From the time I was old enough to be aware of such things, I knew I was different.
When it came time to go to Kindergarten, I watched as all the other kids ran into the classroom and waved to their parents from afar, eager to play and meet new people. I clung to my father's leg and wept, begging him not to leave me. This was the ritual, every morning when he walked me to my classroom. As the year progressed, my classmates got dropped at the curb and navigated the building on their own. Not me. For me, it was the first day, every day. I had no reason to act like my father was going to disappear into thin air at any moment, but I did just that.
When it came time for sleep-overs, more than ever, I found comfort in the solitude of the sanctuary that was my bedroom. There was nothing like sleeping in your own bed. Why on Earth would anyone want to sleep anywhere else? I tried a few times, only to call home and ask to be picked up, bailing just before actual bedtime. No amount of bribery or convincing would keep me away from my bed, in my room, in my house.
When my parent's split, I really went nuts. Crying spells for hours on end without being able to explain what my problem was. When I was with one parent, I felt guilty and wanted to be with the other. I was a mess.
An attachment disorder as a child turned into anxiety disorders as an adult. That fear of my father disappearing turned into hypervigilance in my adult relationships, and spending days in bed crying as if someone has died or I've been abandoned when my boyfriend is just on vacation with his family.
I hated myself for having these feelings and for not being able to stop them. I tried endlessly to argue logic against them, "Nicky, you're being ridiculous. Nothing is wrong. There's no reason to be this upset." And I knew those words to be true, but they did nothing to stop the tears from streaming, my heart from aching, and my thoughts from racing.
Living with all this made it so easy to begin experimenting with drugs at the young age of 13. By the time I had become a freshman in high school I was a regular marijuana smoker, had taken acid on numerous occasions, mushrooms, hash, nitrus, and had learned how to inhale whatever it is in aerosol cans that gets you high.
By the time I was 22, I had added cocaine and heroin to the list, as well as recreationally taking prescription pain medication whenever I had the opportunity since I was 15 years old. Somehow, I managed to avoid a dependency until I was 29 years old.
After my husband moved out, the aftermath of dealing with his alcoholism left me in a state of emotional exhaustion. I hated watching him drink throughout my pregnancy, and when our daughter was born he stopped cold turkey, but with no assistance. He was just white-knuckling it, and I could see that he was beginning to crack up. His first chance for a night away he spent alone in a room, drinking himself to sleep for the first time in eight months.
With him gone, I suddenly felt unburdened but also had a lot of anger left to deal with. I dealt with it, in the same way, I dealt with the unwanted thoughts and feelings I had when I was younger. I self-medicated.
I began getting into car accidents and being unable to pay rent, and it wasn't long before my ex-husband took custody of our daughter and my heart shattered. Any reason I had to do better and straighten myself up was gone, and I completely let go of myself. "Fuck it," I thought. "What do I have to live for?"
I got kicked out of every room I rented, I ended up in jail, I shared a studio with another "junkie," and we lived without hot water. We had to microwave bowls of water and pour them into a storage tote in the shower to bathe. I sold my food stamps for drugs every month, so I starved. I was rail thin. I saw a Suboxone doctor, wanting to get clean. The medication didn't work. I sold the script every month for $700. I did unspeakable things for money. But it wasn't until I became completely homeless, that my life started to change for the better.
I couldn't continue that way of life. I lived in the woman's shelter that was kind enough to open it's doors to me. It's amazing how people take a warm bed, the ability to do laundry, and a hot shower for granted. So I put myself in treatment. Abstinence-only 12-step traditional treatment didn't work for me. Suboxone, a partial opiate agonist, didn't work for me. Perhaps Methadone would.
I am all for people finding the path of treatment that works best for them. Treatment is not a"One Size Fits All" approach. There is not one antidepressant that works for everyone, is there? This is no different. These are individuals, with individual traumas, mental illnesses, triggers, etc. The person who was molested as a child, smokes crack, gambles and has promiscuous sex with strangers should not have the same treatment as the person who was abandoned, has difficultly with relationships, drinks alcohol and takes benzodiazepines.
Thankfully, Methadone did work for me. In the time I have been in recovery, I have completed my Bachelor's degree in Psychology. I began volunteering at my local syringe exchange program. I ended my 13 months at the woman's shelter by moving into my first apartment I have had in 12 years. The volunteering turned into the first full-time job I have had in 12 years. I am now the Harm Reduction Outreach Specialist for Project Safe Point, and I get to help other people, just like me with everything from treatment, to housing, to safer injection practices. It is the most fulfilling work I have ever done. I can't imagine doing anything else. I am a certified Recovery Coach and have certificates of completion from the NYS Dept of Health AIDS Institute in Harm Reduction, Safer Injection and Wound Care, Substance Use Referrals in NY State, and Health Care for People Who Use Drugs. Also, I have a car for the first time in 6 years.
I have unsupervised visits with my daughter at my house. Our relationship is better than ever with her as well as other members of my family. I have a life I never dreamed I could have. I thought drugs were going to claim my life and that's just the way it was, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was just a fact in my mind. I could have never dreamed it could be this good. Life in recovery just does not compare. There is nothing about my old life that I miss. Not one bit.
I hate that so many people go hurt along the way, but I am right where I am supposed to be today, because of my addiction. I am not ashamed. The fact that I lived through it means I can have a deeper connection and a better understanding of anyone I may be able to help. I know what it's like to go through withdrawal in jail. I know what it's like to rob your mother. I'm not going to be regurgitating textbook jargon to anyone. I'm not going to be telling anyone to do anything that I haven't done myself. The fact that I've been there will be a comfort. And I can say, not only can it be done, but it's a way of living so much better -it simply does not compare.