I needed to hit every bottom to build the resilience I would need to sustain my journey.

My name is Cortney Lovell and I’m a young person in long term recovery from addiction. For me, that means  I get to be the person that I was always meant to be. Today, I am a twenty five year old with a life time of possibilities to look forward to because of my addiction.

Yes, my addiction. Without the years I struggled as an intravenous heroin and cocaine addict; without the time spent running from the world and authorities and the haunting screams of what my life at seventeen should have been; without those cold, concrete walls and metals bars, I wouldn’t have discovered the transformative power of recovery. I would never have gotten the chance to experience the darkest parts of my soul and learn the truth that exists for almost twenty-three million other Americans suffering with addiction. That truth, the lonely, isolated place that engulfs our spirit and robs our hope, is only rebuked through the one thing that seems most unattainable; recovery.

Before my active addiction, I was just a girl who struggled with self-acceptance. I never quiet felt good enough for myself or the world, but I worked tirelessly to create a facade that portrayed the perfect lie. I was in honors classes, played varsity sports, went on missionary trips to Africa, yet inside I was full of shame and insecurity. I never knew how to love myself and without that love, I was the shell of a person. When I started experimenting with alcohol and drugs at fifteen, the void that existed within my core was temporarily filled and I discovered the easiest way to make my pain disappear. It only made sense that a teenage me continued to use the only kind of solution I knew. It wasn’t therapy, or exercise, or meditation, or anti-depressants, but illicit drugs that brought me relief from things that were beyond my young comprehension.

I was never a bad person, but a soul without purpose. I hadn’t discovered who I was meant to be and accepted the fact that I never would. I would die a drug addict and that was a better reality than the fear that I was living every sober moment in. My active addiction brought me to lows I never would have thought I would see, but I needed to hit every bottom, feel every snag, make every error, to build the resilience I would need to sustain my journey.

I was never a bad person, but a soul without purpose.

That journey is my treasure today. Today, my life is a gift beyond measure. Today, I love myself. Today, I get to use my experience as a vessel for others. Today, I get to be present and not ruled by fear. Today, I get to contribute to society, pay taxes, vote, and live the American dream; I’m swimming in home-owners’ debt! What is there to not welcome in that? Why wouldn’t our friends, family, neighbors accept us with open arms? Unfortunately, for so many who are crawling or walking or running down the arduous road that can be the path of recovery, they face disapproval and judgment and hate for doing the single bravest thing they’ve ever done in their lives: surrender. Instead of loving and nurturing our sisters and brothers, we’ve shunned them and alienated them for simply suffering their human conditions. Yet, fear has a funny way of doing that, dictating people’s behavior without them even knowing. Fear has gripped not only those afflicted by the disease of addiction, but those who look on and have no idea how to help. Just as the addict or alcoholic learns to live beyond their fear through understanding and guidance, the bystanders can too. By us sharing our stories of recovery and embracing our journey, we will shine light on the darkness that other’s before have been too afraid to look into.

Fear has gripped not only those afflicted by the disease of addiction, but those who look on and have no idea how to help.

I challenge you all to find a way to connect with America’s number one public health crisis and commit to making a difference, however small it may be. What if we each did a little something to help? What if we talked about this problem more and created more opportunity for people to ask for help? Let’s face it, addiction is everywhere and we are all affected somehow. Why don’t we make treatment and recovery just as prevalent? Why don’t we work together to spread awareness about recovery and reduce the stigmas attached to it? All around you, whether you know it or not, people are wrestling their own addictions and they are children, parents, loved ones, dreamers and people just like you who are searching for their chance. A chance to start over, begin again and to not just be known as the addict that they were, but the recovering person they can be. Let’s give them that chance and stand alongside them.

I am Cortney Lovell, a person in long term recovery who is no longer anonymous, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.