My name is Frances, and I am a very thankful person in recovery. Thankful to be alive; thankful to be clean & sober; and thankful to be the kind of person loved ones can be proud of today. It definitely wasn’t easy to get here, but nothing in life worth having is easily attained. On July 11th, 2016, I celebrated 2 years free from the chains of active addiction and I live a life today that I never imagined I would be able to have. Very early on in this journey, I discovered one of the simplest, yet most important truths in recovery; that to reap the gifts of sobriety, you must first experience the gift of desperation.
My story begins like so many others. I was a good girl gone bad. I was a good student, had a happy home life and lots of friends. But I always felt different, like I didn’t quite fit in with any particular clique or crowd. In high school, like so many other kids do, I began to experiment with alcohol and pot, and I had finally found my “scene.” Alcohol and weed allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. At 18, I discovered cocaine and that was when the true addict was born. The next three years were a whirlwind of drug use, and I would often go days without sleeping or eating. Yet, somehow, I was still able to keep a semblance of control over my life. My relationships with my family were still good, I had a steady job, and my life was still somewhat in order. In the summer of 2007, that all changed. What started as a fun day of jet skiing with friends turned into the catalyst that would change my life forever. An accident on one of the jet-skis caused me to break several ribs. I was prescribed Vicodin, never warned by anyone of the withdrawal I would face when the prescription was finished, and thus began the 7-year nightmare that my life was about to turn into.
I never knew true misery until I became addicted to opiates. My entire life became a seemingly endless cycle of lying, stealing, manipulating and scheming to get my next fix. I would often wonder how my life had taken such a drastic turn. I came from a good family in a good neighborhood. I never faced any childhood trauma. Why did this happen to me? Am I just weak? My emotions were a mix of shame, disgust and self-loathing every minute of every day. It went on for three years before I, and everyone around me had enough. I locked myself in my house for two weeks and detoxed on my own, determined to end this insanity once and for all. Slowly but surely, I began to feel like myself again. For the first time in a long time, I had hope.
Because I never sought out formal treatment for my addiction, I never fully understood the complexities and the insidiousness of my disease. I was completely in denial and convinced myself that I’d be able to live a normal life from here on out. I started to feel good again and thought there wouldn’t be any harm in having a drink here and there. But because I am who I am, “one drink” would always turn into several more resulting in frequent hangovers.. Soon, I was stopping at the neighborhood liquor store at least three nights a week on my way home from work. The space under my bed became a graveyard for empty vodka bottles, which I’d dispose of a few at a time in public trash cans so no one would see just how much I’d been drinking. I began to experience full-on blackouts more and more frequently, and I would lose entire days at a time. When I was drunk, it often led to drug use, and it would take me days to recover from the turmoil I’d put my body through. I knew I had begun to tread in dangerous territory again, but I felt completely justified in my behavior. I was an adult with my own apartment, my own car, and a great job. My rent was always on time, my bills were always paid, and I never wound up in handcuffs, so I thought I was doing okay.
It wasn’t long before my body began to protest against what I had been putting it through. My kidneys and liver were constantly in pain, my chest always hurt, and my blood pressure went through the roof. I was 27 years old, and I was falling apart. I woke up every morning angry that I had lived to see another day. I didn’t recognize the person I had turned into. I was miserable every minute of every day. My body felt like that of a 60-year-old woman. I was now drinking a liter of vodka every two days, and people were starting to notice. I was missing tons of work, I was always sleeping, and I looked like hell. I knew I was in trouble, but I couldn’t stop. I quickly learned that alcohol withdrawal is like opiate withdrawal on steroids. I existed in two states; drunk and hungover. I prayed every night that it would be my last. I began to completely isolate myself from everyone, and I’d go days without coming out of my room. I’d drink for ten days straight, morning until night, then punish myself by going without it and forcing myself to go through the withdrawal. I would hallucinate and hear things that weren’t there, and I thought I was losing my mind on top of everything else. I officially could not function as a human being anymore and my family, who I had dragged down to rock bottom with me every time I fell, finally came together and stepped in.
On July 11th, 2014, after a particularly long and vicious bender, my parents basically dragged me by my hair to a detox program. I couldn’t comprehend that this is what my life had now come to. I didn’t belong in a place like this. This wasn’t the trajectory my life was supposed to take. Now, in a medical setting, which I had avoided like the plague for years, I finally had to confront the damage I had done to my body. The doctors said if I had continued on the way I was, I wouldn’t have made it to thirty. I felt like I was at a crossroads and I was desperate for a different life than the miserable existence I had made for myself. I was physically and mentally exhausted. When detox was over, I elected to further my treatment in a 28-day program. It was the smartest decision I ever made. I learned more about myself in 28 days than I had in the 28 years prior. I truly felt reborn, and I made a vow that I would never steal another night’s sleep from my parents again. I was officially ready to close a very long, very tumultuous chapter of my life. I was released from treatment on my mother’s birthday, which cemented for me in my mind that I had to do this not only for myself but for her and everyone else who loved me.
Something I learned early on in treatment is that getting sober is the easy part; staying sober is where it gets tricky. One must change their entire life to stay clean. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. So I had to change everything about my life. The places I went, the people I saw, and the things I did had to all be completely new. So I dove headfirst into sobriety, and I didn’t look back. For the first time in my life, I could truly say I was happy. Being an addict is an exhausting, draining, full-time job and I was finally free from the prison I had created in my mind and body. Learning to live a normal life was a bit like learning to walk again. You have to train yourself to act and think differently. Pretty soon, though, I wasn’t acting anymore. I was a different person. Someone who had morals, respect for herself and others, and a new determination to live a healthy, productive life.
If someone could take one thing away from my story, it’s that it’s never too late to be what you could have been. Deciding to no longer put yourself and your loved ones through hell is the first step towards a life beyond your wildest dreams. Once I realized that the one thing holding me back from the life I deserved was fear, I knew it was time to step out of my comfort zone and take care of myself for the first time. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable for a little while to grow. I just hope my story can inspire one person to make a change, to show one person that they’re not a lost cause. Every day is another chance to turn it all around.