Below you will find the essay of our RCA Hope for Addiction scholarship winner Grace A. Her story of heroin addiction, recovery and motivation to help others struggling with the same was truly moving. As a scholarship winner, Grace will receive $1000 from Recovery Centers of America, to be used to further her education.
Hope for Recovery: Finding Purpose for the Past
By: Grace A.
On an oppressively humid July night, in those darkest hours just before the dawn, I found myself, driven by despair, to that jumping off point commonly referred to in recovery meetings.
I was sitting cross-legged on the scarred vanity in a “less than reputable” hotel room on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was sitting up there, because of the large mirror bolted to the wall behind it, and because this was where the light was best. I had hustled hard most of the night to put enough money together to “get well”, suffering through bouts of nausea and tremors as the night waned. After all the effort I had gone through, all the little pieces of myself I had given away to procure the gram of heroin that I now held reverently in the palm of my hand, I was determined that I would not waste it on a missed shot. You see, for me, getting the dope was only half the battle. Once I had it I had to find a vein that was visible enough and strong enough to handle it. Long had I left the days of drink and pills, or snorting a few lines, behind. The last few years I had been in the deep; my compulsion evident in the scars and tracks feathered across my skin. There I was, propped up on the counter looking intently at the veins in my neck, sadly, one of the few unmarked areas on my body. With trembling fingers, I fixed my shot. I was so tired. I wanted so badly to ease the pain of withdrawal and relieve the constant whispers in my head; to be somewhere else, to be someone else.
This is where my long, downhill journey along the path of addiction had taken me. Like a battle-weary soldier who has long since forgotten what he was fighting for, I took a deep breath and readied myself for a prize I no longer wanted but could not refuse. A night spent like countless other nights, seeking an escape, however temporary, from my macabre existence.
I lifted the loaded needle to my neck, much like a suicidal man lifts a loaded gun to his head, full of trepidation and anticipation. I contemplated the possibility of an overdose, even wished for it a little. As I lifted the needle to my neck, I briefly met my own eyes in the mirror and saw a lifetime of loss and pain reflected there. In what was surely only a few seconds but felt like an hour, my life played out in jerky images, like a DVD stuck on fast forward. The confusion and chaos of living with a mentally ill/addicted mother, the trauma of child abuse, the constant fear which would turn to anger, and the desperate need to be wanted. The bad choices and the trips to jail. The disillusionment, disappointment, self-loathing and insecurity. The self-inflicted wounds and sufferings of a life spent on the streets. And finally, the people I had hurt, my children, whom I had damaged, the cost to my society, and the legacy I would leave behind. All of this played through my mind bringing with it a wave of brokenness and the absolute certainty that time was running out. A 20-year battle with addiction culminated in a single moment. I could go on in this direction, blotting out my untenable situation as best I could until I finally, mercifully, expired from my disease or I could fight. I chose to fight.
The decision I made on that fateful night in July of 2013 catapulted me into unknown territory. To be sure, I would face many challenges in gaining access to the resources required to acquire and maintain a meaningful sobriety. Federally funded treatment centers were overcrowded with long waiting lists, and often required a prior trip to detox. I needed nutrition, medical care, mental health care, and access to consistent and compassionate support. I found that support in the form of addiction and mental health professionals, social workers, sponsors, and recovery groups. I quickly learned that if I were going to succeed, it would not be due to the efforts of myself, but to my willingness to change, and to accept the efforts made on my behalf by countless selfless individuals who chose to believe in me when I had so little faith in myself. From the moment I truly opened myself to the possibility of a life in recovery, I found that I was no longer alone.
My journey has been one of healing, learning, redemption and discovery. It has not always been easy, but it has always been worth it. The love and support that I receive from the recovery community inspires me to live a life of purpose and service. In the last six years I have experienced the personal growth that comes from a desire and commitment to help others, to freely share the experience, strength, and hope that was so generously shared with me. I have remained involved and in service to my recovery community by attending and chairing meetings, by sponsoring women seeking recovery, by volunteering my time and efforts as the secretary to my home group and by educating myself. In 2017 I enrolled in college and am now a junior in pursuit of a psychology degree with plans to become a certified addiction counselor. I am also enrolled in a training program through the Louisiana Association of Substance Abuse Counselors and Trainers to expand my knowledge of addiction specific issues such as pharmacology, counseling basics, family dynamics and ethics.
There are many individuals in active addiction today who lack the insurance or resources to get themselves into treatment in a timely fashion. Many of them live with the residual effects of the emotional and physical trauma linked to substance use disorder. This requires multifaceted treatment. According to WBRZ news, East Baton Rouge parish broke all records for drug overdose deaths in 2019. Currently, Louisiana is experiencing a Hepatitis A outbreak that has reached the highest number of cases in the last twenty years. The cost of addiction is being seen and felt in every corner of society.
It is my sincere desire to serve, support, and treat those who are experiencing substance use disorder, as well as their families and communities. It is my hope that the combination of my past experience, the knowledge I am gaining and an open mindedness for all paths to recovery will shape me to into a competent and compassionate counselor. I can think of no truer purpose or greater privilege than to offer hope and guidance to those who have lost themselves to the darkness of addiction.
About the Author
Hello, my name is Grace and above is my entry for the 2020 Hope for Recovery Scholarship. To the left is my intake photo into treatment on July 16th, 2013. The right is my 6th sober birthday. Crazy Blessed!
The events that take place in the essay are true and factual. It provides a small glimpse of my journey to recovery. Although, my story is not pretty. It is mine. I choose to own it and have defeated the shame connected to my past by giving it purpose. I choose today, not be defined by my addiction, but to be defined by my recovery.
All through my childhood and into my adulthood I was given many labels; abused and neglected, poor white trash, runaway, orphan, delinquent, liar, easy, junkie, criminal…. Today I create my own labels; overcomer, hoper, hugger, strong and faithful wife, doggie mom, volunteer, church member, student, friend, sponsor…you get the idea.
I have a life today that I never dreamed for myself, full of gratitude and grace. I am committed to living a life that honors those who helped me and those who lost their battle with addiction. I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunities that I have and I work hard to be worthy of them.