J. was 18 when she started drinking.
“It was one of those cliche moments where everyone’s doing it, and I’m going to do it. It’s my birthday and I’m going to have a good night–all those excuses, you know?” After that, she said, “it was just easier to accept other things into my life,” she told Foundation Recovery Network. Marijuana and cigarettes followed, and before long, cocaine.
Even then, however, J. had a line she refused to cross: She wouldn’t become her brother. “All of us saw my brother go through being an alcoholic and an addict with every substance. It was obvious to me: I would never do that.”
Then, when J. was 19, her brother died of an overdose, and suddenly it was too painful to be around the people she needed most–her family. “I was living literally a few blocks from my family and I didn’t seem them for a year.” Instead, she remained cooped up with her boyfriend in the apartment they shared. Together they remained high for an entire year. “I wasn’t sober for even a few hours.”
When the marijuana stopped cutting it, the two of them turned to pills, mixing percocet and speed. Immediately, J. noticed a difference. “I realized I couldn’t stop those like I could marijuana. They were just so much more aggressive.” Not only that, but the side effects tortured her, robbing her of sleep and inducing panic attacks when she wasn’t high.
“I was becoming the worst parts of my brother.”
It wasn’t long before the relationship dissolved, at which point J. moved to Utah to be with her sister. Ready for a fresh start, she sobered up and found a job in food service. But it wouldn’t last.
“I should have been in rehab,” J. said. Through work, she found marijuana again, and eventually cocaine. “I was just roving.”
Then came the night when she went with her friend to a party, where she was drugged and gang raped. The visuals that made it past her blacked-out state haunt her to this day. Two days later, she overdosed on cocaine. “I just couldn’t cope.”
This was the point J. realized she needed help. Turning to her sister, she asked to be taken to the hospital, where she spent two weeks in the psych ward. “It was a cry for help. I knew I couldn’t be trusted with my freedom. But I also didn’t think I needed all the psychotropics they pumped me up with.” As soon as she left the hospital, she threw the drugs away.
The result was intense hallucinations as J. underwent withdrawals so severe that she has no memory of the plane or bus she took to return home to Arizona. Once home, she entered the psych ward a second time.
“At that point, I realized I was completely broken.”
J. said she gave into that feeling, giving up hope she would ever be whole again. “I couldn’t manage living. I couldn’t do life,” J. said. These were the thoughts going through J.’s mind when, one night, she looked at herself in the mirror. At 90 pounds, she didn’t recognize herself. “I told myself, ‘You are in there,’ even though I didn’t believe it. I had to find some life in me.” It was a ritual she repeated every few nights until the time of her release came.
But even then, J. wasn’t ready to return home. She forced her family to leave her, and for a week she lived on the streets of Tucson before a street musician took her in. For three weeks, the stranger nursed her back to health, at which point J. decided it was time. “I called my dad and I begged for forgiveness and then I said: I’m ready.”
Once again, she returned home. And once again, she found marijuana.
“My family left on a cruise, and I was alone watching the house. At that point I was finally getting into a routine, eating breakfast and doing yoga and just feeling like a 21-year-old girl again. So when they left, I told them I’d be fine.” But alone and surrounded by pictures of her late brother, she relapsed. Only this time it was different. J. didn’t just get high–she got pregnant.
When she found out eight weeks in, J. wept, mostly out of joy. “I knew, I knew this was the moment I was free. I was so free from this confusion, this lost person swaying in the wind. It sounds so cheesy, but I found my freedom.” As it turned out, J. had been waiting for a role to play, a script to replace the one of an addict. In the pink lines of a drugstore pregnancy she found that. She was going to be a mother.
J. remained clean throughout her pregnancy. And then came the day of the birth. Surrounded by the women of her family and coached by her sister, a midwife, J. gave birth to a healthy son, and with him, a new sense of her own strength.
“There wasn’t one moment I didn’t feel strong enough,” she said of the experience. “It was about my son. It was about me, even though I was splitting in half, becoming whole again.”
Today, J. has a 10-month-old toddler, a job she loves, and the constant support and company of her family. Of course, life as a single mom isn’t without challenges, and J. still finds herself mourning the loss of her brother and the years that followed his death. “But,” she said, “I’m a person who can battle things now.”
Click here to continue reading Part Two.
Written by Tamarra Kemsley