Hi my name is Ella, and I’m an addict. I’m 18 years old, and I’ve lived in Morris County for the majority of my life. I’m a musician, an artist, a student at the County College of Morris and the assistant manager at a small coffee shop in Dover.
I’m also a recovering Opioid addict, and I’ll be celebrating three years clean from Heroin abuse on July 10th of this year.
A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SCARED BY THE WORD ADDICT
A lot of people are scared by the word addict. I’ve found that most people who aren’t addicts or closely related to one have this picture in their head of a violent, immoral man or woman with a needle in their arm living under a bridge, and that’s just not reality. I’ve had bosses treat me differently when they find out I’m in recovery; suddenly the register will be watched a little more closely and they won’t bring their kids into work anymore, and even friends have put me at arm’s length when they find out because they either think I’m a bad influence or because they’re scared of what they don’t understand.
PEOPLE DIDN'T REALLY KNOW HOW TO HANDLE A RECOVERING ADDICT IN THEIR SCHOOL
I think that being as young as I am definitely played a role in the stigma I’ve experienced. In a way I was lucky that I was so young (especially concerning my legal issues) because people saw me as a troubled kid who needed help instead of a criminal like some other people in recovery I know. However, high school was really tough to get through. High schoolers are a tough crowd, and I was definitely treated differently by my teachers and peers at times. People didn’t really know how to handle a recovering addict in their school which is completely understandable because it’s not a common thing for someone to recover as young as I did.
THE FRIENDS I FOUND IN RECOVERY SAVED MY LIFE
In the beginning I would use with my friends in middle school and high school, and it wasn’t too crazy. I was definitely nervous about drinking and smoking when I first started, but it quickly became the norm to go to parties and get high everyday with my friends. Getting messed up was an easy way to make friends, fit in, and be one of the “cool” kids without really having to form real friendships. Using was what we did all day every day.
Eventually, when I got into some harder drugs, the friends who I started getting high with for the most part started backing off and voicing their concern. Even the ones who enabled me in the beginning eventually left too when they got fed up with their money going missing and me just being a general scumbag. Everyone who wasn’t as sick as I was who hadn’t progressed to the point I had gotten to weren’t people I associated with. They’d either left or they’d called me out and I had cut them off. Today I can be grateful for the fact they didn’t enable me and they protected themselves as best they could.
When I was deep in my addiction, there was nothing my friends could’ve done to make me stop. I bulldozed right over whoever got in the way of me getting high. I was completely self centered and in my own delusional world, and I caused a lot of harm and hurt a lot of people who cared about me. I pushed everyone who didn’t feed my addiction away.
However, when I was ready to get clean the friends I found in recovery saved my life. They made it possible for me to stay clean and build a life worth living, and though it was really tough to make the switch from isolation and pride to allowing myself to be loved and helped it was completely worth it. The friends I have today really love me and want me around because I’m me and not because I can get them drugs. They build me up and help me stay clean every day.
NO ONE IS LEFT UNAFFECTED BY THE OPIOD EPIDEMIC
These days no one is left unaffected by the Opioid epidemic. It’s so wide spread that it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t know at least one person who’s struggling. Families are being torn apart by this disease, we’re losing friends and too many people are losing their lives. My family was so hurt and terrified for me while I was using, and countless other families are dying inside watching their loved ones suffer.
The Opioid epidemic has absolutely affected me personally as well, being an addict myself. I’ve lost so many friends, and I think it’s really sad that I’ve become as accustomed to it as I have. I still remember the first person I lost when I was fifteen. My friend Cai (who was about the same age as me) and I were using buddies, and we started off with pain pills then eventually moved to Heroin. We used the exact same way: exact same drugs, same way of using, etc. When we both got in trouble, we started attending recovery support groups, but only I stayed clean. A couple months into my recovery I got a phone call where I was told my friend who had just turned sixteen had overdosed, and it didn’t look good. Cai was on life support and declared brain dead.
I remember being shell shocked. Logically I knew that I wasn’t invincible, but the reality that I or anyone close to me could die from this disease hadn’t hit me before that call. I didn’t think that someone who had literally just turned sixteen and was still a kid could really die, but they did.
I'M OKAY, AND I'M GROWING
For the first six months of my recovery I was in a long term inpatient program, and Kathy Moser who ran music therapy there was (and still is) a big part of my recovery. She was someone who I could connect with and who was incredibly loving and caring while also not taking any bullshit. With her I started playing music again and songwriting with some fellow residents which were things I hadn’t done for years while I was using. I learned from her how to express myself through music and meet myself where I’m at. I remember when we would talk about songwriting she had this funky little metaphor for the process that I absolutely loved. She would compare a song in its beginning stage as a baby eagle which are super gross looking, then when a little more time and work has gone into it the song is a gangly awkward teenage eagle, and after that when the songs done it’s a beautiful and majestic creature flying through the sky! She was talking about songwriting, but I took that and I applied it to myself. I learned not to judge myself too harshly and to let myself have my process.
I felt hopeless and like I would never be anything more than I was while I was using, and I was afraid all I could ever be was the awful things that I had done. I felt like I had to immediately flip a switch and be the grown up eagle, but Kathy helped me realize that in my life and with my music wherever I’m at I’m okay. I’m okay, and I’m growing.
If I could go back and tell past Ella anything it would be to REMAIN TEACHABLE. I made things harder for myself at times thinking that I either could or should do things on my own, and it’s put me in some rough spots. I would tell myself to remain open-minded, and I’d remind myself that it’s okay to need help and admit that I don’t have all the answers.
I STILL GET TO DO ALL THE THINGS THAT I THOUGHT I'D MISS OUT ON...
So when I came into recovery I was kind of convinced that my life was over and that I’d never have real fun again, and I can definitely say today that I was wrong. When I got out of rehab I started going to campouts, I attended open mics regularly, played music all the time, and started exercising to take care of myself. I’ve become an avid rock climber and discovered that I love trail running (even if I’m not very good at it). I’ve found out what kind of things I like to do other than using, and being able to do those things today is a blessing and absolutely helps keep me sober.
I also still get to do all the things that I thought I’d have to miss out on because I’m in recovery. I go to concerts, I go dancing and I’ve even been to music festivals clean. The only difference is that I go with other people in recovery and we support each other.
MUSIC IS A HUGE PART OF MY RECOVERY
Music is a HUGE part of my recovery. It’s the best way I know how to express myself, and it’s one of my best coping mechanisms. When I’m sad or angry or wanting to use I write a song about it or I just play.
When I was using, I isolated constantly. I didn’t really talk to anyone, and I just used alone in my room and only left to get drugs. When I got clean getting used to having friends and being vulnerable was really uncomfortable and scary, and the recovery music community helped a lot with that. I started attending a recovery open mic called Journey Through Song, and even though I was shy and didn’t know how to talk to people I felt loved and comfortable enough in that environment to communicate through music. Getting up and jamming with the other people there or hearing the support after a performance helped me immensely in my recovery. If it wasn’t for that open mic and the absolute love and joy I felt playing there I don’t know where I’d be today.
Today nothing brings me more joy than playing music with other people, and while I still get nervous about my music I push through it. Music has taught me a lot. Through playing I learned how to take risks and allow myself to be vulnerable, to jump in and be where I’m at, and to allow myself to make mistakes. It’s also taught me how to stick with something; before I got clean and did some work I was completely undependable. My word meant nothing. Playing with others and practicing taught me how to be disciplined and how to follow through with things, and I get so much satisfaction and pride from my music.
THERE IS NO LOW POINT YOU CAN'T COME BACK FROM
If my future family ever reads this I’d just want them to know that there is no low point you can’t come back from as long as you aren’t dead. I got to some truly dark spots in my active addiction that I still have some shame for today. I hurt a lot of people: especially myself.
I can honestly say that I love myself today and that I forgive myself. I started as a suicidal opiate addict who was in and out of psych wards every other week, and now I’ve built a life for myself that is incredibly beautiful. I’m someone I’m proud to be today even though I mess up sometimes. I live with my best friend and two other women in recovery, I’m coming up on three years clean, I’m going to school for music therapy, and I help run a business. Instead of freeloading and stealing from everyone around me I offer help today, and I have self respect.
There’s always a chance to rebuild.
I BEGAN TO LOVE MY LIFE WITHOUT DRUGS
I had lost everything in the months before I got clean. I had legal issues hanging over my head, I didn’t have any friends, and my family couldn’t even look at me. I can still remember like it was yesterday when my father told me I wasn’t his daughter anymore and that when I turned 18 I had to get out of his house and never look back. He said if I showed up on his property or contacted my sisters he would call the police because he didn’t want me to ruin their lives like I’d ruined mine.
Everything in my life was going wrong, and I felt so incredibly hopeless. I didn’t believe that I could stop using, so I just hoped every time that I used it would be the last time. I didn’t think there was any other way out. I’d tried to stop using several times, but every time I tried I ended up in the same vicious cycle as before. So I kept using, and every time I woke up I would be disappointed that it wasn’t over yet. All day, every day all I did was use in my room alone just wishing I didn’t exist anymore.
The last time I used, I got high in the bathroom, and I left a belt and a needle cap behind. I still don’t know if I was so messed up that it was an accident or if subconsciously I was asking for help. Either way, I woke up to my parents telling me that they were calling my probation officer and my choices were either rehab or jail time because they couldn’t keep living that way anymore. I chose rehab.
I was so desperate for things to be different that I did everything they told me to do, and I let someone else be in charge of my life for a while. I didn’t plan on staying clean forever when I first got sober, but as time went on and my life got better I began to love my life without drugs. I’ve been clean ever since.
DON'T GIVE UP
Don’t give up!!!! Life on life’s terms can be truly awful sometimes, and there will always be bad days. There are still days where I think about using or hurting myself, but when I push through I’m a stronger person for it and always grateful that I didn’t give up the choices and opportunities I have today. No matter how bad things are or how bad you messed up there is nothing using will do to make it better, and as long as you don’t get high there’s always a chance to move forward.
THEY WERE ABLE TO SEE THAT PEOPLE IN RECOVERY ARE JUST PEOPLE AND NOT SCARY MONSTERS
Right now I work at a coffee shop in Dover called the Good Bean, and it’s been a really interesting experience. The Good Bean was opened up by the owner of a recovery house and is located in the same building, and our customers are equal parts recovering addicts and people who aren’t in recovery. The people in recovery and the people not in recovery interact and have discussions, and people are open and comfortable with their status as addicts.
I’ve had people who don’t struggle with addiction and who may have had negative views on people in recovery tell me that since they’ve been hanging out in the coffee shop their perspectives have changed. They were able to see that people in recovery are just people and not scary monsters. It’s been beautiful to watch.
I think that’s how we’re going to beat this thing: by recognizing addiction as a disease and coming together as a community to support the people struggling. I think that we need to get rid of the stigma that all addicts are morally deficient criminals, and educate the general public so it’s not as scary to think about. More understanding, community, and love! That’s how we’re gonna do this.