A client of mine reminded me that it is Mental Health Awareness Month. I have known her for years and have had the pleasure of her more recently returning to counseling. Over the past months she has talked about wanting to write about her story to sobriety and how she might do that. She considered writing her own blog but is still not sure if she is ready for that. When we were talking about her upcoming anniversary of her overdose I read what she had already written and suggested that if she wanted, I would be more than willing to feature her post here with her permission. Clients walk into my office with so many stories of pain, suffering, shame, and fear and I believe by sharing those stories often this allows for some healing, less shame and suffering and an understanding that we need to treat ourselves with the kindness we would show our loved ones. Honored to share Amber’s story with her permission this month.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”-Maya Angelou
With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I thought it was the perfect time to share my story; to open up about my struggles with addiction and what I have overcome to get to where I am today. For a year now (as of today) I have kept a huge secret from most of the people in my life and it has been weighing heavy on my heart. I am terrified of the judgement that may come along with sharing this, I worry this will change the way some of you may see me, but I also know that many people will relate to what I am about to share and if my story can help any one, that is all that matters! I am scared – but here it goes.
I come from a family of addicts, unfortunately we fight with both alcohol and drug addictions. I have seen first hand what addiction can do to a person, to the family, and to loved ones who surround them. I, however, never thought I would succumb to the fight. I never thought I would have to label myself as an addict.
On May 25th, 2020 (only 5 days before my 26th birthday), I overdosed in my home, from opiates. I am alive and here because of my husband. He saw my face turn white and he saw me gasp for my last breath. He gave me CPR for about ten minutes until the paramedics arrived. I was dead. The paramedics administered two doses of Narcan; I came back about a minute after the second dose was given to me. I was rushed to the hospital where I stayed for about five hours – I think I must have been in and out of consciousness because I remember the hospital trip being very short, maybe two hours tops. As I laid in the hospital bed, the guilt began to set in. I was questioned and I was treated terribly, everyone was rude and acted like I was a criminal or a big time junky. I felt extremely ashamed and belittled. It’s hard to find the right words for what happened that night, it felt like a nightmare and it was just terrifying. We got home from the hospital around 5am. I couldn’t get out of bed for days. I cried, I slept, I couldn’t eat. The guilt and the shame was overwhelming. And then the withdrawals set in. Those withdrawals were MISERABLE. My whole body cramped up, it felt like I had been hit by a bus. Nights were restless and I would move back and forth from the bed to the couch. I was in so much pain. I remember one night crying and asking Daily, “How am I going to come back from this?” I thought I had ruined my life and his. I’ve never felt such guilt as I felt then. I had kept my drug use a secret from Daily. When we first got together he knew I drank a lot and he knew I would take pain pills here and there, but I never told him how serious my problem really was. So, the truth of my problem finally came out that night as I lay dying in my husband’s arms. My heart was broken knowing that I put Daily through that. He now has PTSD from that night. Any time I am snoring in my sleep, he will check on me, because it might be me gasping for air again…Even though I put him through that, he never once has shamed me, he never yelled at me or belittled me, he never made me feel bad for what I did, he NEVER turned his back on me. I am forever grateful to have this man by my side.
Looking back now I see clearly that my problem began many years ago. At the age of 17 I started partying every weekend, drinking to the point of blacking out and dabbling in drugs for the first time. By the age of 21, my problem became worse as I would go out to bars every weekend and drink to the point of blacking out. When I was 22 I had a DUI. By 23 I was drinking more frequently, not just on the weekends. At this point I was drinking to numb it all, to get rid of all of the feelings that I didn’t want to feel. I was in a very sad state of mind at the age of 23. This is also the age that the excessive pill popping began and this secret was kept for two years. I would take anything I could get my hands on – uppers to get me through the day, downers to knock the edge off, and painkillers to numb the rest. By 25, taking pills was a daily thing. I always had something on hand. Many people began to notice a difference in me. Some knew I was taking pills, but no one knew the true extent of my problem. I never realized I had a problem until it almost took my life. After my overdose I was sad and depressed for days, I didn’t know if I would ever get my life back on track. But, after a few days I got up and got going. I realized I had much more to live for and my purpose awaits! Miracles began happening for me and things just started falling into place. I knew I was going to be ok.
Days after my overdose I got approved for health insurance after not having any for years, this was huge! They fully covered the ambulance and hospital bill – a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I then found a new primary care Doctor who was amazing and so helpful in getting me the extra help I needed. I also was able to meet with a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD, Bipolar Depression and anxiety. I was put on the proper medication and it has helped me tremendously. I was feeling better, so I chopped my hair off and found some new confidence within myself. I got out of my comfort zone by going on a 3 day, soul awakening hiking trip with a good friend. And I even got a new job! My overdose was not the end of me, it was my new beginning. A fresh start.
Being an addict is a daily battle. Some days are harder than others. It is crazy to me that the one thing that almost took my life, is the one thing that constantly consumes my mind. This is a battle I will not lose. I will fight everyday to stay sober, this beautiful life is worth the fight. I share my story not only to overcome the guilt and shame that I have felt, but I also share my story in hopes that it will help someone else. If I can help anyone at all, then maybe I have found my purpose. Mental illness and addiction are so much more common than they are given credit. It seems as though both topics typically get swept under the rug and often hidden in shame. I hope to bring more awareness to both. To those struggling, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you need someone to talk to, please reach out to me. I am here. We are in this together.
Today, May 25th (and every day) I celebrate life! This day is a reminder to me that not everyday is promised. Live life to the fullest and know that you are not alone.