Two Years in Prison Didn’t Keep Me From Achieving My Dreams.

Hello! My name is David Awadalla, and I am a convicted felon, a former inmate, a Masters student at the University of Michigan, and most importantly, a person in long-term recovery.

The first time I was prescribed an opioid, I was 16 and had recently had my wisdom teeth removed.  I remember this day because my experience that first night using those miraculous pain killers marked the beginning on a magnificent, reckless, and painful journey through addiction, prison, and finally recovery.

Soon after coming home, I swallowed two of those white, oblong pills, just as the directions indicated.  My jaw was sore and swollen, and I was ready to just sleep away the pain.  What happened about 20 minutes later was far better than anything I could have ever expected. An energy and euphoria quickly enveloped, and I found myself watching Finding Nemo with a sense of happiness and contentment that I had never experienced in my life.  I knew, at that moment, that feeling was something I needed to experience again. And sure enough, I did.

Fast forward 2 years, and I am at freshmen at the University of Georgia. I had mostly abstained from using ‘harder’ drugs up until this point, as I did not have access or ‘connections’ to opioids on a regular basis. Yet despite this, my patterns and behaviors with alcohol and marijuana were concerning.  They were just progressing slowly enough to ignore.

Then one day at practice, I injured my lower back. To the doctor I went, and I soon had in hand another prescription for hydrocodone.  Week after week, my doctor would give me the refills I asked for, and the drug continued to consume me.  After just a month, I began waking up in the morning feeling ill, and I soon realized that the sick feeling would disappear if I took just a few more pills. Yet, no one told me that I had been ingesting a synthetic form of heroin, and that sick feeling was a physiological dependence to the drug. I was addicted, and didn’t even know it.

I was soon cut off, and began buying OxyContin from friends who also dabbled in this lifestyle. I discovered that snorting the medication as far more efficient, as the tablets were expensive, often costing up to $60 for one pill.  When this became too expensive, I began doctor shopping. When doctors cut me off, I began writing my own prescriptions. I researched Latin and prescription writing online, got creative with excel and photoshop, and before I knew it, I was my own doctor.  I could no longer wake up and go to class without an opioid. Not a chance.

This ended in December of 2008, when I was arrested at a pharmacy that had simply gotten tired of seeing me filling prescriptions for excessive amounts of oxycodone.  So, began my period of incarceration, drug court, relapse, prison, and relapse yet again. In March of 2010, I was arrested again after investigations in three different counties in Georgia.

I was released from prison in January of 2013, having spent over two years incarcerated in the state prison in Georgia.  I had gone through treatment and attempted to get sober multiple times, but for some reason, it never stuck

Despite all this, the University of Georgia let me come back and finish my degree after multiple suspensions. I had people that still believed in me there, and I finished my academics in the fall of 2013. However, I was unable to stay clean, went back to pills, and eventually progressed to a deadly cocktail of heroin and benzodiazepines. I had several close calls over the next year, and am lucky to be sitting here writing this story. On July 10th, 2014, after arriving home from living and working in Massachusetts for about 8 months and using every single day, I went to treatment in Florida and had my first taste of recovery. Despite a reoccurrence of use in December of 2015, I am now 21 months sober, a Public Health graduate of the University of Georgia, a Masters student at the #1 Social Work program in the nation, and an individual in recovery who was granted security clearance working for the U.S Federal Government at SAMHSA.

Recovery is possible. And my story, like many others, are perfect examples of why no one should be given up on.  That next live saved could wind up making a difference that no one thought possible.