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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

My Story: My Battle with Addiction

Hi, my name is Katie and I’m an alcoholic and addict.

You have to seriously excuse the way I just introduced myself. It’s become a habit after five (yes five) months of rehab in south Jersey (though that could have very well been Mississippi or Alabama to me, given the state in which I arrived).

I entered Seabrook House on November 19, 2011, after years of partying that ultimately led to a complete spiral out of control. My diagnosis upon admission to rehab (a.k.a. my “resume” of addiction) stated in black and white that I am dependent on alcohol, cocaine, and sedatives. Basically, I drank til I blacked out every time, became quite accustomed to blowing lines every half hour, and enjoyed a few Xanax throughout the day just to mellow out.

Of course, my hefty resume of addiction didn’t just come out of the blue. I had always been a cliché party girl—from the first time I ever picked up a drink (rum and coke) my sophomore year of high school until my freshman year of college, when I managed to give myself a five-night stay in the hospital from alcohol-induced pancreatitis (a condition in which the pancreas is completely inflamed).

In a nutshell, I was drinking vodka every day (but maintaining a 3.6 GPA, so my lifestyle was clearly A-OK—not) to the point that, over time, my body almost shut down. When I was admitted to the hospital, my enzyme levels were through the roof, my heart rate and respiratory system were both going crazy, and the official diagnosis of pancreatitis came as a shock to doctors who were used to treating the condition in 50-year-old men with a 35-year-old whiskey problem.

But here I was, a 19-year-old female college student, hopped up on morphine to dull the pain of a condition that I had brought on myself. The odds of this occurring are very slim, but still, it happened, to me. So I decided to stop drinking—cold turkey, withdrawals and all—for four years while in college. It was hell.

After I graduated, I landed a dream PR job in Manhattan, began renting the perfect apartment in Hoboken—wood floors, a brick wall, recessed lighting, a 10-minute walk to the PATH—and thought I had it made. There was absolutely nothing more I could ask for. I had my career, great friends and family, and I was going to fabulous parties (even though I was technically still “on the wagon”).

Then, I met my soul mate: cocaine. This drug was the epitome of perfection to me. I could forget that I was “dry,” party for hours on end, work without stopping, and lose weight—all at the same time. I loved the feeling I got on day one, and chased it for the next year. My 2011 brought only highs, because any lows were quickly hidden by another few white lines.

But as work progressed, my addiction progressed. Doing cocaine led to taking Xanax to come down, taking Xanax led to more cocaine to wake up, and the combination led to the reintroduction of alcohol in my life. By May 2011, I was six months into work and “real grown-up life,” and my addiction began to pick up speed and aggression. Vodka, my long lost BFF, was back on the scene, and we started precisely where we left off. Pancreatitis? Didn’t ever happen, as far as I was concerned.

My life became a scary equation: Manhattan + summertime + my own apartment + a steady paycheck + vodka + cocaine + benzos = a complete and utter loss of control. When I look back, this should have been a clear illustration of the first step in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: admitting that my life had become unmanageable and that I was powerless over drugs and alcohol.

Of course, I was not admitting unmanageability or powerlessness. The only concerns I had were things like how I ended up on a yacht the night before or where the extra drugs in my pocket came from or who I shared a bathroom stall with or which bar tab I didn’t close out or why I had 45 missed calls from numbers not in my phone book.

But by November 2011, my life was a complete mess. I managed to blow up my pancreas—again. I enrolled in an intensive outpatient addiction program—and failed. I attempted to clean up—and relapsed countless times on substances I didn’t even know existed. I cut off all communication from my family and old friends, ignored my work, and took advantage of nearly everyone around me. And then came the turning point: I nearly overdosed from taking an eight ball of cocaine and a gram of pure MDMA (ecstasy) in a 12-hour time span.

On November 18, 2011, the thought of imminent death led me to call my aunt and mom to come and pick me up from my apartment, which had, by then, grown dark, smoky, and messy beyond words. My mom found me lying on the couch with cigarettes, peanut butter, and coconut water—three items that had usually done the trick—but this time, I was too far shot to recoup.

I realized that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. After they brought me home (and without fully understanding what was going on), I agreed to go to detox and rehab.

After 10 days of detoxifying my body from the chemicals, I went through 28 days of regular “what you see on TV” rehab. There, I learned the importance of 12-step programs, getting a sponsor, attending meetings daily, and working to make amends with the people I’ve hurt.

After the residential program, I decided, on my own, to continue my care with an extended program. This decision cost me another 75 days or so on the grounds of some bodunk south Jersey estate surrounded by tree farms. It may not sound enticing, and it absolutely wasn’t, but during that time, I lived with other women struggling with addiction, and they became my backbone. They carried me when I could not walk, and they taught me how to open up, be honest with myself and others, and, most importantly, to put the bat down and stop fighting.

At 23 years old, it’s hard to fathom a life of sobriety. But I know where I came from. I know how life had become so dark, twisted, and confusing, how my emotions had been completely nil, and how my relationships had vanished. I’ve come to see how rampant substance abuse is among young people and, unfortunately, how many it leaves for dead. I’ve learned that addiction is a disease—one that’s cunning and baffling; powerful and unrelenting.

Now, with the help of AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous), my sponsor, the foundation of support I built while in rehab and continue to maintain, and my family and close friends, I have found a new strength that shows me that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And that it is possible to stay clean and sober and still be successful—even in your 20s.

I lost so much through my addiction—my apartment, my job, friends—and yet, I’ve gained more than I can explain. I now have my life. And with a clear mind, I’m capable of doing so much more with this life than I ever could have imagined in the past.

Some days are tough, and the nights can be even tougher. But it’s true when they say “one day at a time.” And if I remember to focus on exactly where I need to be at this moment, I know that things can only get better. And I’m confident that they absolutely will.

Photo courtesy of Haley.