Owning My Personal Recovery Journey
My personal recovery journey is my own. I got sober in a conventional way, but that’s not the way it works for everybody. Recovery looks different for everyone. People trust me and my opinion because I’ve never been one to sugar coat stuff. I believe that anything that will help create a scenario where you can get better is important to talk about. That is one of the reasons I now have a show: Dope Sick Nation on Viceland and Hulu! On the show, my co-host Frankie and I help homeless people get into treatment for free.
Throughout the recovery journey, I have lost friends and gone through hard times. But, I’ve learned that when I feel like it’s all crashing down and crumbling around me, it’s going to be over eventually, and I am going get through it.
When you really realize your life is going to be okay, though maybe not picturesque, then you can start living. Really living… not living in fear.
A Chaotic Childhood
I was born into a very chaotic home in New York. My dad drank a lot. As a kid, I smoked weed and did coke regularly. Due to my situation, I ended up in foster care at 13. But my drug use at such a young age screwed it all up. The foster family kicked me out and the system put into a group home.
A year later, I moved back in with my dad, who moved us to Florida not long after. At school, other kids introduced me to pharmaceuticals. Oxycontin, codeine… they were like Skittles at my school. They were so cheap and everyone was strung out: the football players, cheerleaders, the trailer park kids I hung out with– everyone. In those days, no one talked about opioids. We didn’t know it was going to ruin our lives. By 15, I was selling drugs.
Two years later came the day that changed my life forever. Apparently, the cops had been watching me for nearly four months. They caught me selling ecstasy and sent me to a juvenile detention center, where I immediately went into withdrawal. I had never been so sick before in my life, and I faced 120 years in prison because they charged me as an adult.
Once you’re an adult, they can use your name in the press, and the news picked my story up, “West Boca Teen, 120 Year Sentence.”
I thought that was cool, I actually thought I was famous. My ego was enormous. I told my dad I was going on a hunger strike until they paid my bail (set at 60 grand). He said, “Okay, don’t eat.”
After I got a pre-trial release, they placed me under house arrest. I ended up smoking weed the first day out. It quickly spiraled downhill. I started pulling f****d up druggie stunts and stealing, all without setting off my ankle alarm. Finally, my dad had enough. He locked all the doors and kicked me out.
Eventually, the court sentenced me and I went to rehab, where I faked all my drug tests until I spilled someone else’s clean piss all over me and I had to use my own. That week, I had done methadone, Xanax, coke, crack, weed, everything–even acid. I looked at the woman doing the test and said, “Listen, lady, I can’t take a drug test for you, I’m going to come up positive for everything. If you’re going to decide if I need inpatient or outpatient, I’m going to tell you right now I need to go away, I can not stop on my own.” It was my first moment of clarity and honesty.
I was a total handful and almost got kicked out of rehab a million times. After nine months, I graduated and picked up my 9-month key tag. But, I wasn’t going to meetings, I wasn’t doing the steps, and except for probation, there was no one who really cared what I did. After drinking for a night, I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache mixed with shame and guilt.
I called my friend Nikki and told her I had relapsed. She told me to go to a meeting and get a sponsor. Just like that, I decided to be on the straight and narrow. Within a few months, I finished the steps and broke up with my boyfriend. I got my own little place, and began to sponsor others in the group, which was so great. We met at Starbucks, and I remember the crazy, awesome feeling of going through a book with a girl I was able to help. And I just kept going from there.
One of the things I am most grateful for is the camaraderie of the recovery community. These days, I can still have fun and be crazy and stupid. Except, it’s a whole lot better. Now, I have joy, my heart is full of love. I’m free.
These days, you’ll find me working with my harm reduction initiative called Fresh Start, which focuses on scholarships and aftercare. It’s my favorite part of it all–being with the kids during their first year of sobriety. While I still love doing homeless outreach, I have tapped into my creative side. This includes painting, which I’m not great at, and working on a horror film. Recently, I have been featured in a movie called American Relapse, which you can check out.
Those who don’t understand addiction very well often ask, “Why would someone do drugs or drink?” If they could stop and see the person in front of them, and get to know them, they would probably get the answer to their question. Labels can do a lot of damage. Looking at people as people reduces the stigma around addiction.
I am much more than someone “in recovery.” I am a regular person, I have a personality, I like art and I watch funny videos and do funny stupid things, and I have a great job. I am sober, and when I am with my close friends, it feels better than any drug I’ve ever taken.
Taking OneStep Forward
You are only one step away from finding help. Take one of these steps towards freedom:
1. Be Gracious: Like Allie, you might have experienced people making comments that create shame around your recovery process and addiction. Don’t let these labels stick – choose to be gracious to yourself.
2. Boundaries can be love: There might be someone in your life walking through a healing or recovery process that you want to show compassion to, but might actually wake up because of boundaries you set. It might feel harsh or mean to set boundaries like Allie’s dad did, but sometimes boundaries will encourage them to take ownership of their process.
3. Embrace a different journey: Your story is unique so your recovery journey is likely going to look different than anyone else’s. Be okay with finding a different range of resources that work for you. For Allie, it was through a friend and sponsor, but it may look different for you.