“Mom, Addiction is an Illness, Not a Weakness.”

These are the words my son said to me after a close family member made a comment during a discussion about a well- known musician who was asked to leave a rock band due to his addiction. “That guy just couldn’t get it together so they got somebody else to play.” The comment was said in a dismissive and trivialized way while regarding addiction. It described the disorder as a character defect with no indication that there is was an illness involved. It was insensitive and frustrating to me as a mother, as I watch my son struggle and fight daily for his life due to addiction.  The unintended, yet hurtful remark ripped through me as I continue to witness my entire family adversely affected by this disease.  I’ve heard this reaction far too many times from very compassionate, well-meaning friends.  I understand these comments come from a community that is uninformed on addiction, however, these statements are incredibly frustrating and defeating as I see my son battle through this disease with courage and conviction. Later that day, when my son and I were alone, he turns to me and says, “Mom, addiction is an illness, not a weakness.”

“That person just couldn’t get it together.”

What does this statement mean exactly?  From the countless times I’ve heard it, this must be an indicator of the lack of education and knowledge on substance abuse disorder in our country. Of course, I already know this, for not a long ago, before the disease devastated our lives, I too, said these comments on a regular basis.  I characterized addicts as their own breed of people:  weak individuals with lack of motivation and character. Their addiction was a result of a poor upbringing, low social economics and disadvantaged childhoods. Addicts, according to my poorly informed definition, were weak people that were supposed to have control over their lives. “All they need to do is stop using”, I would say.  “What is their problem?”  “It must be due to their family situation.” Or, “Their parents were probably uninvolved, unloving and uneducated.” And, of course, my own personal mantra was, “It won’t ever happen to MY child because I’ll steer him away from drugs and alcohol.” These are the statements that I am most ashamed of using.   I understand now, these assumptions are far from the truth and realities of the disease.   I was a good mother while raising my son. I am still a good mother. I was present and very involved. I had resources and I was educated.  However, while I was growing up, no one discussed substance abuse disorder.  Schools and other institutions told me to just, “Stay away from drugs”. I believed this message and was never informed on the disease.  Like so many others, I had to learn the hard way, with little support and enormous pain and fear.

No Pink and Purple Ribbons

Life has an interesting way of changing the perspective of each individual and in some unfortunate ways,  we learn the hard way when it comes to addiction. When we are put in these situations; we become tireless advocates and educators. Our friends, family and people in our work community are sadly, already misinformed and have a difficult time understanding the realities of addition as a disease.  Some do understand, and their feedback is tremendously encouraging and informative, just as it would it would be if my son had any other chronic disease.  As a mother whose son also has other mental health conditions, one message I constancy hear comparisons from the mental health community is that these illnesses are no different than other diseases such as diabetes.  This is logical and helpful, but at same time, this information only stays within that community. How horrific would it be if someone spoke about diabetes as a character weakness and made a comment of, “If that person just started eating healthier, then they wouldn’t have diabetes? They must be lazy and have little willpower.” Imagine the repercussions of that statement. Friendships would be strained and relationships detached.  Yet, in addiction, this common place. As we often hear from people living with other stigmatize diseases, there are no pink and purple ribbons to wear, few platforms for information and very little understanding from others. How can families and people recover in such apathetic environments?

Addiction is a Lonely Disease

Regardless of Al-Anon and other opportunities of support, addiction is lonely disease. Even some of my friends that are in long term recovery do not speak of the disorder or their experiences. Some do, and they are life savers and get me through the most despondent and hopeless times. I am incredibly and forever grateful for their courage. They have helped me tremendously. For others, I understand that they do not want to identify as only a “recovered addict”  and that discussing their journey with others might bring stigmatization. I remember a friend in long term recovery reached out to my family when my son was in rehabilitation.  I was extremely grateful for his support. However, I’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face as he visited my son in his impatient program. As he looked around and saw the recovery population, my friend was reminded of the difficult and unattractive side of addiction. He had young children of his own, and the reality that his own son and daughter might develop addiction hit him hard and reminded him that his children are not immune to the disease. After that visit, the contact stopped. As frustrated and rejected I felt, I certainly understood where his reaction developed.  Even with knowledge and support through AA and other means, he still responded in an emotional way. The idea that substance abuse disorder is a disease was clouded. I continue to put this responsibility on the shoulders of our community. We must continue to educate.

As a mother and an advocate, I try to do my part in supporting and educating the community on substance abuse disorder and other mental health conditions. I speak and educate every opportunity I get.

I post continuously on social media. Many get annoyed, and others find the posts irrelevant.  Some fear that if they show any interest at all, they will be branded with the stigma.   But there are the people that listen, that want to learn, that empathize and that can connect with their own personal story. I also applaud and thank the people taking a stand by working endlessly to stop stigma and fight for treatment and support. They are fighting for my son’s life.  They are fighting for all the families that are affected by this disease.  Because addiction is not an illness, it is a disease, a real disease, and it’s worth the fight.

Today, I Am 412 Days Sober

I was raised in southern home where ladies didn’t speak unless spoken to, daddy was always right, manners were literally spanked into your bare ass when your words weren’t spoken correctly, lady chores – mainly in the kitchen – were taught while still sipping from a bottle, stockings and slips were always worn Sunday mornings and the walls of the home never leaked the secrets kept within. I learned to keep secrets. I learned to keep “shameful” adult secrets. This was normal, so I thought, for a child to carry the darkness of the family for the sake of appearance and possible embarrassment. There were few however, that knew of the tornadoes that ripped through the sacred walls of steel in that little yellow house I grew up in. Yes, yellow, the color symbolic of happiness. The irony…

Both my father and stepfather are alcoholics but my mother, she never drank. Disliked it actually for she was also raised in a home of alcoholics. Alcoholism raised generations in my family and that disease, yes I said disease, devoured it along the way. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I couldn’t handle the weight of what this disease had done to me. I was sinking, the earth cracking beneath my feet as I was sinking and suffocating on the reality that I too was an alcoholic. I had no pride to swallow and at that point and I shared my secret with loved ones. The sins of my fathers were no longer mine to carry and I slowly opened up and set myself free. Free to break the cycle in my family tree.

This is just a sliver of my testimony and thanks be to God, my children and loved ones who have encouraged me to share my story. Doors have opened and I have helped people along my 412 days of sobriety. I will not silence myself nor allow the disease of alcoholism to live in my home.

My walls are no longer made of steel and I keep the windows open…

Open for love to flow out and then back in again. That’s my new cycle.

Today I am 412 days sober…

I Broke My Back and Lost My Way in Addiction. Music Gave Me A Path To Recovery.

Hello everyone. My name is Logan Bruce and I am in recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism.

I’d like to say that my substance use derived from a rough childhood, but that simply is not the case. I grew up in Amherst, Ohio (just west of Cleveland) and my childhood was perfect. My mother and father instilled in me strong morals and values from a very early age. My younger brother and I were set up with every opportunity to succeed in this world. We were taught the importance of good grades and the necessity for respecting those we surrounded ourselves with.

I found success in the classroom, and I found an even greater amount of achievement on the baseball field. This quickly became who I identified myself as: Logan The Baseball Player. From the ages of 6-18 I used baseball to determine my levels of confidence, happiness, and even my self-worth. Since I was pretty good at the sport, this sufficed for a few years of my life.

However, once I entered high-school I realized I did not truly know who I was. I was a quiet young man that only truly became comfortable while I was on the diamond. Outside of baseball I was not confident in any part of life. Whether it be talking to girls, socializing, or even being by myself…I was not okay. Then I drank. When I drank I found everything else that baseball couldn’t provide. I embraced drinking like a long lost friend that I had been missing my whole life. I could suddenly be the person I though I was supposed to be. I could finally fully act the part of the stand-out high-school athlete.

To make a long story short, my drinking and drugging stayed casual until I graduated high-school. I received a scholarship to play college baseball, which was what I had been working for pretty much my entire life. A month into my first semester at college I quit that scholarship. From the second my parents drove off the campus after dropping their oldest son off to college for the first time, I drank. I drank for a month straight until I physically and mentally could not even attend the fall baseball practices. I was completely lost.

Logan The Baseball Player” was no more, and I had no idea who I was as a person. I continued to drink nearly every day for 3 years in college. After a few run-ins with the law and countless blackouts over those 3 years, I had a seizure August 8th of 2011. During that seizure I fractured 3 vertebra in my back and the seizure was clearly from an alcohol withdrawal. I had known for probably the last two years of college that I had a problem with alcohol, but never thought I would actually need help with it. After all, I still maintained a decent GPA throughout my 3 years of school (which was helped by the ADD medication I stole from my girlfriend at the time).

I was 21 years old laying in a hospital bed with an obvious drug/alcohol problem, a broken back, and prescription of pain killers. I had fallen a long way from the collegiate athlete and high-school baseball star. My self-esteem was at an all time low. Despite breaking my back and a DUI a few months later, I struggled for 5 more years. I would get some clean time but then go back out to the misery that I have become all too familiar with.

In one of my treatment stays, I brought my guitar. I began writing and messing around with song ideas since I had nothing better to do during my free time for 30 days. At first I would only play and sing by myself because I was not confident enough to put myself out there like that without the help of drugs and alcohol. One day I mustered the courage to sing a song a wrote for a group of people I was in treatment with. By the time I was done, everyone in the room was crying. From then on I was asked to play every single day until I was comfortable enough to perform without being forced to.

This was in 2013. For years I half-heartedly attempted to chase down my newfound purpose. My dream is to be a musician that can show the entire world that no matter what hardships are put in front of us, we can overcome them. The only obstacle that I have found after seriously giving 100% effort to be a professional singer/songwriter is going through the uncomfortable feelings of putting myself out there. However, every time I have pushed myself to fight through the uncomfortability, I feel so much better about myself. Through recovery and music, I have learned to finally believe in myself and my abilities as a person and as a musician. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Keep fighting, find what you love to do, and shoot for the stars.

Here is a link to one of my favorite songs. It is called “Shallow Waves”. It is written as if my father wrote me a letter talking to me about my addiction. Enjoy. Much Love!

Shallow Waves (Sing Your Heart Out) – Logan Bruce original

I wrote this song while at my 5th stay in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. I had just relapsed after 6 months clean/sober and I was completely hopeless. The thought that I would never be able to stay away from drugs/alcohol haunted me. I was certain that I would continue this destructive path until I died. One day it finally dawned on me that I was being selfish. I had been hurting my family for years and used any substance I could find to hide that guilt. I realized that no matter how many times I kept screwing up and hurting them, they still stood by my side. I had stole from, lied to, yelled at, and flat out disrespected my family for years, and they still were there for me. This song is written as if my dad wrote me a letter while I was sitting alone in that rehab for the fifth time in my life. The song is called “Shallow Waves” and it is by far the most personal song I have ever written. Please listen and share. We all know somebody that struggles with addiction, and hopefully this song can help convince them to not let those shallow waves take them away.

Posted by Logan Bruce Music on Saturday, May 6, 2017

Although Addiction Brought Me To My Knees, Recovery Helped Me Fall Up to a Better Life

My name is Terria Jean Walters, I am 44 years old.

I live in Alaska and have since 1977 when my parents brought me here during the pipeline. I grew up in a home that was full of addiction, alcoholism and physical and sexual abuse. I had gotten high with my parents starting at the age of 4. In 1984 I was placed in states custody. For several years I bounced around to foster care then in 1987 I was incarcerated at the age of 14 at Fairbanks Youth Facility for “unlawful evasion” (running away). In 1989 I was released again and ran away. I remained on my own living on the streets until I got on a plane and left Alaska. That began my time of hardcore drug use.

I traveled the west coast using and selling meth and LSD. I slept outside, panhandled for food and stayed in drug infested motels when I could afford to. In 1990 I got pregnant with my son Christopher and went back to Alaska. I continued to struggle with addiction. I had also accepted my father back into my life, which was a toxic decision. My life was chaotic and I couldn’t grasp what it was like to live a normal life; I had never been taught. I was in and out of jail, in and out of abusive unhealthy relationships and struggled to take care of myself and my son. I had a daughter in 1995 and she went to live with her father. In 1995 I started working in escort services to fund my addiction and take care of my son.

My addiction to opioids started in 1996 when I got a prescription from a doctor for a dog bite. This fueled my desire to get and stay high; opioids became my best friend. Oxycontin was on the rise and I started buying them off the streets, continuing to work as a prostitute and gaining wealthy sugar daddy’s to feed my addiction, pay my bills and take care of my son. I then started going to doctors for pain management. I was prescribed OxyContin, fentanyl patches, oxycodone and methadone. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and had back problems. I eventually started using heroin in 2003 also. In 2003 I had told my doctor I was tired of taking pain meds and wanted to get off them. He was adamant I stay on them and told me I would need to be on them for the rest of my life. He refused to taper me. I was desperate. I went to the hospital on many occasions begging to get off, I tried detoxing myself but got so sick that I couldn’t stand it and would return to using. In late 2004 my ex-husband told me meth would help with withdrawals, so I tried it and met a meth cook. I got off the opioids but switched one drug for another and eventually learned how to cook meth myself. My son was 13 by this time.

I went back to my old boyfriend and we started cooking meth for personal use (small 1-2 grams at a time) in a bus in Big Lake, Alaska. My son was there and I eventually allowed him to use drugs too. On January 7, 2005 the Alaska DEA raided my bus and charged me with manufacturing. My son was placed in the custody of the state. I was released on bail 11 days later and started cooking again. On March 23, 2005 the DEA raided me again and charged me with another meth lab. A manhunt was out looking for me. I was caught and arrested April 2, 2005. On August 7, 2007 I was sentenced to 20 years with 8 suspended on a first degree drug charge. My son was placed in foster care.

Although Addiction Brought Me To My Knees, Recovery Helped Me Fall Up to a Better Life - #VoicesProject

While in prison I realized in my heart I was done. I gave my life to God and wholeheartedly surrendered. My son and I stayed in contact weekly. He told me he was glad I was in there and that he was super proud of me. I completed two in patient treatment programs; 26 months all together. I stayed sober since the day I was arrested. In 2009 I applied for parole and was granted it. My son graduated (the first to graduate in my family), became prom king and prepared to go to college. I was released May 2010. My sentence wasn’t over though. I had no work history, a barrier crime that barred me from working in social services (to include substance abuse counselor) and no one wanted to rent to a meth cook. So, I rented rooms from people off craigslist and started out at 20 hours a week at a retail store. My son and I were happy to be connected all the time. He had struggled with addiction issues however.

I eventually got a job in a restaurant and became one of the managers. My son worked there with me. We rented a place together and life was good. In 2011 I founded Fallen Up Ministries; an organization that assists inmates, felons and addicts. In February 2015 my son relapsed after two years clean. On June 22, 2015 he left home to go to a new job and never came home. Him and I discussed that I had the 700 Club coming the next day and he had agreed to clean the kitchen and his bathroom. I got home around 11pm and he hadn’t made it home. I was worried but I thought maybe he spent the night at a friends, but that just wasn’t like him. His phone was off. The next morning I filmed with the 700 Club and during the whole day I was calling my son but no answer. That afternoon I reported my son missing. At 5am I got a call from a trooper; the trooper that had arrested me for my drug charges in 2005. He was at my door. I spoke to him about my son missing and after a half an hour he informed me he had been found murdered in the backseat of his car in Big Lake, Alaska. I was devastated and crushed. I was also angry. I knew that it was over heroin.

Since my sons murder I have remained sober and took my grief and channeled into advocacy and furthering Fallen Up Ministries goal. I have not shut up about addiction. I made sure I took it all the way to DC with 7 other women from Alaska. I attended the Unite to Face Addiction Rally and participated in Advocacy Day. I am now part of the Matsu Opioid Task Force that is a team of people in long-term recovery, medical professionals, nonprofit organizations and treatment providers for solutions surrounding this epidemic. We have come up with a protocol utilizing The Bridge Device, Vivitrol, peer support and treatment. A complete non-narcotic approach to recovery. Our program is called the Lazarus Project.

I stay in recovery today because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, my sober support, my friends and because I know my son would want that…honoring him. I still have hope and have not lost it because of my son’s death. In fact, it has driven me to help others until my last breath. I lived a life of displacement, chaos and wandering. Today, I am a home owner, taxpayer, advocate and a person in long-term recovery from opioids, meth and methadone. I celebrated 12 years on April 2, 2017. My journey of addiction sorrowful, painful and hopeless. My journey of recovery has been painful, tough, worth it and is full of hope!

All my life the enemy has tried to destroy me. However; I no longer have allowed him to even in my tragedy. My son’s murder will not be in vain. God has a purpose in my pain and I will see my son again.  Genesis 50:20-You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

In Memory of Christopher Seaman. August 17, 1991-June 22, 2015

Although Addiction Brought Me To My Knees, Recovery Helped Me Fall Up to a Better Life - #VoicesProject

One Bad Night Stole My Beautiful Jenny Rose. Heroin Poisoned Our Family.

I’m the mother of Jenny Rose. A young, beautiful girl who lost her life to heroin overdose.

Jenny Rose’s addiction effected our relationship as a mother and daughter. It effected my marriage with countless arguments and sleepless nights. We, as parents, have now fallen victim to heroin. It took the life of our only child.

Jenny Rose died from an accidental heroin overdose on May 9th 2014. It was a Friday and she was celebrating her 20th birthday with “friends.” That’s right – Jenny died on her birthday. We were waiting for Jenny to stop home, like she said she’d do – but instead she went to get drugs with her 2 friends and went to a KFC bathroom where she would take her last breath.

Since Jenny had been clean for over 60 days (30 days at rehab, 30 days at a halfway house in Florida), the amount of heroin she used in that bathroom at KFC was too much for her body. When she overdosed, her “friends” ran out from the bathroom – leaving my daughter unconscious and unresponsive. My daughter died from that overdose.

Jenny unfortunately came back home near West Chester, Pennsylvania too soon from her treatment. And she came home from treatment only because her lawyer wanted her to close her court case.

We, her parents, were telling the lawyer, “don’t bring her home yet, she’s not ready.” Something is seriously wrong with our current system – it doesn’t take care of nor care about people struggling with addiction.

Today, my family lives day-by-day. But our dreams, our future as a family has been completely destroyed. So many people tried to help Jenny, but in the end she wasn’t ready to cut her treatment short – and it killed her.

Our lives will never be the same. I hate this disease and heroin is the devil.

I Used Substances For 27 Years. And Now I Don’t.

I used substances for 27 years…and now I don’t. That’s the short version. What I like about my story is that it defies convention in many ways. I did not start my recovery voluntarily; I was court-mandated. I did not start my recovery for myself-I did it for my son.

I did not accept that I was powerless – I took control of my recovery and I accept all of the responsibility that comes with that. I have heard that recovery advocacy is not a “sufficient program” of recovery – yet for me, it is a vital part of keeping my head in the game. I have been determined from the beginning to do this my way, and being told that I could not only made me more determined.

My approach to traditional recovery has gone beyond skepticism. I have made it a point to question every aspect of the paradigm of recovery. I have avidly studied the history of recovery, especially the ubiquitous 12-step model. When I first came around and was told not to overthink things, that seemed dangerous to me. This was and is the most important thing I have ever undertaken; you better believe I’m going to think about it.

I have applied critical thinking to every idea I have come across, and evaluated its feasibility and usefulness. I left the 12 step fellowships after three years, and I now live my own recovery. I distilled my formula from 25 principles, 12 steps down to four words:

Live A Good Life.

I can’t think of anything simpler, and richer, than that. I have always believed that true recovery is not an approximation of life or a consolation prize. Full recovery makes me a contender for life’s greatest rewards, and I refuse to settle for anything less. I believe that recovery is fully attainable and not just sustainable.

I try to bring my confidence and my insistence on quality recovery to the work that I do. I have been fortunate enough to work in our field of helping others, and to progress from a program-centered practice to a person-centered one. My approach to my own recovery informs the work that I do with others. For me, it’s all about emphasizing strengths and empowerment.

My best thinking got me here, and my best thinking is keeping me here. There’s no one better to be in charge of my recovery than me.

From the Shackles of Addiction to Freedom in Sobriety

When I was a child growing up in Pennsylvania I began my lifelong quest – the endless search for “more.” I was always an all or nothing person. Black or white. All in or all out. Drunk or sober. I remember on Christmas I was the one searching under the Christmas tree for more gifts because whatever had been given to me wasn’t enough. I was never satisfied. In 5th grade I longed to be invited to the “boy-girl” parties and to sit with the popular kids. 5th grade! As time went on my friendships became strategic. I started looking for friends who could give me what I wanted – a good time, and for me that included boys, drugs, and alcohol.

I dabbled in smoking marijuana and drinking when I could get alcohol in high school, but when it came time to go to college I couldn’t wait. I knew that’s where the real parties were. As soon as I got to college I was unsupervised and in a place where there were parties every night. College is where I began to binge drink and blackout and that would remain my constant pattern of drinking. I instantly became familiar with the deep-seeded feelings of guilt and shame that came along with the negative consequences of drinking. I use drinking to socialize, to relax, and as a coping mechanism for anything in my life I couldn’t deal with. I planned my entire college career around drinking, down to the hours of studying and class times. I avoided 8am and 9am classes because I knew I would be nursing a hangover.

I managed to graduate with two degrees in 4.5 years. When I graduated in December of 2007 I dreaded the future. I didn’t want a 9 to 5 job and a normal life, I wanted to party. I remembered going on Spring Break in college and seeing the people working on site for the companies that sold the trips. They were sent to exotic destinations like Cancun, South Padre Island, Punta Cana, Acapulco, and Panama City Beach. They looked important and like they were having the best time of their lives! I applied to a few of these companies to work Spring Break, knowing I would have the spring months open to do whatever I wanted following graduation. I was hired by one of the companies and was sent to work Spring Break season 2008 in Cancun, Mexico. It was my first time in Cancun and my 2nd time in Mexico.

As soon as I arrived I knew I was in heaven. Cancun is a place where tourists go to get drunk and people move to escape their lives. I was doing both. I was paid to pick up spring breakers at the airport, party with them, and make sure their trips ran smoothly. I had access to unlimited alcohol and soon found unlimited access to drugs too. At the end of Spring Break ’08 I was taking ecstasy and drinking every day. When the season was over I headed back to Pennsylvania and planned my next move. I made another geographical switch and planned a summer in Ocean City, Maryland. My drinking and using patterns continued. I even had to quit my job because I couldn’t wake up at 7am to get there on time. I stayed in Ocean City as long as I could, until October when high season was over, and then headed back to Pennsylvania where I entertained myself for a few months before it was time to go back to Cancun and work Spring Break again.

Not surprisingly, the Spring Break company that hired me in ’08 did not hire me again in ’09, but I found another company that was willing to take a chance on me. Spring Break ’09 was crazier than ’08. I was at the biggest nightclubs with VIP bottle service, drinking all night long and then headed to the afterhours clubs to continue the party. It was non-stop. I had one serious blackout during this time where I lost my purse and my shoes and came to in downtown Cancun with a strange man. This experience still haunts me to this day. Following that night, I drank to forget, to pretend bad things weren’t happening to me, and to totally disconnect from who I was.

During my time in Cancun I met a lot of expats who lived there full-time. They convinced me moving there was easy and I should do it. It didn’t take a lot of convincing before I was planning my move date. I lived in Cancun for 5 years, a place where my addiction flourished. Cocaine and alcohol were my drugs of choice. I partook in toxic relationships, I continued to black out, and I even injured myself while drinking several times.

On Spring Break 2012 I met my husband Fernando. Our relationship started out like all of mine did – a lot of arguing, emotional abuse, and toxicity. I didn’t really want to be with him, I just wanted his attention and someone to party with. Eventually we became close enough to move in together and he didn’t hesitate to point out my destructive drinking and using habits. He hated watching me get wasted and being the one who had to take care of me afterwards. In May 2013 I went on a bachelorette party trip with some of my friends from high school and Fer was not happy about the trip. He was afraid I’d black out, get taken advantage of, or worse. I promised him I would be fine. On the trip I did exactly what I said I wouldn’t do and Fer promptly ended our relationship.

In the airport on the way back to Cancun, I broke down. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired and I was devastated I had ruined another relationship because of my drinking. The pain was too great and change was my only option. I decided that day that I would quit drinking and using.

On May 7, 2017, I celebrated 4 years living in recovery and it is hands down the best decision I’ve ever made. Fer was able to forgive me and we’ve built a real partnership based on truth and love. Sobriety has given me every single good thing I have in my life. I stopped running away from my problems and have learned how to deal with them in a healthy way. Today I actively participate in life, instead of letting it just happen to me. I am able to show up for the people I love and I’m finally a good sister, daughter, aunt, friend, and partner. Sharing my story on my blog, The Adventures of a Sober Señorita, has not only changed my life, but it has impacted countless others. I am no longer constantly searching for more, today I am content with just being alive and sober.

I am no longer held down by the shackles of addiction, I am grateful to be living in the freedom of sobriety.

I Had Support, But Admitting I Had a Problem Was the Missing Piece of My Recovery Puzzle.

At 19 years old I was sitting in a jail cell for the first time, just 4 days before my 20th birthday, because I ran from treatment. I still didn’t realize that I had a problem.

It took me spending eight days, getting out to go to treatment, running for the second time after staying one night, getting arrested again the same day, then spending 64 days in the Powell County Detention Center for me to finally admit that yes, I had a problem and yes – I needed help because I couldn’t do it by myself.

I remember sitting in the cell and thinking I don’t belong here.. but in reality I deserved to be there just as much, if not more than, the person sitting next to me. Having a lot of time to think about the things I had done, I often wondered how I allowed myself to get into the shape that I did. Over the course of about 4 years, I had let my life just fall to ruin around me.

Growing up, I always had the biggest support system when it came to my family, granted it wasn’t always my parents because of their addictions bounding them up. I traveled a lot – I’ve been to 27 different states and it would always make me feel boxed in when we came back home. I never wanted to be home. I’ve experienced that there is more out in the world than the problems you face with a small town.

When I was in high school, that’s when everything started to change for me. My home life wasn’t great at all and mom and dad were in and out of jail – so I tried to just fit in at school where I could. I became someone I wasn’t or never thought I would be rather quickly. The crowd of people I chose to hang around soon introduced me to partying. It got out of control. I remember taking my first drink and getting that numbing feeling. I didn’t care about anything and I wasn’t worried anymore, especially whenever I started smoking pot. That is, till it wore off.

My drinking habit got to where I would chug a half pint at times on the way to school, the days that I did go. I kept up my grades, when I actually decided to go to. I played volleyball, but my social life outside of school was always more important to me. When I was a senior, my dad had become a big part of my life again, but that didn’t last long. In April of 2014, just a few months before I graduated, my dad passed away at the University of Kentucky Hospital. That’s when my pill habit started and I can barely remember the funeral.

When he passed away, I passed up a volleyball scholarship to the University of Pikeville because I was scared to leave Powell County and that feeling was absolutely foreign to me. I didn’t understand what was wrong. I started working full time and attending MCTC as a full-time student, while trying to balance it all out with the expensive dope habit I had decided to carry around on me.

After four months of overloading myself, I dropped out of school and quit my job. I stayed in Pennsylvania for a little while with my boyfriend at the time while he was pipelining. My pill addiction didn’t get any better over the next few months, I then discovered meth. I tried to self-medicate my withdrawals from coming off the 30s. When me and my boyfriend got engaged, I gave the ring back after 2 weeks and left him. A few weeks later, I was with our dope dealer. He made it, so it was more convenient for me. I had become a very selfish person.

When he went to jail, I was introduced to heroin. At 19, I started slinging dope to support my habit. This lasted about two months until he got out of jail. I went back to the methamphetamine. He started to become very abusive towards me, both physically and mentally. I didn’t know how to get away from him. I thought I was stuck. The next time he got arrested I finally left him.

I started selling ice to once again support my own habit and soon started shooting up. I never thought I would touch a needle, that’s how my dad died. That needle sucked the life out of me, along with my values, morals, and respect for myself and others. I didn’t care what I had to do and was always chasing that next shot. I didn’t have much – but lost everything I had including my car, but most importantly I lost the trust with my family.

I got in another abusive relationship which was probably worse than the previous one and had given up on everything. Mom finally got the Casey Law on me and I manipulated my way out of it for as long as I could until I kept failing drug screens and they court ordered me to treatment.

I ran after staying one night and I was on the run for about 2 weeks until I was arrested. I spent 8 days in jail, then got sent to the W.A.R.M. Center in Henderson. I also stayed one night there, only to run the next day and was arrested – that same day. I spent 64 days in jail before going to my third treatment center.

Well, the third time was definitely the charm for me. I went through phase one at Beth’s Blessing in Annville through Addiction Recovery Care. Phase two at Karen’s Place, then upon completion of the program, I started an internship with the company. I don’t even know where to begin and explain everything that God has restored in my life over the past few months.

I got myself back, I have a car, I have a job, I have an amazing family within this company, but I also have my family back. I will be a Certified Peer Support Specialist in Kentucky on August 2nd when I hit my 1 year sobriety date. I am actually about to start school this week at Sullivan University for the Peer Support Academy.

I have never done anything like this before – aside from walking across the stage and getting my diploma. God has restored things in my life twenty times more than I asked him for and this isn’t even the beginning. I finally have a real smile on my face again that I’m not forcing to be there, I can’t stop it actually. I can finally laugh again and just have fun.

The last few years have been very rocky for me but it has brought me to where I am at now. And I’m content with that. I’m proud of the twenty-year old that is standing here today.

Hope is real, change is possible, your life can and will be restored. I was cooking food on a kerosene heater this time last year, and now I have money to go buy my food. I don’t have to live like that anymore and you don’t either. There is light at the end of the tunnel – just reach for it. All you have to do is reach out and ask for help.

God didn’t save me for me to sit back and enjoy it all to myself. I am just another example of the possibilities of overcoming addiction.

I Earned My Redemption After 6 Rehabs. I’m Living an Honest Life in Recovery.

I pulled my car over to the side of the road off of Cicero Avenue right before the on ramp to highway 270 in Chicago. The West side of Chicago and this stretch of Highway was one of the first roads in America to earn the name Heroin Highway and rightly so, since before my time it has been an open air drug market for heroin. My first trip down this road was in my senior year of high school in 1994. It was now 2008 and here I was again in fact I never really left. This trip though would change my life and set me on a course I never fathomed possible.

I Earned My Redemption After 6 Rehabs. I'm Living an Honest Life in Recovery. - #VoicesProject

I made a quick phone call to my estranged fiancé at the time and before I could even get my dope out to use I was being dragged out of the car. At first I thought I was about to be murdered but I quickly realized that the two men were undercover narcotics officers. As I was thrown down to the ground face first I knew it was just a matter of seconds before the cuffs would come on. What I am describing here is nothing shocking for anyone that has struggled with substance use disorder. However, what they found in my pocket turned this into something a little different. They threw the heroin they found on the ground in front of me and then they threw my badge from my other pocket on the ground next to the dope. At the time of this arrest, I was a prosecuting attorney in Cook County, IL. There I was staring at the reality and lie of my life. My addiction was my reality and that badge was the lie I was living.

The news of my arrest and addiction broke quick. My arrest and mug shot was on every news station and paper. There was an even a gathering of live reporters at the courthouse located at 26th and California for my bond hearing. There is more to this arrest though that drove a pillar of shame right through my soul. My father who had passed away from leukemia in 2005 was extremely well known in the Chicago area as a pioneer in the addiction treatment world. He overcame his own struggles long before I was born and spent his life as a counselor and executive at Gateway foundation. So, there I was, my father’s son on every news outlet. That arrest brought shame on his name, my family, and it also was the first thing to pop up on an internet search of my full name or just my last name. I was sure that was how I would be remembered in this life. There is more than the arrest though that drove the shame and self-hatred because my father spent his life helping others that struggled with substance use disorder and every dime he left me, I shot in my arm. My mother also passed from cancer shortly after my father, so thoughts of suicide raged through me for years because I never thought I could make this up to my parent’s memory. I was very wrong about that.

I wish I could be writing about how that experience was the end of my addiction, but it was not. I also will not make this an account of my addiction because that is not important. All that matters is that I continued down the proverbial rabbit hole for years more making sure to destroy every relationship I had and hurting everyone that loved me. It was not until late May of 2011 that I woke up one day and hated my reflection in the mirror. There was nothing special about that day that I can recall except I finally accepted that I could not live this life anymore so I picked up the phone and went to one of the Gateway locations my father helped build. I entered my sixth and last treatment center on June 8th 2011.

I was still dope sick when I left treatment the first week of July but there was no time for that. I had too many things plaguing my mind. Redemption of my father’s work, my family’s name, and I had developed a case of survivor’s guilt. You see I had no insurance when I made that call to Gateway. The only reason I got a treatment bed as quick as I did was because of who my dad was. There is no doubt in my mind that if I did not get into treatment as quickly as I did I would have been dead within a few weeks. This fact did not sit right with me since millions of others out there deserve the same chance at recovery that I got. So right out of treatment I got a job waiting tables six nights a week and every spare minute I had was spent hitting the books. I starting studying everything I could get my hands on about addiction. I became obsessed and at times my apartment looked like some FBI investigation but it was all about addiction; from medical theories, treatment, history, drug policy, etc. I needed to find a way to change the way things were and to provide access to treatment for anyone that needed it. In retrospect, this was a brazen idea to say the least but I was very new to this world and I was driven to do something.

I found my first connection outside of recovery rooms with a Facebook support group. Back in 2011 there were only a handful of groups out there unlike the endless ones we have today. It is sad to see what happened with the support you used to get on social media. These days the groups out there seem to be filled with narrow minded and egotistical characters that to me appear to be looking for fame or fortune instead of just being there to help someone lost and searching for help in the social media abyss. I will say this though, there are some good groups still out there but with everything else please be careful.

In March of 2008 I caught the attention of a researchers and drug policy reform advocate in Chicago named, Kathie Kane Willis. I had been on the news a few times early about nothing to significant, just some awareness rallies about all the deaths we were seeing. I was with no real direction until Kathie took me under her wing. I knew what I wanted to accomplish but had no real strategic plan. That quickly changed with the help of Kathie and a few others as did my attitude about recovery. That is because I found recovery through abstinence and was ignorant about medication assisted treatment. That attitude of mine changed and I embrace all forms of recovery today and work diligently to change the stigma about the use of medication, which is invaluable.

I Earned My Redemption After 6 Rehabs. I'm Living an Honest Life in Recovery. - #VoicesProject

The work took off quickly after this. Myself and my best friend Robert Riley II formed our first not for profit and our work quickly took form. We wanted to fix more than just the lack of access to treatment but everything that has been done wrong in this country regarding handling substance use disorder. So, the mission went from brazen to outright rebellion and so we created the Rebel Recovery philosophy and movement. The Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery is the first child of the Rebel Recovery movement.  We shifted focus to a harm reduction model with heavy emphasis on drug policy reform at the state and federal level. In the span of 5 years we helped draft, get sponsored, and lobbied for various legislation. To date we have helped pass laws that allow first responders to carry Narcan, over the counter and lay person distribution of Narcan, a 911 good Samaritan law offering immunity for anyone that calls for help during an overdose, and a bill that prevents treatment courts, veteran’s courts, and family courts from denying people the use of suboxone and methadone. My original mission was not accomplished like I intended, but we have developed programs for the uninsured so it is not as hopeless as it was when I started. We also opened outreach center to implement harm reduction strategies and principles in our community with free Narcan distribution and a syringe access program. Our center also is one of the first reduced fee legal services center for individuals struggling with substance use disorder and a drop-in center for families or anyone that needs help.

All this work we became involved in got me on the news quite a bit. I have been very fortunate to be part of an Emmy winning story on NBC nightly news with Brian Williams about our Narcan distribution program, I have been on CNN and MSNBC as an expert commentator, and the television show Drug Wars on Fusion dedicated a few episodes to following me around the country helping individuals. My arrest in 2008 was no longer what came up when you googled me or my families name it had now been buried by all the articles and stories about the work we do. I thought when I started this work that accomplishing all this would be my redemption to my family, it was not though. I won’t lie, I sleep easier at night and it is amazing that I took the complete destruction of my life and turned into work that will save countless lives after I am gone. However, it did not give the peace of mind that I thought it would and I did not get that until November 16th, 2015.

I met the love of my life, Brittany in 2012 and in 2015th she gave birth to our first child Jayce Anthony Sabora. That day changed my life and everything I had done even the bad brought me to that point to be his father. I am sure that if my parents could see me now and all the work I have accomplished they would be very proud of me. However, now that I am a father I know exactly what my mom and dad would have wanted for me and that is just being a good man, a good husband, and raising my son with the loved I was raised with. That is how I finally earned my redemption to my parents and how I keep their love and memories alive.

I Earned My Redemption After 6 Rehabs. I'm Living an Honest Life in Recovery. - #VoicesProject

At War With My Body, I Finally Surrendered. I’m 11 Years Sober & Connected to Recovery.

I started to feel as if I did not fit in to the social norm as a teenager. I felt awkward, ugly overweight, and just not normal.

I had heard that a good way to lose weight was to eat and throw up. I thought maybe losing weight was my problem. I dabbled in drug and alcohol use during this time. I went on as best I could for years and years, binging and purging.

I was given a grim diagnosis about my heath because of my disease. He said I had to stop or I would die. Shortly after, I discovered smoking speed. It seemed like a cure all. I wasn’t hungry and I had energy and felt great. It quickly took a fold of every aspect of life over about a 7-year period.

I spent all of the money I had saved to send my son to college. I was isolating so I could securely use drugs. I was arrested and hung out with seedy people in really seedy places. I slept with people for drugs and screwed over people I cared about. I stole from the people that loved me the most. I was desperate and I didn’t want my son to follow in my footsteps. But the damage was done. Of course he was doing exactly what I had taught him to do. I had been to meetings in the 80s so I knew there was some hope out there. I was just dry for a long time, occasionally going to AA meetings.

When I had been dry for a couple years, I watched my son deteriorate with drug use. He went to a treatment program about 100 miles away. He was doing great when he found out he was HIV positive. He relapsed and was living homeless and refusing treatment. I had no idea where he was, but my insanity kicked into high gear. I would drive out to where I thought he was every day I had off. I was literally losing mind. I didn’t have a good foundation and had no real relationships with anyone so I was in a very dark place.

I tried to commit suicide by driving my car off a freeway overpass without success. I did end up in a mental institution for about 4 weeks. When I got out of the hospital I went to a meeting. I shared about what was going on in my life – and a lady told me that I was powerless over other people, places, things – even my son. That was the first time I understood that. She said if you have a higher power, ask him to watch over him and let it go. I was like WTF.

But what did I have to lose. I went home that night and got on my hands and knees and prayed. I told God thank you for the most aging gift I have ever had, but I couldn’t take care of him anymore and I was trusting Him to take care of both of us. I did feel a huge sense of peace.

I started going to meetings regularly and somewhere something changed. I was able to work through a lot of life by getting a sponsor, working steps, and being of service.

Today I have 11 years clean. Of course there are tons of things that have happened. Most recently, I was able to spend mom’s final months with her because I was clean. Today my son and I are both clean. I continue to work at the job I have been at for 29 years and I go to school.

My son is ‘undetectable’ and healthy and went back to school where he graduated from UCLA on a full academic scholarship.

My life is in no way perfect, but I have a great foundation and an amazing support system in NY. Today, when things come up, I suit up show up and leave the rest to my higher power. Now I have no doubt He guides me. I have peace and deal with life on life’s terms. That’s the gist of it. I hope this story helps someone else.