This is the last 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.

As a child I often remember feeling beautiful, capable and fearless, but year by year every outside measurement increasingly dictated my inner voice. I was born in Prince George’s County and spent my younger years there attending Rogers Heights Elementary School. I was enrolled in their French immersion program, as well as cheerleading, soccer and figure skating. My mother was the “class mom.” My brother and I had all the “things” we wanted, needed and then some. Although my parents often drank with friends, drinking was never something I thought was bad. Drug use wasn’t something I was aware of, but I know now was also a part of my parents’ story. Fighting was something my family struggled with even while at a young age. I remember taking it on, feeling guilt and wanting it to stop. At school I never excelled and would find myself often being the class clown. Sports was something I found came naturally.

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When I was 13, my parents decided they wanted to move away from the city. We moved to Cecil County and I immediately struggled to fit in. As a result of each of my family members’ busy schedules, I spent a lot of time home alone. I failed my first year in the new school because of my attendance. I was so uncomfortable and I struggled academically after transferring from that French immersion program. I was picked on a lot as I was trying to fit into a new, small town, so my solution was to avoid. That summer I tried marijuana for the first time. Nothing crazy happened. I spent the next few years making friends and tried to do my best in school.

A few years later, my parents divorced. It was far from pretty, and I was caught in the midst of it. My mother, her new boyfriend, his roommate, and I moved into a one-bedroom apartment. I started to go out on weekends where I found myself drinking excessive amounts. I was filled to the brim with fear and anger. In 10th grade I ended up being kicked off my sports team for an F on a final. Because of all of this, I just gave up. I started skipping school and drinking regularly. My mother and father tried to instill rules. They offered me help through counseling, but I didn’t care much about anything other than escaping and having fun. After repeating 10th grade multiple times, I finally dropped out of school at age 18. I started working right away.

I found myself trying harder substances. I remember not loving the feelings I got from opiates. I never wanted to be like family members I had seen struggle with addiction. My life became very unmanageable, even while using only marijuana and alcohol. Because of my own poor choices, I lost my job and my apprenticeship. I started to hang out with this man I met who sold marijuana. I was immediately infatuated with him. I offered to drive him around for money, and eventually we started dating. Around the same time, one of my friends lost her job. She asked me if I would try exotic dancing. At 18 years of age, I found myself occasionally dancing, downing a bottle of alcohol with that same friend. Because I had a choice whether I wanted to go or not, these things were all still fun at that age. I could choose who I wanted to engage with, and it wouldn’t matter whether I made a certain amount of money. I didn’t have a lot of bills, and I worked at a family-owned restaurant in order to “cover up” my other income.

Eventually my boyfriend got arrested, and it was then that I found out I was pregnant. I decided to move in with my father who lived in Prince George’s County. While I was pregnant, I stopped dancing and using drugs. My life was simple because I still had no idea what I was suffering from. However, I knew that simply stopping would not be sufficient for me. I delivered my son at Holy Cross Hospital. I started attending church and really had high hopes for the future of my “family.” When my son was 8 months old, his father returned home from incarceration. He immediately decided to start selling heroin. This would later spiral into a huge investigation. I felt like I couldn’t take reality, so I started using again. However, this time around, my addiction progressed to heights not reached before. My relationship with my son’s father was controlled by my using, along with both physical and mental abuse. I went back and forth leaving him and coming back again. I was trying so hard to be financially independent from my family and child’s father, but I found myself going back to exotic dancing.

This time it was different because I was driven by my addiction. The stakes where much higher. My son’s father was arrested yet again for drug charges. A year later my family was able to obtain an emergency petition to the Elkton Psychiatric Floor. I spent the next few days there in withdrawal. I didn’t listen to any doctor, nurse or caseworker. My focus was on trying to figure out what I could say or do to be discharged so that I could continue my use. Eventually a Peer Recovery Specialist came to speak with me. She simply disclosed that she was an addict and that she wanted to help me. I accepted her help. Both my family and my treatment team left me with one decision: custody of my then 2-year-old son or treatment. After a lot of persuasion from many different people, I agreed to go to treatment. I went into treatment for 30 days. Then I went to a halfway house for the next 10 months. My journey through recovery has been far from easy, but it is so worth it.

Today I have 5 ½ years sober. My son is 8 years old. I have found over the years that putting down the substances I used was just my first battle of many. During my first year sober, I fought to keep custody of my son. Because of the multitude of trauma I have experience or afflicted on myself, I have continued going to counseling. Recovery and life in general is a process of continual growth to become the best version of myself. For the past 4 ½ years, I have had the opportunity to work in treatment helping countless individuals obtain the same life that was so freely given to me. Since then, I obtained my high school diploma and started attending college to study biology. My son has no memory of my use, and he is educated on the effects of addiction on an individual, family and community. Each day he sees firsthand what an impact recovery has on the lives of his mom, family and community.

As a child, I often remember feeling beautiful, capable and fearless. With the passing of each year, my outside measurements increasingly dictated my inner voice. Today I try to remember that I am beautiful and capable, and I stay near to God so that I can live with no fear. I try not to let my own personal or other outside measurements control my worth and value so that I can be the best mom, the best advocate and the best version of myself. I am far from perfect, and sometimes my past creeps into my present life, which can cause pain. But today I face it. I no longer resort to avoidance. I get to stand up for individuals who deserve the freedom from the depths and despair of addiction. Recovery is possible!

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