Submitted by: Susanne Johnson
I was only about 12 or 13 when I started my addiction downfall. The first drugs I abused were prescription medications. At some point found a book that described different prescription medications, their use, and their way of working (titled Physicians’ Desk Reference). That book became my guideline and reference while I went through medicine cabinets of my friend’s parents. After that, I soon progressed to smoking marijuana and drinking.
My parents quickly became aware that something was wrong with my behavior, but according to my mom they didn’t really know how bad things were until I was 16.
By then, everything was going off the deep end. I had also started experimenting with other drugs at this time, and both my parents had identified that there was a problem.
I encountered my first real problem in the year 2000, when I was home from school at 20 years old. Me and my friend drank way too much one evening. I still drove my car, taking some unknown back roads. There was a light pole in the middle of the road, which was strangely placed, because the road was actually going around it. I was busy doing something; if I remember correctly, I was changing a CD, and I hit the light pole straight on. I broke my nose, and my friend hit the windshield and was injured as well.
My second DUI occurred in Florida, when I hadn’t used as much as usual for the time. I had a six-pack of beer and a couple bars of Xanax. I was speeding through a residential area on my way to a bar and got pulled over. I had two bags with over a hundred pills each of Xanax and Valium on me, which the cop found, but didn’t record in my papers. I was only charged with a DUI, not for possession or trafficking.
That cop had a huge impact on my life by not charging me for what he should have, and not recording his finds. Maybe my behavior played a role in this. I always understood accountability and that everyone is just doing their jobs. After my arrest, I stayed polite and nice, and did not create any problem or scene. We talked about the football game that evening, and joked and laughed on the way back to the holding cell. I held no grudge for my arrest.
My last night using was in December 2006. I had been using drugs all day. I had friends over for a pre-New-Years’-Eve party. I was working at a wine shop at that time (a terrible decision) and had wine at home for everyone. My friends had trouble entering the gated community I was living in. Finally, my friends made it in the gate, and, fortunately, I had left my door open. They found me face-down on the floor. I had been shooting heroin and drinking profusely. My friends took my cell phone and called my dad.
I always knew that someday I would have to go to treatment. That day, I realized that it was time. My father picked me up in Tennessee and took me to Kentucky, to a hospital for detox. I don’t have much memory of those days in the hospital, but I tore off a page of a calendar each day I’ve been there and I still have those today.
The treating physician was the father of a high school friend of mine and he presented me with three choices of treatment facilities. One of them was in South Florida. I was born in that same town in Florida, although I was raised in Kentucky, so I chose to attend that one and was admitted directly from the hospital. It made sense to me that since I was born in Boca Raton, FL, so I should go back there to be reborn.
At that point, I was in the action stage of change. I knew that if I relapsed I would die, and that forced me into action during treatment. I knew I needed to learn and allow treatment to teach me what to do to stay clean and sober. I stayed in residential treatment for almost three months and stepped down to a sober living with intensive outpatient therapy for another 2-3 months after that. I have not relapsed since that day.
I learned that I actually have to make the same decision every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes dozens of times a day, from then-on for a long time. At times, I had to stay clean just one hour at a time and make the decision again and again.
In my mind, I was done with drugs, alcohol, and any other substances forever. I had no wish to ever use again. I was ready to move on, but my addiction caused me to redo that decision over and over again. I never fooled myself into thinking that I could drink again simply because drugs where my problem, or that I could take a certain substance, because it happened to not be my original problem. I’m a firm believer that all substances are the same and all will lead me in the same direction. I was done with them all.
I took all advice that was given to me. I did 90 meetings in 90 days, and got a sponsor, and worked the steps. I did the step-down program, and I went to see therapists.
I always thought about it as being like a box of clothes that I had to dump on the floor, sort out what I still wanted to keep and what is useful for my coming life, and toss out the rest of it. There were some things I knew I had to get rid of, and there were some I didn’t know I needed to get rid of, but I learned it in treatment.
I had two jobs toward the end of my treatment. One was an awful position at a bagel place and the other was selling massage chairs and similar things at the mall. Both were not really good positions, but they got me where I needed to be at the moment. I met people that were on part of my recovery, and we talked about simple things like football or what was on TV the night before. I started to interact with the community. Now, I see those days as a very important part of my treatment, where I found time to decompress. For me that was very important.
I worked in retail for a while, in sales for a pharmaceutical company, and also in operations for a small manufacturing company. I decided that I wanted to go back to school and wasn’t totally sure if I should go for a MBA or study psychology or something totally different. Ultimately, I decided to get a master’s degree in applied psychology.
I was working as a tech at a treatment facility and applied at the same treatment center where I began my sobriety. They asked me if I knew about case management, and I didn’t, but said I would be willing to learn. They hired me on as a case manager in 2016, where I am right now while I transition to work as a primary therapist with my own caseload. I get goosebumps to be back where my new life started, and I feel that everything came full-circle for me.
For a long time, my identity became wrapped around absorbing myself completely in activities and constant busy work. I was a DJ, then I got into rock climbing, then for many years I was very active as a sport handgun shooter and travelled all over the country doing that.
Recently, I bought a condo and have been getting acclimated to that, busying myself with improving it, but my life is rather quiet and domestic at the moment. A well-known home improvement store is right now my favorite place to be.
My parents, my sister and my extended family have always been a strong support in my life and my recovery. Even when I was “hell on wheels”, making the life of my parents very difficult, they were always in my corner. Knowing that they were always there for me made a big difference.
My grandfather and I were never really close until I got into recovery. Then he became my advisor and we became a strong unit. He died two years ago. I mailed him my 18-month chip, which he carried with him until he passed. A death in the family is a huge trigger for many. Fortunately, I made it through and never thought of using. I went to my gym that day, which was closed at that time I found out, but the owner let me in so that I could lift weights until my head was cleared again.
If you really have the desire to change your life, you can make it happen. You can live the life you really want to have. You can achieve great things and can accomplish goals. The first year is really tough; it’s honestly hard. You get used to making better and safer decisions for yourself. It does get easier. You get used to a life without substance abuse. You can ultimately become the person you want to be.