This is the second in a series of articles written by peer recovery specialists at the Harford County Health Department that will be published in September, which is Recovery Month.

If someone would have told me two years ago that I would be sitting where I am today, I would have told you that you were off your rocker. The same applies to about 13 years ago. Come to think of it, five years before that, I would have never thought I would be where I was either. I could have never imagined my life would play out the way it has. However, I didn’t get to where I am now overnight.

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About 18 years ago, I was a casual marijuana smoker in my freshman year of high school. Thirteen years ago, I had my first experience with Oxycontin. About two years ago, I found myself in a psychiatric ward, discontinuing the use of methamphetamine, heroin and crack cocaine. Did I mention that this happened over 6,000 miles away from my family and everything I ever knew all the way on Oahu in Hawaii? How could this have happened?

When I started smoking in high school, I never considered that my budding addiction would unravel every aspect of my life, taking me to places like an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Before high school, I led a pretty typical life. My parents put me and my sister in private Christian elementary and middle school. I was raised to go to church every Sunday, and I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior in fourth grade. We attended a public high school. It was tough for me because I only knew two other people in a school with over 1,000 students. I grew up playing sports, so I decided to join a few athletic teams at school with the hope of making some new friends. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I lost most of my friends after my “best friend” told everyone I was a “crazy psycho” just because of my diagnosis. I graduated high school a year early, and started attending college. It was at this time that I made the conscious decision to put God on the back burner.

I gravitated toward people who “liked to party.” I tried opiates for the first time at 19. I remember instantly wanting to use them as often as possible. My motivation and drive plummeted due to my lifestyle. I dropped out of college to pursue a career as a hairstylist. Because I was able to maintain my “work hard, party hard” lifestyle, I enjoyed my new line of work. I was hired at a high-end salon in a wealthy D.C. suburb and started dating a new guy. Unfortunately, things quickly began to devolve. I made way more money than an untreated bipolar recreational drug user should make. This exponentially compounded my habit. I got my first and five more successive tattoos, bought two luxury cars, and racked up lots of credit card debt all in about a year. I convinced myself this new way of life and income was permanent. However, upon receiving some very inconvenient news, a huge fight broke out, ending my relationship with that guy. Almost immediately, I ramped up my method and frequency of use rationalizing this drastic change in my head because I felt so devastated. I got fired from what I thought was my dream job. Looking back, it was an extremely unhealthy environment for me to work.

After two more years of daily drug use, I started dating a new guy. He told me how he inherited a bunch of money from his father. When he asked if I would join him on a vacation to Hawaii, I agreed. Just days into the trip, we got into a big fight, and police were called. He went to jail; I ended up on the streets. I began using methamphetamines. I lived in and out of hotels and on the streets for the next seven months. I rarely if ever left any room I was in to enjoy any of the beauty Hawaii had to offer. I wore long sleeves in the 85-degree weather as a consequence of my use. My grip on reality began to quickly alter. Bipolar medicine is not effective when combined with heavy drug use. I became extremely paranoid. I reunited with the guy after his release from jail.

I began to experience seeing the Rapture, the term used to describe Jesus’ return for a second time to collect all of his followers while leaving behind those who refused to believe. It’s basically the end of the world as we know it. Peeking out from behind curtains of an eighth-story window, I watched in horror as the neighboring high rise buildings literally crumbled to rubble. At night, I looked out to see the black mist of lost souls left behind swirling over the sidewalk below. It was terrifying. I lost at least 50 pounds and my hair was falling out because any money I came across was spent feeding my habit rather than eating or taking care of myself. I remember walking to the beach one night to try to cleanse or baptize myself right in the Pacific Ocean. The boyfriend called police, and I was carted away in an ambulance with hand and foot shackles and taken to a psychiatric hospital. The day was July 19, 2017, and this was the last time I used drugs or alcohol.

I spent the next seven days and nights in that hospital. I hadn’t even considered God in many years, but, He spoke to me loud and clear one night. Out of nowhere I felt this overwhelming sense that I needed to drop to my knees and beg out loud for forgiveness. I did. The next day I pleaded with my parents to buy a plane ticket for me to come back to Maryland. They agreed. At the airport, I was still experiencing the Rapture. With only the filthy clothes on my back, I approached strangers and told them about the Gospel, and I prayed with them. I didn’t want to walk by anyone without explaining the urgency of what I witnessed and wound up missing four different flights. My mom flew all the way to Hawaii get me on a plane home.

I tell you all of this because I should not be here today, but I am, and it is only by the grace of God. I was the definition of a lost soul, utterly destroying my mind, body and spirit. I firmly believe an earth-shattering experience like this was necessary for me to become aware of how I was living. It was like living in a fog, completely unaware of what is going on around you. My focus was solely on repeating the process of acquiring and using the substances I needed. Everyone in recovery has a unique way of starting their journey in sobriety, and this is the way in which mine began.

Upon my return to Maryland, I spent a week in another psychiatric hospital. After I was discharged, I went to stay in a Bel Air halfway house. Over the course of the next three months, I got back on the medication I needed to manage my bipolar. I learned how to live as a productive member of society. Two weeks after I finished the halfway house, I got pregnant with my son, Kevin. This was a major challenge, but Kevin was born healthy and happy seven days before I hit my first year clean. A few weeks ago, I was blessed to be able to celebrate his first birthday still clean, and it was amazing.

One of the best things about the recovery community is the unparalleled camaraderie. People from wildly different backgrounds with one-of-a-kind stories share one common denominator: Recovery. It’s an incredibly strong, unifying factor that grants each one of us a shoulder on which to lean. Recovery is a journey that can be tough, but it is also achievable! I continue to strengthen my walk with God because He is the power greater than myself I have identified to conquer my addiction. Without Him I am powerless.

I now work full-time as a peer recovery specialist at the Harford County Health Department. It is the ultimate opportunity for me to give back to others what was so freely given to me. Knowing that what I have been through can help me relate to somebody else in their own struggle with recovery makes it all worthwhile. It is people and our relationships that matter, not material things. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people in my life for anything, and I only have them because of my recovery.

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