By Rachel Heiden
I can still vividly remember the first time I used an opiate prescription pill recreationally. My boyfriend at the time asked if I had ever tried Percocet before and I naively said, "What’s a Percocet?" He handed me a quarter of a 30mg pill and told me to swallow it. Little did I know that popping that pill, a decision that seemed so minuscule and irrelevant at the time, would change the course of my life forever.
In 2011, when I began using opiates, I was in a committed relationship with a man I loved, I had a safe place to sleep in a home I rented with a couple of friends, I was completing my undergrad at a prestigious 4 year college, I had a job, and I had solid dependable relationships with my family and close friends. In a nutshell, I had a pretty great life with a bright future. In 2016, at the end of my opiate using career, I was homeless, unemployed, in massive amounts of debt, committing crimes and fraud daily, and completely alone. My life had done a complete one eighty. I had sacrificed and ultimately lost everything important to me. I was completely broken from the inside out.
It was then that I realized how non-discriminatory heroin truly is. Heroin does not care how old you are, your socioeconomic status, your career, your gender, your sexual identity, where you live, who your friends are, and most importantly how much you are loved by those around you. I now know that if love could have saved me, I would never have become a heroin addict. I have a mother who unconditionally loves and supports me, yet she could never get me clean. I was the only one who could do that. And it wasn't until my 3rd inpatient rehabilitation center that I was able to find the strength to step away from the crutch I had been using for so long.
Heroin had been my best friend and closest confident for the last several years of my life. Heroin was always there for me. In the good times and the bad, heroin never faltered. Through my treacherous break-up, heroin was there. Through the loss of my job, heroin was there. Through my eviction from my home, heroin was there. Through the loss of close friends and family, heroin was there. Yet, heroin is what caused all those losses.
Heroin numbed all the feelings I didn't feel like feeling. It gave me a false sense of complacency with life. And for a long time, I was okay with that. Until 9 months ago, when I decided that I was better than the life I had been living. For once, I believed that I deserved the desire to live. And because of my mother, who never gave up on me, I was given that gift.
I traveled from Seattle to South Lake Tahoe California to attend a 90-day inpatient treatment program. During this program, I focused on developing healthy coping skills for moments in my life that seemed emotionally devastating. I began to create balance in my life. I focused on the hardships and emotional roadblocks of my past and analyzed how and why these moments in my life led me to substance abuse.
After just a few weeks of putting new coping skills into practice, slowly but surely my mental and emotional dependence on heroin began to slip away. I stopped waking up every morning disappointed that I had survived the night. I couldn't believe that in a short 90 days I began to feel like myself again. I began to love myself again. It was at this point I realized that I couldn't remember that last time I could honestly say I felt that way.
I discovered my core reason for my use; my low self-esteem and self-worth. I began to work on ways to improve those in a healthy way. I learned that happiness can exist in every moment you are in, if you let it. I worked on thinking more positively and finding the silver lining to every situation. I took responsibility for the fact that I made choices in my addiction that negatively affected myself and those around me whom I loved, and I began to make amends for those mistakes. I began to let go of the guilt, shame and remorse I had been feeling for so long. I learned that I have power over my addiction and that I am in control of my life. For the first time in a long time, I was truly happy.
All of these revelations have made it possible for me to continue to live a life of sobriety. A life I never knew was possible for me. After graduating the treatment program, I left the life I knew in Seattle and started a new one in California. I changed my playground, play mates and play things. I fell in love, sober. I am mending and rebuilding my relationship with my mom and close friends that I had hurt. I am looking for work, contently knowing that I can pass a drug test for any future employer. I am a contributing, productive member of society. I have incorporated all the healthy coping skills I learned in treatment into my everyday life; staying mindful, positive thinking, playing the tape all the way through and making sure I am living a balanced life.
It is through the changes I have made and the use of these skills that I have managed to stay sober and happy. I always tell people that I was the type of drug addict that would take anything and everything you handed me, just so I didn't have to feel like Rachel. Because feeling like Rachel didn't feel happy, or confident, or beautiful or intelligent. Today I live a life that makes my mother proud, a life that makes me happy and a life without the use of substances to alter or numb how I feel. A life I never thought I could live. A life we all deserve to live. I am grateful every day for those who have supported me unconditionally. I am grateful to have been given the chance at sobriety so many times. I am grateful to have found a path to sobriety that worked for me. And most of all I am grateful to be clean, sober, and free.