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Missing My Daughter And Loving My Son

On June 9, 2018 my first born was taken from us by heroin.

MartiMartiana, who we called “Marti,” was 25 years old. She was the mother of an 8-year old little boy. She had been in recovery for 6-1/2 months, while she was incarcerated.

When she came home after serving her sentence, she was the daughter I knew before she started using heroin. Her genuine laugh was infectious, and she had a smile that could light up the world. She seemed content to be home with us.

However, just one month later, Martiana used heroin again. She came home the next day and was very honest about what she had done. We told her we understood. We said we were very proud of her regardless, and we would work through this.

She left again the following evening and didn’t return the next day. I started having one of my “bad feelings” and I could not feel her anymore. I did not want to upset everyone, as Marti had done this before. The following Tuesday, after I had heard nothing from Marti for 72 hours, we filed a missing persons report.

I left for work and not 20 minutes later, my husband answered the knock at the door. It would forever change our lives.

My baby girl had passed away June 9.

I am not sure if I have fully accepted her being gone. There is a open police investigation into the man who made the call to 911. None of his statement made sense; however, they have not gotten her autopsy results back yet.

I know that people can overcome addiction with the love and support of others. There is another factor to my story: my youngest my only son is in recovery from heroin addiction, too. He has been in remission for nine months. He’s working and living the life a 20-year-old young man should.

There is recovery after addiction. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. I am actively involved with a few different groups to help end the stigma, educate others, and be a positive influence on those in recovery. I want to be a support for others who have lost loved ones due to this disease.

Alcohol Kills Over 3 Million Annually

Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its annual global status report on alcohol and health. The report found that more than 3 million people died in 2016 due to drinking too much alcohol.

Time TickingThe report estimated that, globally, 237 million men and 46 million women are “problem drinkers”. That’s about 3 percent of the world’s population. Alcohol use disorder negatively impacts both the person who has it and the social ecosystem that surrounds them, including their family, community, friends, and place of work. The cost of alcohol use disorder is significant and must be addressed, said the WHO.

“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” said Vladimir Poznyak, of the WHO’s substance abuse unit. One in 20 deaths worldwide was linked to harmful drinking.

Men were not only more susceptible to alcohol use problems, but also negative outcomes from substance use. According to Reuters, “Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent [of deaths linked to alcohol use] were due to injuries, such as traffic accidents, self-harm and interpersonal violence. Another 21 percent were due to digestive disorders, and 19 percent due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.”

Many of the health conditions linked to alcohol use are treatable, reversible, and not fatal. However, without addressing the root issue—addiction—treatment for any of these conditions may not be enough to save a life. Because of its many coexisting health issues, untreated addiction can place an immense strain on healthcare systems. This is especially true in the United States, where alcohol use is the third leading cause of death, after tobacco use and poor diet. According to a report published in 2008 by SAMHSA, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated the annual total resource and productivity cost of substance abuse at $510.8 billion, with alcohol use responsible for $191.6 billion (37.5 percent) of the loss. That was in 1999. Since then, substance use has only increased. Alcohol use is projected to rise, both in the US and globally, over the next decade.

Some countries have attempted to stem alcohol use by focusing on financial reforms. For example, almost all countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half of them use other pricing strategies such as banning below-cost sales or bulk buy discounts. Poznyak said “proven, cost-effective steps included raising alcohol taxes, restricting advertising and limiting easy access to alcohol.”

Men in wealthy countries were at a significantly higher risk than women. Easier access to resources, early intervention, and substance use education may be making a dent in developed nations. Eliminating the stigma of substance use disorder, incentivizing recovery, and changing social stereotypes around men and alcohol could go a long way toward saving lives.

My Daughter Overdosed And Died In Sober Living. What Are Treatment Facilities Going to Do About It?

I am writing as the mother of an opiate and heroin substance user. Addiction has negatively impacted my family, as well as millions of other Americans and their families. We fight an inadequate healthcare system, along with the stigma and misconceptions associated with substance use disorder. I too held these misconceptions about this disease until I was face-to-face with it. I still cannot believe my daughter’s addiction was so severe and how little control she had over her life at times.

My daughter Kaitlynn was an honor student and cheerleading captain. She was destined for a wonderful life. She had a small academic college scholarship. She was charismatic, genuine, and compassionate. She was full of life and amazing energy. I have heard countless stories about people with substance use disorder just like hers and the similarities amaze me.

Addiction is a hereditary disease with the same symptoms in each case. Kaitlynn hated the fact she had this disease. She was not weak. In fact, the courage it took for her to face each new day is something to be admired. The emotional pain created by a life in active addiction is not easy to overcome. It becomes a vicious cycle impossible at times to break.

Kenzly

Kaitlynn needed intense psychotherapy. She suffered trauma before and after recovery. She was in rehab on three occasions. The counseling, which was not psychotherapy, was mediocre at best. In each session, her counselor would ask what you want to talk about today. She often answered nothing, and the session ended.

Kaitlynn was afraid and ashamed to tell her deep, dark secrets. She needed to be coaxed. She needed someone to connect with her, to probe her, and reach the root of the issues. She went to two 90-day programs. One was state-funded and the other was self-paid, costing over $40,000. Her final facility was a 30-day program, the maximum that her insurance would cover. This final rehab released Kate at the end of February 2018. They gave her five prescriptions and no contact for follow-up therapy.

Each of these treatment centers promoted dual diagnosis and psychotherapy but did not deliver. They pushed Kaitlynn to a sober living facility. The sober living brochure promised the world but only collected rent. There were 16 women living in this home. They each paid $450 per month for a shared room with two to three other people. There was no transportation to meetings, no referrals for mental health, and no requirements to attend an outpatient program or even mandatory meetings.

My daughter died on May 3, 2018. She was 25 years old. She died of a fentanyl or heroin overdose in this aftercare program.

Kaitlynn left behind her beautiful two-year-old daughter Kenzley. Kaitlynn did not want to die. She told me so on many occasions. My daughter died with several other people in the room with her. They each thought she looked strange the way she was sleeping and thought they heard her snoring but did not have the education to identify overdose. There was no naloxone in this facility, to reverse her overdose and save her life. This facility was aware my daughter had relapsed on two occasions. She was allowed to stay, endangering the other residents. Only after the death of my daughter, the staff distributed naloxone and provided training on how to administer the anti-overdose medicine.

We must stand up and act. Training needs to occur on the dangers of prescription drugs in our homes. Children think this medication is safe. We need to teach them and ourselves the dangers in our medicine cabinets.

We need to demand strong mental health care in rehab facilities and aftercare programs. Sober living and aftercare programs should be regulated, with state required mandates for operators. These facilities should require residents to follow a strict regimen that supports sobriety, including required weekly meetings. Relapse should be dealt with in a manner that aids the client as well as protects the other residents.

We are losing our loved ones in an epidemic that must be resolved quickly.

In Recovery, I’m A Dopeless Hope Fiend

My name is Adam and I’m a person in recovery. I come from what I believe to be a normal family. My mother divorced my biological father when I was 5, due to his drug use. She remarried not too long after. I firmly believe my addictive traits were passed to me by my father.

When I was 10, my father moved to Colorado from Connecticut with his new family. I was devastated. At 12, I took my first drink and smoked my first cigarette and at 13, I tried marijuana. I loved it. At 15, I tried crack for the first time. I never looked back. I smoked crack all through high school. Amazingly, I graduated.

I was a heavy drug user all through my twenties. I had two failed attempts at rehab. When I was 30, I tried heroin for the first time and I was in love. At 33, I became an IV heroin user. This is when everything changed. For the next three years, heroin was all I cared about. I ruined every relationship and every job. I had no friends and my mother was the only family member speaking to me. I stole from almost everyone I came in contact with and ended up living in my truck for the last year of my drug use.

On June 4, 2017, I decided it was enough. With one bag of heroin left, no home, no gas, no friends, and no money I asked for help. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I entered a detox, then an inpatient program, and finally a sober house. Instantly, my life got better. I finally wanted to be in recovery. No one was forcing me to do it. I surrendered.

Almost 15 months, later here I am. I have a beautiful girlfriend, apartment, and cars. I’m a father figure. My family relationships are stronger than ever, and most importantly I work a program of recovery. It’s a 12 Step program that I am very honest and open about. The one thing I have learned since getting into recovery is that I do not have to use. No matter what. I realize that life happens. Every day isn’t going to be rainbows and butterflies. And that’s okay.

I’m able to weigh the pros and cons of my actions. When it comes to drug use, there are no pros. Only cons. Knowing that I’m not unique and there are others going through the same things as me allows me to make it through tough situations. Most of the time, it only takes a phone call to deal with what I’m going through.

My drug use caused a lot of harm and hurt a lot of people, but it also made me very strong. I believe that if you can beat heroin, you can do anything.

My life of addiction brought me to a lot of places where I saw a lot of pain. That’s why I do my best today to give back. I volunteer very often. I’m a member of my program’s subcommittee for hospitals and institutions. We go into rehabs, detoxes, and prisons to speak with people with substance use disorder. I try to get involved with every organization I can to promote substance use prevention and recovery.

I simply try to give back what was freely given to me. Hope. I dedicate a lot of my time trying to convince addicted people to not give up. To ask for help. To know that recovery is possible. I’m living proof. It is my goal and dream to have a career working with others that suffer from addiction and with at-risk youth. When it comes to addiction, recovery is literally a matter of life and death.

If I could change anything, it would be the way that people with substance use disorder are viewed. We are not monsters.

I will never give up hope. I will continue to help the still sick, suffering person as long as I live. I feel it is my calling.

Event: The Family Recovery Conference, November 1

I am mother of a 25-year-old in recovery and the founder of The Family Recovery Conference. I created this conference because it’s an event and a resource I wish I’d had when I was starting my family’s recovery journey.

In the beginning, I was scared, confused, and sad. I felt extremely alone when my oldest child was deep into his addiction to prescription drugs. I understood that he was suffering, but I didn’t know how to properly help him. What I was doing wasn’t working. The message I was getting told me to go against my true mother-nature and disconnect from him completely.

In the summer of 2015, we intervened with love, compassion and professional treatment. We didn’t wait for an imaginary “rock bottom.” Our family defined for ourselves our threshold for pain. When we hit it, we moved with swift, strong, empowered action.

On our journey to recovery, I sought answers, solutions, and actions that would change the way we were treating addiction and substance use in our family. I wanted to end the suffering for myself, my son, and my other children. I turned my face towards recovery. I put my faith in the power of love, knowledge, and connection. I sought help from people who were living in recovery and professionals in the field of addiction medicine.

The help I got from those people healed us all and showed me how to create an environment that supported recovery in our family and laid the foundation for a beautiful life.

I kept sticky notes on the wall in my closet to to track what was working to keep us connected, what patterns I was seeing, what I knew for sure, what wasn’t clear, what actions weren’t working, what I believed, and what I was feeling. I wrote down what I learned from professionals, books, and blogs.

At the same time, I sought healing for myself. I added routines, structure, wellness practices, and therapies which are found in treatment programs. I learned about trauma, brain science, and family history. I stayed connected to my son while strengthening and healing myself from the impact and trauma of addiction in our family.

Shelly & SonWe felt embraced and supported in our struggle with active addiction. The recovery community showed its face and its full power during the first-ever Unite To Face Addiction Event in October 2015. That event showed me that I was indeed surrounded by people devoted who were living in recovery. It was an infusion of strength and power. Recovery was not only possible, but probable. Soon after, I was invited to a Family Education Meeting in Richmond, Virginia. Professionals, providers and families left the presentations with actionable solutions, a feeling of connection, and better understanding of how to help the person you love and yourself. It was exactly what I was searching for.

My understanding of recovery evolved as we healed as a family. I benefited from following the guidance I received from professionals, healthy peers, and a spiritual guide. I devoted myself to whole family wellness.

I feel that the millions of families struggling need better access to the amazing, intelligent, wise, innovative people driving recovery. By connecting with other recovery leaders, I hope to help others by sharing what I learned and experienced as a mother of a young person in recovery. I know that during the active years of my son’s illness, I felt like a hostage in my own home. I was unable to go places or even travel for fear of that something would happen in my absence. Now, I am no longer alone.

This past July, following the ARHE (Association for Recovery in Higher Education) ARS (Association for Recovery Schools) Conference, I felt called to create something for other families of recovery. I wanted to provide an experience as abundant, educational, informational, and connected as the one that helped me. I am a big believer in the “meet people where they are” philosophy. I felt a virtual event would be the best way to reach the most families, make attending easily accessible, and have the most impact.

I reached out to the people who’d had impact on our family recovery by providing treatment, support, guidance, knowledge, wisdom, solutions and massive infusions of love. I asked if they would allow me to amplify their voices. They said yes! The Family Recovery Conference was born.

This November 1, the first-ever Family Recovery Conference comes home, to you, where families live. The event’s 32 speakers and 30 hours will help with family healing, guidance, and answers to the question “What do I do?” Families will have the whole month of November to listen, learn, heal, connect, and feel loved, supported, and end the suffering.

It is our mission to change the way addiction is treated. We’re sharing the message that recovery is possible. We empower families to walk the path of recovery together, all the way to the other side.

Recovery is not only possible. It’s probable when we are together.

Arrested For Substance Use? In the UK, That Means Time in Treatment

Last month, England’s Ministry of Justice announced a new pilot program that will divert people with substance use disorder into treatment, not prison. The program aims to reduce reoffending by replacing “ineffective” short prison sentences with programmes that “will tackle the root causes of criminality.”

JailEngland’s National Health Service (NHS), Public Health England, and Department of Health are testing the program in five areas before the government hopes to roll them out nationwide. So far, the results are promising. Mental health support and recovery programs are a key element of the program, where psychologists are stationed in courts to assess offenders for eligibility for a community order. Local panels of judicial and health officials also liaise with magistrates and judges to ensure positive outcomes for communities and individuals. The Ministry of Justice said that 29 percent of offenders currently starting community sentences say they have mental health problems, a third misuse drugs and 38 percent misuse alcohol.

Understanding the link between recovery and recidivism is key to reforming criminal justice policies that punish people with substance use disorder. In the United States, 80 percent of inmates have substance use problems, and over half of the population is clinically addicted. “Incarceration rates in the U.S. are nine times greater for young African-American men between the ages of 20 and 34 years,” according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Data for the UK is similar: a new survey from the United Nations confirms that developed, industrial countries have the highest rates of unsafe substance use.

David Gauke, England’s justice secretary, has been pushing against the use of short prison sentences amid a crisis driving drug abuse and record self-harm and violence in overcrowded jails. According to The Independent, he said, “We are all clear that we need to do more to support vulnerable offenders in the community. I want to improve confidence in community sentences, and early evidence from these sites has shown that treatment requirements can have a significant impact in improving rehabilitation and addressing the underlying causes of offending.”

Incorporating mental health into courts and criminal justice produces better outcomes. According to The Independent, the lead judge in Merseyside’s complex case court, which is part of a pilot in Sefton, said having psychologists in court meant judges can make community orders without having to delay a case by adjourning it.

District Judge Richard Clancy said that the new program “is a remarkable and innovative move which I fully support. This is an excellent joint venture, and I have seen firsthand how this allows us to ‘nip in the bud’ one of the major causes of crime.”

A 2017 joint report by the Ministry of Justice and Public Health England showed a stark drop in offending by people who underwent treatment, with the number of crimes committed down a third over two years and 59 percent for alcohol treatment. After the pilot is implemented nationally, these outcomes may continue improve further. The UK’s new perspective on justice and people with substance use disorder is creating a progressive, effective program that could potentially be replicated or adapted to courts in the United States.

I Was Addicted To “Helping” My Family. It Didn’t Work

Addiction is part of my story. It wasn’t all my addiction, though. I have woken up every morning wanting to use for the last three years. Every morning, I have to make a conscious effort not to. What I have learned from my blue collar, hard working family is there is no shame in this. We all have issues. It’s a family disease.

I was born to a person with alcohol use disorder who has been sober 20 of the 30 years I’ve been on the planet. I have a brother who was addicted to cocaine and booze. He was abstinent for eight years, relapsed, and been in remission this time for one year. I have an uncle that was addicted to alcohol and has been in recovery for about 15 years. My two cousins were both addicted to heroin. One is currently in prison and the other took his own life.

My cousin who passed away was sober for probably three years. He needed psychiatric help and acknowledged that. However, he learned he would have to wait four months before a good doctor could see him.

Apparently, he couldn’t wait that long. He hung himself.

He said once, “I would rather die then use again.”

We all have our problems with substances and other struggles. I say, never be ashamed. Our struggles made us who we are. I learned it’s okay to take a mental health day when you feel overwhelmed. Take a sick day and veg out on the couch.

I also learned that, despite how much I love every single one of my addicted family members, they are not my responsibility. Sure, I will love them and help them, but their choices are not for me to make. As a teen I used to drive around looking for my brother. Most my young adult life was consumed by locating my brother when he was on one of his binges while my mom sobbed at home, wondering if he was dead or in jail.

I learned that making other people’s decisions for them is not my job. My job is to live my life. If my family members need or want help, they have to ask. No matter what I did to try and help in the past obviously didn’t work. So I learned to live my life, love them unconditionally, and be there with open arms when they came knocking.

That is all we are capable of. We cannot babysit them, stop them, or any of that. All we can do is love them and let the chips fall where they may. We have to pray they hit their rock bottom and find recovery. It’s an awful thing to deal with and I pray one day this isn’t a struggle for families to face!

Addiction Doesn’t Affect Me, But It’s Personal

I stumbled into harm reduction by accident. In 2010, I was a struggling writer, trying to figure out how to translate a passion for words into paying the bills. I came across an unusual job posting on Craigslist. The job had some unusual duties: among other things, whoever they hired would have to take a life-sized rubber vagina behind Home Depot department stores to educate migrant day laborers about safe sex.

Tessie CastilloWell, that sounds interesting, I thought. As a writer, I was always looking for a good story, and what better way to find an interesting story than to live one? I applied right away, and miracle of miracles, got the job.

I spent a few months lugging rubber genitalia behind department stores for show-and-tell with day laborers. But after a while, I learned that my employer, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, did much more than just sex education. We brought syringes to people who injected substances and hormones for gender transition; we taught violence prevention techniques to sex workers; we trained incarcerated people on how to reverse a drug overdose.

To someone from my sheltered background, this kind of work was fascinating. I admit that my first forays into harm reduction were for all the wrong reasons: more morbid curiosity than understanding or respect for the autonomy of people who use drugs.

From the beginning I felt compassion for people impacted by drugs, but I saw them as victims of poor choice and powerful substances. I considered it my job to scoop them up in my rescue boat and steer them towards abstinence. All I needed was a hero cape.

But after months, and then years, working in harm reduction, up close and personal with people with substance use disorder and the policies that impact them, all my previous beliefs were challenged, tested, and flipped around. I started to see how broken mental health and criminal justice systems contribute to addiction. I saw how sometimes well-intentioned efforts, like assuming that everyone who uses drugs should go to treatment and stop, can be just as stigmatizing and harmful as criminalization. I started to understand the hypocrisy of demonizing heroin and prescribing its sister drugs, opioid pain relievers. I started to realize that the entire way that we approach addiction is based on stigma and lies.

Can someone explain to me why it is illegal to smoke marijuana but not to cheat on your partner, which arguably, causes a lot more pain? Can someone explain why there are 11 million people addicted to illicit drugs and 14.7 million people addicted to sex in the United States, yet no one suggests we imprison people for having sex? Can someone explain why, even though there are 15.1 million adults addicted to alcohol, instead of prohibiting it, our cultural obsession with the substance borders on worship? Or maybe, someone can explain why we declare the exact same drug (such as fentanyl) legal or illegal depending upon who makes money off its sale.

No one can provide a good reason for these policies, because there isn’t one. Our drug laws are arbitrary, based on stigma and politics rather than science and sense.

After years working in harm reduction and advocating for more sensible drug policies, I am starting to realize that addiction is not a disease, it’s a symptom. The disease is that we, as people, don’t know how to treat one another. It’s all the fronting and posturing, the building ourselves up by tearing others down, the judging others’ flaws while justifying our own, the loneliness we refuse to admit, the pretending to be people we aren’t, the swallowing of pain so we appear strong, the dividing into ‘us’ and ‘them’ so that ‘us’ can dominate and ‘them’ can be shamed.

For these reasons and many more, we are all broken in some way. We all search for ways to heal the brokenness. For some people, those methods are socially acceptable. For others, they are criminalized.

I think it’s important for people like me, who have not been personally impacted by addiction, to nevertheless become involved and advocate for reform. It will take collaboration across all fronts to address the root causes that fuel addiction: poverty, unemployment, loneliness, mental health issues, grief, lack of self-love, and many more.

We can start by trying to break down the barriers that divide us. We must realize that no matter our political, ideological or religious beliefs, or where we born, we all want to feel happy, safe and loved.

So let’s start by making our brothers and sisters feel happy, safe and loved, even—no, especially—if they struggle with addiction.

Suboxone Helped Me See What My Addiction Did To Me

Fourteen years ago, I developed addiction to pain pills. I had a C-section with my son and after three days in the hospital I was sent home with not only a beautiful baby boy but also a prescription for Percocet.

I loved the way it made me feel. I could do anything. I thought I was the best mother ever. I also thought I could keep my newfound love for opioids under control. Sadly, I was very mistaken.

When my OB-GYN stopped my prescriptions, I started buying the pills on the street. I worked 60 hours a week but couldn’t afford to buy shampoo or diapers. I relied on neighbors, friends, and family to help with bare essentials. I also relied on these same people to care for my son while I was at work, busting my butt just to support my habit. It was a habit that I said I’d never have, a habit that made me such a great mom, and a habit I was convinced no one knew about.

I remember trying my first line of heroin and thinking how disgusting it tasted. It tasted like a barn full of animal waste. But that didn’t stop me. Not even the taste of animal waste would make me stop and reevaluate my life, my decisions, or my choices. Of course, even using heroin I thought I was still a great mom—for two hours a day, at least. I can remember, clear as day, pushing my son down the street in his stroller, thinking I looked great even though I had to stop to throw up every five minutes.

Shortly after that that, I made a decision to get on the waiting list for the suboxone program. I was tired of not having shampoo and conditioner. The program was fairly new and not many doctors were able to prescribe this medication that would end up saving many lives. I’ll never forget where I was the day that I received that phone call. I felt relief, mixed with gratitude and topped with hope.

A little piece of a orange pill alleviated all the symptoms that I dreaded the most. I got relief from the intolerable aches in my arms, sweating, nausea, anxiety, lack of motivation, and my inability to care for myself or my son. I stayed on the suboxone program for six years. At some point, I realized I had the ability to articulate to the doctor that I wasn’t ready to drop doses. I started getting my life back together, looking back, and realizing that I was not a good mom. I saw that I did not look good: in fact, I looked awful.

Heidi & BrotherSadly, my brother John, who went to the program with me, didn’t make it. He died of a combination overdose of heroin, benzodiazepine, and Valium on January 29, 2016. He’d been abstinent for 11 days. My family identified his body via email to the coroner by describing his tattoos, noting that he just had a haircut, his height, his weight, his eye color, and his hair color.

I have done everything in my power to honor my brother, including going to Washington DC to advocate for the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act. I will continue to honor his name until the day I die. He was my only sibling and my best friend. He will continue to sit in a box next to our mother’s bed.

Substance use disorder is a serious matter. Over 60,000 people died in 2016. That’s more people than died in Vietnam. This epidemic has got to stop and change starts with each and every person making a choice! There is help out there.

How Bad Was My Heroin Use? Let’s Run The Numbers.

Eight years ago, I was a smart, spoiled high school student, going through a typical breakup. On the rebound, I met a guy who was addicted to opiates. We began seeing each other and I began using opiates regularly.

I thought I was falling in love with the guy, but our relationship was actually based on me, relying on his drugs. I spent that year trying to get through school, losing friends, and making up excuses for my withdrawal. I had a lot of “colds” and missed school. The relationship became abusive, but I stayed.

I skipped 11th grade and graduated a year early, while still using. I began partying heavily. I relied on opiates through everything. I got pregnant with my daughter in the summer of 2013 and started college, only to drop out.

During my pregnancy, I worked at a gas station and quit using all substances. After I had my daughter, I began going out a lot and used opiates again. Within a month, I was using everyday. I became a CNA. Even though I was making better money, it went nowhere.

Brianna JaynesOne day, my boyfriend brought home some heroin. He said it was crushed pills. I tried it and knew something was wrong but continued using. I lost almost 80 pounds and could barely make it to work.

After a few months, I began shooting heroin and engaged in illegal activities to support my addiction. I lived in a car that was unregistered and unlicensed. After getting deep into the lifestyle, I quit my job, stole a lot of money, and went to Florida with my boyfriend. I cycled through 14 rehabs there, was drugged by a stranger, saw someone get shot, and ended up watching people overdose. I witnessed so many things I can’t talk about.

I spent weeks sleeping under the tri-rail in Miami, fighting with my boyfriend, and constantly getting robbed. I came home after six months and relapsed again. Heroin wasn’t my only problem. I had a slew of charges to face. I stole $50,000 dollars through bad checks, picked up a possession charge, and was caught driving multiple times without a license. I pled guilty to my boyfriend’s charges for fraudulence, conspiracy, and stealing. Three days before I picked up on my warrant, I prayed to God to either let me die or intervene so heavily that I couldn’t screw it up.

I felt I had no choice. I went to jail on six warrants after speeding to the jail to meet a bail bondsman for my boyfriend. I was put in jail on a $60,000 bail for three months and detoxed off a two-gram-a-day habit with 32 charges over my head in two states.

Although I was sick, I was free. My addiction couldn’t reach me, nor could my boyfriend. My prayers were answered. I was sent to rehab. I went to a halfway house, where I started working the 12 Steps, became a member of a home group, and helped run the house. I met a lot of beautiful people who taught me to sit down and shut up in meetings.

My final month of treatment, I took an hour-long bus ride and applied to take the entrance exam for a nursing program. After a year, I came home to my beautiful daughter, got a job as a waitress and got accepted into the nursing program. My nursing assistant certificate was given back to me after proving myself to the state. I got my license back and never missed any appointments or meetings.

This May, I graduated from the court system and had all of my charges dropped. So many people wrote letters to the court for me. I stood there in tears while a judge decided my record would no longer define the monster hiding inside me. He gave me a new chance at life.

I am now working as a nurse at a place that fired me based on my background check. Everyone at work knows my story and holds me accountable. I have real friends and, more importantly, a relationship with my daughter.

I lost two very close friends to addiction, but they both helped me get where I am. Sometimes I wonder why it was them and not me, but here I am.

In September, I will celebrate two years in recovery and go back to school to advance my nursing career.

You can do it. Even if you did heroin with dirty needles, even if you overdosed in a public bathroom like I did. You don’t have to die. You might gain weight, lose friends, feel insecure, get in another bad relationship, lose a job, and maybe even relapse—but you can do it. It gets better. Just keep coming back.

Biking for Recovery

Hey Everyone,

My name is Jim Downs, aka BIG JIM. My story doesn’t fit in 800 words. I don’t think anyone can fit a lifetime of chaos and insanity in 800 words. I had 34 years of active addiction. I now am going on 3 years in recovery. What a difference my life is now compared to then. After graduating a free, faith-based 16-month Recovery Program, I left out the front doors a changed man with my new found intended purpose in life, to reach others in active addiction and help them find sobriety through a relationship with Jesus Christ. In 2017, I walked across America bringing Awareness to the Epidemic of Addiction and the message of hope in Jesus Christ.

It was a huge success. The walk was the first thing I ever started and completed. It was a healing walk for me personally as I discovered who I was and what kind of grit I was made of. That walk did so much more than I ever imagined. It encouraged thousands to change their life. It encouraged hundreds to seek help and find treatment. More people than can be counted now have a special relationship with Jesus Christ. All because I went for a walk and shared my life story. All because I was impressed by God to do it.

Now, God has stepped up to me again. And when I say this I mean I have an uncontrollable urge to do it again. After weeks of prayer, reaching out to the friends and followers of Big Jims Walk, I am impressed to do something that not many people have ever done. Starting Jan 1, 2019, from south Florida, I am going to bicycle not across America, but around America bringing the message of hope in Jesus Christ, and bringing awareness to the epidemic of addiction. I will be biking to each state capital of the lower 48 states. An almost 14,000-mile journey that I pray will save even more lives from addiction, encourage communities to come together and fight for their loved ones, to educate and destroy the stigma that is so rooted in addiction. I want this ride to impact the nation in a way that will shake the foundation addiction stands on and saves lives and saves souls.

There are 4 objectives we want this ride to complete.

  1. Bring awareness to the epidemic of addiction
  2. Bring the message of hope in Jesus Christ.
  3. Bethel Film Productions will be filming a full-length documentary movie that is not focused on the journey, but the people I meet along the journey that share their powerful testimony on where they were during addiction, how they came about to reach out for help, and how their lives has changed since they have been in recovery, as well as what they are doing to stay in recovery. The vision is to see this documentary in every recovery program across America giving hope to those in recovery by hearing raw and real stories from those who struggled themselves.
  4. To raise the funds to buy land to build the first of many CAMP REDEMPTION. This is a free, long-term, faith-based recovery program for men, women, and families so families can stay together and heal together rather than be torn apart.

On a personal note, I want everyone to know this is not about me BIG JIM. This is about GOD and how he can take anyone and change their life, and deliver them from addiction. This is about saving lives. This is about education and making a difference. This is about the power of love and compassion. I pray you will all follow along at www.bigjimswalk.com or on the WAY OUT PODCAST at www.wayoutcast.com where a weekly update, announcements of events, and locations of speaking engagements will be announced.

I hope to see you all on the road.

Be Blessed
Big Jim

Oregon Recovers, By The Numbers

Data is a valuable asset, but it doesn’t necessarily give a complete picture of the national drug epidemic. Every year, SAMHSA releases its annual National Survey On Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The study tracks substance use, mental health issues, and negative health outcomes in the populations it surveys. However, an Oregon advocacy group is suggesting that we need to be tracking more than just overdoses. NSDUH has never included questions related to the most positive outcome of having a substance use disorder—recovery from it.

The Alano Club of PortlandA recent op-ed by Brent Canode, Executive Director of the Alano Club of Portland and co-founder of recovery advocacy group Oregon Recovers, pointed out that recovery isn’t the absence of addiction. It’s the presence of wellness.

The op-ed, which appeared in STAT earlier this month, makes an important point about recovery, which is that it’s a real, possible outcome for some people with substance use disorder. “Losing sight of that can skew public policy and funding priorities to narrowly focus on preventing deaths instead of aiming more broadly to both reduce unnecessary deaths and promote long-term wellness,” Canode said. Robert Ashford, PhD, and another writer contributed to the op-ed.

To fill in the blind spot, Oregon Recovers will partner with Oregon’s state Public Health Division to measure recovery rates biannually. To do this, they’ll use the Adult Behavioral Risk Survey (BRFSS). This survey is done between states and the federal government, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is an ongoing data collection program designed to measure behavioral risk factors in the adult population. Health departments use the data for a variety of purposes, including identification of regional and demographic variations in health-related behaviors, targeting services, addressing critical health issues, proposing legislation for health initiatives, and measuring progress toward state and national health objectives.

BRFSS gathers uniform, state-specific data on preventive health practices and risk behaviors that are linked to chronic diseases, injuries, and preventable infectious diseases in the adult population. It isn’t perfect: data is collected over the phone, and excludes populations that are under 18 or homeless. However, according to the 2000 Census, 98.4 % of Oregon households have telephones, which means that the state is an excellent fit for this method of survey. The big win is adding recovery outcomes: a significant step toward refocusing anti-addiction efforts on recovery instead.

Oregon Recovers was created in response to Oregon’s place as last in the nation for access to recovery services. Although substance use is not a new problem in Oregon, it was recently declared a public health crisis thanks to the efforts of recovery advocates. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed an executive order that declared addiction a public health crisis. Studying addiction as a local or regional issue is important to understanding how Oregon can recover.

Sharing Scooby’s Story

My son Jaron was a person with substance use disorder and now he is an angel. I will not let his addiction define him! He was so much more. He was a brother, an uncle, nephew, cousin, best friend, and son! He was my only son. My baby, my Scooby.

ScoobyJaron was like a shooting star that burned out too fast. He could walk in the darkest room and make it so full of life and happiness. Jaron got his first pain pill at 14 yrs old from a friend who took it from their house’s medicine cabinet. Jaron’s 18-year battle with addiction began with that pill.

After those 18 years, Jaron ended up homeless. For a while, he had his own place, then he lived with family. He slowly lost everything to his addiction. He sold his cars, his pool table, TVs and stereos, you name it. He got rid of it so that he could keep using.

He went to drug court while looking at time for four felonies. His bail was way too high for anyone to get him out. He pleaded with me: “Mom, please borrow the $20,000 to get me out.”

He spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, Easter, and his birthday in jail. We did get to have a few minutes together on Christmas when we did a video visit.

Now, we will never ever have another Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, Easter, or any birthdays or Mothers Day with him again. All we have are pictures and memories.

On a Friday night, Jaron lost his battle with substance use. I thought this time he had it, and he thought he had it too. He was so convinced he had won and he took one last chance. Jaron never thought he would lose his life on that last ride, but what he thought was heroin was 100% fentanyl.

When I got to him, his body was still warm. He looked like he was sleeping, except he was not on the couch, he was on the floor. I hugged him and I kissed his hand were the needle was. I covered him, because he hated to be cold.

A part of me died right then and there with him. It seemed like forever before the paramedics, police, and medical examiner were finished. They loaded my baby up in a van and stuck him in a cold black bag.

ScoobyI did his eulogy. it was the last thing I could do for him. At his funeral, he was all dressed up in his favorite clothes: shorts, a white T-shirt, his sneakers, and a Giants jacket. Pictures and little mementos were placed in with him. He looked like he was sleeping, but he was cold and hard. It was like touching a stone, but I couldn’t stop touching him and kissing him because I knew I would never do it again.

The hardest part of that day was walking out of the funeral home, knowing I would never see his beautiful face again on earth. My Scooby, my baby.

I know many people are fighting the same demon Jaron did. If just one person gets sober because of his death, it will make some sort of sense.

Quit Judging, Start Recovering

I am a person in recovery from alcohol. I will always live with this. This is me.

It took me plenty of hospital stays, detoxes, jails, and treatment centers to realize the severity of my addiction. It cost me my job, house, and cars. I even lost custody of my son for nine months. My life was consumed by the alcohol I was drinking.

Felicia's SonNothing positive comes into your life when you are struggling with substance use disorder. I am going on my fourth year in recovery and I have completely turned around from the way I used to be and how I used to I think. I got my son back, got my own place, and paid off my jail stays and probation fees. Now, I sponsor other women in recovery and help chair meetings. I became an active member of this nation, for once. I am about to graduate from college. I’m the first in my family to do so.

The things that help me get to the next day is looking back on what and where I don’t want to be again. Looking at my child, who is my world, it hurts to know that back then, even he couldn’t stop me from using. Now, he can. I had to realize that I can’t make the issues I’m dealing with disappear by drinking. It just makes those problems worse. I can keep going in my recovery because there are people who are willing to help me get through. Those are good enough reasons for me.

The best part is that people in recovery are willing to help another. We care about helping the person who is suffering or just needs to talk. I sponsor great people who now have a positive outlook on life, like I do myself. Bad days come and go: they will always be there. What helps is having the tools to get to the next 24 hours.

One of the biggest things I struggle with now is when I notice outsiders being biased or judgy toward a newcomer or a person in recovery. What helps me get through that? I have to remind myself that they are not like us. They haven’t been educated enough about substance use disorder. And they haven’t walked in our shoes. So let them be, and just be proud of yourself.

If I could change one thing about addiction, it would be the stigma that keeps people from getting help. I wish others who haven’t been through it could understand we need the treatment we get and the people who help us. I wish we did not live in a nation of judgemental disagreements, but in a nation of understanding.

I wouldn’t change what I’ve been through because honestly, it made me, me.

I Am Positive Our Veterans Deserve Better

I am the mother of three fabulous sons. My oldest chose to join the Army and served in the 82nd Airborne as Intelligence Analyst for the 7th Special Forces Group based out of Fort Bragg. He was the 2009 7th Special Forces Group Soldier of the Year and served for 8 years, deploying to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Dan KeeganUpon returning from his second deployment, it was clear that Daniel was struggling with the mental and moral price of war. He remained in the Army and attended the University of New Hampshire as part of the Green to Gold Program, which is the active duty version of the GI Bill. He tried his best to put his war demons in a box and move on. Because of his fear of the stigma of reporting a mental health issue to the Army, Dan tried to continue independently. That didn’t go well and he chose to self-medicate, becoming addicted to heroin while attending school.

My beautiful and brilliant boy was not able to get his degree because he went into treatment for substance use disorder at the end of his allotted time for school. When he came out of the program, that opportunity had passed. He went back to Bragg without a degree and as a known heroin user.

He stayed in the Army for another year, relapsed, and exited with an Honorable Discharge after a long and arduous battle against an Other Than Honorable Discharge, with the help of JAG. He immediately applied for disability from the VA. He waited 16 months for treatment of PTSD and addiction. He died on January 8, 2016, just 2 1/2 weeks before that treatment was to begin. His cause of death was an infection related to his IV drug use. He was 28.

There have been many difficult days, both before and after Daniel’s death. Anyone who loves a person with substance use disorder knows what the fears and hopes are, and how desperately you want things to be different. I wanted him to survive. I wanted him to follow his dreams. I wanted my family intact. I’d give anything for my family to have remained intact. I have been married to Dan’s dad for 34 years, and we are blessed to have two surviving sons, but our hearts ache for their loss and ours.

Dan dreamed of getting well so that he could work on veteran-friendly legislation. He wanted to work hands-on with other veterans and people with substance use disorder to get them the help they need. I promised him that, if he couldn’t do that work for some reason, I would do it for him.

So one year ago, almost a year and a half after Dan died, I left my job and became a full-time advocate for veterans, addiction issues, and mental health issues. I did it for Dan. I did it for myself. Mostly I did it because I had taught my boys that when they do something wrong they should do something about it. All those years of preaching at them about using their great good fortunes of intelligence, curiosity, and kindness for good are just white noise if I am not practicing what I preached.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to help create legislation around the issues of a military warm handoff for departing struggling military members, and other veterans-related policy. I’ve also worked on legislation revolving around the opioid crisis. I’ve met fabulous people in government, military, and a variety of remarkable organizations focusing on veterans, mental health, and drug issues.

Dan Keegan

I was blessed to be Daniel’s mom and I am blessed to be able to carry on his dreams.

There are times when it is difficult to find the positive, but I have truly always believed that there is more good in this world than bad. I look for that good everywhere I go and I have not yet had a day when I haven’t been able to find some good. I am positive because I know that I am helping. I am positive because I had this remarkable son and I get to share him with the world every day. I am positive because my husband is my best friend and my surviving children are my pride and joy.

I would like for those who are struggling to know that they should reach out. Even if the only resources you can reach out are total strangers, you will always be able to find someone who cares. If you are struggling, get help! If you want to help, get going! Every voice matters and everyone has the power to make a difference!

I am considering some kind of future in the political world so that I can use my experience to help on a larger scale. I don’t know if that will happen, but I do know that I will never stop trying to make the world a better place for the folks who are struggling and the people who love them.

Coping With Chronic Pain

I was given narcotics by a medical doctor after my stroke. I had experienced pain in my lower back and right leg. This was after I fell many times. I was chair-bound and rarely active. I took one pill four times a day and kept getting refills.

During this time I fell again. Falling wasn’t usually a big problem, except I fell in the bathroom. It is a very small space. I fell back against a vanity and broke my pelvis in six places. I was sent home on OxyContin and Norco, which is hydrocodone bitartrate with acetaminophen.

I was taking them several times a day. I was able to get off the OxyContin. Because I cannot get out of my chair, I had to deal without the OxyContin. Then the government decided to clamp down on the doctors who were prescribing opioids.

Then again I was weaned off the Norco without any help. Since I was unable to get up to get my own pills, I got off them.

Meanwhile, I was dealing with my disability. I had been very active. In the past, I worked full time as a dietitian and had been at one hospital for 40 years.

If you want to get off opioids, you can, even if you are paralyzed. It is hard for anyone, but addiction is even more difficult to deal with and is harmful to your soul.

Choose Your Reward

Stress related cravings for alcohol may predict addictive patterns. How do you unwind at the end of a long, difficult day? Do you grab a bowl of ice cream, shoot hoops at the park, or meditate your stress away? Or do you reach for an alcoholic drink? The way you reward yourself could mean you’re more likely to develop substance use disorder, according to a new study from Sweden.

Swedish scientists at the Linkoping University in Sweden investigated molecular mechanisms in rats’ brains. They looked at the animals’ levels of GAT-3, which is a transporter protein in the amygdala region of the brain. GAT-3 is responsible for emotional reactions. The researchers gave rats two choices: sweetened water, or alcohol. Rats who preferred the sweet taste were considered “normal”: they had healthy protein levels in their brains.

Then, the scientists investigated the role of reduced GAT-3 levels in the rats that initially preferred sweetened water over alcohol.

After reducing the amount of GAT-3 in the rats’ brains, they were again presented with the choice between alcohol and sugar. They noticed that lower levels of a particular protein in the brain were linked to a preference for the alcohol as a reward. In fact, 15 percent of the rats with lowered GAT-3 levels chose alcohol as their reward. If the same is true in humans, low levels of this protein may be the reason why people with substance use disorder choose alcohol over an alternative reward.

Decreasing the expression of the transporter had a striking effect on the behaviour of these rats. Animals that had preferred the sweet taste over alcohol reversed their preference and started choosing alcohol,” said lead investigator Eric Augier. This was correlated with a sample of brain tissue from deceased people who had a history of alcohol addiction. That tissue showed lower GAT-3 levels as well.

Brain ImageAddressing substance use disorder as an illness with a physical component is critical to helping break the stigma of addiction. Understanding the molecular mechanism that makes a normal person develop substance use disorder is also important, because it may help improve treatment options. The Swedish study, which used rats, focused on neurochemistry alone, not social or psychological factors. That’s interesting, because researchers considered addiction as a disorder caused by brain chemistry, not a moral failing or genetic disease. Rats, for example, are not exposed to drug education programs; they have no concept of consequences, and can’t necessarily link their choice to drink alcohol with developing an addiction to it.

“We have to understand that a core feature of addiction is that you know it is going to harm you, potentially even kill you, and nevertheless something has gone wrong with the motivational control and you keep doing it,” said Markus Heilig from the Linkoping University in Sweden.

Understanding that substance use disorder is a highly treatable illness that includes biological factors is critical to developing better solutions to treating it. It’s clear that, as more research is developed, we need to look beyond questions of “choice” and consider brain chemistry, as well.

Opioid Addiction & Narcolepsy

Understanding how our brains work provides valuable insights into how addiction works, and how to treat it. A new study, published in Science Translational Medicine, suggests an interesting connection between opioid use and a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep. By manipulating hypocretin-producing cells in the brain.

BrainAlthough the paper focused on narcolepsy, it actually studied two neurotransmitters related to the sleep and satisfaction systems of the brain: hypocretin, which regulates sleep, and dopamine, which controls mood. Hypocretin levels are very low in people who have the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Fewer hypocretin-producing cells translates to less good-quality sleep, but also less susceptibility to opiate addiction. Narcoleptics are less likely to develop substance use disorder than the average person, despite the fact they’re often prescribed powerful, addictive stimulants to keep them awake.

In comparison, the brains of people who lived with opioid use disorder were rich in hypocretin-producing cells. Their brains had more hypocretin-producing cells—an average of 54% more—than control subjects. The brains of narcoleptics had 90% fewer hypocretin-producing cells than healthy subjects. That suggests that people whose brains produce lots of hypocretin are more susceptible to developing substance dependency than the average person.

According to Gizmodo, “Plenty of research in animals and humans has indicated that hypocretin is an important cog in the reward system that gets hijacked by addictive drugs, alongside the neurotransmitter dopamine. So finding a way to safely reduce the number of hypocretin-producing cells or otherwise blocking its production, the team theorizes, might just short-circuit a person’s cycle of addiction.”

“So it was natural to ask if opiates would reverse narcolepsy,” senior author Jerry Siegel, a neuroscientist at the Brain Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Gizmodo. The researchers dosed narcoleptic mice with morphine for at least two weeks and observed that the animals’ level of hypocretin-producing cells returned to normal. They also had fewer episodes of cataplexy, which is when a narcoleptic person will suddenly lose control of their muscles and appear to nod off or fall asleep.

According to Gizmodo, “opioids likely don’t help the brain create more of these neurons, since Siegel’s team found no evidence of new neuron growth in the mice. Instead, they seem to reawaken some of the surviving-but-dormant neurons’ ability to produce the chemical.”

Thomas Scammell, a narcolepsy expert at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, said “If chronic use of opioids is increasing hypocretin production—and the authors show that nicely—then that could amplify the rewarding aspects of these drugs, making addiction all that much worse. I think that’s actually the most interesting part of their research.”

In future studies, the researchers plan to find a way to reverse drug addiction through tweaking the hypocretin system. Although substance use disorder is a complex illness, understanding more about how the brain’s chemistry impacts a person’s likelihood of developing it is very important. Just as breast cancer can be detected through early screening tests, we may one day have a similar screening process for substance use disorder.

My Kids Still Believe In Me

My name is Amber and I’m a person in recovery. I was 13 years old when I became addicted. I’ve always been the black sheep of my family. I felt like an outcast growing up and still sometimes do, when it comes to the way certain family members treat me. They don’t understand that addiction is not a choice. Nobody wants to be an “addict.”

Addiction runs deep in my family. I grew up loving people with substance use disorder, both in and out of my family. My mother suffers from alcoholism, addiction, and many other mental illnesses. As a result of her disease, my sisters and I were raised by other members of my family. My mother was abusive. From what I remember, she was rarely sober when I was a child. I never understood why she was so violent and why she didn’t want us in her life.

Then, God did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He put my aunt in my life and she raised us as best she could. My uncle, who was my father figure since I’d never met my biological father, got very ill when I was 13. He had a stroke, and my family blamed it on me. At the time, I didn’t understand what a stroke was. I didn’t know that nobody could cause one. I internalized what my family said and believed them. I blamed myself, too. This created a rift in my family dynamic.

I started drinking heavily and was a blackout drinker from the start. I also smoked marijuana every day as well. My behaviors spiraled out of control and I became very rebellious and promiscuous. I didn’t know that I was using drugs and sex as a coping mechanism.

My addiction progressed. When I was 18, I was introduced to crack cocaine and opiates. I was addicted to cocaine for two years before I met the man who is the father of my children. I got pregnant two months into our relationship and by the grace of God, I was able to stop using for my entire pregnancy.

Shortly after I gave birth, my substance use disorder resurfaced. I became addicted to painkillers that the doctor prescribed me while I was recovering from childbirth. I used almost every day. Then, when my oldest child was two, we learned that I was pregnant again.

Again, by the grace of God I was able to stop using drugs for another nine months. After giving birth to my second child, I was prescribed to painkillers again. This time, my addiction really took off.

I was “functioning,” which means I lived in denial of my problem and the severity of it. In 2014, I was introduced to heroin and began using it every day. I went to treatment in 2016 after intravenously using heroin for four months.

I was able to stay abstinent, but after four months, my children were removed from my care because my counselor made false accusations to Child Protective Services. I relapsed shortly after my children were taken away.

Since then, I have completed quite a few treatments and have learned a lot about my disease.

I am still fighting to get my children back. Today, I am proud to say that I am abstinent and in recovery, which is a miracle and a blessing.

My children have suffered tremendously because of my addiction and so has my family, but my babies have never stopped believing in me. Some days, that is what keeps me going when nothing else can. God has truly blessed me and continues to do so every day.

I have come to realize that I am not a bad mother but a sick mother and I will never give up fighting for my children or to overcome my addiction.

There is hope for us that are addicted, as well as our families. Never lose hope. My life is changing thanks to the grace of God and I am forever grateful.

If you have a loved one that is battling addiction, I urge you to never give up on them. There is hope. If you are fighting for your children, don’t give up. You can do this! To everyone out there that is fighting, keep going!

The lie is dead! We do recover.

Being True To Yourself Is Winning

My journey with addiction started well before I ever put a substance into my body.

When I was about 5 years old, my parents started using in front of me, openly. My father used to wake me up at all hours of the night and make me hitchhike miles and miles with him so he could smoke crack. He said he would get a ride faster because I was with him, and people would feel sympathetic when they saw a child by the side of the road.

My personal experience with substances started when I was 10. When I was 12, my father pressured me into trying crack cocaine. From that moment on, I would never be the same person again.

Growing up I have had to deal with some pretty severe mental health conditions. I was molested as a toddler by a male family member which caused multiple mental health issues. On top of that, I got picked on by my peers due to not having nice things or my father being in jail. I  started going to juvenile hall at age 11. In high school, I was sent to prison for 6 years for distribution charges and firearms.

I continued to use inside and as soon as I got out, my use progressed rapidly. It took me a mere 11 months to be incarcerated again. I was released almost five years later.

Mikey & SweetheartI continued to have problems with addiction and unhealthy relationships. In 2016, I began a relationship with my childhood sweetheart who is now my wife. She gave me a reason to want to change. She showed me what a normal life looks like and how it feels to be loved and cared about. She stands behind me and genuinely cares about me as a person in the decisions I make.

What I do affects me, my wife, and our newborn daughter as well.

Although my wife is supportive of me, it still isn’t enough. I continue to struggle with recovery. My latest relapse landed me in detox, this May. Since then, I have been growing stronger by the day. I’ve gotten help by seeking mental health treatment, along with substance abuse therapy.

It’s still not easy but it is getting easier. I have noticed it’s a lot harder to deal with life‘s problems when you’re not able to block it out with a substance. It’s also difficult for people to understand addiction who have never been there themselves.

The most important thing to remember, in my opinion, is to keep fighting and never give up the battle. If you relapse, don’t look at it as a sign of failure or an excuse to give up. Use it as a learning tool. It’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It just means the way you were trying didn’t work. Try another way!

As long as you are trying and being true to yourself, you are winning.

Substance use disorder is an incurable disease, though people can learn to live with it and control it. People like me will always have substance use disorder, even if our addiction isn’t active.

There is hope for anyone with a desire to get into recovery. If you’d asked me five years ago if I ever thought I would come as far as I have, I would’ve laughed in your face and asked you for a hit of what you were smoking! But through love, guidance, and the desire to be healthy, I’ve become a better person, a better father, a better husband, and a better version of myself.

That gives me the strength to continue to fight. No matter what happens, no matter how many times I fall, I will get back up.

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