In My Own Prison: An Ashby House Success Story

In My Own Prison
by Ursula

I was 16 when I first tried prescription pain killers recreationally. My boyfriends at the time was throwing a party. Later that night I saw him and a couple other guys in the kitchen each take a pill. He offered me one and I took it. I remember the drunk feeling it gave me, not realy understanding the high and not knowing what to do with it. When I experimented with drugs at that age I never dreamed I would get addicted to anything. I was naïve and careless. I remember always telling people how I would try anything once.

Three years later I had gotten dumped by my first real love of only a year. I was completely lost and alone in my head. After we broke up my addiction to my boyfriend Aaron turned into a drug addiction. I felt like I couldn’t handle the pain. I thought I was using to get through a rough time in my life, but before I knew it I was stealing from department stores almost every day, and three years had passed. Having a pill addiction was expensive. I even looked at money differently. The only thing I thought of was how many pills it could get me, and how long would that last? A combination of my growing tolerance and the fact that they were five dollars apiece always left me broke and in debt to people. My main dealer, who was my friend’s dad, would trade things for pills, and he would give me a shopping list of things to steal. I would steal fishing supplies, DVDs, deodorant, razors; whatever he needed.

When I was younger I could have told you that I would never ever do the things I did, but the high that fueled that kind of reckless behavior, that feeling, is the only thing that drives you. Nothing mattered when it came to chasing that high. And after a while you’re no longer chasing the high, you’re desperately trying to avoid the worst flu of your life. You’re just taking the drugs so you won’t have withdrawals. When you’re so used to doing it taking a pill to make the sickness away seems so much easier.

I remembered when I told my mom I was addicted to prescription pain pills. I was sitting on the couch trying to convince her to let me borrow money. I promised her I would pay her back Friday, even though that rarely happened. This time she wasn’t going to give in. I felt so desperate. I wanted help so badly, but I wanted to just take a pill to make it better at the same time. I sat on our couch so long, debating whether to tell my mother I was a drug addict. I thought about the sickness that was soon to follow if I did tell her- the sweats and horrible body pains that would ensue. I wanted to tell her I needed help so many times before. In the past I could never bring myself to breaking her heart that way. In the world of addiction, I can’t imagine anything worse than having a child you love so much on drugs. I imagined her working eleven hour shifts in a factory, only to come home to her drug addict daughter begging for money; guilt and sadness filled me. That’s when I admitted it and I have never seen my mother more devastated.

When I decided to come to Salina for treatment, the realization came to me that I couldn’t stop by myself. Helping myself was not an option. The overwhelming compulsion to keep getting high was too strong. The four hour drive felt like an eternity. I was terrified of the unknown. I was so ready to leave the life I was living, so completely tired of the lying, stealing, and withdrawals. I couldn’t imagine one more day of the sadness and fear that engulfed me when the drugs wore off, but on the other hand, what else was there? I couldn’t imagine anything different either. I had been entangled in the relentless cycle of addiction for three years. I was in my own prison for so long.

On one side of the street was the homeless shelter, the other was the women’s treatment facility. The shelter was an old Victorian house with a wrap-around porch. It looked charming and haunting at the same time. It had a beautiful lawn with flowers around the house. I still recognize the smell of the house today. It takes me right back to that terrifying, desperate feeling I had when I got there. Across the street was an old, three story apartment building. A place I had imagined I would live in at my age, just not at a treatment facility. They were one bedroom apartments. There were four girls to every apartment. All of the beds were in the living room.

Those six months were strange, intimidating, and the most important six months of my life. I never thought I would be living with twenty other women. We had three hour groups three times a week, and shorter ones throughout the day. After living there thirty days I could find a job. In six months I was supposed to save on thousand dollars and find my own home. Before coming to the Ashby House, I would go through jobs almost as fast at the money I earned went towards feeding my addiction. With my Case Manager by my side, I was able to start preparing for job interviews and learning how to overcome any questions related to my poor employment history and substance abuse problems until I found my first part-time job, which I continue to work at to this day. I also feel I got my financial education at the Ashby House. Prior to going there, I would avoid bills, steal, and coerce my loved ones into giving me money. Both my Case Manager and my participation in Ashby House’s Life Skills and Computer Classes taught me how to budget, open a bank account, reduce past-due debts, address credit report errors or identity theft, and save for my future. The agency was also the first to explain to me the connection between my credit score and my ability to receive housing assistance or rent an apartment. Finally, Ashby House also provided me with a level of accountability I had not experienced with even my own family. I learned firsthand how to budget my expenses, turn in receipts, and how to plan for unexpected events, while at the same time saving that $1000 (my safety net) needed to graduate from the program.

The whole time I was in treatment, there was always a lingering thought that my addiction wasn’t over. I had an intense fear that wanting to stay clean would not last. I had told myself so many times that I was done with the drugs, that I couldn’t trust my own feelings. I would trick myself into thinking that it would be okay to have a couple pills just for a night and the depression, desperation, and frustration would all come raging back. I would have dreams about relapsing, seeing my dealer’s face in them. I would wake up so relieved that it was only a dream. I had sincerely wanted to quit so many timed before, but it never actually happened. I always messed up. I would always go back to the pills. Even now, I still worry that something will happen to push me to think it will be ok to get high one night, but I now realize if that were to happen, it wouldn’t be one night. I would get thrown back into a subhuman form of life.

Groups were intense. All these women I lived with that I wanted nothing to do with in the beginning started sharing their lives to us in group. I learned their own past trauma, the things they had done, their biggest secrets. Most of them wanted something different from life. They were tired of being slaves to their addiction just like I was. Our counselors were there to help us with that. They taught us how to change, and how to live life.

My counselor was probably the most intimidating person at the facility. She was a recovered addict just like us, and had been the very first graduate from the same treatment center we were in six years prior. I loved her immediately. She was a tall, black lady from Los Angeles. She had short hair and always had long colorful acrylic fingernails. For group, our tables we sat at were long picnic style tables in a circle, so we could all see each other. When my counselor would lead group, everyone was silent. We all respected her the most. Even the girls who hated her respected her. She would pace the room, staring at each of us like a cat stalking her prey. When she would speak we listened. I was always entranced and empowered listening to her speak. She was so different from me. She was so confident, and knew exactly what to say. She would tell us stories from her past. Her booming voice would fill the room, “Yes, I did those things! I can’t take them back, and I can’t change it, so I’m going to walk through it and say I am Roxanne and I am SOME. BODY. TODAY!” TO see how passionate she was about recovery and helping people now, I could see the same intensity on the other spectrum of good and bad in her stories. I knew this woman had changed, and that gave me so much hope for myself, and still does today.

My nerves were taking hold of me. I sat in that uncomfortable plastic chair staring at all the people I loved. My parents and boyfriends sat around me as my counselors stood at the front of the room smiling. I couldn’t believe it was my last day living in a six month drug and alcohol treatment facility. They called it graduation. I had seen so many girls come and go, getting kicked out or leaving early, but I made it. I finished the program.

I began to think about all the other girls who had graduated before me. I wondered where they were now. Were they still clean, and had they really changed their lives for good? How many of them knew that this chance could have been their last? Then I thought of myself as an older woman, with gray hair and wrinkled hands sitting in another rehab, or at home without help still popping pills. I hoped and prayed this would be my one and only graduation from treatment.

At the end of the graduation, after cake, flowers, and the outpouring of kindness and support, I had no idea what lay ahead of me. That feeling was so bittersweet. I had been excited to live on my own, but leaving all those people that became a second family to me was hard. Like when I knew I needed help, I knew I had to leave there, make my own choices and depend on myself. I could never say I was cured of my addiction. My life is so different from three years ago. I’m majoring in Social Work, and I am in my fourth semester at K-State Salina, with a 3.6 GPA. I want this to reflect the changes that anyone can make. I am not perfect, but I am no longer addicted to prescription pain killers and throwing life away. It’s so much harder for addicts to quit on their own, that’s why we need organizations like Ashby House, where they provide women with the tools to avoid relapse, and give people that hand up, and safe haven from whatever drug world they are coming from. The life I had has made me so grateful for everything I used to take for granted. I didn’t ever think I would be able to stop and finally do it, and that makes me want to take advantage of every opportunity.

By December 31, 2015, 65% of Ashby House clients will reduce their past due debt by half within 60 days of their initial intake.