I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. As a kid I experimented with pot and pills, and on my 13th birthday I started using heroin. I had no family history of addiction; it was just me going off on my own. I made friends with this clique of older kids who really inspired me, and they were using heroin. I thought, “That’s something I want to do,” so I did it. I was shooting up from age 13 to 16.
Eventually my other friends told my parents about my habit. Of course I said they were lying, but my mother found hypodermic needles in my room. She took me to a doctor who put me on methadone, which kept me off the urges and stopped me from shooting heroin for the time being. At 17 I got married and had a child, but soon my husband started stealing my methadone, and I introduced him to heroin. Then we were both using. Long story short, my mother found out and threatened to take my son, who was still a baby. She said I had to go into a treatment program, so I went for about a month before I split and started using again.
I called my mom to ask for money and she said that if I didn’t go back to treatment within 24 hours she’d have me arrested. This was back in the era of the Rockefeller Laws, where you could arrest anyone with a suspicion of drug use unless they could prove they weren’t an addict. So I was arrested and mandated to 36 months. I finished my time, but I made no changes towards a healthy recovery.
For years, I was back and forth between drugs and detoxing. I started mainlining cocaine and sold my diamond wedding band to pay for it. I would come back from copping drugs and nod out in my kitchen. My son used to push my head, screaming, “Mommy, wake up!” Then he would run to the neighbor’s house and yell, “My mommy, she died!” He was so scared. I still think about those times today, and the guilt is still there. Those were the most horrible days of my life.
One day I fell asleep while I was high and smoking a cigarette, and I burned my house down. Then I wandered around the burnt house looking for my son—I was so high I couldn’t even remember that he had gone to stay with his father. After that incident, I had nothing left—no clothes, nowhere to live. I was out on the streets for five months. I felt a constant emptiness, and I started to realize that I never should have left treatment. Every day I had the urges and the thoughts that said, “C’mon, do it. Get some drugs.” I wound up in the hospital after a bad overdose and my mother said, “Why are you so afraid of going back to treatment? There’s nothing they could possibly do to you that would be worse than what you’re doing to yourself.”
So I thought I’d give it a chance. I went to a treatment program on Long Island called APPLE, which later merged with Phoenix Houses of New York. I took a good look at myself. I realized the reasons behind my use and began to understand the dangers of the drug. I enjoyed treatment and was really engaged in the process. I finally stopped thinking about myself and started thinking about my son. After 27 months, I completed treatment. I cried on stage when I graduated, and I thanked my mom and my son for giving me a chance.
I started working again, first as a driver, then as an intake counselor, and eventually I became a counselor. I’ve been in this field almost 30 years, and I’ve never left Phoenix House. I’m very much grateful for this organization and its mission, and I know if it weren’t for treatment, I wouldn’t be here today. I’ve overdosed nearly a hundred times, and treatment was the only thing that broke that pattern.
Since I’ve been in recovery I’ve met my second husband, gotten remarried, and gotten my son back. When he was 11 or 12 I asked him if he wanted to come and live with my husband and me. I knew my in-laws thought I was just a junkie and would never be a good mother. But in court my son was called up to the stand and asked where he wanted to live. He said, “I want to be with my mom.” I almost died, I wanted to hear that so much. So he came to live with me, and at first my greatest fear was that he would follow in my footsteps and become an addict too. But he just kept going to school and doing well. He graduated and went to college, and today he’s a Phys. Ed. teacher. He married a psychologist and I now have three beautiful grandchildren. My son never smoked, never drank, never even cursed! I think he learned a lot from watching my struggles. He knows he doesn’t need to hang out with anybody like the person his mother used to be.
As for me, I never went back. I know how to be strong, and I walk with my head up high. I tell my story, where I came from, and I’m proud of what I’ve done to become who I am today. People are always surprised at my story; they say, “Wow, you don’t look like a drug addict!” And I say, “Well what does a drug addict look like exactly?” I don’t believe in luck; I think I made the decision to stick around for a reason, and that reason was to give back. I tell my clients: “I am no different than you, I just have a couple more years clean. You, too, can be whatever you want to be, as long as you want to change and see the rewards in life.”
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.