Hi, I’m Avery. I love to make things, run, bake, and eat lots of ice cream. I am married to my best friend and we just purchased our first home here in Williamson County, TN. I am a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls, and I am also a recovering heroin addict.
When I choose to share that piece of myself with people, they usually think that I’m joking. I guess I’m glad I don’t look like I should be under a bridge with a needle in my arm…Maybe it would help if I wore my tongue ring (which I actually impulsively got pierced in sobriety and thankfully no longer wear ;)). That’s the scary thing about addiction: it can affect anyone from any race, gender, or socioeconomic background.
I grew up in Franklin, TN. My parents are high school sweethearts. I was a competitive cheerleader, both for my school and at a private gym. I had a perfectly loving and normal childhood. I never understood why I always felt different. I looked like the other girls, I could act like the other girls; So, why did I always feel so angry and nervous? What were these obsessive thoughts that kept intruding my brain? Why did everyone else seem to function so effortlessly? I could never articulate any of that- I just always felt stressed as far back as my memory goes.
In seventh grade at a sleep over, someone suggested drinking some beer from her mom’s garage fridge. That was a pivotal moment in my life. My chest felt lighter, my brain slowed down, and I wasn’t angry. Was this how I was supposed to feel? I remember waking up the next morning and being so devastated that the wonderful feeling I had the night before was gone. I was back in my jumbled brain, and was already plotting how I could get that feeling again.
The ruminating thoughts that consumed my mind did not help my self-esteem. I had a lot of self-hatred, and I was angry with myself for feeling like everything was difficult. I only wanted to be drunk. I entered high school and things started out fine. I drank with friends when it was available- whether that meant in the bathroom at school or at a party. I began to hate myself more. I could never understand why I didn’t feel normal. This pushed me into an extremely toxic/codependent relationship.
My addiction manifested itself in the form of codependency. I needed him to make me feel better. He was the source of my worsening symptoms, yet I felt like I couldn’t function without him. I was abused on and off from the time I was 15 until I was 18. He would break up with me, I would drink very heavily, and I wound up being raped. It happened multiple times, and for years I blamed myself. No matter how intoxicated you are that NEVER gives anyone the right to your body. After that it was very easy for me to believe I was as worthless as he said I was. No one could ever love me. I was damaged. I kept drinking, although that started to get old. I had built a pretty high tolerance, so it was more of a challenge to get myself to the level of disassociation I craved. I finally discovered benzos. That was like my first experience with alcohol, but even better. I never stopped chasing the feeling of completely leaving myself. All of this eventually resulted in totaling my first car. This devastated me deeply, but not because I hurt anyone or that I couldn’t see my friends: I was devastated that my ability to get high was going to be extremely difficult. I started getting liquor and bringing it to school in water bottles to get through the day. I hated high school. When I graduated, I followed my abusive boyfriend to a college I did not want to attend, out in the middle of nowhere.
From there, I allowed him to completely isolate me from my family and any friends I had left. He controlled when I drank, where I went, what I wore, who I spoke to, and how I felt. Every day felt so long. I wanted to die. After suffering through a miserable lonely semester of isolation and control- things came to an end. Finally, after an argument, I tried to make him leave. He slammed me against the concrete wall and tried to hit me with his guitar. I began to spiral out of control.
I don’t remember much, but I went home the next day. I met someone. He had a lot of money and an Altoid box full of Xanax. He was my soulmate, I thought. I was done with the previous toxic relationship, and I was on to the next. I was not going to class anymore- just waking up every morning and shotgunning beers in my dorm. Alone. Cheap beer wasn’t cutting it anymore, so my new found “love” said he could make me feel like I was in a ‘warm fuzzy bubble’. I will spare the details, but I began intravenously using heroin. In that moment I felt better than I ever have in my life. There was no turning back. I had to have it. When I didn’t have money, I robbed people I loved. I used my body. I did anything I could think of. I lived in cars and shitty motels. I was finally at my bottom. When I woke up in a trashed room at the Best Western lying next to random people and a cocaine covered mirror, I had to get out. How did I get here? Who am I?
I detoxed for a gruesome two weeks in the heat of the summer. I wanted to be better, but I couldn’t do it on my own. I started using again. This went on and off for a little while. I wound up in detox at a psychiatric ward. I tried, sort of, but I started using again. I had no money, no job, and I was full of so much shame. On August 28th 2011 I slept with a man for some dope. The deal fell through. I shot up the last of what I had. I went home, wandered into my parent’s bathroom, and found a pill bottle. I took the whole thing. Luckily, in my intoxicated stupor, what I found couldn’t kill me. But I wanted to die. I couldn’t stop. I felt like my only way out was death. I was rushed to the emergency room, hand cuffed, and taken back to the same psych ward I had been in before. The doctor suggested calmly to my parents, “Send her to treatment in Mississippi, or she will die”.
I had a great experience at the treatment center I was sent to. For the first time in my life I was surrounded by a bunch of women who were me. All of these women with similar experiences of shame and despair were also full of so much hope. I completed a four month stay at an intensive in-patient rehab facility. I was finally able to understand what I had been experiencing my whole life. I was given answers. That feeling of anger started to dissolve. I had a long road ahead, but at least I knew I was in the right place, on the right path. It was difficult to navigate life when I was finally released back into society. I didn’t have a car, or a cell phone. I walked to work and saved up to buy myself a very old car. I had trac phone that still had T9 texting. I lived in a crappy apartment with no furniture. I later moved into a trailer park and was excited when I was able to furnish it with all second hand furniture. It was some humble beginnings, but I worked my ass off. I kept expecting the sobriety fairy to come down and grant me three wishes every time I hit a milestone. That kept not happening, but I kept my head down and continued to work on myself. I had a wonderful support system, yet wasn’t handed anything. I had to earn every bit of my happiness and material items. It was not easy, but it was worth every bit. It took me longer than it probably should have, but I eventually found the beauty in every step of my journey.
Although I had many years of sobriety under my belt, it took me a long time to finally acknowledge that I needed help with my dual diagnoses. I finally got on the right medication to help with my OCD. My OCD presents itself in what my therapist called ‘Pure O’. Which basically means purely obsessing over intrusive thoughts. That was hard for me to pinpoint, which is why it took so long to get some relief. Now, at 28 years old and 9 years sober, I can finally say I feel like my best self. I take my medication, go to therapy once a month, and work a program that is best for me.
I shared all of these incredibly intimate details of my experience to say this: it’s never too late. Even when you think you’ve done the worst thing, or there’s no turning back- you’re wrong. Do it for yourself. Don’t waste another minute of your potential happiness because you don’t think you’re strong enough. There are always a million reasons not to do something. Ask for help. Find a local meeting and just go listen to what the amazing rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous have to say. There are women/men out there who understand you and are ready to support you through this next chapter. I never thought I would be here today, but I am. I love my perfectly imperfect life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without my past. I have made amends where possible, and I have forgiven myself.
To those who may not be experiencing addiction themselves, but have a loved one who is: do not take it personally. You can’t fix them. Let them hit their bottom and be there as their biggest cheerleader when they decide to pick themselves up.
We can and do recover; Trust me, I know.