What she didn’t know — and what I didn’t say — is that I was one of THOSE people, one who ended up with a needle in her arm.
[Content notice: drug use, addiction.]
When I found out I was pregnant, I reluctantly made the choice to stay clean.
A few years ago, on a cool October evening in Los Angeles, I sat around a patio table with a group of moms. We chatted about everything from The Bachelor to preschools to politics while our kids ran around the yard.
The conversation turned to drug use. The nephew of one of the moms had recently entered rehab for a heroin addiction. We talked about the rise of opiate use and some of the celebrities whose careers have been marred by drugs. One of the moms remarked, “I know plenty of people who partied too much and got sober, but I just don’t get how someone ends up with a needle in their arm.”
What she didn’t know — and what I didn’t say — is that I was one of those people, one who ended up with a needle in her arm. Although I was a few years younger than this group of women, they saw me as a fellow mom who lived a life that resembled theirs, Volvo station wagon and all.
In some ways, I was like them. But, in many ways I was not.
I started using heroin at a young age, a week after my 13th birthday. I used off and on until I was 28, when I found out I was pregnant with my son. For 15 years I lived a double life, functioning to varying degrees of success, lying, pretending, covering, and hiding. I hid my drug use from my parents, most of my friends and boyfriends, and pretty much anyone I came into contact with.
When I was 23, my then-fiancé caught me, quite literally, with a needle in my arm — or rather when the needle I shot up with fell to the bathroom floor. He was suspicious of my frequent trips to the bathroom and was looking under the crack in the bottom of the door when my evidence landed a few inches from his face.
This led to my first stint in rehab. To say that my parents were shocked would be an understatement. I broke off my engagement and dove head first into 12-step meetings, determined to get my life back on track. However, it wasn’t so easy. My anxiety and depression seemed to amplify in intensity the longer I stayed sober.
I looked in his eyes, and instantly loved him more than I hated myself.
For the next five years, I achieved some longer periods of sobriety, punctuated by relapses, breakdowns, and another round of rehab. When I found out I was pregnant, I reluctantly made the choice to stay clean. I doubted my decision (both to have this baby and to stay sober) the entire pregnancy and was unsure of how I would feel or what I would do when my child was born. Everyone around me was unsure, too. My parents discussed contingency plans with my son’s father for when — not if — I relapsed. But I didn't.
The ambivalence of my pregnancy quickly dissipated when the nurse put that 7 lb baby boy in my arms. It stopped my self-loathing in its tracks. I looked in his eyes, and instantly loved him more than I hated myself. The moment he came into this world, I was miraculously relieved of the desire to use.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t done any work, because I have. I learned to be a grownup; to take care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally; I addressed my mental health issues through therapy and medication. I never again looked to drugs for a solution. That baby boy is now 12 and the me before, the drug addict that couldn’t stay clean, feels so far removed from who I am today.
For years, including on that June night with the other moms, I felt reluctant to tell people about my past. When I resurrected my writing career a few years ago, I began writing candidly about my experiences. As I divulged more and more of those ghosts from the past, that shame evaporated. I write and talk openly and publicly about my life, my mistakes, and all the experiences — good and bad — that have shaped me.
I have joked with my friends that no one could blackmail me because I put all my dirty little secrets out there for the whole world to read. I don’t look back on the choices I made with any regret. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from all of this, from my mistakes, from my recovery, and from my ability to look unflinchingly at my past, is that the truth truly does set you free.
I am steadfast in the knowledge that I would not be the wife, mother, writer, or woman I am today without having been “one of those people.”