True Story: Debbie

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Debbie: A True Story of Drug Addiction and RecoveryWhen I was growing up in Providence, Rhode Island, it was all “peace, love, and drugs.” Drug use was accepted back then, and marijuana was the drug of choice. I didn’t like smoking, but I started drinking alcohol because it helped me to fit in. But my mother was an alcoholic, so I had heredity going against me, and my drinking just set me off on a dangerous path. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, drinking and driving…pretty soon I got into a terrible car accident and ended up in a wheelchair. But did I take that as a sign that it was time to quit drinking? Nope. I just got a prescription for painkillers. I became addicted to the medication I was taking to deal with the pain from the car accident.

The next ten years were lost to painkillers and my heroin habit. I’d get prescriptions, sell them, and buy heroin. It was all about getting and using and finding ways to get more. I became a junkie. The worst moment of my addiction was when I was evicted from my apartment because of my drug use—I ended up living on the street. By then, I had already been to detox at the local hospital three times, but I had never made it to residential treatment. During my fourth trip to detox, it got to the point where I knew that when I left the hospital I would have nowhere to go. Luckily, I saw a poster with a phone number for Phoenix House Exeter Center, which back then was called Marathon House. I had no money, but I called—and Phoenix House saved my life by letting me in.

They even had to figure out how to let me in, because at the time the facility wasn’t wheelchair accessible—but they made it accessible for me, and it’s been like that ever since. Entering treatment was the best decision I ever made, and I got so much out of the program. If it weren’t for the staff members, the inspirational folks who were in treatment, and the fact that I was finally ready and willing to listen, I wouldn’t be clean today. I set one simple goal: to complete treatment. That was the first step towards my recovery, and the rest has been such a success story. My whole life started when I completed the program at Phoenix House.

Because of my experience at Phoenix House, I decided I wanted to work in the field; when I completed treatment I went back to school and got my GED, my BA, and my license in chemical dependency counseling. Once I was qualified, I went back to Phoenix House to help out, and it was such a wonderful feeling to work with the residents and share the valuable lessons I had learned. I even received the Phoenix House Staff Excellence Award—and I had to give a speech in front of the Board of Directors! It was nerve-wracking, but I was so proud.

The Phoenix House philosophy is to put your heart into your work and do your best. It took me a while to adapt to that concept, but I never gave up. I graduated in 1990, and I just celebrated 22 years clean. Treatment pulled me out of the mess of addiction and homelessness that I was in; I was able to buy my own house, and I’ve been living here for 14 years. I’m a grandmother now, and I’ve re-established relationships with my son and family members, whereas before I would always put my drug use first. Now I can set goals and accomplish them because I don’t give up. What’s the best part of my recovery? That’s easy: everything.

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