My name is Patchen. I’m an addict, a grateful recovering addict. I am ready to share my testimony in hopes of helping even one person who is living in the dark lonely place I lived for so many years or of leading one close-minded person who believes addiction is beneath him or her or loved ones to the realization that it is a disease, and it does not discriminate. There is no cure; there is only treatment and prevention through education.
We grow up learning not to do drugs, to, “just say no.” We spend millions on anti-drug programs in schools, but is this enough? Do these programs get through or sink in when outside of them we are consistently faced with the glorification of substances? When you’re told one thing at school and go home to see the rest of the world enjoying that same thing, it’s a mixed message. When the TV you watch at night shows cool adults having a blast at a bar or potheads on a fun adventure to find hamburgers, you tend to remember that more than what Officer So-and-So said in third period.
I am by no means blaming society or making any excuse for becoming addicted. I am only speaking from my own personal experiences. In fifth grade I wrote an essay on why not to use drugs and won second place, received a medal and a special lunch and read my essay in front of the whole school. I grew up in a good home with a huge family of firefighters and nurses. I was not subjected to abuse of any kind. I always had friends and decent grades. There was nothing out of the ordinary in my childhood that would lead someone to think I might become a hardcore drug addict one day.
At the age of 15, I used hard drugs for the first time, and this led down a path of years and years of pain and darkness for myself and every person who ever loved me. At barely 19 I was already using IV drugs daily. Sparing all the gory details, and there are many, I will get to my point. Sharing and hearing stories will keep me going in the right direction, keep it fresh every day.
I am 33 years old, and I now have 799 days completely clean and sober. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the years I spent using, but it’s also a huge accomplishment for me considering where I was. I have had periods of time where I was not actively using, but I would not call it “clean” time. My addictive behavior was still front and center. I managed to accomplish things during these years, but it was all short-lived once my active use began again. I would be back to where I started but with less than I ever had to begin with. I am an extremist meaning I did not just get high to have fun; I did it to the absolute extreme. Each time I relapsed, addiction dropped me to my knees even faster and harder than before.
I was in and out of treatment more times than I could count, and I truly wanted it to work each time. I truly wanted the madness to end, but wanting it and working for it are very different things. I talked the big talk and learned what they wanted to hear. I told myself, “I got this, no problem,” but then each time I left, I disappointed myself and everyone who hoped this would be the time I got better. I always thought I could do both. I could be a mom and get high, be a sister/daughter and get high, go to school and get high, be an EMT and get high, help others and be a good person and still get high. I knew if I just tried harder, I could control it this time, but next thing I knew I would open my eyes yet again and be broken and begging for help.
What’s different this time you ask? Me. Everything I think, say or do is different. For the first time ever, I do not feel like I have lost something, and I do not feel like life can’t be fun or enjoyable without using. Before I would stop using and feel so sad as if I’d lost my best friend. Now when I look back, I only see the bad parts, the pain and stealing and craving and lying and bleeding and fighting. All I remember is the bad. I now know without a doubt that doing both is not an option. It’s just not possible. I had to make the choice to be one or the other. I had to choose to stop fighting it, go all out and let go of my family, kids and self or to stand up and actually fight for those things, for my life.
I made the choice to fight on February 15, 2012. I always say, “If an addict tells you the date they made that choice, they are almost certainly clean.” It’s like a new birth date. You don’t forget it. I am the oldest of five siblings; I have two brothers and two sisters. My siblings grew up looking up to me and learning from me so of course they were hurt and devastated when my addiction affected our lives. They watched my mom and family grow sick with worry over me and watched my kids miss me or wonder what was more important to me than them. My siblings were there when I broke every promise and when things went missing from their homes. Each of them watched me struggle for years before they were old enough to know why, yet they loved me anyway. I was their big sister.
I never realized how the way I lived my life could have such an impact on how they would choose to live theirs. I thought my brothers and sisters grew up making good choices and learning what not to do from watching me, but on January 29, 2014, two weeks shy of my one year sober mark, my 23-year-old sister died of an accidental overdose on prescription pain medications. We had absolutely no idea that she was into any drug use at all. We had been so busy trying to save my life and were so focused on my addiction that we completely overlooked the same exact behaviors and red flags in my baby sister. She never had the chance to screw up enough for it to be obvious before she lost her life. There was no chance for treatment, no rock bottom, no “I’m sorry”, no “one last time”, no relapses and no recovery. There was just death, from zero to death.
Death is the one thing that will make you question everything you’ve ever known, thought to be true or believed in. It is the one thing that will stop you in your tracks and hit you with the deepest possible pain known to humans. Drug addicts are not very good at dealing with feelings, unless they are good feelings, so feeling this pain in a straightedge sober state of mind has been and will continue to be a true test of my recovery and strength. I do thank God each day that when my sister passed, I was clear minded and not relying on any crutch at all. If I had been, I would have been gone forever, and my mom would have lost two of her daughters this year. As I live each day next to my mom as she grieves for her child, I try to forgive myself for putting her through years of pain and sadness, for making her watch me waste the life I was given. I try to make sense of every day. We must go on now. I try, but for the life of me I cannot understand how or why it turned out this way. I try to think of how it must be as a mother to have basically traded one of your children’s lives for another without even knowing it, and I can’t think of a single word that accurately describes the soul-breaking pain you hear in the sobs of a mother who buries her daughter.
I choose to become educated, and I choose to educate my children. I want to be prepared in every way I know how. I will not push my past under the rug and speak about it in whispers while hoping for the best with my kids. I want them to know about the life-altering effects addiction has had on our family. I want them to know I broke the chains, and they can break the cycle.