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[ Personal Narratives ]

Addiction Knows no Boundaries, But Neither Does Recovery

I feel compelled to tell you my story.

My name is Olivia, and I am a lot of things… I am a mother, a daughter, a partner, a friend, probably an enemy, an introvert that does a good job behaving as an extrovert, an overly introspective ponderer of things that won’t matter in 10 years, and above all.. an alcoholic and drug addict. I say “above all” because that particular label, the alcoholic and drug addict, directly influences every other title I can give myself. That particular characterization has had the single greatest impact on my life and who I am.

When I was in my early 20s, I was offered a prescription painkiller. I was juggling a full course load in college while working full time, planning a wedding, keeping up one house while purchasing another. To my 21 year old self, I was very busy and immensely stressed. In retrospect, I didn’t even know what “busy” and “stressed” meant, but as we all know, emotional reactions to our circumstances are relative. What feels like World War III to you may just be another day in paradise to me. Moving on.

So when I was told this little blue pill would sharpen my focus, give me more energy, help me get more accomplished… I accepted with enthusiasm. Ohhh what I would do to go back to that moment. I still remember it; I remember it so extraordinarily well. I remember the t-shirt I was wearing. I remember the song that was on the radio. I remember exactly what that tiny little pill looked like in my hand, what it tasted like when I put it in my mouth and what it felt like going down my throat. 

And more than anything, I remember how I felt 20 minutes later…

I was like a child putting on glasses for the first time; the world came into focus. 

My thoughts slowed down… my brain didn’t feel like the chaotic whirlwind I was accustomed to living with… it felt deliberate. Sharp. Crisp. The steady hum that seemed to relentlessly ring in my mind faded away and I couldn’t explain what was happening but oh my God did I like it. I was more talkative. I was more productive. I was, what I thought, a better version of myself.

What I didn’t realize, was THAT moment would define the rest of my life. What I didn’t know, was the huge ramifications that would come from that tiny little pill. They wouldn’t come soon, and at first they wouldn’t come hard… but they were coming. I was naïve. I was unaware of the life threatening situation I had happily sauntered into… if my life was represented by a straight line drawn on a piece of paper, this is where the line takes a violent and severe turn.

Over the next year, my use of the tiny blue pill steadily increased. And unlike that first tiny blue pill, they weren’t free. My habit was growing and with it, so was the expense. I justified it, though, because of what the tiny blue pill did for me… it made me a better version of me. I studied better. My grades were better. I worked faster and more purposefully. My laundry stayed caught up. Dinner was cooked more nights than it was purchased. My flower beds looked immaculate. So my mortgage was a few weeks late… I could juggle the money. It wasn’t a problem.

But it was a problem. It was a huge problem many years before I was willing to admit it was a problem. But then I started grad school, and then I had a baby and the stress and anxiety I felt when I was 21 paled in comparison to the stress and anxiety that came with 24. More stress and more anxiety only increased my need for more tiny blue pills. Now I didn’t need them just for an extra boost of energy, I needed them to just feel normal. Without them I was sick. And I had no time to be sick. I had a baby. I had grad school. I had a husband. I had a house. No time, no time, no time. The tiny blue pill was perpetually both my problem and my solution.

Somehow I managed to complete grad school. To someone on the outside looking in, I was doing very well. At a relatively young age I had a Master’s Degree, a beautiful home and family, an excellent job and no serious worries. On the inside, though, I knew it was all a lie. My life was becoming more and more unmanageable by the day. It centered around the tiny blue pill.

Shortly after graduation, I stopped performing well at work. My job was in jeopardy. My bank account was in jeopardy. More and more bills went unpaid. More and more alarms were slept through due to opiate induced sleep. I worked only to make money to buy tiny blue pills that I needed to get out of bed to go to work. Family started noticing the constant state of chaos that was my life. I was scared but I was prideful. People like me are not drug addicts. People like me don’t have drug problems. People like me don’t face serious consequences because of tiny blue pills. People like me keep it together.

Except I couldn’t keep it together.

On the worst day of my life, I lost custody of my daughter. I had been dependent on the tiny blue pill for about 5 years. In that moment in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby, I had no idea what the repercussions of my actions would be… you are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices. And these were my consequences.

Shortly after losing Lily and admitting I did indeed have a problem, I went to treatment for the first time. Upon completion of that program, custody was returned to me…. I stayed sober 4 months. This was the first indication that consequences, no matter how great, would not and could not keep me sober. I was living in Nashville by now, thinking that a new city would keep me clean… and this was how I learned that wherever I go, there I am. I am my problem, and my disease doesn’t care about my zip code.

I continued to use until the summer of 2014, and while the day I lost Lily was the single worst day of my life, the 2 years I spent in Nashville was the worst season of my life. Nobody knew I had a problem. Nobody knew my secret. Again, from the outside looking in, I was doing relatively well. Nice apartment. Great job. Great friends. Amazing city. All the ingredients to make an amazing life… except I still needed the tiny blue pill.

I was so sick.

And again… I couldn’t keep it together. The last 6 months that I used, I couldn’t keep a job. I couldn’t keep an apartment or a house. I couldn’t keep any money. My life was so constantly in turmoil, I couldn’t keep friends. I was CRAZY. Not only had I lost all material things, I had lost my sanity. I had lost my humanness. I existed to use and I used to exist. That was it.

In July of 2014, I knew I was going to die if I didn’t stop. It was taking more and more drugs to reach the same high and I knew the dosages were way past the point of dangerous. Many, many times, they should have been fatal. You cannot tell me that there isn’t a Power greater than myself, because I should not have lived through the summer of 2014. But here I am.

I went to treatment again, but this time under very different circumstances. This time, I knew exactly what I was. People like me ARE drug addicts. People like me DO have drug problems. People like me DO face severe consequences because of drugs. People like me DO EVENTUALLY HAVE TO ADMIT THEIR POWERLESSNESS OVER DRUGS AND ALCOHOL OR THEY DIE. And so this time I was willing to do WHATEVER it took to find a new way of life without my tiny blue pill.

I can look back over my life and identify a couple different times where I had an extreme awareness, as the moment was unfolding, that my life would never be the same. One of them was when my mother told me my father was dead. One was when the doctor told me I was having a daughter. And the biggest one, up until this point, was when I waved the white flag of defeat, admitted exactly what I was, and asked for help. I knew, in that moment, that my life would never be the same… I knew, right then, that my life was black and white. I was either going to change or I was going to die.

I used to think that if I could go back in time and tell my 21 year old self to NOT TAKE THE TINY BLUE PILL, I would… but now I see everything had to happen exactly how it did then in order for everything to be exactly the way it is today. And today is good.

Just like addiction knows no race or age or socioeconomic status… thank God, neither does recovery. It’s here for all of us.

Don’t let a societal stigma blind you to the disease that’s killing our country. I’ve said it from the beginning of this blog and I’ll say it again… let’s talk. My story is one of millions, not even a drop in a vast ocean of stories about addiction. I’ll continue to talk about my struggle in hopes that it helps just one…

Please. If you’re struggling, ask for help. Don’t let your story end by becoming a statistic. There is life on the other side of addiction and it’s waiting for you. I am proof. My friends are proof. It’s beautiful and it’s yours if you want it.

Thanks for reading.