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I started smoking pot when I was about 12. I grew up surrounded with alcoholism in my family, and when I did start using, I was ripe for it. I never felt comfortable in my own skin, ever. I always wanted to feel different than what I felt. I would watch people I was surrounded by that would drink and would get happy, and would seem to be just free, and they weren’t shy … and so I probably started drinking right after I started smoking pot, when I was 13.
The first drink was horrible. Almost every drug I tried, the first time I tried it I didn’t like it. But it made me feel different than I felt in my own skin, so I went back and tried it again. And, everything I tried, I always did the extreme. So I didn’t get a buzz first, I got wasted first.
I smoked pot every day and drank every chance I could, all through middle school and high school. I did LSD a lot and cocaine. I was sent to treatment for the first time when I was 16. I was stealing my mom’s car and gone for days, and being in blackouts. She sent me to a long-term treatment center. I ran away when I was 17. I came out very neurotic and terrified and I started going to AA. I went to AA until I was 21 years old and the day I turned 21, I started drinking again.
I got married when I was 23. We were both in addiction. We actually met in Alcoholics Anonymous. He was a recovering heroin addict. We had both relapsed. We were both drinking. He ended up going back to heroin. He was also doing pain pills, and I started off doing pain pills, and then when I found out he was doing heroin, I wanted to try it. Because of course I wanted to try anything that was going to make me feel different.
And so the first time I did heroin, it made me feel better than anything ever. It was like the ultimate escape. And from that moment on it became God and it became my best friend.
As bad as I was, in the beginning of my heroin addiction I could still keep it together somewhat. So I could go to work. I always worked in the business field or human resources field. It was just this whole façade. I’d go to work and I’d be in this business suit, but I’d also be in the bathroom shooting up.
I think I was still in my early 20s when I admitted I was using heroin, and it seemed like once I admitted that and I needed help, I didn’t know how to hide it anymore. I went treatment back then. I’ve lost count of the number of treatment centers I’ve gone to. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gone to jail. All of those things I hated, and all of us in addiction have this inner struggle, or at least I did. I hated my life. I wanted my life to be better – it was falling apart – but I also could not imagine giving up the only thing that had given me comfort. Take this from me -- but I can’t let go of it.
And so I went through multiple treatments but I couldn’t keep a job anymore and I would wake up in jail all the time. I was a criminal, I was a thief, I was a liar. And I could no longer hide any of those things.
And I got hopeless. The reality that I lived in every day was that I knew I was going to die of my addiction, and I knew there was no hope for me. Treatment didn’t work. Church didn’t work. None of these things worked. And it just became, this is how I am going to die. I am going to die with a needle in my arm and it just couldn’t get there fast enough.
I always believed in God and I prayed every single day a very sincere prayer from the bottom of my heart: that I would just die, that it would just be over. Why did I have to live through it every day? So I lived like that for a long time. That was just my life.
The thing about heroin addiction, as I became so numb, I couldn’t feel the bad things anymore but I couldn’t feel the good things. In recovery, we become alive. That word means a lot to me. Because I really was dead. You could look at my eyes … it was like my soul was dead.
I found this Christian treatment center in Clermont County. The first time I went there in 2012, I got this tiny little glimmer of hope. And that tiny little glimmer of hope when you haven’t had hope in so long is huge. However, my addiction got the better of me. I did it for 30 days and I left.
The lady who started this is still my sponsor today. She stayed with me for two more years of my addiction. She still sat across from me when I told her I was doing good and I couldn’t even hold my eyes open, and was still in trouble and still going to jail. And she just loved me through it all. She was just there to support me.
I remember the last time I went to jail. I remember going in and I just felt tired. I was tired of praying every day to die and it wasn’t happening. And I went in and I remember saying this prayer, and I just had this moment where I just give up … I don’t care what happens anymore. Something just has to give. And while I was in there, the lady from [the treatment center] came to see me and she asked me if I wanted to come back. And I said yes, I did.
When I was released from jail, I went to church and I had this moment where I just knew that even though I wanted to hang on to this, I couldn’t anymore. I surrendered everything – good, bad and indifferent. If you told me to lick your finger and it would have helped me stay clean that day, I would have done it. And I still will. If you tell me it will help me, I will do it.
And my whole life started to change.
Hope was my favorite word for a long time cause I didn’t have it for so long and once I got it, I loved the word hope. But [my favorite word] eventually changed into freedom. And I had no idea how little freedom I had in this inner prison I was in until I actually experienced freedom.
And that is now my favorite word and I think that the greatest thing about recovery is this freedom. I walk and I almost feel it when I walk. I walk lighter.
I am surrounded by my recovery. I changed everything. I changed my phone number. I changed where I live. I changed the people I hung around with. I changed everything.
How do you maintain your sobriety?
I remember when I had to find my own support group, because I didn’t live in Clermont County where I went for treatment, and I remember sitting in the parking lot and I wanted to throw up because I was so nervous and I was so anxious about it, but I remember having this thought, “if it’s this much struggle for me there’s probably something amazing on the other side of this.” And I remember going in and they became my family. And so I have this huge support network.
I finally realized that I will fight for my recovery. I will do whatever it takes for my recovery. If that means I have to be uncomfortable, I have to walk through some fear, I have to do this, I will work for my recovery.
And so my recovery is still like that today. And so I do Celebrate Recovery and I do go to church, and I have to make sure I always do those things, otherwise I can’t do this job and help fill others up unless I’m filled up, and unless I’m taking care of myself.
What is your message to others?
My biggest message to anyone in recovery is that sometime people can get in a pit so low and they can think, just like I did, it works for other people, but it will never work for me. And no matter how hopeless you feel, no matter how deep that pit is, recovery’s arm is longer than that pit. And it can reach up and you can be pulled out of the pit no matter how deep it is, no matter how bad the things you’ve done are. There is always hope if you’re still breathing.
Janie has been sober for 4 years.
Janie, 43, grew up in Alexandria, Ky., and lives there now. She works at the Clermont Recovery Center as a recovery coach.
JANIE - THIS IS HER STORY