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[ Personal Narratives ]

Heroin + Me = Survivor

My name is Kimberly Lucille Knox originally Kimberly Lucille Bilbrey. I am a 35 year old recovering heroin addict. I have been sober for almost 5 years now. I prefer not to count the time I spent sober while incarcerated, because I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I can’t honestly say that I would’ve been sober during that time. That just I choose to look at it for myself, of course everyone’s sobriety is their own to decipher. 

My hope is that I can help someone with my story, my life, and most importantly my recovery.

My childhood was relatively normal up until a point. My father worked a lot of odd hours. I remember that he had to miss a lot of events in my life due to work. But, my dad is a good man with strong morals. We may not see eye to eye, but he will always be my Daddy-o.

My mom was always there. Softball games, dances, late night talks, and all of the punishments. My mom was a remarkably strong woman, and she remains my role model, a fact that she never knew. I still wish that I would have told her. I wanted to be brave, strong, and as kind hearted as she was. For those that knew my mom, they know that she was a force to be reckoned with. My mom never backed down from anyone or anything. 

My sister and I really did not like one another growing up. I remember lots of times that she would beat on my wall, because she was mad at me for something. The thing that I never realized until more recently, was how hard my mom was on her compared to me or my brother. 

My brother, let’s just say I wanted to be just like him. If he ate 10 pieces of pizza, I ate 10 pieces. He was and still is my bubby. I remember many nights watching T.V. with him. He gave me my love of horror movies and anything gory.

Overall I would refer to my childhood as peaceful and for that I am grateful. I was a good student, I had dreams of doing BIG things in my life. I always knew that I was going to work in the field of psychiatry and help others. I had an outgoing personality that seemed to get me pretty far in school and in life in general. I would say that I was an active, like-able, outgoing kid who seemed to know what she wanted out of life.

Everything changed October 18, 2004. I got a phone call at my job. My sister was on the other end.

“Mom is unresponsive and heading to the hospital” I was told. 

As soon as I heard the news I ran out the back door. My mom had been sick for many years, but for some reason, this call, seemed different from the past calls i’d received. 

I suppose it was one of those things that you hear about… when you love someone that much you can feel when they are fading away from you. 

I guess somewhere inside I knew she was going to be taken from me. What I did not realize at the time is how bad this was going to be for me and my whole family. My brother and sister in law picked me up from my job and we headed to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital, the surgeon told us that he could not stop the bleeding in mom’s brain. I hated him. I told him this as well. I told him to do his job and that job was to get my mom better.

Mom made it through the surgery, but we were unsure if she would ever be the same or if she would have to live on life support. We all knew that was not going to be an option. My mom would never want to live her life like that. The next day we went to the hospital and we were told she was not getting better, she was not going to wake up. Mom would be a vegetable if we did not decide that it was her time to be called home. My family let me go in and say my goodbyes, I am pretty sure I told on myself for everything I had done while growing up. When it was officially time, I officially felt the most amount of pain that I ever have. It was as if someone took my heart and decided to beat it into a pulp. I felt as if I had no life left in me. I was dying right along with my mom. I was losing the one person who always fought with me and fought for me. The woman that made my life heaven and hell all in one.

I went through all the motions of the funeral, but I wasn’t really there. My body was present but my mind was still in shock. 

Over the days and weeks to come I would need to take the pain away! I smoked weed, but it did not help. I got tattoos… that didn’t help. Both of them were only a temporary relief to the pain I felt inside of me. I did not know how to tell someone else about this pain that cut so deep. tThis is when things went downhill quick. 

I had some so-called friends that did heroin. I tried it. The first time I thought it was awful. I mean who wants to sit around and drool on themselves? Plus, it burnt like hell going in my nose. But like any good addict, I would try again, and again. Then, several months later, I fell in love with heroin. It was the best feeling I’d ever experienced.. 

I found the one thing that could take all of my pain away and I was in LOVE with this devil. I guess you could say I signed my soul over. This turned my life into a living hell for the next eight years. At first I thought I can handle it. How do people even get addicted? All you have to do is space it out so you won’t get hooked. My once in a while turned into every day and pretty soon all the time.

I was still going to the Community College taking Psychology courses as originally planned during the start of my heroin addiction, when one day I felt horribly sick; I thought that it was a cold or flu. My boyfriend at the time that told me to come over because he knew how to make me feel better. He was right, he had the magic cure, Heroin. The instant I did that line I felt great again. That is when I realized that I wasn’t sick in the first place, no, I was experiencing the heroin withdrawals I had only heard about. 

I tried to stay in school over the next months, but that became an impossible task. Fast forward a few weeks, I had broke up with the boyfriend, I was working as a cocktail server at a bar downtown, when I met this guy that was a tattoo artist. He ended up introducing me to intravenous heroin use, and If I thought I was hooked before, now I was really done. I didn’t have to think or even deal with the pain over the loss of my mom. I finally felt as if I could breathe again. I felt as if I had found my one true love in life. And, damn if that didn’t feel like heaven on earth. The problem with heroin is that you don’t see life clearly, and I was headed in a bad direction to say the least.

It wasn’t long before I quit my job and quit school. I wasn’t able to remain very functional within society, not while I served heroin as my master. Oh, and I still lived at home with my father. I put that man through hell. I conned, stole, robbed, lied, and did all I could to get money just for me to get more heroin. I gave him no choice, but to put me out of his house after I stole from him time and time again. In his defense he tried to help me. He sent me to rehabs, but I would just leave, since there was nothing holding me there.

 Once I was out on the streets I bounced around quite a bit and lived by the motto… “By any means necessary”. For me this meant I had to survive by any means necessary. I stole, robbed, and lied my way through my so called life. My family had no idea where I was most of the time. 

My sister even had called the cops on me a few times and had me arrested. I always had outstanding warrants. My family figured if I was in jail, at least they knew where I was. They could rest a little easier knowing that I was behind bars and not somewhere with a needle in my arm. I held so much hate for her doing that to me. 

It’s crazy how addiction makes us run away from the people who want to help us the most.

I became a stripper at one point, because I needed the money. And, as we all know stripping can be a very lucrative career. I worked in one of the seedier ones in town. I made “dates” with men, just to take their money. I did not understand why they would want to pay heroin addict to go to dinner with them, but apparently this is common for men on business trips. 

Thankfully, I never sold my body for drugs, but there were times that I seriously considered it. I can admit that I lied and told one man I would have sex with him, but the money was to come first. I got almost a thousand dollars and ran like hell out of that hotel room. I figured he couldn’t report me anyways, what are you gonna do, call the cops and tell them the prostitute you paid wasn’t really a prostitute?I was desperate for heroin, it became my oxygen and i’d do anything to breathe! 

The sad part with heroin is that after a little time your tolerance catches up to you, and you don’t even use to get high anymore, you simply use to stay “well”, to keep the withdrawals away. There came a point where stripping didn’t even earn me enough money for my drug habit, so I began committing crimes in order to get more money.

As time went on, I started catching cases. Felony ones. The misdemeanors were racking up as well at this time. There was no turning back at this point. Go big or go home as they say. It is hard for me to admit how I turned into this horrible person. There was no remittance of that vibrant young girl that I once was.

I really hated myself and who I was at that time of my life. I did things that most normal people would consider sick or twisted. I had no friends or family left, the only people I was interested in talking to were those that could help score me more heroin. At this point in my life, If you didn’t have heroin or plan on getting me heroin, you were of absolutely no use to me. I had lost it all, and I had lost myself.

I was in and out of county jail and eventually did two terms in prison. The sad part is that during all of this time my family had no idea that I wanted help. The stigma that shames most addicts into not asking for help, was the same stigma that kept me from reaching out.

I am a very strong willed individual (I got that from my mom) and was sure I could do it all on my own. I couldn’t. The last time I went to prison was for almost three years. It was a long and hard time for me. My family was done, my friends were doing their own thing (getting high), the sober ones had given up on me, and I had no one else. So, you may be wondering why I even tried. Sounds like it is over for me. Not so much. 

I did some serious soul searching while I was in there. I actually used my time to find myself instead of losing myself further in our highly flawed judicial system (Another story and another time). I hated the person I had become. 

I did not get my hood stripes for doing time or being an addict. It did not make me cool. It ruined me. Heroin stole my life. Heroin took anything and everything that was important to me.

I came home in 2011. One of the best days of my life. I was free. Whether or not if I was going to stay sober was going to be my choice. I stayed with friends for a short time. They were still doing the same thing, getting high, and talking about how they want to stop. And that was a mistake I made, as I relapsed shortly after getting out. 

At this point I was positive that I was not going to make it as a sober person. I honestly believed that my new destiny in life was to be a heroin addict, that I would not be anything more in life.

I couldn’t seem to stay strong enough to stay away from the devil that was holding on to my soul. I had given up hope on myself once again.  I truly thought that I was at the end of my road with this thing that we call life.

Then, the day came that I met someone who showed me hope, and showed me what real love was. I always thought that I was different from my friends. I dated men/boys my whole life. Had a few flings with girls, but I thought that it was normal to explore your sexuality. I had quit dating men for some time. Said that I needed me time. In reality I was just not interested in men and had not been in a long time. I had recently came out to my father as a lesbian, but he blew it off and told me I needed to see a preacher. That hurt me more than I care to admit. I always wondered if that helped me push myself back into my addiction. I figured if he couldn’t love me for who I am, then who really would. I suppose he did not know how to respond to such a proclamation other than I need a preacher to help me. 

Well, as the story goes… when I met her I knew she was the one. She gave me light into my darkness. Filled a hole in my heart that I thought couldn’t be filled. I moved in with her soon after. The best part about her, I told her every detail about myself and she didn’t run from me. She embraced me for who I was. Horrible past and all. This woman saw something in me that I thought had been long gone, but I guess it was just buried deep inside me still.

Like I said I truly did not believe that I knew how to live sober or to even handle stress without using heroin. I was able to keep it a secret for the first couple of months we were dating, even though we lived together. I did it when she left for work or made sure the door was always locked to the bathroom. Well, she ended up catching me in the act. Needle in hand and all. It was at her work Christmas party. 

Unlike everyone else that found out that I was on heroin she decided to fight for me and not run from me.

We went through hell to get me truly sober. The late night fights, the horrible cramps throughout my body, the vomiting, and the many sleepless nights. The fights were the worse part. We both said things that we regretted later in our relationship. At one point I left her due to me wanting to use again. I figured it would be easier if I just gave up and didn’t have to fight so hard to be sober. Plus, I figured I was saving her the trouble than having to deal with a mess of a person like myself. In my sick head I thought that this was better for her than dealing with me. Thank God she hunted me down and made me see how much she really loved me. I think that was when I knew I had a reason to fight for my sobriety again. I had a reason to want to live. I had a wonderful woman who truly wanted me and loved me, imperfections included!

Now, here we are almost five years later. I am happily married to that woman whom I love with all of my being. My family and I are closer than ever. My sister and I have a friendship that I thought was never possible. I actually talk to her on a daily basis about everything. It is so refreshing to have that with her. My brother and found our relationship with one another again. He is my go to person when I just need to ramble, after all he is used to it from me. I am sober and plan on remaining that way. Every day things get a little better. 

I’m not saying I don’t have bad days, and the urges aren’t completely removed either, but now I have the tools to combat them. With the help of family and friends, with a purpose driven plan to stay sober.

As of recently, 2016, I have graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis magna cum laude with my Bachelor’s in Psychology. I have a good job working in the field that I was sure that I would not work in at one point in my life. I am a community support specialist at a drug treatment center in St. Louis. I applied for a summer internship with The National Institute of Drug Addiction and I was accepted! There are thousands of people that apply for these internships and they accepted me… a two time felon and recovering heroin addict. I am one of 50 people who received funding to be able to work on their research projects. I am currently working on a research project to hopefully be published in the next year. This is a dream come true for me. 

I am considering what I will do next for Graduate School. I am going to help the world in one way or another. Whether it is behind the scenes or more hands on with individual therapy. Either way it will give me the opportunity to do the best of everything that I love… research, treatment, and possibly assisting to change policies. My real dream is to work specifically with addiction, researching ideas and working to help end the problem that this world is currently facing. 

I try to help people in any way that I can. I have become the person I once was, but a more grateful and caring version. I have finally grieved for my mother as well and still do pretty much every day. But, I have learned that it is OK to grieve. I am not weak for missing my mom. It took me some time, but I am stronger when it comes to talking about her. I do visit her often and I know she is looking down on me and smiling at who I have become now. I know that she would love my wife and probably love her more for helping me in a way that others could not even reach me.

The hardest part about all of this is that as a recovering addict and as a felon I am still being judged. I will always have those two dark clouds looming over my head. Convicted felon and heroin addict. Unfortunately, we live in a society that penalizes you even after you’ve paid your debt to society. People will not rent to me, certain jobs will not hire me, and certain people in my life will always keep me at a distance. It is unfair to judge me on what I did now that I have paid my dues. Is this not the land of second chances?

I am no longer the person I used to be. I have become an individual who will fight for justice for everyone. But, knowing that I am judged, It hurts, it hurts deep inside of me. I may put on a smile and say I am OK, but guess I am not. Up until now I’ve always felt that I have to watch what I say and do around people. But, after this is out in the open I will NEVER hide who I am again. I AM a convicted felon and I AM a heroin addict. But, I am also strong, brave, and more than willing to break my back in order to help out the ones that I love. I spend more time doing volunteer work for organizations that are involved with our civil rights, the LGBTQ community, and stop heroin movements. I will always fight for what I believe to be right even if no one understands why I feel the way I do about certain issues. I am no longer an active user, but I will always be an addict. That is something that will never go away, but I can control it. I can be better than I was yesterday.

The main thing that I have learned lately is to be who you are. Be true to yourself. And, even though not everyone will approve of you, your lifestyle, or your past or present decisions make yourself happy. I will always be a recovering heroin addict, but I can remain a sober one. I hope that this little insight to my life will help you or someone you know. I did not share my story in order to receive pity or for others to see me as something I am not. I do not feel as if I have done anything amazing in getting sober or that I am better than anyone. I am sharing this out of my own selfishness. I need to be freed of these thoughts and let others know that they are not alone. 

It is possible to change your life for the better. It just takes time and some serious determination to do so. And if you know someone who is struggling with addiction the best thing you can do is listen. Look for cues that they are crying out for help. Most will not ask for it because of the guilt and shame associated with addiction (the stigma). Aned if you know you need help, my advice is to ask! You would be surprised how many people are willing to actually help you in your life, despite the mistakes you feel are not forgivable. You are not alone.