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Last updateMon, 29 Apr 2019 1pm

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Realizations of an Addict

Former Addicts Explain Rock Bottom and Their Road to Recovery


The disease of addiction is a vampire. It sucks the life out of every aspect of a person’s existence. Addiction takes over the body, the mind, and destroys the soul. Age, race, gender or occupation makes no difference to the disease. Its ultimate goal is to take your life, unless you make the decision to save it.

“The moment I realized I was an addict was actually when I had the spiritual awakening,” Michele I. said, requesting her last name be withheld. “I was at a New Year’s Eve party and I got this overwhelming feeling like if I took one more hit, one more sip, or one more bump of anything, I was not going to wake up the next morning.” She heard the crowd countdown to midnight from her bed in another room.

“The next morning I had to figure out how to get help,” Michele said. She had just finished her undergraduate studies in criminal justice at a university in New York state six months prior. She returned home to her parents’ house immediately after the holiday and endured a painful detox on the couch from alcohol, cocaine and prescription pills. Now, ten years later, Michele has not touched a drink or drug since that night.

For some addicts, it is not always a realization that leads directly to seeking help.

“I started doing heroin, and I didn’t even feel like I was an addict because my life was still together,” Kris said, asking that only his first name be printed. He continued to work and earn a living while his addiction festered. The first time Kris was sick from not using, he said he realized he was willing to do anything to get high. Kris robbed his sister’s piggy bank.

“Maybe I do have a problem,” he thought. Kris eventually began a methadone program that helped him pull things together again, but it did not last long.

The moment Kris realized he was an addict was when, “I picked up the needle,” he said. His drug use led to seven arrests in one year and he found himself in court facing the prosecutor. Kris had violated probation, turned in positive drug screens, did not pay his fines and was continually arrested for possession of illegal drugs.

“All those things that I denied for so long, and I was hearing the truth about me from someone that didn’t know me,” he said. Listening to the list the prosecutor read through, he realized everything he had done in his life and Kris said to himself, “I need to get help now.”

After not using for a month while he sat in a jail cell, Kris found himself in a desperate state of mind.

“I had a shoelace tied around my neck and I was pulling it tighter and tighter trying to kill myself, and then something happened, something miraculous happened,” he said. “Then I realized I never have to live like that again, and that’s when I surrendered.” This suffering addict made the decision to never get high again when he got out of jail. Kris has been clean for over five years.

“Denial is common,” said addiction specialist who teaches at the University, Dr. Alan Cavaiola. “Most addicts feel that drugs help them to function, not hinder them.” Drugs and alcohol affect people differently and how functional their life is can be an indicator for addiction. If using has a negative effect on a person’s life, it is usually a sign of addiction the doctor explained.

“It’s not how much you use, or when you use or what you use, it’s what it does to you,” he said.

When assessing someone’s using habits, professionals look at the impact on relationships, social, occupational, legal, medical and emotional functioning, Cavaiola said.

“Very simple, if the drug or drink interferes with life functioning, that’s indicative of addiction,” the specialist added. Cavaiola holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, is a licensed psychologist with a private practice, and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LCADC) who has worked at the University for 25 years.

One addict recalls her decision and describes it as “kind of a blur.” She spoke on the condition of anonymity and will be referred to as Rachel.

“I remember being high for the day, like I usually was, and telling myself that I wasn’t going to do the same thing tomorrow,” Rachel said. Tomorrow came, and again, Rachel got high. Even though she continued to use heroin, she said, “It was at that point my desire to get clean was born.” It was not until the police caught her repeatedly with drugs, that she finally stopped using.

“At 19-years old, being arrested again for drugs, I decided that maybe I should give getting clean a shot,” she said. Rachel has been clean for more than nine years.

Each week at the University, Suanne Schaad, LCADC and substance abuse coordinator, sees about ten students per week in the Office of Substance Awareness.

“Most are still using and are not at the recovery support place,” she said. “The number of students I work with in recovery is much lower.”

Approximately 40 percent of the students Schaad works with come in on their own seeking help. Her sessions with students are confidential and do not affect their standing at the University.

“More often, the case is the student will fail out or earn academic probation,” she added. Aside from giving students support, she also works to spread awareness through programs on campus.

During her freshman year of college, this addict heard from more than one person that they were concerned about her drinking.

“Two different sets of friends had written me letters stating that they couldn’t be my friend any longer because they were watching me kill myself, because of the amount of drugs that I was doing, and what I was doing to my body,” Sara said, an assumed name used to protect her anonymity.

Blinded by her using, the message was lost on Sara and she continued to drink despite blacking out every other night. A blackout is a term used to describe someone who consumes large amounts of alcohol and completely loses their memory of what happened while they were intoxicated. She had been convicted of a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) at age 19.

“I didn’t drive,” she said. “So that was my green light to just drink all day, every day.”

One night she went out to see a band, met the drummer and started a long-distance relationship with him. He took a trip from Tennessee to New Jersey to visit her, but she spent the time with him partying and blacking out. Halfway through the visit he finally sat her down and talked to her.

“‘Look, I came all this way to see you and you’re a mess,’ he said. ‘You need help. You really have a problem,’” Sara recalled. The visit would be the last time she spoke to the musician, but the first time she saw the actual consequences of her actions.

“Somebody actually stopped talking to me completely, and told me I needed help, [it] kind of made me realize that I really had a problem and had to do something different,” she said. After struggling with staying clean for several years, Sara has not used in over 3 years.

“Every active user affects up to eight people directly with their use,” Schaad said. It is encouraged to speak up if a friend or loved one’s using is affecting their life negatively. Schaad suggests letting the substance abuser know you are concerned and explain how their using affects you and your relationship with that person.

“Denial is so strong that [confrontation] can sometimes help with breaking it down a little,” she added.

Evaluations, short-term counseling, and twelve step support meetings are available on campus to guide students through the struggle of substance abuse and addiction.

“The best part is getting students the help they want and seeing how their lives change due to changes in their use,” said Schaad referring to her job.

Recovery can be difficult, but not impossible.

“I believe that every addict has the ability to get clean and change their way of life,” Michele said.

Because of her decision to get clean, Michele graduated from the University in January of 2012 with a master’s degree in social work, passed her exam to become a licensed social worker (LSW), and she is also a certified alcohol and drug counselor (CADC). She has over seven years experience helping clients with a co-occurring diagnosis of addiction and mental health issues. Living a life where she has found self-respect and a family that is proud of her, she shared, “I’ve accomplished things that I never dreamed were even possible.”

Fortunately, the addicts in this story escaped addiction’s deadly intentions. Where Kris used to feel “trapped, sick and terrible every day,” he now said,

“I have a life that’s beyond my wildest dreams.” Kris is now happily married, gainfully employed and has a healthier relationship with his family.

Rachel has not used drugs in so long she explained, “I couldn’t image what my life would be like if I didn’t make that decision to get clean.” She added that her life is amazing today and she knows it would not be if she were still using.

Addictions, by nature, are chronic relapsing diseases and the key to recovery is to identify and manage triggers, Cavaiola said. At one time, Cavaiola had worked with a counselor who had been in rehabilitation treatment 13 times before he embraced recovery, he said.

“Don’t give up, you never know when things will click.”

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Monmouth University
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Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151
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