Life does not have to be this good...but I’m grateful that it is.

I would like to start off by saying that my name is Krystle Stoddard and I am proud to be a woman in long term recovery. What that means to me is that I have had continuous sobriety, drug and alcohol free, since June 22, 2014. My road to recovery was not easy, but it was definitely worth it.

I am very fortunate to have grown up in a very loving, supportive environment, and I do not take that for granted. My parents were happily married and I always had what I needed and then some. I never went without. I was raised in a good neighborhood and went to a good school. I had many friends growing up. My brother and sister are 13 and 15 years older than me, so I surrounded myself with the neighborhood kids that were around my age. I was a very active child and excelled in school. I say these things, not to pat myself on the back, but to show that the disease of addiction does not discriminate. In High School, I played sports and was well liked among my peers.

I started drinking in 10th grade at the age of 15. I remember going to my first keg party, with a bunch of my classmates, but I do not remember leaving. My first time drinking I blacked out. I should’ve known that drinking wasn't going to be for me, but that didn't stop me. I liked, no I LOVED, the way it made me feel. I enjoyed the camaraderie of drinking. I loved the feeling of walking into a party and everyone knowing my name and being happy to see me. I knew that every weekend I had plans to be hanging out and drinking with my friends.

I started working in the restaurant industry at the age of 16 and that’s when my priorities started to change. Quickly, my love of playing sports turned into my love of partying, drinking and smoking weed, with my friends. I graduated with a Regents degree with no ambition to go to college. I was very content with my lifestyle of working long days in the restaurant industry and spending even longer nights in the bars.

At the age of 20, my father passed away suddenly. My world was flipped upside down. Instead of talking about it and acknowledging it, I put on the “I’m okay” strong front, but I was not okay. I decided to self-medicate with Xanax, opiates, marijuana, and alcohol. The next several years were a blur. I was just going through the motions of life, but I wasn’t truly living. I started to surround myself with people who were living the same lifestyle that I was. The only problem with that is that I didn't think I had any sort of alcohol or addiction problem, because everyone I hung out with was doing the same exact thing. I was able to manage working and my alcohol/drug addiction, without anyone really noticing that I was developing a terrible habit and ruining my life…so I thought.

On February 12, 2011, we lost my brother, from another mother, Shaun to a heroin overdose at the age of 27. We had been close family friends since we were 5 years old. This was the first personal affect that drug addiction had on me. I honestly had no clue that he had a drug addiction. We used to party together all the time. If it weren't for the fact that being a drug addict is looked at as something shameful, and something that has to be kept a secret, I believe with all my heart that Shaun would still be here. I wish I could say that losing someone to addiction opened my eyes, but that was not the case.

At this point in my addiction, I was drinking, smoking weed, doing cocaine and ecstasy here and there, and I was abusing pain pills to the point where I could not physically get out of bed without them. I needed pills to get up, to work, to have a conversation, to do anything and everything. I needed the one thing that was killing me… to live. I needed more and more and I couldn't financially keep up with my habit, even working 50+ hours a week. The disease of addiction is a progressive, insidious disease that wants us dead. I knew that the next step for me was heroin, but I refused to “try” it when it was offered to me. That day I believe Shaun saved my life.

In July of 2012, I went to my first crisis center. I was not a willing participant in this plan. I was 27 years old, I had just lost ANOTHER job, living at home with my Mother, and she was done. She could no longer continue to watch her baby girl kill herself. I was given the ultimatum of seeking help or finding a new place to live. I agreed to go and get help “for a few days,” just to appease her (aka I was mom-dated, not mandated). I had never been more scared in my entire life.

We all may have looked different, but we all felt the same.

I vividly remember two things from that day. While I was sitting in the waiting room, there was a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall, directly over where my Mom was sitting, and I started crying. I was raised Catholic, but I would never consider myself a religious person and I definitely was not one to cry. Crying was a sign of weakness in my world, but I couldn’t fight the tears. I believe that was my first “God” moment and the first time I really accepted and recognized that this is where my life choices had led me. I felt like a failure and that I had let my Mother and Father down. I also remember looking in through the glass on the door and thinking, “look at those people, they look like zombies. They’re all junkies. I don't belong here.” Who was I to judge? I was waiting to go in. That’s where the stigma comes in. The picture society paints of what a drug addict looks like. I didn't think I had a drug problem because I didn't “look” like a drug addict.

Well, that was not the case. Within 5 minutes of entering, I realized that I was EXACTLY like everyone in there. We all may have looked different, but we all felt the same. It was like I could finally breathe. I saw myself in every single person I met. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was introduced to Recovery that day. Here I was, 27 years old, and I finally had answers to all of my questions. This was the first time I had even heard the term recovery. So many of us know about addiction, but not many of us know about recovery…the solution to our addiction.

I decided to go to treatment after being in the crisis center for 2 1/2 weeks. I figured if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right the first time. I learned a lot about myself and how to deal with certain things, like my father’s own addiction and his death, which I refused to even recognize before then. I completed treatment and chose to go in to a sober house, rather than going back to my Mom’s. I remained abstinent from drugs and alcohol for about 10 months. I say abstinent because I didn’t have any sort of recovery in my life. I did not surrender. I never had a sponsor. I would go to meetings just to hangout. I would get there late and leave early. I didn’t take ANY suggestions. I compared myself to everyone and thought that I was “better than” because I had never used a needle, tried heroin, smoked crack, or been arrested. I didn’t have any horror stories or anything life threatening happen to me, thank God. I just liked to have a good time and take pills every single day. I honestly convinced myself that I wasn't an addict or alcoholic and that “I had this.” I didn't think relapse would ever be a part of my story. I was wrong. All the things I had mentioned that I didn’t do were all “yets” for me. I didn't understand what that meant. I guess I had to do some more research to prove that I was an addict and earn my seat in the rooms of recovery.

I had met someone in treatment that I thought had all the answers because she knew a lot about addiction and even more about recovery. I stayed close to her…a little too close. I had become a shadow of her and lost who I was. I went back to being the girl with no self-esteem, self-confidence, or self-worth. I let her control me and play with my emotions, but I was a willing participant. She and I would do everything together and one day, I couldn't tell you how, when, or why, we started using together.

At first, I thought it was amazing. I had the girl who I had fallen sickly in love with and drugs. What more could I want. I was able to hold a good job. I thought I had all the answers. One day she convinced me to try heroin. It was like she had this hold on me. She would say jump and I would say how high. I was not only addicted to drugs, but I was addicted to her and the love I thought she had for me. Knowing that I knew I never wanted to do heroin and that Shaun had died from a heroin overdose, was not enough for me to say no. At this point, I was already using other drugs intravenously, so how bad could it be. I instantly fell in love with heroin that day and from that point on, nothing else and no one else mattered. I was very content with my life. I had a job, a girl who I loved and could use with, and heroin.

The vicious cycle of getting and using and finding ways and means to get more had begun. Everything that I said I would never do, I did… and then some. All of my “yets” had become a reality. I turned into a shell of a person whose only concern was being with this girl and getting high. The girl ended up moving back to Florida in December and I went to detox. I still did not surrender and I ended up picking up again a few weeks after I got out.

Do I choose recovery or addiction? Life or Death? I chose life.

They say when you relapse that you go right back to where you left off. I did just that and worse. In the course of my 1 1/2 year relapse, I lost, or I should say, I GAVE everything away. I gave away my family, my friends, my job, my car, my belongings, my self-respect and dignity, and my ability to say no. Nothing phased me as long as I could continue getting high. I even sold all of my things so I could move to Florida to be with the girl that had complete control of me, with the crazy intention that we would both be clean and sober and live this magical life. I was living in a fantasy world. Neither of us had any sort of recovery in our lives and absolutely no desire to stop using. We both had been lying to one another that we were both clean, until the night before I got on the plane to head down to Florida.

When I arrived, our addictions progressed quickly and after a few months, I knew I had to end the relationship if I was going to save myself. It hurt, but it was the only way. We were very toxic for each other and I knew that it wouldn't end well for either of us if we continued on the same path. I immediately jumped into a relationship and moved in with someone just to break away from her. I ended up in the same situation, just with a different person and instead of drugs we were abusing alcohol together. It’s true; everywhere I go…there I am. I remember feeling so alone. I was filled with so much guilt and remorse. I was ashamed and embarrassed of my life choices and where I had ended up, again. This time I was in another state with no one around. I reached out to my cousin Tyana, who lives in Florida and is in Recovery, and asked her for help. She gave me the option of going to a sober house down by her, but I knew I wanted to go home. I begged my Mother to buy me a plane ticket home, and somehow, by the grace of God, she did.

When I made it back to NY, on June 7th, 2014, I was filled with so many emotions. I just kept replaying everything that happened while I was down in Florida. I was disappointed in myself for failing and stuck in a whirlwind of regret and remorse. My pride and ego were shot. My family was under the impression that I was clean and sober, but I was not. I immediately went right back to old people, places, and things. I remember hating myself so much. I had uprooted my whole life and in 3 short months I was right back to where I started. I knew I didn’t want to live this chaotic life anymore, but I was afraid to admit that I had a problem and needed help.

I remember sitting in my Mom’s backyard, alone and depressed, drinking a Four Loco and wanting to use heroin. I hadn’t used heroin since the day I left NY three months prior. I picked up my phone to look for a dealer’s number and to my surprise, I had deleted everyone that was connected to drugs and I literally only had my close friends and the friends I had made while I was abstinent from drugs two years ago. I was in such a hopeless state. I had the battle of an angel and a devil going on in my head. Do I call a friend for help or do I try to find drugs? Do I choose recovery or addiction? Life or Death? I chose life.

I called a friend of mine, who I met when I was living in a sober house in 2012, whom I knew had remained sober through the years. She was out in Nassau County and suggested I reach out to someone else, also from the same sober house, who was closer to me. This girl answered, and I told her how I was alone, wanted to get high, and that I was scared. I was so vulnerable in that moment. I was blessed with the gift of desperation and I was willing to do anything that anyone suggested to save my life. For the first time in my life, I threw my hands up, and I surrendered. I thank God every day for those two women for helping me out.

On June 22nd, 2014, I checked in to the same crisis center where I was first introduced to recovery in 2012. I did not tell anyone that I was going. I have to be honest, this wasn’t my plan, but after spending a few days with the girl who came to my rescue, my Mother wouldn’t let me back in the house…thank God. I know it must have been hard for her, but it was the best thing she could have done for me at the time and for that I am forever grateful. I had a different perspective this time. I was there to save my life. It was like a light turned on in me and I wanted to live. I stayed focused on myself and nothing else while I was there. I wasn’t there to hangout and make friends, I was there to learn how to live a life without drugs and alcohol. I knew what I had to do.

I remained teachable, I asked questions, but most importantly I listened.

Those 10 months that I was “around” recovery weren’t a waste. I had remembered what I was told and what other people were doing to stay sober. I just had to put in the footwork. I had a woman’s number in my cell phone, that was locked away, who one of my boss’s had introduced me to in the summer of 2013. I had no intention of getting sober then, but I wanted to keep my job. I had met up with her a few times and I liked her and respected her recovery, I just wasn’t ready. Well, now I was ready and I called her with the hope that she would be willing to help me. She agreed, thank God, because I definitely needed someone to guide me and teach me how she managed to stay sober for years, a day at a time. I took her suggestions as directions.

I left the crisis center and moved in to a sober house out in Aquebogue, which I had never even heard of. I was living in a big house with 15 other women, on a farm in the middle of nowhere, on the North Fork of Long Island. It was perfect for me. It was close enough to home, but far enough away from my old people, places, and things. I stayed focused on my recovery like it was my job. I was told that if you take all the time and effort that you put in to finding drugs and getting high and you put in the same effort to take care of yourself and seek recovery, I would be okay. I did just that. I sought out recovery as if it were a drug. I went to 12 step meetings on a daily basis. I remained teachable, I asked questions, but most importantly I listened. I hung out with like-minded individuals who were serious about their recovery. I surrounded myself with people who had remained sober for many years. For the first time in my life I was practicing self-love and taking care of myself; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and because of that I am comfortable in my own skin today.

I am proud of myself and I actually like the person starring back at me when I looked in the mirror. Every day I wake up stronger than yesterday. I have a new sense of freedom that I had never experienced. I have accepted the past and I continue to keep moving forward with my head held high. I have been able to make successful amends with my family, friends, ex-coworkers, my old bosses and anyone I had hurt. I am not the same person that I was when I was actively using alcohol and drugs. I have made mistakes and I still make mistakes, but I learn from them.

As a direct result of staying sober and living a life in recovery, I am able to show up today. I am a responsible, reliable, dependable adult who is able to establish and keep healthy relationships. For the first time in my life, I have a beautiful, healthy relationship with an amazing woman who loves me for me and is able to support me in my recovery because she has her own program of recovery that she is committed to, which is a blessing in itself. People reach out to me for help and I know that the only way to keep this beautiful new life I have is to give away what was so freely given to me...the gift of love, encouragement, support, and recovery. To be able to say, “I’ve been there and I know what you are feeling and going through” to someone who is new, definitely speaks volumes. That is exactly what I needed to hear and helped me when I needed it.

People reach out to me for help and I know that the only way to keep this beautiful new life I have is to give away what was so freely given to me.

Today, I am able to speak up for what I believe in and be a voice and advocate for the people who are no longer with us because they have lost their lives to the disease of addiction. I have been blessed to be a part of the fight to bring awareness and break the stigma of addiction. I have been able to go to schools to spread awareness and talk to students and educate them about addiction and recovery and connect with them on a level that their parents and/or teachers may not be able to. I have started to get NYS certifications and continue to educate myself and pursue a career in which I can help others, and their families, who are struggling and being affected by addiction. I have been blessed with endless amounts of opportunities that seemed unobtainable when I was in active addiction. I have a reason to live today. I have a purpose and that purpose is to help others and let them know that there IS light at the end of the tunnel.

I am proud of my recovery! I choose to not be anonymous and to RECOVER OUT LOUD to let others see what recovery looks like and that it is possible to break free from the grips of addiction. I owe all of this to my higher power, who I choose to call God, my sponsor for leading me in the right direction and working with me through the 12 steps, and to my Mom and all those who never gave up on me and loved me when I didn't know how to love myself and continue to support me on a daily basis through my journey in recovery. By the grace of God, I celebrated 2 years drug and alcohol free, one day at a time, on June 22, 2016 and I can honestly say that I have never been happier in my entire life. Life does not have to be this good, but I’m grateful that it is.