In truth, people all over the world are touched by addiction directly or indirectly and we need each other to recover from the disease.

My name is Jenna and my story is one that began from home. I started taking alcohol from my parent’s liquor cabinets at age 13 with my friends without thinking twice about the consequences. My parents worked full-time and didn’t know what was going on in my life. As a teenager I didn’t think anyone would understand my feelings so I sought Alcohol to make me feel “better.” Before you know it, I was 18 and drinking and partying became a lifestyle. However, there were red flags, but I denied seeing them. In middle school and high school I perceived drinking as an innocent-fun social event, family norm or just the cool thing to do. It never crossed my mind that I was drinking because I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to feel accepted by my peers, but I never felt good enough. Depression was something I didn’t want to deal with while growing up. I neglected any help because I didn’t want to talk about it. I had a distorted perception of myself and reality. I didn’t give myself a real chance to love or respect myself and constantly struggled with self-acceptance.  I was easily shaped by others and influenced by my troubled surroundings.

Growing up in a town that was middle-class where drugs were swarming into the public schools gave me all the escape I was longing for. I started experimenting with drugs in high school and putting myself in dangerous places. It was the beginning of my downfall to illegal manners. I’ll be honest I did not do well with the “rules.” Learning the hard way was usually the only way I learned my lesson. Even after multiple arrests and seeing myself in the mirror and feeling internally disgusted, I continued to drink because I felt powerless over my thoughts, actions, and behaviors. I ultimately went down a road full of struggle for few more years. In college, I received two DWI’s between the years of 19 and 22 which disappointed me, but most of all my family. The dangers of getting behind the wheel intoxicated still haunt me. I am lucky to have never killed anyone or myself during my foolish acts.

Over the past 3 years, I have personally lost over 10 people under the age of 25 to addiction in my hometown and surrounding areas. This is a heartbreaking epidemic. It’s not by choice or by moral deficiency, but because addiction is a chronic relapse disorder that is powerful and insidious that effects one’s mind, body, and spirit.

On September23rd 2011, I lost someone near and dear to my heart to the disease of addiction. This day shifted my whole entire life and I’ll never forget how the rain didn’t touch my skin that day, like as if I didn’t feel it because I was protected by him. Jeffrey was a charismatic, goofy and bighearted person who enjoyed making others laugh and feel loved. It was almost impossible to be in his presence and not smile or laugh. He was smart, beautiful and full of life. His powerful presence is still with me today and is a constant reminder that true love never dies. He inspires me to be a better person. He taught me valuable life lessons like the importance to stay true to what I believe and walk through vulnerability and fear.  Also, how to catch a curve ball and be able to throw one back. These were the perks of growing up together while shaping our lives. We always believed in one another and fought through hardships that we faced despite our faults. I was blessed to have him in my life for the short time I did.  He left an unforgettable impact on me and on the lives of many others. I carry him in my heart every day.  I never gave up faith, even during my darkest moments. I believed God had a plan and I was beginning to see his plan for me.

Life changes predict different life purposes. When I went back to school, I took the “death class” at Kean University taught by Dr. Norma Bowe. I learned how to fight through shame, guilt, and the stages of grief and loss. I changed my major to Psychology and Health, got involved in community service, a social activism group called “Be the Change,” and helping inner-city urban areas become a safer and brighter place to live. I graduated Class of 2014. I plan on continuing to pursue my education in Social Work and dream to open my own facility for alcohol/drug and bereavement counseling. Death and addiction go hand and hand.  These are the things we need to talk about, however, we are afraid to risk being vulnerable which restricts us in finding ways to cope and live healthier lives. This was and still is the hardest thing for me to go through, it’s an ongoing process.

Today, I am able to be mindful of the memories I leave in this world and the impact I make on the people I love. Addicts love so deeply and are the ones ashamed of everything in their past. Luckily my past doesn’t define me today and I have the ability to change the outcome of my story. We all have a story.

I never gave up faith, even during my darkest moments.

The first step toward meaningful change is one of the biggest steps toward a life worth living. That is what recovery has given me, a life worth living. I am learning how to live in my own skin without alcohol or drugs. Discovering what I am passionate about has changed me as a whole. I know that meaningful change is a process. A process that is gradually teaching me how to love myself and be the person God intended me to be. I thrive by helping others who suffer from addiction and grief. Also, being a part of change by speaking up, standing my ground, and doing the next right thing.  I believe sharing our stories with each other gives a different type of support and power. “Despite everything I believe people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” – Anne Frank

My journey in recovery started August 17th, 2013. After numbing myself for so many years through the losses, depression and confusion, I was hit with the harsh reality of my addiction and finally asked for help. I choose to free myself today from all suffering. Pain demands to be felt however, I know suffering is optional. Relapse isn’t always a part of recovery, but it is a part of my story. Then again, I also know falling doesn’t equal failure. Sometimes it’s our mistakes that lead us to where were suppose to be.

I am grateful that I can be a daughter, sister, niece, aunt, and friend today while participating in my recovery. I enjoy reading, writing, painting, snowboarding, swimming, soccer, and practicing yoga; those things I gave up for alcohol and drugs.

Lastly, I would like to express the importance for people who struggle with addiction to know that recovery is possible for ANYONE and EVERYONE. My personal journey has changed my life and transformed me into a woman who can lift her head high without shame and guilt of her past. I am eternally grateful for the people in my life and my supporting family who never gave up on me even when I lost complete hope for myself. We are not bad people. We are not alone. We have a disease. We deserve a chance at life and we need more recovery support communities all over the world.

Many people don’t understand the depths of addiction and how it shackles us as prisoners in our own minds. It is difficult to understand, however, breaking the stigma and being educated on addiction and recovery can be conducive to our society and in the lives of one’s who have been affected by addiction. There are 23 million people living in recovery, however, we only hear about the people on the news dying from overdoses and being shamed upon because of the stigma attached to addiction. In truth, people all over the world are touched by addiction directly or indirectly and we need each other to recover from the disease. This journey in recovery connects us as a whole and enlightens our souls with love, compassion, hope, and freedom.