Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
Lectures at the fralin biomedical research institute
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“June 1st, 2001, I woke up angry, oh, so very very angry. I was still alive and I didn’t want to be. I hated life. Hated waking up breathing. Hated myself. My heart hurt because I was still here and I didn’t want to be. Nearly a week before, I had plotted a trip to the Bahamas’s on a cruise, not so I could have fun, but so I could wait until the ship was far out to sea, get blasted drunk after dark and slip off the ship into the waters and drown. Anyone who really knows me, knows of my fear of drowning, but that’s how badly I wanted out. Everything was set and ready to go, all my bills caught up that were important so I didn’t leave a burden on my adult children, and all I needed was the upcoming paycheck on Friday. It was Monday and I was almost giddy at the prospect of being able to finally put closure to my life. I had tried so many times before. Overdoses, overdoses and more overdoses, walking over 100 ft of sewer pipe running over a river in the sleet & rain in platform 5″ high heels hoping to fall off so it couldn’t be called a suicide and coming back over it twice when that didn’t work…walking in the middle of the night in the worst neighborhoods in the city alone (they must have just thought I was some crazy lunatic), jumping out of moving vehicles, jumping in front of traffic, and the list goes on…but this time? This was fool proof… wasn’t it? As I got in the car to go to work the car wouldn’t start. Darn car…I’ll bet it needs a new distributor cap…or plugs…or plug wires. I bought all three. That wasn’t it. Finally I had to take it to a shop. On Friday when I went to get it, I found that the repair had ate up all my upcoming check. I was crushed. Devastated.
I went out and got drunker faster than I normally did. I somehow made it home much much later in a blackout, and woke up the next morning wondering again, where am I? Where all I had gone? Where was my car? Did I kill anyone? Did I have their blood on me? I looked to see how I was dressed, was there blood on my clothes? Where were my dogs? Where they in the yard? I got up and checked on those things, finding all to be okay, except me. Now that I was sure they were okay, I relaxed enough to return to self hate and misery. I hurt in my soul so badly that it hurt throughout my entire being. I was sick inside through and through. What was I going to do? I couldn’t stand living another day. I hated who I was, what I had become, the things I did & didn’t do, the way I swore I’d stop drinking & drugging- even on my children’s lives and then didn’t. I hated everything about me… and this thing called life. Was THAT what this was? Life??? It seemed more like punishment. Purgatory.
My ex-husband called me and asked if I wanted to ride with him to the auto parts store. We had remained friends and there was no reason not to go. I agreed but told him I wasn’t feeling well. I figured he wanted to talk about something going on in his life. He came and picked me up and I had forgotten what a pain it was to get in his van. Someone had hit him recently and it had caved in the doors on the passenger side, so the only way to get in the van was on the driver’s side and then you had to crawl around the hump in the middle of the van that was something to do with the engine or the transmission? I climbed up in and over…and sat on the seat feeling like I wanted to be anywhere else…or rather no where else…In fact, no where sounded pretty darn good.
On the way to the auto parts store, he talked and then he stopped at a local convenience market. He pulled up to the front of the store. “Need anything?” He asked as he got out of his van. “No”, I answered. He shut the door and as he did, in that split second, the realization that he ALWAYS carried a Luger under his seat came to my mind. My mind quickly said, “three steps… give him three steps and he can’t come back and stop you. Put the gun to the roof of your mouth and pull the trigger.”
No longer did I care if I left a body for someone to find. No longer did I care who I hurt or if the insurance would pay. All I thought about or cared about was checking out. This was it. I leaned forward. He stepped the first step. I moved my knees toward the hump and began to lean in toward it. He took that second step and swiveled and turned. My face must have looked incredulous. He was coming back…”sit back!!!” I told myself and then did. He opened the van door and leaned under the seat and took the Luger.
“WHAT????? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! HE NEVER TAKES THE LUGER WITH HIM!!! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” my insides screamed at me…
He put the Luger in the back of his pants and pulled his shirt over it. He was licensed to carry it but didn’t have a holder for it yet. “NOOOOOOoooooooo!!!” Tears began streaming down my face.
“Are you that sick?” he asked…
“OH, you don’t know the HALF of it…” I said to him with tears pouring.
“I’m sorry…we can go if you want?” he offered.
“No, I’ll be okay…” I told him but doubted it sincerely.
He continued to the auto parts store. When he came out and I don’t know what we talked about, I had gone numb. When we got back I went into the kitchen and stood at the sink, looking out the window and up at the sky. I began crying, then sobbing and then from every cell of my being screaming up desperately at my HP. “YOU’VE GOT TO HELP ME. I HATE THIS LIFE… I HAVE ALWAYS HATED THIS LIFE. YOU’VE ALWAYS MADE ME STAY. I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU WANT ME HERE BUT I HATE IT. IF YOU WANT ME TO STAY HERE YOU’VE GOT TO HELP ME…I CAN’T DO THIS…I CAN’T LIVE THIS LIFE WITH OR WITHOUT A DRINK OR A DRUG AND I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE…PLEASE…PLEASE…HELP ME!!!!!!!!!” I called out to him and sobbed for about 20 minutes then went and sat down on the couch in the living room and fell into a stupor for two hours. Just as I was coming out of the stupor, I heard a still quiet voice say, “Why don’t you call AA?”
I didn’t know what AA was. Didn’t know anyone who had ever gone to it, didn’t know what they did or what it was for. I didn’t know where they were or how to find them, but I thought to myself, what did I have to loose? Nothing.
I called directory assistance and the woman on the line gave me the number to AA. I called it. When they told me they were to help someone stop drinking and that they held support meetings, I asked where the meetings where but asked for some out of my area. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had a problem with drinking as if everyone didn’t already know. But, “I” didn’t know I had a problem with drinking and drugging… and…and…., and I SURE didn’t think I could stop…and didn’t know if I wanted to even try.
I went to my first meeting June 4th, 2001. I was sober but had no attention span. Little by little I heard and I tried to take the suggestions… they offered me hope and encouragement. I bought the van that I rode in from my ex-husband…the van I was going to check out in. I didn’t tell my ex that I nearly committed suicide with his Luger for a longggggggggggggggg longggggggggg time…I wasn’t sure I wanted him to know about it in case I wanted another opportunity to use it. When my suicidal thoughts were long gone, I told him the truth. He said that as he took that second step something in his brain screamed at him, “You better go get your gun!” He said it was so out of the ordinary that he thought maybe something was going to happen in the store that day. He never dreamed that I was going to try to use it on myself.
Had I checked out that day I would have sold myself short. I have had so many wonderful things happen in recovery that I would have missed. The marriage of my children…birth of grandchildren…trips to a castle (yes, a real castle)…trips out of the country…trips to the birthplace of AA/NA…trips with friends camping…horseback riding…playing cards…and so many many other things.
There has been some tough stuff too, but I wouldn’t trade it in for anything in the world.
So grateful for that little still quiet voice…and a HP that loves us even when we don’t.
This girl has recovered from Alcoholism, Drug Addictions, Sexual Addictions, Food Addictions (okay, I still struggle on Chocolate & sweets), and more…
(I count my sobriety date as June 4, 2001 not June 2nd, because I had so much alcohol and chemicals in me that I am sure beyond sure that I was NOT sober until June 4th.)”
Life after heroin- My thoughts 2 years down the road I last used heroin, fentanyl, and meth January 18, 2020. That makes it 939 days, or 2 years, and 7 months. What do I remember? For years I had no “real” friends, the only social interactions I really had were with dealers or people I used with (aside from the handful of people who I actually developed close friendships with). My family distanced themselves from me and I missed out on holidays, weddings, births, and deaths. I lost my kids, lost my apartment, car, job, and spent hundreds of thousands on drugs (any savings I had, credit cards, loans, etc.), and all of that just to make surviving each day slightly bearable. I damaged my arms, legs, and face, causing nasty scars from poor injections and having MRSA twice.
I overdosed many times, three of those times on purpose, and if Narcan didn’t exist I would not be alive today. I got arrested several times, which was always a horrible experience. Basically, my perception on the addict life is that you gradually succumb to losing sight of everything that makes life good just for the sake of getting the next hit and avoiding withdrawals. I gave up on friends, family, ambitions, and enjoying my hobbies because I spent all of my time on dope. and it really wasn't fun. I did horrible, awful things that I look back on now and still can’t believe that was me. I went through a lot of traumatic things that I am now having to deal with and unpack and learn how to cope with.
So, what now? 2 years later: I am learning to love myself again. I am learning new ways to cope with life rather than getting high to numb my feelings. I moved away to a new state and that helped me a lot, I think. I got involved in the NA program, and even though I do not agree with everything in it, I take what I need and leave the rest. Gradually I developed a sense of enjoyment in my hobbies. Not to sound discouraging but this took me literally months after getting off dope to really start to enjoy things again. I was numb for a long time. But it did happen. I am living life rather than just existing and wishing I would die. It really messed me up when I realized how much time I wasted on drugs instead of doing actual fun enjoyable stuff. I have been struggling pretty badly with depression for several months, but instead of relapsing I asked for help. I admitted to people around me that I was having a hard time and have received nothing but love and support. I was just put on medication the other day to hopefully tackle my depression and also got a referral for therapy. But even with the depression, my life is unfathomably better than it was when I was on drugs. I can't claim that I will never use again, because I don't know what the future holds. But I can claim that I will not use today, and I’ll make that choice every day. I have everything that I missed when I was strung out- family who cares about me and are proud of me, healthy friendships, and personal fulfillment through hobbies. Getting off heroin won't immediately make your life better in every way - the change is gradual. A few days ago, I realized that I hadn't thought about heroin in weeks. That made me feel really good. I looked down at my arms and legs and saw the scars were slowly but surely fading away. In a few years you probably won't be able to see them at all. I am finally becoming the best version of myself. I wrote all of this simply because the amount of people that I know who have died from heroin/fentanyl overdoses recently is insane. And that’s just the people I know. I’m tired of seeing people die from that. It truly breaks my heart. Please get help. People love you, even if it doesn’t feel like it. And I can promise you, recovery is so much better than any high.
Unmanageability was rampant in my life after I dropped out of college. I was struggling to remain employable, live a life worthy of longevity, (re. suicidal ideation), gain and keep my support system from crumbling around me, find a permanent living space wherein I could be my political, queer mad self without being made to feel an obligation to others to mask so that I would not ruffle feathers and they would feel comfortable (superior), or to put down full pipes, needles, foil paper and cups that made everything tolerable and also made me overdose, lose jobs and other opportunities, lose public benefits from lack of cooperation with the county on verifying or submitting necessary forms or other current information about myself (mental heath, homelessness, active addiction, lack of means, etc.). I didn't know for years if I was coming or going (several attempts at harm reduction and staying stopped).
Unmanageability in my life today looks generally different. My mental health has declined, or at least wavered up and down, since. Yes, wavered. Because since I've gotten clean, I have had times of organic highs. However, my body mild pain has been mostly consistently terrible.
Let me be clear - The gains, tho, are: I have maintained my housing for a little over 8 years! I have had a double mastectomy, (it was a long time coming for my little trans non-binary self.) I have also been keeping up with the maintenance required to keep my public benefits - health insurance, food stamps, county cash aid, applying and appealing for SSDI/SSI. The healthcare providers I see has gotten stable. I have been able to make and keep most appointments, and if not, I will call. I have an open dialogue with each of my medical providers and case managers. Been through many, many psychiatric/pain meds and finally getting close longterm "solutions" (bandaid stickiness). What I mean is, We are targeting my symptoms, however, the original issues are themselves still present.
Lastly, I have been maintaining active in my endeavors, activities and attractions. Staying clean since 2017. Physical therapy. Psychotherapy. Psychiatry. Pain management. Medical procedures. Hormone Replacement Therapy. Nearby NAMI clubhouse opportunities. Case management. Nutrition. Educational ADHD resource searching efforts. Narcotics Anonymous program. Adult Children Anonymous. Searching for a personal caregiver.
It is because of my determination, NA/ACA work and external support, and the cosmos that I have been able to get and stay clean. I literally take each day as it comes because it has been a shocking, world changing, necessary adjustment and as it turns out, blessing!
“July 2nd, 1977, I could no longer endure the suffering of mental, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my mother, father and brother. My spirit was stolen to the wind. Momma did not protect me. Daddy sexually molested me. My brother emotionally and sexually abused me. God was not near…I was hollow inside and could not escape the torture. I was only 15! Why me, Lord?
I packed my green suitcase on a quest to seek shelter from the pain inside and outside of me. It was 27 days before my 16th birthday and I wanted to die. “Why have you left me, oh Lord? Why do I have to run away from the very people who are supposed to protect me? Why don’t you love me, Lord? You hate me!” I was seeking for answers that did not come until years later.
I walked the streets of Syracuse, NY the entire day, seeking shelter but found none. I was scared but felt safer in the streets than I did at home. By night fall I had taken a bed sheet from someone’s cloths-line, found a spot under a bridge and wrapped myself into it and cried, “Why me, Lord?” I could not come to terms with it. My mind was racing for answers and none came. I want to die, I thought out loud. The next thing I knew it was daylight. I don’t recall when I went to sleep but I slept soundly. For once in my life I felt safe.
Throughout those years of living from pillar to post I had become addicted to drugs and alcohol, addicted to abusive relationships and addicted to an unhealthy life-style. I was seeking ways to kill myself but nothing seemed to work. Then I found AA. Through AA I found loving, caring people who did not judge me. Then, with time, I embraced a God of my OWN understanding whom I learned to lean and depend on. I needed a God of my OWN understanding because the God I was trained to believe in was wicked: what God would allow such pain on a child? What God would stand by and let abuse, neglect, rape, beatings and the like, mold an innocent child. This was the most challenging part of my process…healing is possible!
Through the God of my OWN understanding, writing and living the 12 Steps and an honest willingness to change, I have joy in my life. I have learned to forgive myself and others. Forgiveness was a crucial part of my process because until I learned to forgive, I could not grow and I could not genuinely love. Life is still life! Things happen. However, I am better equipped to handle situations. I do not claim ‘problems’ today…I have challenges. Without going through trials and tribulations I would not be able to share with others who are suffering the same fate I suffered, the hope that I have. It is my desire to bring hope to the hopeless, joy to their sadness and peace to all who want to know a better way of life.
So, ‘why me’? Why not me! There is no testimony without going through the test. I have often heard it said, “It’s not the journey that matters, it’s the destination.” My destiny is to spread the hope that, obstacles can be overcome and life can be enjoyable.
“I am a re-tread, a relapse who managed to get sober a second time.
My first sobriety began August 1, 1993. I call it a “pink lace” sobriety – that is, it was a dainty process. I went to meetings periodically, didn’t have any books or a sponsor, and waited three years to do the first 4 steps because I didn’t know how and didn’t ask. I could manage sobriety because although I had been drinking since age 11 my disease was, apparently, not yet fully consuming. I quit not because I wanted to but because I hurt my 6-year old son and was deeply ashamed and scared for our future together. I remained sober through a second marriage and divorce, and through a third marriage with a sober man. However, 14 years into sobriety my husband disappeared, only to send word through an intermediary that he never loved me but instead had been addicted to me and would thus not be returning.
Any excuse to drink, right? I figured that if sobriety, AA, and a Higher Power couldn’t keep the 10 year marriage together, then there was no reason to be sober anymore. I started drinking, smoking, and drugging because it no longer mattered if I lived or died. And I damn near died 9 months later from a suicide attempt. A friend happened to phone while I was choking on vomit and called 911. Police and paramedics tied me unwillingly to a gurney and trucked me to the local hospital rehab ward. Sixteen medications and 9 days later I emerged from inpatient straight to outpatient treatment, then to counseling and psychiatric drug treatment. It took 4 months to recover from the suicide attempt and get sober; another 6 months to regain my abstract thought skills; and a full year to regain my physical fitness and coordination. I have no brain damage. I didn’t lose my job or my house or my car. I am a child of God, and His Higher Power has a purpose that I have yet to fulfill. I am grateful.
So here I am 5 years later still sober, finished with therapy, no longer on psychiatric drugs, and recreational drug and nicotine free. I have retired my from a well-paying job with a strong annuity in place and have moved to rural Virginia with my boyfriend of 3 years to live as an academic’s partner and run a farm. My family and friends are supportive by phone and social media, and I have found a 12-step group in my new town. It is possible to recover from a relapse when the disease has progressed significantly – but while my first round of getting sober was like pink lace, my second round 5 years ago was a punch-throwing, mud-slinging, crawl-out-of-a-dark-hole scary creepy mess that took 12 months. What keeps me sober is knowing that I will not survive getting sober ever again. I am scared scared scared of relapse so I read the Big Book, the 12 and 12, several spiritual guides, and meditate while walking around the farm. I will find a sponsor. I am not anonymous and my phone is always on to anyone who has a problem, thinks they may have a problem, or would like a new way of life. I am grateful.”
“Five years ago I was a homeless, hopeless junkie that was fighting a 14 year meth addiction as well as alcoholism, pills, cocaine, and whatever I could use to get high. I was a single mother dragging my son from hotel to hotel, from living at the dealer’s house to living on the streets. Often I would go to casino’s and try to get us out of the cold to sleep in the stairwells while stealing the leftover food left on the room service trays so that we could eat. I was out of control; absolutely lost.
From the time I was old enough to remember I was living in a home that was full of physical and mental abuse. I know that many people have the same story that I do. I know that not everyone comes from a great home. I know this first hand and that is one reason that I believe that I am so passionate about reaching out to others that have let the hurt, depression, hate and the feeling of being so lost and alone take over their lives. Eventually it seems as though you are on a self destructive path and you can’t seem to find a way out. The feeling is one that is impossible to put into words.
I married my high school sweetheart. He joined the Marine Corp. and we moved out to California. It was there that within a month I was introduced to methamphetamine. I was instantly hooked. I had always been a drinker as far back as the sneaking pint jars of liquor to school when I was in the 7th grade. It did not take long for the drugs and the alcohol to ruin my marriage.
Within a few months of my divorce I met my son’s father. We were together long enough to get pregnant and split up. Both of us were active drug abusers. I checked myself into rehab so many times I would not even honestly count them. They actually would have done me some good if I would have stayed. For the love of my child I could not sober up, trips in and out of jail still did not sober me up. My 34 year old boyfriend, the absolute love of my life, dying from a drug induced heart attack did not sober me up; God sobered me up.
Three times in my life I attempted suicide, the first time was the summer of my 7th grade year. The last time was in February 1997. I was dead when they found me. My body had already completely shut down. I was in a coma for 12 days. God knew even then that He had better plans for me. Still I didn’t trust Him, still I lived a recklace life destroying all of the greatness God intended for me.
I went to jail again in September of 2006. In November I gave my life to Christ, sitting right there in a jail cell. I got out in December 2006. I swore I wasn’t going to touch the drugs ever again, and I maintained for about 3 days. This time it was different. This time I felt the true conviction of my Lord and Savior. I got high for about 2 weeks until God spoke to my heart so loud telling me this was not his plan for me. January 2007 I decided to go to rehab one more time. I was homeless, again, my son was living with his Dad since I had gone to jail. I called so many places trying to get into rehab. I was broke, homeless, and hopeless. I called Green Oak Ranch, a Faith based rehab in Southern California. They told me there was a 6 month waiting list. I told her in 6 months without help I would be dead. She told me to call every day to keep my name on the list. If I missed one day I would be removed. I borrowed people’s cell phones walking down the street, I used a store’s phone that would allowed me to make a call. I was desperate and knew now was the turning point. 4 days later when I called they told me to come in. That second I knew that God had not left me, He had opened that door for me and that if I was faithful to trust in him, then He is faithful to never leave me.
My clean date is January 17, 2007. For that I am so grateful. My live is so blessed more than I ever could imagine. I moved to Arkansas with my son in September 2007 to be close to family. Since then we have joined a church, held down a state job for nearly 4 years, started college and I am currently a junior with a 3.8 GPA. My son is proud of his mom and I love being a mother. I have recently bought a home and am solely supporting my family. I am proud, yet very humble.
I have been blessed to go to Peru the past 3 years on short term mission trips. I yearn to tell people my story but most of all the story of how Christ saved me. My son and I went on a 2 week mission trip to Africa, where again, I shared my story. God opened my heart even more there. October 25, 2010 I found out that I was hepatitis C positive. I cried, was mad, confused and felt so sorry for myself. I cried out to God “why now God, I have been clean for nearly 4 years, I’ve been living my life for You , I have been good, to just now found out I have Hepatitis C, why now?!?!” And even in that moment I felt God comforting me. If I had found out when I was still in my addiction, my thoughts would have been. ..well I’m going die anyway. God has showed me that through all things we can bring him glory. When I went to Africa, I spoke at a youth conference. God told me not to be ashamed but to share with them, my whole life. The AIDS disease is so prevalent there that it was important to talk to them about abstinence and the fact that yes, once you are a Christian, God forgives and wipes your sins away. However; there are all too often consequences to the actions and choices you make before giving your life to God. I believe I touched many of them through allowing God to use me to communicate to them.
I absolutely love my life now. I love the beauty that God created out of the destructive life that I was living. When I speak to the youth and young adults I tell them that the verse that helped changed my life forever was Psalms 18:4-6. Those were the first verses that God revealed to me that I understood. No matter where I was or how filthy and worthless I allowed my life to become. God found me worthy. I now live my life for him and want everyone to know that my life is new, the changes came from God and the strength that He gave me, and without Him…….I am nothing!”
“I got into drugs, tobacco, you name it, when I was 13. I started off sniffing gasoline out of a lawnmower, then moved on to beer, wine, and marijuana. At age 15 I dropped out of high school. I learned to be a mechanic and I got a GED but I was still getting high. I went to work in a factory, but it was minimum wage, so I joined the military. By then I had started snorting cocaine and doing speed.
Then the military came out with a drug-testing program, so I decided to get an honorable discharge rather than give up drugs. I worked in a textile factory for 14 years until they started doing drug testing. That’s when snorting cocaine turned to smoking cocaine. And that’s when my addiction became so powerful it destroyed everything. I didn’t want to work, I didn’t care about my wife or kids—I just wanted to smoke that drug. I destroyed my family and I wanted to commit suicide.
I went into a rehab program and it helped for a while. My wife and I relocated and we were doing great because I was practicing the things they had taught me about how to stay clean. But then friends from back home came to visit, and they were drug dealers. Just seeing those people made me want to do drugs again. I actually left my wife and went home just to do drugs. I’m very ashamed about that. My wife hated me because she had given me a chance and I’d failed her.
I was still a great mechanic so the drug dealers hired me. I got money and I got free drugs. But then the federal government broke up the drug ring and locked up all the dealers. So there I was again, no job, no money to get high, no wife, no nothing. The suicidal thoughts came again. Then Hurricane Katrina came, and I was basically homeless.
I went down to New Orleans to help clean up. Suddenly I was making good money as a mechanic. The city was under martial law, so I couldn’t get drugs or anything. I was back up again! But then the lights came back on, the people started returning, the drug dealers started coming back. Now I was making this great money and the drugs were back. It was very dangerous for me. The cocaine made me paranoid. The high wasn’t a high anymore—it was a nightmare. But I was addicted. I had to do it. I was getting so thin it was like suicide. I started owing drug dealers money, and they were threatening to kill me. I had to beg my family for a bus ticket home.
Back home, I got a job running heavy equipment, and I was back on my feet again. On my very first payday, though, I got to drinking and doing drugs. I borrowed a friend’s car, went off the road, slammed headfirst into a tree, and woke up in a hospital with a broken neck. And that was the beginning of my new life.
I was in a lot of pain, but I could walk again. I was feeling happy that disability money was coming in soon. Then it struck me: the money would be the end of me because I’d be able to do drugs again. I told my mother to take me to the VA hospital. I didn’t tell her why. I just admitted myself to the psych ward for two weeks, then went to a drug rehab center. I knew I was about to die, and that’s what finally got me off drugs—the thought of death.
On July 5, 2010, I left the rehab center, and I haven’t touched anything since, not drugs, not alcohol, not cigarettes. I’m very proud of my recovery. I was a hopeless case, but I made it. I’ve stayed clean, and I feel free.”