I never fit in from the get-go—not in my family, not at school, and not anywhere else. Wherever I went, I felt like a round peg in a square hole.
In my family, my mom was a psychologist and my brother was into studying, so they were alike. I was more like my dad. He was a “people person” who didn’t like to apply himself. He was also an alcoholic who physically abused my brother and me. He got sober when I was 4 or 5, but he held onto his anger. I couldn’t exactly feel good about being like him.
Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t the only one who abused me. I was sexually abused by multiple men starting at age 4 and until I was 17.
My mom put me in therapy when I was 6 to deal with the abuse from my father, but she didn’t know about the sexual abuse—and I didn’t tell her or my therapist. Only later did I realize that if I’d been honest then, I might’ve been able to avoid a lot of things that happened to me down the road. But I believe that if I hadn’t been through all I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
At the time, though, it sucked. And as much as I didn’t fit in at home, school was worse. In junior high, there was a situation that involved me and another kid my age, and the rumors at school about me got really bad. I would get teased by the other kids so horribly that I started cutting and attempting suicide. My mom had me transfer schools because of the torture from the other kids, but the rumors always followed.
I also had trouble in school because I had Attention Deficit Disorder, but I was told it wasn’t bad enough to warrant medication. I would go through phases when I’d think, “I just need to apply myself, watch my sugar and caffeine intake, and I can control it.” Then when I couldn’t, I felt worse.
I know now that a lot of kids like me—who don’t fit in and don’t feel normal, and who get bullied by other kids—turn to drugs. There you are feeling bad about yourself, and along comes this substance that relaxes you and helps you fit in. So I guess that’s how my addictions started. Cigarettes came first, and by the time I was 12, I was getting into my mom’s liquor stash, which I knew she wouldn’t notice—it literally had dust on it.
But having grown up with an alcoholic dad, I knew something wasn’t right, and I starting going to Alateen meetings before I turned 13. That didn’t make me stop drinking, though—in fact, I even added drugs to the mix. In my mid-teens, I found weed, and in my late teens I got into cocaine.
I actually did manage to stay sober for a little bit at one point, with the help of 12-step meetings and a sponsor. But then my mom was diagnosed with cancer. When she passed away it was like someone hit a switch. I still went to meetings, but I was mentally checked out and angry at the world. On the anniversary of her death, I started drinking and using again. But it wasn’t until my sponsor texted me, “Did you have enough yet?” that I realized I needed more help.
On Christmas Day, I started researching rehabs, and Phoenix House Community Residence in Franklin was one of them. Two days later, I got the call that there was an opening.
The program gave me exactly what I needed: structure, therapy—especially intense group therapy—and practical guidance. I learned activities like self-exercises to deal with issues as they arise and how to recognize and handle triggers. These skills served as safeguards for when I got out. I left feeling pretty darn secure that if I took certain steps, I’d be okay.
But in addition to the practical stuff, I also learned about myself and who I am. The program helped me learn to be accountable, to others and myself. I realized I was scared to take chances, but the real failure would be if I never tried. Fear is big in addiction—fear rules us. But at Phoenix House, I learned to face it.
When I got out, I made sure to do the things I’d learned that would keep me off drugs and alcohol—and still do. In the morning, I make a list of all the things I need to do for the day so I’m not all over the place. I do meditation, say my prayers, and go to meetings, including gratitude meetings at Phoenix House Sober Living Center at Cornerstone. I stay connected to my sponsor and also serve as a sponsor myself, which helps me just as much as it helps the people I sponsor. I even started seeing a therapist again.
I’m making amends and setting things right. I pursued action in the courts that led to the convictions of two of my abusers so they won’t be able to hurt anyone else; and my relationship with my brother and his family is constantly getting better. Sadly, my father passed away earlier this year, but our relationship, too, had gotten better, and I was able to take care of him in his final months.
I just moved to Boston and am working as an executive administrative assistant at a construction company, more than doubling my income. I’m sitting here on a leather couch in the office thinking, “Life is good.” I’m happy and grateful and look forward to seeing what happens next.
There are only three places you can end up when you’re using: in jail, in a casket, or in treatment. Treatment is the only one that makes sense, and it opened doors for me in ways I never could have imagined.