To addiction and back: Brittany Sabock shares her story widely

To addiction and back: Brittany Sabock shares her story widely
Brittany Sabock, a North Carroll alumnus who is in long-term recovery from heroin addiction, speaks to students during Monday's drug awareness program at Manchester Valley High School October 26, 2015. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

When Brittany Sabock was a 16-year-old student at North Carroll High School, she never could have imagined that within two years she would go from sipping beer at a party to using heroin to landing in rehab for the first time.

It took her years, until her early 20s, to get her life back. Now Sabock is a peer recovery worker with the Carroll County Health Department, speaking in area high schools about her journey from addiction to recovery, meeting with people in the community who have recently overdosed to speak with them about treatment and even working with the Drug Enforcement Administration on a "virtual field trip," through which her story reached 200,000 students over the internet.


The Times recently caught up with Sabock to learn more about her work and her ongoing journey of recovery.

You're a north Carroll County local who has made the journey from addiction to recovery to helping others as part of the public health system — can you give us the brief story of how you came to use illegal substances, and what led you to stop and begin that journey of recovery?

I did not pick up my first drink until 17 years old because I saw how addiction affected my family from an early age. My mom is an alcoholic and my dad is a drug addict. I was scared to death to touch any of it. From that first drink at a party it was not progressive for me. I went from taking that first drink at 17 to eight months later going to rehab for the first time addicted to crack and heroin. This vicious cycle of in and out of inpatient treatment, detoxes, etc., happened from 17 to 23. I went to inpatient again at 23 and went to a sober living environment after the 28-day program. I got introduced to a 12-step program of recovery and my life started to change. I stopped blaming everyone and everything for my problems and started to look at myself and the decisions I had made to get to the point I was. The desire to use was lifted from me through working this program, and I do what I need to do on a daily basis to keep that desire away. The means and opportunity will always be out there waiting for me. I need to keep the desire away on a daily basis so those three things don't link up. I started to tell me story and help other addicts by sharing my personal experience of what happened to me and how I made it into recovery and how I stay in recovery.

Today you are not only in recovery, but you speak out and tell others about your experience, especially young people. Can you tell us about your experience speaking in Carroll County high schools and the effect you think it has had on the students there?

Speaking at the high schools in Carroll County was an awesome experience. I got to tell these students the raw truth about where drugs and alcohol took me. Starting innocently with a drink at a party and some marijuana, I never imagined I would become a full-blown heroin addict that would steal from you and then help you look for it. That is what my life became quickly and before I knew it my body was physically addicted and I couldn't stop. I had a mental obsession that ruled every aspect of my life that turned me into a selfish, self-destructive animal. I didn't care about anyone including myself. I had students come up to me after I spoke and thanked me for telling my story, and each one of them could relate in some way. Whether it be a family member, a friend or themselves. I know it had to touch some of the students because we had people get into treatment from the Special OPTS school program.

Recently, you took this to the next level by participating in a youth communication program of the DEA called Operation Prevention. How did that come about and how did it work? I understand you may wind up reaching some 200,000 students?

Being involved with Operation Prevention came about when [Carroll County Health Department Substance Abuse Prevention Supervisor] Linda Auerback asked me to go speak virtually to schools around the country and tell my story once again. Of course I agreed because this is something I have a passion for. If I can save one student from going through the things I went through or help anyone in any way its worth it. I went to Virginia and participated in a virtual field trip about substance use. There were factual pieces to the program such as, what drugs will do to the brain, and what the DEA is seeing with the opioid epidemic. Then I told my personal testimony of how easily I fell into the grips of addiction. The reaction of those students was that they could see how easily it could happen from hearing my story and they could relate more because I was close to their age.

How does it feel for you, to go from a place of being isolated in your own struggle with the disease of addiction, to being a voice communicating the possibility of recovery, and the importance of prevention to so many people?

It feels amazing to be able to turn a struggle in my life into something positive. I think it is vitally important for prevention for not only students but even parents and what to look for. I know my mom had no idea what she was in store for throughout my addiction. Now, she would know the signs and what to look for, but back then she was uneducated and says she would do things a lot differently. I believe we all go through bad things in life, but when we come out the other side and can help others from it, it is truly amazing. I think it is important for people to know the other side of active addiction which is recovery! And that it is possible and there are many people in our community to help. The stigma of addiction needs to be broken and recovery needs to be talked about more so people know where to go when they are ready and need the help.

Do you think that having heard from someone like yourself, as you are today, would have led the younger you to have made different choices, or to have sought help sooner once you realized you had a problem?

I can't say for sure that it would have deterred me from making the choices I did. However, I know that it would have had a greater impact on me than "Just Say No." If I would have known about recovery and the help out there and didn't feel alone in it all I believe I would have sought help sooner than I did.

You're involved in a number of other prevention and recovery efforts as well, including the Collaboration of Homeless Enhancement Services. Can you tell us a bit about that and the efforts being made to bring treatment to people who are homeless in Carroll County?

Collaboration of Homeless Enhancement Services is a fairly new program at the Carroll County Health Department. CHES provides wraparound services based on an Assertive Community Treatment model for persons with mental illness and/or substance abuse and veterans who are experiencing homelessness. Wraparound services are intensive and person-centered. These services are intended to provide help to an individual to stabilize, reduce crises in their lives and attain self-sufficiency and success.

You're a member of the Carroll County Overdose Response Team, which responds to the scene when someone overdoses on an opioid and is revived by naloxone. When you look at statistics from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, it becomes clear there are a lot more nonlethal overdoses than lethal overdoses and that this is probably a result of the wider availability of the opioid antidote medication naloxone. People are living who might have died, but many are still living with an addiction. As someone who has gone out on those calls, what do you think of the current state of things? Is it sustainable? What can be done to get more people who are saved from an overdose to move into some form of long term treatment?


If I go on a call for an overdose from the CSAO Overdose Response Team, Tim Weber, drug treatment liaison from the state's attorney's office, calls when it is a girl in my age range. We work together and try and fit people together that can relate by age gender, etc. Some of these calls can happen right away and some are a few days later. One way we could help this is to have some kind of 24- to 48-hour hold (similar to an emergency petitioning for a psych evaluation) on all naloxone recipients that first responders have responded to. This would give them a time to "sit" for a day so someone in the treatment field could talk to them in a more clear and desperate state of mind. This can help with the decision to accept treatment. Our biggest problem, however, is treatment beds in the area are very sparse.