn’t make any changes except for the fact I moved back into my Mom’s house. My Grandmother was very sick around this time and was in the hospital dying. She was one of the most precious, most important people in my life- and I only went and visited her one time. And I was high. I was high at her viewing, and I was high at her funeral. My Mom and I moved into her house and lived there while it was on the market. The house was in Rockville- I would wake up, drive to Baltimore to get drugs, drive back to Rockville, then drive to Frederick for class, drive back to Baltimore for work so I could afford my habit, then drive back to Rockville. I did this every single day, and I was getting high in my Grandmothers’ house. I felt extreme guilt, but was able to push that feeling aside. Because when you’re high all day every day, you really don’t feel much of anything.

Once my Grandmothers’ house sold, my mom bought a house in Frederick County and I moved in with her again. I was doing the same thing- wake up, drive to Baltimore, drive home, go to class, drive back to Baltimore to work, drive home at 3am. It’s like I was living some sick version of Groundhog Day. I would tell my Mom I needed money for gas or food (even though I was working and should have never had to ask her for money in the first place) and I would take it and buy my drugs with it. It was so emotionally exhausting trying to stay well, I thought I had finally had enough and I sat my Mom down and told her I needed help. I found a doctor in Frederick who over prescribed me suboxone. I stayed away from the drugs for about 2 months, and in this time I managed to graduate from Medical Assisting School. I thought, “I just want to get high one more time.” So I drove to Baltimore, bought a pill, snorted it- and felt nothing, because I was on the suboxone. So naturally, I stopped taking the suboxone so I could get high again and my addiction spiraled even more out of control. I kept all the leftover subs for days when I was desperate and couldn’t find my drugs. And it was such a bummer having to take one, because I wanted to be high all the time. I needed to be high. I ended up getting black out drunk one night, totaling my car, and getting arrested for DUI. Afterwards, I was required to get a breathalyzer installed in my car. I was put on SUPERVISED probation, but still continued to use, even though I knew I could be drug tested at any time. I was scared, but not scared enough to stop. I had to do an internship for my school, and didn’t even show up one of my first days because I drank so much the night before I wasn’t able to start my car. I would leave at lunch to get high. I tried dabbling in selling drugs, which was a terrible idea because I couldn’t have drugs in my possession and not take them. So all that came from that was I ended up owing people money that I didn’t have. After about 6 months of trying to keep up with my habit, working 7 nights a week and having nothing to show for it, degrading myself, and failing to attend my assigned alcohol classes, I had had enough. I physically felt like I was dying. My nose was completely scabbed up because I snorted everything; I never ate, my hair was falling out, my teeth were rotting, I had extreme mood swings, always felt psychically sick, chain smoked, and I slept all day. It didn’t even feel good to get high anymore and my tolerance was through the roof. I was completely miserable and couldn’t do it anymore. I found another doctor in Baltimore who prescribed suboxone, and this is where my story takes a turn.

I got back on the subs with a new doctor, but continued to drink and work in the club. I considered myself “clean” because I was no longer using drugs. However, I had unknowingly traded one addiction for another. After a while I decided I wanted to get off the subs. I approached my doctor with this idea, and he had zero interest in helping me ween off. I realize now that he just wanted my money. He didn’t care about me or my well-being. I went to a different doctor in Frederick, and she helped me get off the subs. It took me months and months to come off. I was weened down to the smallest possible dose, and even then, I still went through withdrawals once I stopped and it took about 2 months for me to be able to sleep right. But FINALLY, I didn’t wake up every morning sick and dripping in sweat. FINALLY, my whole life didn’t revolve around a pill. But now what do I do? It’s not exactly easy trying to find a “normal” job with basically 5 years of no job history.

At the age of 25 I had my son, and he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am thankful for him every single day because I truly believe he makes me a better person. After I had him, I stayed clean from drugs, but would still drink occasionally. And by “occasionally”, I mean 4 maybe 5 times a year. However, all my old demons came back- the extreme anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts. When my son was 2 years old I ended up checking myself into the psych ward. I had gone so long without feeling any emotions, without talking about anything; I just didn’t know how to handle it. So I did what I did best- kept it all in and bottled it up in hopes it would go away. But all that gave me was a weeks’ vacation to the psych ward. This was another extremely low point in my life, but also turned out to be a blessing. I once again got the help I desperately needed, and in the meantime was introduced to AA and NA. While in the psych ward, I attended my first meetings, and it is there that I admitted out loud to a group of complete strangers that I was an addict. And that alone was oddly freeing.

My son’s Father and I ended up not working out, and with our split came some new alone time that I wasn’t used to. Having to be alone with yourself and your thoughts is such a strange thing. I started going out drinking again and found myself getting more and more intoxicated each time; how silly of me to think I could go out and just drink like a “normal” person. I woke up one night from being passed out- in my car, door open, in Baltimore, with my own vomit all outside my car. I then proceeded to drive home, and I remember thinking I wanted to kill myself. The next day, I was so ashamed and depressed and literally hated myself. That week, completely defeated, I started attending meetings and I have not had a drop of alcohol since.

For the first time in my life, I realized I had a void in my soul that I had been trying to fill all this time with alcohol and drugs. I was self-medicating without even realizing it. What I learned from NA and AA was that there were other people out there, just like me, who felt this same void. For the majority of my life I chose to fill mine with drugs, alcohol, sex, and people- whatever I could. In my active addiction I was extremely selfish and pushed others away- I only cared about myself. I lied, got in legal trouble, stole, totaled a brand new car, got my head cracked open, lost my dignity, owed bad people money, got beaten by women AND men, ended up in the hospital, and I still made it out.

My life is very uncomfortable, but that is okay. It took me 30 years to realize I need to be open and ask for help when I need it. I will never forget how it feels to be sick. To dig through my car like an animal for the millionth time in hopes there would magically be a pill in there that I had forgotten about. Ripping my room apart looking for quarters, dimes, even pennies, to use to get my drugs. To work 7 nights a week, and have nothing to show for it. To not be able to have any solid relationships. To literally have every single day of my life revolve around getting high, and doing whatever it took to get there.

My reason for sharing is in hopes someone will read this and see a part of themselves in my story and realize things can always get better- you just have to want it enough. I know what it’s like to want to die. To think you are never going to get better. To feel like you aren’t good enough. To be depressed and anxious for no reason. To go to bed at night hoping you don’t wake up in the morning, and to wish you could be “normal”. But guess what? I am not normal, and I am more comfortable with that now than I have ever been. I am by no means healed, but I am a work in progress. I will ALWAYS be a work in progress, and that’s okay. I battle my demons every single day. I go to counseling when I need it, go to meetings, and have a great support system of family and friends. Everything I have been through has been a lesson and although it hasn’t been easy or pleasant, I am grateful for everything. I am able to be a mother to my son, have a job I love, and have the best family and friends I could ever ask for. At the age of 30 I am back in school pursuing my degree. I have made A LOT of bad decisions, but learned that no matter how hard you fall, you can always get back up. I am living proof of that.