S. was 14 when her doctor prescribed her painkillers for chronic migraines. At the time, she didn’t think much of it. As far as she as concerned, it was simply another prescription.
The kids at school knew better.
“They saw what I had, and said ‘you could get f***** up on those,'” she told Foundations Recovery Network in this interview about her journey. “They suggested I start taking two at a time. So I did.”
S. loved the carefree feeling she got whenever she did. But it wasn’t until the birth of her first child that it began to represent “a huge problem.” She was 18 at the time, and the child’s father refused to visit or pay child support. “He said I was a worthless whore,” she recalls. It was around this point she began using on a daily basis. “I couldn’t stand what my ex was putting me through.” Not only that, but her boyfriend at the time used pills, too. “That didn’t help me either,” she said.
At 21, S. dumped her boyfriend and cleaned up. And for awhile, it looked as though it would continue to work. Two years passed without a relapse. Then, tragedy struck. S.’s grandmother, the woman who raised her, died.
Immediately, S. relapsed–and hard. In an effort to mask the pain, she began taking between seven and 15 pills a day. This continued until one day, S. fell asleep. When she woke up a week and a half later, she was in the hospital.
“My liver and kidneys shut down. I had a 5 percent chance to live,” she remembers.
S. knew there was more than her life on the line. By this time, S. was married with two kids. Lying there in the hospital, she knew she was the verge of losing it all. “I decided then and there I was done.”
This time, the recovery was even harder. “I went through severe withdrawals. I actually would have panic attacks and make my husband leave work to stay with me to make sure I wouldn’t go out looking for more drugs.”
That was three years ago. And while S. admits the thought of using still crosses her mind every once in awhile, the now mother of three says her reasons for staying clean are too great. “I have three kids now. I have to be healthy.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), S. is far from alone when it comes to entering recovery only after multiple tries and relapses. All told, researchers estimate that 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts fall into this category.1 For those looking to beat alcoholism, the numbers are even more daunting, with an estimated 80 percent or more relapsing within the first year alone.2
This is in part because to be find lasting recovery, a person must do much more than simply detox. According to NIDA, comprehensive recovery requires five steps, including:
- Relearning how to live without the substances
- Addressing any issues that substance abuse may have caused at work or home
- Avoiding people and places associated with one’s past of substance abuse
- Identifying and working through or potentially avoiding those reasons one had for using in the first place
- Address any mental health issues that may have contributed to substance abuse
Fail to address any of these, and a person increases his or her risk for relapse.
C. learned this the hard way after relapsing just a week into her first attempt at quitting.
She was just 11 when her step-father got her drunk, 13 when she tried marijuana for the first time and 16 when she was using ecstasy. Next came methamphetamine and oxycontin before C. finally turned to heroin at age 23. A year later, her then boyfriend was jailed for, among other things, substance abuse. Alone and living on the streets, C. decided then and there something needed to change.
C. moved in with her mom, who gave her one last chance to clean up. For a week, she managed to avoid using. That changed when she decided to visit an old friend.
“I didn’t understand addiction,” C. told Foundations Recovery Network in this interview about her story of recovery. “I was bored and I went to a friend’s house.” Sitting out when she arrived was drug paraphernalia. “It triggered me.”
Even in the moment, C.’s actions baffled her. “I didn’t understand why I didn’t want to get high but still was.”
The setback was frustrating for C. But she was determined, not only because she was tired of living without a roof over her head, but because she knew it was the only way to reconnect with her daughter, who was living with her father at the time. She got a bed at the local Volunteers of America, where she learned for the first time why she had relapsed in the first place.
“I learned I’m an addict there.” This realization was then followed by a second, which was that she wasn’t alone in her struggle. With the help of the people at the VOA, C. entered a treatment facility, where the realizations kept coming.
“I learned how much I lie to myself and how many stupid things I do to justify my actions,” she said. “I learned my relapse cycle and not only mine but my family’s coping skills.” Finally, she said, she learned “how important it is to express my feelings and that it’s okay not to be happy all the time. “
When asked what advice she had for those who relapse, C. was quick to respond. “It can either make you tougher or send you back into your addiction. Your decision.”
Written by Tamarra Kemsley