Positive Changes

My life has been affected by addiction. I am currently facing felony drug convictions. I am living without my children. I get treated differently at the hospitals because I have substance use disorder. My mother has taken on the role of full-time grandma, and cares for my four children. My fiancee committed suicide while he was under the influence last year. My children are growing up without me right now, and don’t deserve to not have their mother around because of drugs.

KyleeHowever, I am trying to change my life and move in a positive direction. I will be attending an inpatient/outpatient program, once I go to court-ordered treatment. I have changed my environment, including who I hang out with, where I spend my time, and what activities I allow myself to be around.

I gain inspiration on my toughest days from my kids and my boyfriend Kyle. One of the things that keeps me going is knowing that once I have a stable foundation with my recovery, I will be able to have my kids back. We will be able to be a family again. I think of how far I have come and how many people I have to prove wrong. I am going to be someone someday. That kind of thinking allows me to stay positive, no matter the situation.

One thing that I have learned on my journey to recovery is that not a single soul on this earth is invincible. We all can become victims of the disease of addiction. Substance use disorder is not prejudiced, by any means.

Kyle & KyleeThere is one person I would like to mention, and give praise to for his help with my journey as well as his own amazing progressing journey: my boyfriend Kyle Martin. He is one of the most admirable people that I have ever had the pleasure of being around. Although he has his own story of recovery, he strives to be a better person daily. He pushes himself and those around him to do more. He is so talented at almost everything he does, and naturally inspires others without even realizing it.

I put Kyle through hell the last year, but he never left my side. He was my backbone when I no longer had one. He was my smile when I was sad. He restored my hope that there will be a tomorrow. If I could tell him one thing, it would be: thank you for everything that you have done, continue to do, and will do in the future for me. May all of your wildest dreams come true. I love you until after forever, even when we are nerds on a rope.

My fiancee’s story ended in death: he killed himself while under the influence. Suicide has an incredible impact on the victim and their family as well. I want people to know that their story doesn’t have to end that way. We have hope as long as we continue as a nation to fight for our voices to be heard.

If I could enact one law in the United States, it would be to make all substance use treatment centers to be affordable and available to any individual, regardless of their background or income level. The moment that they say to themselves they are done living a life of insanity, and want to get on a path to recovery, they should have access to help. All facilities would offer the same programming, prevention, and therapies.We all deserve the same level of respect, care, and opportunity. We all deserve a second chance at life in recovery.

I share my story in hope that one word, one sentence, or one moment will stand out to someone else. I pray that they walk away knowing that there is hope for them. Don’t give up your own battle with addiction. You are not alone in this world.

Black and Making History

My recovery story starts when I was small boy. I always felt different than others and I was different. I remember knowing that I was black. My grandparents always rooted for the black contestant on any game show and always celebrated any black person doing well in media or in real life. They grew up with little opportunity. They were used to disappointment, to people making excuses for why they did not belong or should not be in a place. I remember that my grandfather always hated for us children to even touch anything in the store because of the repercussions. That constant awareness of my blackness and of being watched was passed down and affected the way that I moved through the world. Growing up in a mostly white high school meant that I had to be twice as smart and twice as good as other people. Additionally, I was queer and visibly disabled, with shorter arms which I always attempted to hide with baggy clothing.

I was always rather religious and I went to an Episcopal Church that was accepting of difference and supportive. My family was also very open and supportive as well. My experience of the blackness is one of joy and acceptance and I cannot recall any person in my family being homophobic or ableist. Once I went outside of my family, I would experience racism, ableism, homophobia, bullying, being ignored by peers. I felt invisible and as if I didn’t matter. I would receive messages in media and in real life that would affirm this belief as well.

My drug and alcohol use started while in college and there were 12 dark years of trying to find a place in the world. Searching for acceptance from a world that saw me as ugly and fat and whose opinions did not matter. I went to law school and there was no place for me there as well. I would have to find my own path to self-worth.

I was first told about recovery by one of my coworkers who took me to a recovery support meeting in San Francisco’s Castro District. It was a huge meeting. I still felt intense pressure to drink and do well at any cost in law school and only went to meetings when things got really bad. I could not stay sober for about a year before I came home to New Jersey. There, with the help of my aunt and cousins, I got back on my feet. After four years of trying to get sober, I was finally able to stick and stay in recovery and have been in the Philadelphia recovery community since 2014.

Black America and the War on Drugs

I feel gratitude and privilege for not entering a jail or prison for my drug use. I know others have.

In 1986, after the death on Len Bias, the Reagan administration passed drug-induced homicide laws meant to target drug dealers, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and introduced the sentencing difference between crack and cocaine, which is partly responsible for the racial disparity in the prison population. The War on Drugs is the reason that the United States has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The opioid overdose crisis has helped us move away from incarceration to treatment for substance use disorders and using a public health and harm reduction approach. We have tried our best to distribute naloxone to first responders, police and to lay people, so that people do not die. A dead person cannot recover. We’ve done so because the majority of people who die of addiction are white men and women.

What Now?

I have been working on developing a law enforcement-assisted diversion program in Philadelphia for the last two years. I have felt quite proud that it will focus on decreasing racial disparities. The LEAD program is being developed or is already operating in 36 jurisdictions.

Several jurisdictions are supporting safe injection facilities: San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Philadelphia, Denver, and Ithaca. These facilities would allow a person to use on the premises. This would an ultimate expression of radical acceptance and love for people in addiction. Opportunities for treatment would be one step away from people using.

What does the black community want? Mainly, I think that we ask that we be listened to and that there not be distinction between drugs. The focus on opioids has still left many outside of the conversation. Addiction has plagued poor communities and black communities for decades and therefore is not a new phenomenon. I hope that there is not segregation between drug types like the cocaine/crack distinction and that all future drug epidemics are treated as public health issues with harm reduction approaches.

My Miraculous Monica

Our daughter Monica was an absolute joy from the moment she was born. You could not ask for a sweeter, more adorable child. She was so happy and brought joy to everyone who knew her. As she got older, she excelled in school and was invited into the Talented and Gifted program. She participated in all kinds of activities in and outside of school. Life was so good. On the outside, she seemed like she had it all, but somewhere along the road, things went bad. Really bad. Even though she had so many friends; she felt alone, unwell, not right. But she kept these thoughts from us.

As a teen, she was introduced to alcohol and found her new friend. This new friend ultimately became her only friend. Over time, even this friend could no longer help her. By her junior year in college, she was in the last stage of alcoholism and a drug addict. Still, on the outside, she fought to project a “Monica” that was well and capable. She was attending classes and holding down a job. She answered all our questions with her perfected, “I’m fine, you have nothing to worry about.” But in reality, she was close to death.

On her last day of finals in December 2010, her roommate prompted her to call and tell us about her addiction. She was so afraid Monica was going to die. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. I could not have been more shocked. How could she be such a severe alcoholic? How did we not know? She lived away at college, so we never saw her impaired, never smelled alcohol on her breath. Not now, not ever. But this was our reality. I made some calls and got connected to a rehab in her area. They charged $25K a month, but I couldn’t worry about that now. I drove up to get her and we got her admitted to rehab that night.

My world had just fallen apart. I could not stop crying. The other parents in the waiting room seemed so calm, sipping coffee and reading. I wanted to scream and fall on the floor, sobbing, “What happened? Why are we here, there must be some mistake!”

MonicaSome of these parents mentioned that this wasn’t the first time their child was going to rehab. Oh no! I thought. I can’t go through this again. Monica will be cured. She just finished her last exam. She’ll go to rehab, get better, and be back to school in time for the start of the spring semester. I had no clue. I was facing something that was stronger than me.

More 120 days later, Monica left rehab and moved into sober living and an outpatient program. We were scared: she didn’t really seem committed to living a sober life. But we were hopeful. We had to be. I did not think I could survive much longer if she didn’t get and stay well. She is our only child. From day one, we did everything the rehab center told us to do: no enabling, therapy for my husband and I, open AA meetings, Al-Anon meetings, and reading everything we could about addiction. I did it all. But two weeks into sober living, Monica met up with her old boyfriend. She started drinking and doing drugs again. To say I was devastated does not begin to describe the fear, anguish, and pain I felt. This relapse was one of many.

A few years went by of rehabs and sober living, but mostly just of Monica using. We always stayed in touch. I made it as clear as I possibly could that we loved her more than anything in the world and that her addiction didn’t and could never change that. I reminded her often that if she was ever willing to try treatment again, we would always be there to help her. Her health deteriorated so much. She drank from the moment she woke up until she passed out in her urine-stained clothes at night. She suffered severe withdrawal upon waking: convulsions, hallucinations, vomiting, and the feeling of insects crawling on her skin. She was crippled from gout. She often could not stand, or walk, or use her arms. She had also picked up a meth habit.

Monica PoseAll the rehab staff and doctors we met over the years gave us almost no hope. They said Monica was the most severe alcoholic they had seen. In addition to therapy and meetings, I now was taking anti-anxiety and depression medication. I don’t think I would have survived without it.

But then, a miracle happened. After a particularly difficult weekend, Monica seemed to be at her breaking point. She called me and I could sense her “armor” was cracking. I told her about a new rehab I had found and that I had been hearing real good things about it. She hesitated, but agreed that I could pick her up and take her there.

She spent four months in rehab and over a year in sober living. She was truly living in recovery. Not just living, but flourishing. She was introduced to yoga in rehab and fell in love with it. Slowly, her broken body healed. She is now a certified yoga instructor. She teaches at a studio, and she also teaches at the rehab center where she was a resident.

My daughter has devoted her life and her yoga practice to helping others in recovery and those struggling. She will celebrate her five-year sobriety anniversary this spring. As she likes to say, “There is hope in hopelessness.”

Try not to give up hope on your loved ones. They are ill, but recovery is possible!

Reducing Harm Through My Recovery

My story is a lot like others I’ve heard. I started using substances at the age of 14. At the age of 35, it all stopped: I was pulled over after splitting a bottle of wine with a friend. I was caught and actually given a break. I stopped using alcohol and drugs. I have been sober, using harm reduction medication, since September 15, 2010.

I started school in 2012 to become a Substance Abuse Counselor. After completing my degree, I went to get my Masters in Clinical Mental Health. I had 52 out of the 60 credits done and had to take a background check which showed that I have substance use disorder. I encountered the stigma of addiction, and it brought everything to a halt. I have a suit through the Department of Education and am hoping to get this resolved so I can continue to help others suffering with the disease of addiction.

The stigma of addiction that occurs in everyday life is no different in the professional world. The Department of Education is taking action in my case, but the reality of always having to deal with one form of stigma or another is becoming a true trigger for me. I know I have zero control over other people’s stupidity. I would say it’s ignorance, but people that have doctorates in Clinical Mental Health should know better when it comes to addiction.

DavidI’m struggling to deal with my resentment towards the institution that discriminated against me. I’m really wondering if it’s all worth it. I know in my heart of hearts that I will get through this, but to feel like I am back at ground zero, in the same situation I was in before I got into recovery, gives me a feeling of desperation.

There is one difference: today, I may be desperate, but I am sober. I would rather be in this situation for the rest of my life then to ever go back to using. I know that I would be letting down not only myself, but those that I have so positively influenced through my words, actions and dedication. I will continue my fight against the stigma in academia, not only for myself, but for anybody else who ever decides to follow the same career path. Possibly, they will not have to go through what I have.

In spite of my problems, I’m grateful. The most liberating thing I’ve experienced is living outside of myself, for others. Today, I enjoy working for the better good. I am not only more grateful today for the opportunity to help others, but for the opportunity to share my experience with others that may be struggling.

What makes me most grateful today is serving others. Because of my recovery, I have the chance to one day finish my education and help others directly. Thank you for the platform to share my experience. God bless.

Addiction Wasn’t My Plan

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, “Today’s the day. Today, I’m going to become addicted and destroy my life, and the lives of everyone around me. Then, I’m planning to fall in love with another addicted person, and give them the key to my heart, until death do us part.”

Of course I didn’t plan this. I didn’t ask for my life to become a methed up mess. I didn’t choose it, either. But once I tried my first line of meth I was done for. It took a hold of me so tightly I just couldn’t shake it.

Anne EmersonI am now in recovery after using meth for many years. I did inpatient treatment three times and outpatient two times, and successfully completed them all. I had relapses in between. Some say relapse is a part of recovery. In all honesty, I believe it doesn’t have to be.

Being around people who were using, especially when I was in a weak moment, sad and angry, made my thoughts of using become a relapse. My addiction affected me and my innocent son, who now had to live with grandma and grandpa because his mom couldn’t stay away from drugs. My parents had to put off their retirement because they had to take care of my son.

Addiction doesn’t just affect the addicted person. It affects the entire family.

Later on in my use, I met and fell in love with another addicted person: a heroin user. Together, we caused two families’ lives to be torn apart and destroyed because of our addictions. We were also trying to find a way to find recovery and mend the broken hearts of our families.

I wouldn’t have planned that, after I found recovery, the love of my life would be taken from me by his addiction. The not-so-hard struggle to stay sober suddenly became a struggle of a lifetime. I had to stick with it. Without my sobriety, my son has no mom, and my family has no child. Without my sobriety, I couldn’t carry out my fiance’s life’s purpose.

My fiance passed away recently, on December 3, 2017. The pain has made it very tough on my recovery. I want to use to numb myself, but I know the pain will still be there when the high is gone. Instead of turning to what destroyed my life and took my partner permanently away from me, I think outside myself. Instead, think about all the people it would affect if I got high. My son would be devastated; my parents, just heartbroken.

Anne EmersonI make lists of all the things I’m grateful for when days get tough. I have learned that it’s okay to reach out to others when I’m not okay and to ask for help. I pray to God and asking for peace and serenity. I lend a helping hand to others who may be struggling, because the only way I can grow in my recovery is to keep only what I need, and give the rest away to someone else.

Because of my addiction, I am a much stronger person, inside and out. Making changes, especially positive ones, isn’t an easy task. Positive changes have also included choosing the people I surround myself with. Misery loves company and I don’t love misery. I had low self esteem, depression, and needed to relearn how to love myself again. Learning to use daily positive affirmations helped me to see the true beauty in myself inside and out. Being a mom to my son, keeping my word, and doing what I say I’m going to do has helped rebuild my relationship with him. Showing up at every basketball game, and on time, so I don’t miss that three-point shot with three seconds left in the game.

For me, helping others brings me gratitude and keeps me grounded. I share my story of my road to recovery, donate time to an organization, and just listen to someone in need of an listening ear. Give back to others what’s been given to you!

The one thing I’d like to share with others is to never give up, never give in, and never be ashamed of your addiction. Share your story with pride. I am not a victim because of my addiction. I am a survivor.

Chosen For A Purpose

“Buddhism is about winning,” Todd Juluke says. Since he combined the spiritual practice of chanting and seating meditation with abstinence, Todd’s life has transformed. At one time homeless, broke, and hopeless due to substance use disorder, Todd is now an upstanding member of his community. He’s breaking barriers bydemonstrating what’s possible in long term recovery.

At first, Todd didn’t feel that he was at risk for substance use problems. He was the oldest son, a favorite in his New Orleans neighborhood, and a popular basketball star. He had potential, and he knew it. His parents gave him a good start at a private Catholic high school, and Todd was recruited to play basketball for Florida Memorial University at Miami, where he majored in chemistry. However, during his senior year, his basketball coach confronted him about his substance use. Instead of facing the issue, Todd walked away—only a couple of classes short of his degree.

From there, things spiraled out of control quickly. Todd returned to New Orleans and became, in his words, “a brutal drug dealer.” He picked up multiple felony charges, and ended up serving a total of 15 years in prison on five drug-related convictions. Each time, he would be released, then go back to dealing. Todd saw himself as a “thug,” though he was a non-violent offender. Eventually, with the help of his family, he tried to improve his life. However, his cocaine use intensified, and Todd became addicted to crack. Homeless, Todd was “dressed in rags and living in the gutter.”

Todd JulukeEven after a final prison sentence helped him remain abstinent, Todd struggled to find work. His prison record ended in 2008, but employers couldn’t see past those convictions. In spite of this, Todd continued working, and starting a spiritual practice of chanting. A friend introduced him to the Buddhist way of meditation and prayer, and Todd embraced it. His mindset changed, and soon, so did his luck.

In 2015, a special panel for the state Board of Pardons and Parole voted unanimously to have Todd’s felony record wiped clean. Todd was then hired by the DA’s office for a new, specially created role as a diversion mentor. Working with young people who were facing drug charges, he was able to be an example of what’s possible in recovery.

Todd is inspired by the tenets of Nichiren Buddhism and still chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo regularly, connecting with his sense of purpose and self. His dream is to establish a special aftercare program for people leaving treatment, to get them on the right track and provide peer-to-peer support. Todd is a strong member of his community, living his potential and showing others that, in recovery, people with substance use disorder shine brightly.


Instead of a Funeral, A Baby Shower

I am the mother of a recovering heroin and crack user.

I watched these demons steal away my daughter Ava, my sunshine, for years. I didn’t know at the time what I was truly dealing with. She hid her addiction well, or I was oblivious to the signs at the time. Maybe I knew deep down, but denial is such a strong emotion.

Kelly CooksonShe finally asked for help after circumstances forced her to move back home with me and she knew she could no longer hide the problem. The first detox she went to, she had to sit on a bench for 14 hours, waiting to be deemed “sick enough” for admission, despite being in full blown withdrawals. I was so proud of her strength and persistence. In my blissful ignorance, I thought she would come out “all better”.

Detox didn’t work. Not for long. Ava was released with no aftercare. I don’t know if she refused it or it wasn’t available. I can’t even track the number of attempts she made, because I lost count. She went through the same long wait a few other times as well, 12 hours or more. I think it’s shameful and disgusting to make someone who is ill sit on a bench for that length of time because they happen to have vital signs that don’t change a lot during detoxing.

I would get a glimpse of my daughter again for a little while after any detox or rehab. Usually, we had just a couple of weeks together, if I was lucky. Then, she would be gone again. Back into the addiction abyss. Then she would come back and want help. I call it the roller coaster.

I hate roller coasters.

Chaos and havoc followed Ava everywhere she went. I felt so guilty for dreading when she was home. It was such a weird combination of dread, relief, and happiness to have my best friend at home, but she wasn’t really here. It wasn’t her. She was like a zombie. It looked liked my daughter, but it was a shell of her real self. All she cared about was the next drug, no matter what the cost to anyone. The strain on our family was immense.

I watched my younger children suffer. My son became angry and bitter.

“Why can’t she just stop?” he asked.

My youngest daughter was so confused. She couldn’t understand where her sister was, or why she wouldn’t see her for weeks on end. I watched her become distrustful, her innocence lost too soon. She blamed herself, and she blamed me. We would get Ava back just long enough for my baby to get attached to her, and then Ava would leave again. It was just soul-crushing to watch all of my children hurting. We were all absolutely helpless.

Addiction hurt myself and my family more than I ever could have imagined. We lost everything: material possessions, relationships, our health, and almost our lives. In spite of this, our story ends with triumph.

Kelly CooksonMy daughter Ava is now 15 months in recovery and expecting her first child, a daughter. She works on herself, her recovery, and her relationship in order to become the mother she wants to be. The woman she wants to be. She amazes me every day. At one point, I thought I might plan her funeral. Now I’m planning a baby shower. It’s still surreal at times.

I use my experiences to help those still suffering in active addiction every day. I use it to provide support for family and loved ones, and assist them in having a better understanding of their affected loved ones. I use it to help those who are in recovery and struggling by being an ear they can trust, or offering suggestions for different forms of treatment.

I do what I can to help in a variety of ways including calling local detox centers and posting bed availability, organizing an online support group for families, helping to advocate for some of our most vulnerable population. Access to care and harm reduction are areas I heavily focus on.

I do a lot of writing and some videos about my experiences. In doing so, I hope I can give a voice to those that can’t speak out because their loved ones want privacy. I hope I can let people know they aren’t alone. Most of all I think, I want people who haven’t been affected to see the raw, truth of addiction. It affects more than the sick person. This is a family disease.

I believe that the combination of people in recovery and their communities and families working together is what will really spark the changes that are so desperately needed. We have to come together. It doesn’t need to be “mother groups” and separate “recovery groups.” Why can’t it be “us”?

Addiction affects the entire community in some way. I strive to make that know, as often as I can in order to engage others. We can all jump in and help in some small way. Many do.

I will do much more in the future. I am just warming up.

Heroin, watch your ass. I’m coming for you and I’m bringing a crew with me for back-up!

Speak Out

Last night, in his State of the Union address, the President highlighted the story of a baby named Hope. A child who was born into the addiction crisis in New Mexico. Hope is not alone – over 45 million Americans and their families are directly impacted. When the costs of addiction – social and human – are combined, it’s hard to argue that everyone in this country is not affected by this public health epidemic.

National EmergencyWhile we appreciate the President’s words about this issue, it is time for our leaders to take action. More than three months ago, the President declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in this country. Last week, that declaration was renewed for another 90 days. Still, absolutely no action of note has been taken. What does it mean if we have an emergency and we do nothing about?

Enough is enough. It is clear that, for real action to take place, we as the grassroots leaders around the country need to stand up and speak out. Today, we are asking you to take one, simple step: please write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, focusing on the addiction crisis in America and the need to take action. Click here for help writing a letter to the editor of your local paper.

We must continue pushing forward – we cannot be silent. Let’s saturate our local news outlets with our voices. Let’s come together and reach the 58% of Americans who don’t yet view addiction as a national emergency. Again, please take a few moments of your time and write a letter to the editor today.

Bringing Help

I guess the best way to start my story is from the beginning, so you can grasp the full extent of the message that I am trying to convey.

Growing up in a household that was religious due to the influence of my mother, I was constantly looked at as a pariah.When I looked at my other relatives’ faces, I saw the disdain that they held for me clearly written across their brows. I was a loner and that didn’t go to well with my peers, mainly because I was better dressed than them and far more intelligent. However, I longed to be accepted. I looked forward to the few times when one of my uncles would take me places. Sometimes, he’d give me a drink of alcohol that burned my throat but satisfied my curiosity.

I still remember the first day one of my older friends asked me if I had ever smoked a joint. When I told him no, he took it upon himself to introduce me. He placed a gas mask over my face that had a small marijuana stick attached to the nozzle and told me to inhale as hard as I could.

I must not have been doing it right, because the next thing I knew, he had it strapped to my head and was holding my neck, forcing me to inhale the smoky aroma. I remember how I felt light as a feather. The demon inside of me had been awakened. That was my start on a long road of highs and lows.

When I was around fourteen, I met an older boy who took me under his wing. I loved the freedom of being around him and his family. I also felt older because of the things we did, like stickups, gambling ,and messing with girls almost twice our age. I never once saw him indulge in any type of drugs even though his mother and uncle were big-time dealers in Harlem.

One night, we came in around three in the morning and I saw two bags at the front door, loaded with what looked like old fashioned soap powder. I had sold quarters of dope, but to see it in the unpackaged powder form was something else. Once again, my curiosity led me to investigate. Before I knew I had stolen some heroin. I sat in the chair near the TV and sniffed the powdery substance.

QuintinTruly, I thought I was being slick, but my aunt knew what I had done. Before long, I was nodding out in the chair and couldn’t keep my eyes open. All I remembered was the nasty taste that it left on my tongue. I guess my aunt decided that since I wanted to learn, she would teach me the hard way.

I remember her clearly saying, “Your fast ass is still going to school in the morning, so you better go in that other bag and sniff some.”

That was my first introduction to speedballs. I didn’t like the feeling of being up one minute and down the next. I didn’t think I was hooked, but I lost a girlfriend who was much older and realized that I had a habit.

God works in mysterious ways, because I was forcibly removed from that situation when I got sent to Riker’s Island at the age of fourteen. Back then, there were no real juvenile facilities. You went with the big boys.

Fortunately, the judge realized that there had been a big error in placing me in an adult prison, and he allowed me to go home in the custody of my uncle, a decorated Vietnam vet. California was much slower than New York, but eventually I managed to find some kids my age who smoked weed. I built some friendships, but due to my behavior and lack of interest in school I was sent back to New York.

With no real idea of what I wanted to do with my life, I met an older cat who took a liking to me. Soon, he was like my big brother. I went to his house almost every day and just sat back and blew away the afternoon, smoking weed.

I ended up meeting my first wife, and when I told her that I was a stickup kid, she made me give it up or lose her. I gave up the criminal life and got a job. However her older, cousin was into cocaine, and since we wanted to fit in and I had the resources, I started using more and more.

I was finally called to enter the academy for Correctional Officers. I felt that this would change my life for the better. Little did I, know my addiction would reach heights never before achieved.

When I was introduced to a network of users who held law enforcement positions, things got tricky and dangerous. Quite a few times, I was set up to be killed, but my prior experience of being a former stickup kid and Jehovah’s good grace prevented any harm from coming to me.

QuintinEventually, I resigned with hopes of finding recovery. When I came home I was introduced to crack. That combined, with the feelings of being a failure, led me on a journey of over twenty-two years of incarceration.

On my last bid, a drug program called Harbor House run by Richard Weiss gave me a chance to redeem myself. I learned that to be happy, I didn’t need to indulge. I just need to be glad that I am alive.

Now, I have over four years in recovery, and I am a Care Manager. I’m about to obtain my Bachelors in Psychology. The best thing about my life now is that I can bring help to those who are in a position that I know all about.

Goodness and Mercy

My name is Fredrick Amina. And let me share a brief story about my life with you. I grew up on the island of Oahu. I was the oldest of four. My mother had me when she was 16 and my dad was 19. Growing up, I was on welfare because my dad was addicted to drugs.

I grew up real early, earlier than I should have. I remember going around with my dad in the second or third grade. By fourth grade, I didn’t go to school anymore. By this time, my dad was watching me and my siblings because my mother was going to school getting her GED. I was illiterate growing up because we were just going to drug houses so my dad could pick up drugs.
I remember watching him drink almost everyday. I told myself I couldn’t wait till I got old enough to do the same.

Finally, my dad offered me a drink of beer. My life changed forever after I took that first sip of alcohol. I was hooked. By the time I graduated from high school, I could easily drink a case of beer. By the time I hit 30, I could already drink two cases of beer. By 36, I had pancreatitis. I had two nickel-sized cysts bleeding out of my pancreas and I had to stay in the hospital for twenty days with a feeding tube.

Bam AminaThat’s when my life changed forever, again. The doctors told me I could never drink again, so I had to make a choice for me and my children: drink and die, or don’t drink and live. Through perseverance, I overcame illiteracy and wrote a book called Goodness and Mercy.

My book has been number one on Amazon. The head librarian of the prisons in Hawaii said Goodness and Mercy was “one of the most startlingly spiritual novels I’ve ever read.” I’m grateful to be able to say that I’m sober today. I chose to live, and that’s why I share my story with you.

Love, Love, Love

I went through my first drug treatment when I was 15 years old. I went again when I was 20. Now, I’m 30 and I’ve been in recovery for almost a decade. I got into remission early, comparatively, and I’m grateful for that. I’m here to say that you can get this earlier, rather than later.

Addiction has been a blessing and curse. I still battle an addictive personality and have some negative behaviors. It’s been amazing to be able to relate and connect with people who are coping with similar circumstances. Seeing my addiction come out and seeing what I was capable of at a young age motivated me to “be the change I wish to see” in the recovery world. I’ve just now graduated a Masters program. I work as a substance abuse therapist.

I am inspired by God, Christ, and all good spiritual information and words. I love the Buddhist principles. I love, love, love mindfulness. I have learned that family is more important than any other impulsive act: substances, sex, porn, TV, anything.

I help others by going to work and working with other people with substance use disorder every day. I am very active in a church. I help, serve, and connect with my neighbors and any person I come in contact with. I try to offer a kind, gentle, loving, non-judgmental heart and perspective.

Miraculous Recovery

I grew up unaware that I had a mental illness. I consider my childhood to be ambitious. I was an honor roll student. All that changed when I headed to the University of Georgia. Once in college with my new found freedom, I began to drink heavily. I didn’t know that I was trying to erase the image of being molested at the age of six by another man. I quit school four quarters short of a degree and headed back to Atlanta.

Depression set in and I began to drink a fifth of liquor every day. I finally managed to get it together and return to work, but several years later, I used crack cocaine. It hit me like a brick. Within weeks, my drug habit escalated to $18,000 a month. I dropped from 200 pounds to 130 pounds. Finally, my mom found me wandering the streets and took me to her house to clean up. This was the beginning of a 17-year drug addiction.

I got to the point where I couldn’t hold a full-time job. I resorted to day labor services where my employer paid me daily. I rode on the back of a garbage truck until one day, while backing down a street, the driver backed me into a dump truck. My pelvis was crushed. That injury put me in a wheelchair. I healed a year later and turned that wheelchair into a snack cart. Things were going well until addiction knocked on my door again. I answered and it took me to my bottom: sleeping under the bridge.

After a few years of homelessness, I had a spiritual awakening and decided to give life my all. I sought recovery and it worked.

Today I own a convenience store two blocks from that same bridge I slept under. I reunited with my college sweetheart and we both work in the same community, where addiction is a challenge to so many.

I use my story to share hope with others that struggle with the same disease. If there is anyone out there who think that it’s hopeless, consider this proof. Recovery is possible.

Getting My Wings Back

I started using methamphetamines when I was 27, to give me wings. It didn’t take long at all for the drugs to take away my sky. I was a single mother of four, with a three-bedroom, two-bath home. A vehicle. A job. I had never been arrested. I thought an IV user was the lowest of all lows. My children were my world. I was happy.

It’s frightening how quickly life changes, and how abruptly it ends. Now, I’m at the end of a five-year run of injecting meth, pills, crack, and heroin. I was unemployed, robbing stores, and slinging dope to merely pay for my habit.

I went from having a home to only having a bed at the county jail. I lost my vehicle to the impound. My custodial rights to my children were terminated. I was alone, tired, run down, sick, and completely lost. I was convicted felon with a horrific addiction and nowhere to go.

I took a long hard look in the mirror and realized I didn’t know the individual looking back at me. I didn’t like the person I had become. I was homeless, barefoot, with nothing. I felt as though I had no one to turn to. I messaged a close friend, telling her of my misery. Thankfully, she had it in her heart to reach out and offer me something that I had frankly lost hope on a long time ago: a fresh start, a helping hand, and the love of someone who hadn’t given up on me.

Although scared and unsure about giving up my utterly horrible yet familiar life, I found it in me to reach back, grab my friend’s hand, and never look back. I’d rather be dead than continue living how I was living. I left the state of Florida for a clean slate and made a new beginning in West Virginia.

In one week, I’ll hit the two-month recovery mark. There are still trying days. I have not come even close to regaining all I had lost. But with my friend’s love, I found it in me to choose life. I’m looking for work, I’m reading my Bible. I get up daily, thankful to be alive. I do things a normal person does like house chores, contact my family, and go to bed at a decent hour.

Because of the love and kindness I received, I have my sky back. Because of that help, I’m alive. I’m choosing to be better. With each day sober, I’m closer to gaining back the things I lost over the last five years.

With each day sober, I’m closer to being a mother again, a daughter, granddaughter, and a friend. With each day sober, I am closer to becoming me again, and that will be the day that I truly regain my wings.

My Recovery is My Life

My name is Zac Talbott, and I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1983 and was raised – and lived most of my life – 30 minutes south of Knoxville in the affluent southern town of Maryville. I came from an upper middle class, church-going family that prioritized family, faith, and education. I went on to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville before enrolling in the MSSW program at the UT Knoxville College of Social Work.

During my time as a graduate student in the Social Work program, ironically enough, I was prescribed opioid pain medications from my physician for some minor knee and back pain. It was as if I had never lived before. Something almost immediately changed in me, and a dependence became addiction to opioids and began to engulf my life. Not long before I was academically dismissed from college I was a regular, daily IV heroin user.

For a long time, prior to my academic dismissal that led to a downward spiral, I was a “high-functioning addict”. I wasn’t “one of them.” I came from a good family from, “good stock” as we said in the south. Talbotts weren’t addicts. We were people of faith, community leaders and role models. But I am writing to tell you today that opioid addiction does not discriminate and knows no boundaries by class or race, by gender or sexual orientation, by religion or level of education. Not even half a decade into the new millennium I was living in a hell that began with an illusion of a pill-induced heaven. I strove day in and day out just to “stay well,” to avoid withdrawals. Any type of “high” was a thing of the past, an illusion that lasts only for the very first romantic parts of this lethal disease. Such is the daily life of someone addicted to opioids – be they prescription painkillers or heroin.

Zac TalbotBut there is hope. Being a graduate student never truly left me, so when I was sick and tired of being sick and tired I researched what would give me the best chance of success. I went to credible sources – something I remember being beaten into me during my time in college – to see what I should do if and when I was ready. I kept coming back over and over to this medication called methadone. But, like so many other people, at the time I was hesitant, thinking I would just be “trading the witch for the devil” or potentially ending up in an even worse addiction. But I was desperate. So, I called the Opioid Treatment Programs closest to me only to find they had long wait lists and could not get me in. In a moment of desperation I drove two hours in one direction and enrolled in an opioid treatment program in Northwestern Georgia.

It was the best decision I ever made. I found that I not only was stabilized with a medication that allowed me to live a normal life again, allowed me to break those chains and that cycle of living to avoid withdrawals, but I found that I was met with compassionate treatment professionals and that counseling was an even more important priority than the medication I was receiving. The “old Zac” quickly came back and I once again started dreaming again and re-evaluating my life’s goals. I stopped living to avoid withdrawals. I was breaking the chains that had bound me. I am one of the many true faces of medication-assisted treatment having become medication-assisted recovery.

I did not trade one addiction for another, as I feared, but traded dysfunction for stability and misery for hope. I got my life back. I became involved in patient advocacy and treatment. The Zac that was a graduate student in clinical social work was back. I re-enrolled in an MSW program to get the degree my addiction robbed of me years before. I have since opened two opioid treatment programs myself, serving as the Program Sponsor, writing the policies and procedures manual and assuring regulatory compliance. I have studied and worked to achieve IC&RC certification as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor. I am successful and living the recovery life. And this recovery life – and all the work I am now doing – was made possible because of medication-assisted treatment. Methadone, combined with quality counseling, saved my life.

Zac TalbottSince those early days in maintenance treatment I am someone who has been able to slowly taper down my dosage while working on relapse prevention and coping skills in counseling, but I recognize that isn’t possible for everyone. Just like any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension, different people need different amounts of medication for different periods of time. Many in recovery may need long-term, or even indefinite, medication maintenance. And that is ok. What matters is someone’s LIFE and their QUALITY of life – not whether or not they happen to take a legal medication or for how long they might need to take it. During this opioid crisis, we have a moral obligation to support all options that offer help and hope, be they abstinence-based or include the use of medications, inpatient or outpatient, short term or extending for months or years or even indefinitely.

We have to support all the medications at our disposal to combat this opioid crisis: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. All three medications have their place, and we should not pit any one against the other. I am living proof there is hope after opioid addiction. I am one of the true faces of this opioid addiction and overdose epidemic, one of the lucky ones who happened to stumble into a treatment center that prioritized science and research over stigma and fear. And because of that – along with my own dedication to the hard work of recovery – I am able to tell my story today. My recovery means everything to me, for without my recovery I likely would not have my life.

A Life of Addiction & Recovery

I was born into a life of addiction. Both of my parents suffered with addiction and my mother lost her mother to alcohol addiction when my mom was only 11.

My parents separated when my three sisters and I were young. My mom left us behind to start a new life with a new man in a new state. At the time I was young and I just assumed that she didn’t love me. I grew up always feeling so unwanted. It wasn’t until I got older that I understood that it was her alcohol addiction. My mother died on August 11, 2008. I was 16 and already a person with addiction to alcohol as well.

This is where I went off the deep end. I turned away from my family and turned to alcohol and drugs. I was heartbroken. I was angry. My life made no sense. I continued down this path for the next eight years of complete and total self-destruction. I had two children in active addiction to heroin and meth who were taken away from me. I lost my college education because of my addiction. I lost jobs, cars, and every dollar I ever made. And I destroyed every relationship with just about every person who loved me.

It wasn’t until I was ready that I was able to get help. Losing my boys wasn’t enough. Losing everything else wasn’t enough. Eventually it had just got so bad that I wanted to die. I tried to kill myself, I woke up in the ICU with my whole family there. Neither the doctors nor my family expected me to pull through. But I did and I was pregnant with my third child. She lived, as did I.

Fast forward two years and my life has changed greatly. I have people who love me and trust me and believe in me. I have come a long way, I have put in a lot of work. Most of all I am learning how to be the mom that my kids deserve and I have ended this sick cycle of addiction one day at a time. I have learned on this journey that my mother loved me. All of those years of hating myself, not understanding why I wasn’t good enough. Now I know that she was sick. She wanted better for me, she just couldn’t stop. I have forgiven my mom and that is a peaceful feeling I live with everyday.

My Head is Clear

My name is Katherine and I’m grateful to be in recovery from alcohol and drugs since September 15th, 2010. My story is not unique. I began drinking at a young age. My home environment was stressful, my parents fought a lot and alcohol was my escape. I felt like I was smarter, prettier, funnier and accepted by people when I drank.

Alcohol quickly became my solution, my best friend, and my world began to revolve around drinking. If I wasn’t actively drinking, I was thinking about drinking. I started out as a weekend warrior, drinking with friends on Friday and Saturday. By the end of my drinking, it was an all-day, every day affair. My disease progressed quickly. I found myself doing things that I said I would never do. I stole money from my parents, I said hurtful things to people I loved, I began to not care what other people thought of me. I truly believed that I was not hurting anyone else, just me. I would wake up and not know how I got home. I drove drunk all the time. I’ve had car accidents and arrests, blackouts and fights. I’ve put myself and others in dangerous situations.

Eventually, my power to choose whether to drink or not was gone. I would swear it off and tell myself that I wouldn’t drink that day and by noon, I’d be half in the bag. I’d say, I’ll go out for one drink, only to wake up the next day without any recollection of what happened the night before. The moment I took that first drink, all bets were off. My ability to control the amount of alcohol I drank was gone. I didn’t know how to stop. I always drank for the effect of alcohol. I liked the way it made me feel. Until I hated it.

Just alcohol was not working for me anymore and that’s when I found prescription painkillers. The euphoric feeling that I got from oxycodone was just right. I didn’t know how addictive they were. I had no idea that months down the road, I’d be taking pills to feel normal and not sick. I began to need more and more to get the same effect. Meanwhile, I was still drinking. My life spun out of control, my world got smaller and smaller. I was now isolating myself from family and friends so that no one would know just how awful I had become. I was lonely, fearful, tired and broken.

KatherineThen I experienced what I call a divine intervention, because I did not want to stop. I woke up one morning with a pit in my stomach and the thought of ending my life began to creep into my mind. I thought that I’d be better off dead, that I was a disgrace to my family and that I could not go on living like this. I couldn’t imagine a life with alcohol and drugs and I couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol and drugs. I was at the jumping off point. I was scared and angry. How did I become this person that I couldn’t even look at in the mirror? How was I to get myself out of this

I went to my parents house that afternoon and told them everything. They had their suspicions and knew that I was struggling. My mom, who is a member of a 12-step group for family members, learned through that program that she could not have helped me if I did not want help. She was so relieved when I finally came to her and wanted help.

They took me to the hospital, where I received detox treatment and therapy. I was inpatient there for about a week and during my time there, members of a 12-step group brought meetings into the unit during the evening. Even though my mind was foggy, I still attended the meetings. I heard a message of hope one evening. A man shared his story and he said “you never have to feel this way again.” I believed him. He looked genuinely happy and had not had any alcohol or drugs for over 10 years. I thought, if he can do it, maybe I do have a chance.

From the hospital, I went to inpatient rehab where I stayed for the next 28 days. I was terrified, but knew in my heart that I needed to go. In rehab, I was shown and taught that there is a life beyond alcohol and drugs and that my life was worth the fight. No one told me that it was going to be easy. They told me the opposite. They said “look to your left, and now look to your right. Only one of you will get this recovery thing.” Those were the statistics. Life still happens. I had to learn how to cope in new and healthy ways, which was a completely foreign thing for me. I was given a set of instructions when I finished rehab. They were: go to a 12-step meeting, find a sponsor, work with that sponsor and go through the 12 steps like your life depends on it, because it does!! And don’t drink or take drugs no matter what. Help another person.

So my father picked me up when it was time to leave rehab and we drove back into our hometown in Columbia, Maryland and he took me directly to a meeting where I introduced myself as a person with alcoholism and asked for help.

For the first time in my life, I felt relieved. I felt at home, welcome and safe. After the meeting, women came over to me and gave me their numbers. They said to call them anytime. I got a sponsor at that meeting and met with her and worked the 12 steps of the program. Wow, what an experience, a life-changing experience.

Today, my life is good. It’s not perfect, but I’m sober and alive. My head is clear, I’m never hungover. And I do not miss my old life. I would not trade my best day of drinking for my worst day in recovery. Life still has its dark times and difficulties, but the difference is that I don’t need any substances to deal with it. And I hit meetings at least four times a week to remember what it used to be like and to make myself available to anyone who is looking for help getting into, and staying in recovery. I have to give this gift away in order to keep it.

My heart is full of gratitude and peace. My family and friends are supportive and encouraging. I have a beautiful daughter and I plan on eventually telling her this story in hopes that she will understand. God bless. One day at a time.

Recovery Opens Doors

From a very young age I was diagnosed as having a mental illness. The word “Illness” to me communicates that someone is sick, or not normal. Anxiety disorder, OCD, PTSD, you name it, I was diagnosed with it. I constantly was trying to “fix” myself. I decided to cope with this in other ways that made me feel normal instantly, and that’s when I met my cure – alcohol. I drank until I couldn’t feel anymore. I drank until I blacked out. I drank alone. I drank every day. I drank to feel normal.

I woke up on May 16, 2014 in a hospital bed, both of my parents crying over me. Was I dreaming? Was I dead? Reality struck me when I learned that I was .02 BAC away from my brain completely shutting down from alcohol. On that day I admitted that I had a problem and that was the first step of a long journey ahead.

As a 20-year-old college dropout, I flew out with one suitcase to a treatment center in the middle of nowhere. When I thought of an “alcoholic” I thought of a homeless man under a bridge drinking out of a paper bag. But I soon came to learn that this wasn’t the case, that millions of people from all different backgrounds struggle with this same thing. In order to get sober we had to work as a community and lift one another up to a life of recovery.

I also learned that there was in fact nothing to fix, that this was a part of who I am, and it’s what I did with it that mattered. So instead I fought for my life, I embraced my brokenness, and lost my anonymity in the process. I returned to school and made it a goal to start an open conversation about mental health. The more people I told I was a person with addiction, the more people reciprocated and opened up about their personal connections to mental disorders.

WEOne by one, this continued to happen, until I began my own platform called Spread Wellness with Wesley. This is when I discovered the power of the word “WE” and the power of community around the topic of mental health. If you take the “I” out of Mental Illness and replace it with “We” it creates Mental Wellness. I held the very first sobriety chip I picked up when I was standing in front of the entire student body and was named Auburn University’s Miss Homecoming. I realized that those 27,000 students all knew my flaws, my brokenness, but accepted me for who I was because they related in some shape or form.

Taylor WesleyI am so thankful to be a sober 20-something. I will often get the “How are you sober this young? How do you have fun?” I see being in recovery not as something that holds me back, but as something that has opened so many doors and I have more fun than I ever did before recovery.

Today, my goal is to spread this message in every way that I can, and that has transformed into a career in public speaking. When I am speaking to an audience I am reminded that if just one person resonates with my message, then I have done my job. I am thankful I am far from perfect. I am thankful for the people who help me every day with this second chance at life. I am thankful for my diagnosis, because I have been able to connect with others through it. Today I am thankful to be in recovery, one day at a time.

From the Streets to an Office Seat

My name is Rebecca Zwicker and I am a woman in long-term recovery. At the age of 24 I had a successful job, was a homeowner, a mother of two beautiful children and was going through a divorce. I was in a car accident and was being prescribed my first opiate which at the time I didn’t know would lead me to become addicted to heroin.

Twelve years later, after being in and out of the criminal justice system, incarcerations, numerous detoxes and residential programs, I lost custody of my children, my car and became homeless. I found myself in a very dark, desperate, lonely place.

I woke up one day in ICU after an overdose with eight broken ribs (from CPR). I’d like to say that I came into recovery at that moment but I didn’t. Before the hospital could even say I was medically cleared to leave, I was already plotting on how and where I could get another bag of heroin. I wanted help at that moment but didn’t know how to ask for it. I was homeless and knew I was going back to what I was used to. I thought this is how my life will always be, hopeless and lost having a choice in my life. Before making the best decision of my life, I went back to the streets and ended up in jail again.

Rebecca Zwicker

The judge who detained me actually saved my life. I now work with him and he was my biggest cheerleader in early recovery. Judge would tell me “The first year was for you, every day after is for me.” Since that day, almost four years ago, I have been in recovery. I went from the streets to an office seat. I am compassionate and dedicated to helping others. I didn’t believe there was a way out. Now I do, I’m living proof along with many others in the recovery community that recovery works. I now have a career (which I love), I’m a loving mother to my kids and I love life!

I am a woman of respect, honor, dignity and integrity. My life has changed tremendously and the impossible has become possible. I’ve learned through this process that the sky’s the limit and I am living the dream. Every day I live by faith in my recovery, hope for my future, and love myself and many others. If there is one thing I could tell someone is, give yourself a chance, you are worth it. Recovery Rocks!

From the Streets to an Office Seat

My name is Rebecca Zwicker and I am a woman in long-term recovery. At the age of 24 I had a successful job, was a homeowner, a mother of two beautiful children and was going through a divorce. I was in a car accident and was being prescribed my first opiate which at the time I didn’t know would lead me to become addicted to heroin.

Twelve years later, after being in and out of the criminal justice system, incarcerations, numerous detoxes and residential programs, I lost custody of my children, my car and became homeless. I found myself in a very dark, desperate, lonely place.

I woke up one day in ICU after an overdose with eight broken ribs (from CPR). I’d like to say that I came into recovery at that moment but I didn’t. Before the hospital could even say I was medically cleared to leave, I was already plotting on how and where I could get another bag of heroin. I wanted help at that moment but didn’t know how to ask for it. I was homeless and knew I was going back to what I was used to. I thought this is how my life will always be, hopeless and lost having a choice in my life. Before making the best decision of my life, I went back to the streets and ended up in jail again.

Rebecca ZwickerThe judge who detained me actually saved my life. I now work with him and he was my biggest cheerleader in early recovery. Judge would tell me “The first year was for you, every day after is for me.” Since that day, almost four years ago, I have been in recovery. I went from the streets to an office seat. I am compassionate and dedicated to helping others. I didn’t believe there was a way out. Now I do, I’m living proof along with many others in the recovery community that recovery works. I now have a career (which I love), I’m a loving mother to my kids and I love life!

I am a woman of respect, honor, dignity and integrity. My life has changed tremendously and the impossible has become possible. I’ve learned through this process that the sky is the limit and I am living the dream. Every day I live by faith in my recovery, hope for my future, and love myself and many others. If there is one thing I could tell someone is, give yourself a chance, you are worth it. Recovery Rocks!

Choosing Action

Hello, My name is James Schweinsberg (Jimpat). I have been in recovery from heroin since December 27, 2013.

I struggled with heroin addiction on and off for 10 years. I had spurts of recovery, like nine months here or three months there.

James P. SchweinsbergIn December of 2013 I was arrested and placed in the Kenosha, WI county jail. I was arrested for a warrant for not paying child support. I was on current parole and while in jail I was going into withdrawal pretty strong, so the jail contacted my parole officer. When she came to talk to me I was 100 percent honest with her. I was at a bottom; I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I told her everything. She gave me a chance by getting me into a 90-day residential drug and alcohol treatment program. From the moment I stepped foot into rehab I was honest.

In March of 2014, I got word that my best friend overdosed from heroin. I was fresh in recovery and it hit me hard. As a person in recovery, I had never dealt with a death of a friend or loved one. I went online looking for help in my town of Kenosha; what i found was NOTHING. I found that for parents or friends of loved ones there was absolutely nothing, so i created a Facebook group called “Stop Heroin in Kenosha” and began sending out requests to friends, people to talk to about the death of my loved one, my best friend.

So instead of using drugs to deal with the issue, I created a group that today has almost 3,000 members of all walks of life from parents who lost children to heroin/opiates, to people in recovery and even those still using drugs. What I do is share my experiences of what got me into recovery. I share what I went through in my addiction and I help parents to overcome the loss of their loved one. I help get into detox or rehab. I share with people in recovery what they can do to stay that way, BUT most of all what I do is I spread a message of hope to people who think that they cannot recover. I sugarcoat nothing, like that day in the holding cell in the Kenosha jail, I am 100 percent honest and I tell them what will happen if they do not choose to stop. It isn’t IF heroin/opiates will kill them it’s WHEN.

I have organized huge BBQs free to the entire community as a way to spread awareness of the misery of heroin addiction.

I spread the message of hope and I show them that the lie is dead. WE DO RECOVER as long as we want to.


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