Overcoming Meth and Giving Back: Kara’s Story

Kara's found herself battling bulimia and meth addiction after school years of high achievement. Deep, spiritual experiences of love have brought new experiences of grace and opportunities to help others.

It’s crazy to me know how it’s really simple things that I get the most inspired by. I love sitting with my daughter and watching her laugh at a piece of string. She finds joy in the simplest things, and that inspires me it’s how I want to live.  I want to be able to find joy in hard circumstances, and remember simple reasons for gratitude and joy. Because, let’s face it, life’s not easy.”

I’m Kara Pate and I’m 11 years recovered from methamphetamine addiction, from alcoholism, and from bulimia. Probably the biggest issue for me, at the core of the addictions, was self-hate.

I grew up in Orange County, California. I have an older sister and a younger brother, and incredible parents who were very supportive. Growing up, I was very active, and had a passion for soccer. I the route of over-achieving and doing more, in school and in sports. I graduated from high school as ASB — student government — vice president with a 4.0 GPA. But I still felt empty.  it was always this search. How do I fit in this world?  What is going to make me somebody of value?  What is going to give me that thing I’m looking for to make me feel whole?

I think that’s inevitably what I searched for in everything.  I searched for it in relationships.  I searched for it in drugs and alcohol , I searched for it in performance, I searched for it in the way I looked. I developed an eating disorder as a teenager because I believed that my value and worth were tied to my physical appearance. 

Substances became a tool to try to feel these gaps. Alcohol helped me feel like I could fit in. Using meth helped get skinny, although it was to an incredibly unhealthy extent. I turned to that instead of purging. I told myself when I started meth that I was only gonna use that every now and then. It’s this idea of, “Oh no, not me, I’ll never get addicted.” But that’s not true. When it grabs you, it just holds you. Substances of addiction present a lie. They promise you the world and then they takes everything from you really quick.

After high school, I ended up pursuing college and I eventually transferred to UC Riverside after challenges at another program. I was doing a lot of drugs while I was there and I wasn’t do well in any of my classes. It was hard to show up half the time.  I was paranoid and consumed by what people were thinking about me.  I was covered in shame and guilt which just kept me stuck, because I was spending so much time partying, trying to numb my pain. After doing so well in school growing up, I wasn’t even passing anymore.  I had below a 2.0. GPA. 

 It was an identity crisis. I was going out to a lot of bars and I was doing a lot of drinking all over LA.  I was doing a lot of cocaine, or or whatever else was around. During that time it was, like, if I went to a bar and somebody gave me attention and said, “Oh, you look good, you’re pretty,” — or whatever it was, like buying me a drink, I felt like I owed them something. I would go home with whoever would take me home, if I felt like I owed them.  I didn’t have enough self-worth to know that wasn’t the case. I remember sitting in my shower, scrubbing myself for days, sitting with razor blades, wanting all the pain to end.  And that was the, cycle for me. I would sober up just enough to go out and do it all again. 

The years from 22 to 27 were pretty much blacked out. In that time, there was chaos, and violent relationships, and so many times when things could have gone so much worse, though things were already bad. I spent a lot of time in dark rooms without windows.  And people just with their meth pipe just passing it around.  And not a lot of hope.  Everybody there, just for the drug. 

So when I was 27 is when things started to turn around for me. But leading up to that point, I was actually feared that I was losing my mind. I would go days without sleeping and feel paranoia and fear completely overtaking me. Lying in a bed on a vegetative state, I would have visions of the world going on around me; but I wouldn’t be able to be a part of it in any way. The fact that things were slipping away really, really scared me.  That was the beginning of the wakeup call for me. Desperation can be a really powerful gift. 

I’d reached out to my family a couple times in my process, but I wasn’t able to change before. Now, I went to my dad and I said, “Daddy, I need help.” My family called a friend who had gotten sober a few years earlier. He took me to some 12-step meetings and things like that and then at the end of the week he sent me to a treatment center in Minnesota. The programs started the process of helping me get sober. And one thing that I remember thinking while I was there was, like, wow, I kinda like this spirituality thing, which was new to me. 

Before that time, I didn’t have any relationship with God at that point or have any belief in God. We went to church because that’s what you do on Sundays, especially in Orange County. Any thought I’d had of God throughout my addiction was, “If He’s real, I’ve really messed up.  And so I’m sure He’s up there, ready to just hit me with a pitchfork. And if there’s a hell and a heaven I’m sure I’m going to hell because I’ve messed up really, really badly here.”

My process had its ups and downs. After treatment, I had times where I started drinking and using again. And it took me to deeper depths, particularly in my mental health. I had been using so long that I had no tools to live without substances. Without substances the noise in my head was unbearable. I had no idea how to stay sober. 

Where I lived, there was a women’s detox center where women, if they were overcoming any kind of addiction, they could just go and sit there all day.  It was free. I would go there, because I didn’t know what else to do, the pain was so intense. In early sobriety it was as if someone had turned up the volume in my head and I had no relief from the vile thoughts and images and shame for things I had done. If felt overwhelming. 

I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t do sobriety anymore. On that particular day, there was a woman who sat with me. She had gotten sober about a year and a half before I did. She was so kind, and she embraced me. On a little yellow piece of paper, she wrote, “Be still and know that I am God and I will heal you.”  And I didn’t understand. The note didn’t make sense to me. I was in so much pain, I didn’t feel that I could actually stay sober. I felt that I would rather die in my addiction than feel the pain I did trying to be sober. The woman looked at me and said, “You only have to feel like this once, if you can just make it through. You just have to make through one day a time. And I looked at her and said, “I can’t. I wanted to go get high. I just can’t do this.  I don’t know what else to tell you.”  And she said, “OK, but know that I’ll be praying for you.”  And I said, “Okay, great.” 

I left and I went to where I knew I could score some meth and I had some money and I handed it to the people there. The person had to go get stuff from someone else. Seeing another friend who been using, and was still using, I realized how different we looked, even though I had only 40 days of sobriety. She seemed so sad and hopeless. I realized that there was something in me that had held on for some days, and thus I could hold on to another day. 

While I was standing there, the girl looked at me and said, “You got out. Why did you come back here?” 

I told her that I didn’t know why, but that I was in so much pain that I didn’t know how to live in it. 

But she wouldn’t let it go. “Yeah, but you got out,” she replied. It was shocking to her that I would want to come back to that life after leaving it, even if only for a few days. Her comments made me realize that all I was going to get if I used again was another five minutes of relief. My other friend came back with the drugs for me to take. And there was this incredible tension; I didn’t know what to do. 

In that moment, I literally felt, like, the presence of Something or Someone stand between me and this man with the drugs and I had a thought in my head that just said, “This isn’t the life I have for you, baby girl.  I have so much more.”  And in that thought (VOICE?) there was so much love and so much compassion. It was the purest love I had ever experienced.. The fact that I could hear that in the midst of  thinking I was the most deplorable, horrible person on the face of the Earth was what really changed my life.  And I looked at the guy and I said, “I can’t.”  And I left.

I went outside and I just said, “I don’t who You are, I don’t know what you are.  But I’m gonna look and I’m gonna find You.  And I’m gonna look everywhere.”  And that’s what I did. For the next couple years I went on this journey of looking for God in all types of spirituality. And I had experiences in different contexts and places, and I felt connection. In the process, I found that same voice of love and connection in Jesus. He became my Higher Power, and in relationship with Him I became new.

Experiencing this level of unconditional love, when I had done everything I could think of in the world to destroy my life, and in the process damaged others’ lives, gave me a capacity to love myself and love others at a deeper level than I had before. I became able to forgive others. Knowing my value and worth made it easier to live and not get offended when things didn’t go my way, or how I expected. 

There were still hard days in recovery. But there is so much beauty in overcoming something; walking forward even it feels like your world is crashing down. Something that helped me in recovery was learning about the science behind addiction. Understanding the disease model for addiction — how your brain gets rewired and it turns into a medical condition — took a lot of the shame out of where my life went. It changed my viewpoint in recovery from “I’m a bad person” to “I’m a sick person needing to get well.” This new belief helped me reach out and ask for help throughout my recovery.

I was blessed to find community in early recovery, through a range of organizations and resources. It seemed like God would  bring people alongside me just when I needed them most. 

Through recovery, I’ve gotten to do things that I never, ever thought I would do. I never thought education would be in my future after my experiences, but I ended up going back to school, and finishing my degree. I started working in recovery. In 2010, I got a seemingly random email from Pepperdine University about a new Master’s Degree program focused on social entrepreneurship and change. My heart just came alive when I saw it. I somehow got into the program, and even got a small scholarship that helped me attend. Through that program I worked on a project called the Global Treatment Alliance, where resources from the United States focused on mental health got to help those struggling with mental health challenges in developing nations. That experience really fueled my fire to look for opportunities to make greater change.

As I now get to help people rediscover life and health through recovery, I am  grateful for all of the recovery models that are in the world because everybody’s at a different place. What helped me ten years ago, early in my recovery, is not what helps me today. Connecting with different resources and types of help have enabled me to move to a place where using alcohol and drugs isn’t a thought for me anymore. I went through a LONG healing process — but the process is not the end of the story 

Family is another aspect of life that makes me come alive. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure about being a mom. I didn’t grow up thinking about  the white dress and all that kind of stuff. I had to go through a lot of healing from past relationships and choices. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to  react when I had a baby.  But, when she first came out and I held her on my chest and I saw that she was OK, it was a really beautiful understanding of God’s love. He actually doesn’t want anything from us except to lay on His chest and just to be close.  And it’s never about our performance or what we can do for Him.  It’s about a relationship and a closeness.  

Today, I know that I am loved. It took me a lot of years to get to the place of believing that. I think that’s the core of my identity.  I think that’s why I’m here on Earth: to be loved. Everybody has value, and is deserving of love.  

If I couldI look back on my 18 year old self, I would tell her how beautiful she is and that she doesn’t need permission from anybody else to take up her space in this world. There’s nothing that she needs to change about herself.  She doesn’t need to be thinner, she doesn’t need to be taller, she doesn’t need a different color hair. I would tell her that she’s loved and that no matter what she does or doesn’t do it will never change her worth or her value as a human being.


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