AMANDA | 22 - Denver, CO
"It wasn’t until I stopped stigmatizing myself that I was able to start my lasting recovery."
I began using OxyContin at age 16; it didn’t take long before I was addicted. Eventually, I started using heroin because it was cheaper. I hid it really well up until I had to get treatment. My mom knew I had been dabbling in weed and drinking, but was shocked when my heavy drug use came to surface. After I relapsed, there were months where I convinced everyone I was OK, and then I’d end up in the hospital. My parents tried everything to keep me grounded and control what I was doing. But I’d gotten so good at manipulating, and I would do anything to get that next fix.
I think one of the misconceptions was that I was choosing this, and in a lot of ways, I was. But chemically, it got to the point where it was no longer a choice. I eventually ran out of money and came back home, and it was seeing the pain of withdrawal that really changed how my mom saw addiction. I was violently ill, and my mom was my nurse. At that darkest point, when she was feeling so helpless and not knowing how to help me, she finally understood that it wasn’t a choice to use. From that point, she was ready to do whatever it took to help me recover. Once I had her support, that was when I finally realized that I needed to recover for my own well-being. It wasn’t until I stopped stigmatizing myself that I was able to start my lasting recovery.
DANA | 34 - Denver, CO
"I think when people meet me now, they’d never guess some of the things I’ve been through."
I started using heroin recreationally in high school. It didn’t scare me; it seemed like another white powder that you snort. My family was unaware that I was using until my first overdose. They were shocked, but very supportive and put me through treatment. When that didn’t take, they had me live with them. Nothing they tried seemed to work, and it got to the point where they felt like they were out of options. I left and started living on the streets of Chicago. I did that for two years before getting treatment.
I ended up relapsing. Shortly after that, I was driving high on Xanax and heroin, and killed someone in a car accident. I served five years in an Illinois prison. In jail, there wasn’t much for someone who really wanted recovery. I didn’t want to leave the same person as when I went in, so I took it upon myself to find a way to cope without medication. I used physical fitness, meditation and a 12-step program to shift my focus and surround myself with a positive support system in prison. When I got out, my family saw the change in me. It took a lot of time to rebuild that trust and see that I was serious about it. I think when people meet me now, they’d never guess some of the things I’ve been through. But for those who are struggling, l can share my experience and show how those stigmas can be crushed. I’m a mom, I have a master’s degree, and I’m the director of a non-profit. Those are things that I never thought were possible for me.
NATHAN | 41 - Greeley, CO
"Opioids helped cover for the PTSD symptoms, depression and anxiety that I have."
A doctor prescribed opioids for a foot injury I’d sustained when I was homeless, mainly to help with the pain. I’d also suffered back and knee injuries when I was in the service. But the attraction that kept me continuing to take them, even past the injury, was in how opioids helped cover for the PTSD symptoms, depression and anxiety that I have. It started off slowly, but then my tolerance and everything increased, so I needed more for them to work. Withdrawals would kick in if I tried to get off them. Eventually, I had no choice but to start buying pills off the street.
I tried to conceal what I was doing, but after six months or so, I decided it was time to get treatment. My wife knew what I was going through based on my previous experience with substance abuse, and was very supportive when I started methadone treatments. Because of those treatments, I’m not chasing drugs anymore. I’m very lucky. I’ve been blessed with my support group. My wife, my pastor and my friends–they’ve been understanding and loving through all of it. It’s been very easy to talk about. My mind is much clearer now, and my body is getting healthier all the time. And I’m motivated: just in the last month, I’ve gone back to work as a chef.
VICTOR | 64 - Denver, CO
“I got introduced after being drafted to Vietnam in ’71. People picked up a lot of bad habits over there."
I got introduced after being drafted to Vietnam in ’71. People picked up a lot of bad habits over there. Mine was heroin; it helped numb me to what I was doing. I didn’t realize I was addicted until about six months in, when I became sick from withdrawals. When I got back from Vietnam, I tested positive for substance use, and they put me in a psychiatric hospital in Aurora, Colorado. If you used drugs, you were crazy–that’s how they labeled us then. I had to stay there for three months until my discharge came through.
I’d hurt my back in the army and still had pain, so a doctor prescribed me opioids. That’s when I started shifting from using heroin to taking opioids. I wasn’t using them as I was supposed to, and it probably took about ten years of abusing them before I found treatment. There were not many drug treatment centers then–places where you could seek therapy, or even get on a methadone program. Eventually I found a center where they were able to get me down to a treatable amount, to where it was like I was taking nothing compared to what I initially was. I was ready to face my addiction from a physical standpoint. From there, I really connected with my church, and with their help and prayers, I was able to finally break my chain of addiction. If you have a problem, seek help. I know what worked for me, it can work for you.
KALEY | 26 - Colorado Springs, CO
"It was the first time they realized that I didn’t choose to be messed up."
I started using heroin in high school at sixteen years old. I held a 3.98 GPA and a part-time job, so my family didn’t necessarily see what was going on with me. Even when I admitted I had a problem they still couldn’t grasp the depth of what I had been doing and experiencing. I started IV using at eighteen which quickly spiraled me into a debilitating addiction where I couldn’t effectively hide what I was doing anymore. Eventually, my mom searched my room and found my needles and spoons, and my family gave me the gift of an intervention on my nineteenth birthday. That’s when I entered a nine-month intensive inpatient treatment program and got sober.
I could not have been blessed with a more understanding mother—she never stopped supporting me. Although many family members struggled with accepting my disease and viewed me as a criminal (which in some aspects was true), my time in treatment changed their perspective. While I was in treatment; we had to do a family weekend, and my family started to scratch the surface of understanding and began to support my recovery. There we talked through what I had gone through and why I couldn’t stop. I think it was the first time they realized that I didn’t choose to be messed up. I didn’t wake up wanting this. We all healed, and now our relationships are more meaningful than I could have ever imagined!
TERESA | 63 - Denver, CO
“Now I don’t need anything to get up in the morning, and that’s a good feeling."
I didn’t start using opioids until I was in my thirties and I started using heroin. The addiction puts you in a bad place. Just having to need it all the time to get going, to do anything–I hated it. Plus, people knowing that I did drugs, the way they’d look at me, the marks on my arm…it was really embarrassing. Other people would tell me, “Ah you could quit anytime you want.” I’d try to tell them it wasn’t that easy, but they just look at you like you’re dirty. Like you’re going to steal everything if they let you in their house. Even if I went to the hospital, I’d get red-tagged because I was an IV user.
In time, I just got fed up. The drug didn’t do anything for me anymore; I was just taking it so I wouldn’t go through withdrawals and feel that way. I’d look at people on TV and say, I wanna be like them. So, I got on methadone. I knew if I did it right, I’d finally detox, and they’d help me get off opioids. Now I don’t need anything to get up in the morning, and that’s a good feeling. I’m proud of myself. People don’t realize it’s a disease, and that people need encouragement. That when you’re weak and you fall, that’s when you need someone to lift you up.
SARA | 29 - Lakewood, CO
"I didn’t think it could happen to me because a doctor had prescribed them."
My issue with opioids started in my early 20s after receiving a morphine drip while in the hospital for a medical condition. The drip continued the whole time I was there, and I received a consistent supply of meds when I left. I didn’t realize for another year or two that I probably left the hospital that day dependent on opioid pain medication. In the following years, when I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me and why I was so sick all the time, it was really hard to come to terms with the fact that I was physically addicted to opioids. I didn’t think it could happen to me because a doctor had prescribed them. As my tolerance rose, I needed more and more, and started buying pain medication off the streets.
Eventually that progressed to heroin because it was just so much cheaper. I repeatedly sought treatment through my primary insurance provider, but as it’s expensive, they wanted to exhaust every option before giving it to me. Before I could ever get the inpatient treatment I needed, I lost my health insurance, and eventually spiraled back into things. I finally entered into a therapeutic community program in Colorado, and that is how I found long-term recovery. My parents shared my hopelessness and frustration. They were amazed at the lack of options I had when I wanted to get better. Now that our lives are very different, they both rally and advocate for people to gain access to treatment.
PERCY | 58 - Denver, CO
“You have to stay with the program and take it one day at a time."
I got involved with a gang when I was younger, and started using then, from the peer pressure. I had always been real shy, and using heroin kind of took that away. My family was definitely concerned; they knew what was going on. They’d try to keep me at home so I’d stay out of trouble, but nothing took. I’d just make up excuses; eventually they stopped trusting me. They’d lock up everything when I came over; they wouldn’t trust me to drive their cars. It made me feel really, really bad. I was embarrassed, and felt like an outcast.
One day I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. I got a nice job and didn’t want to lose it. I went to a methadone clinic, and it helped me get my head straight. I didn’t feel like I needed to go down to the street to look for anything; it helped me cope with my life. So did the people. They were really nice. They wouldn’t look down on me; they just wanted me to get better. You have to stay with the program and take it one day at a time. It works. I ended up working that job for ten years!
SCOTT | 32 - Louisville, CO
"A lot of it boiled down to none of us understanding what addiction was."
My mother suffered from chronic pain, and in my mid-teens I started experimenting with her leftover medications. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with social anxiety and depression, never been comfortable in my own skin. Opioids gave me that feeling of being safe. It didn’t take long to cross that barrier from using socially on the weekends to needing it to get out of bed in the morning. This eventually led to in-depth heroin use, and very nearly robbed me of my life. My parents noticed my drug use, but took limited action. A lot of it boiled down to none of us understanding what addiction was, and that it was not something I would “grow out of.” This belief continued until I was 25 and hopelessly addicted to heroin.
In the years that followed treatment, my family and I have learned a lot about the reality of my addiction. My sister initially thought this was something I could learn to control, and that we’d still be able to have beers on the weekend after I completed treatment. In time, we all came to understand that this isn’t something that can be controlled easily. For others watching someone go through something similar, if you’re educated on the subject and you find a way to approach them with resources, realistic boundaries and love, they’re far more likely to accept your help and do something about it. Recovery is absolutely possible. It isn’t always pretty or easy, but it is amazing how beautiful my life is today.
JAIME | 34 – Greeley, CO
"Methadone helped me get my life back."
When I was 30, I had my wisdom teeth removed and the doctor prescribed me opioids. I had never used any drugs to that point, and didn’t know much about addiction. If I tried to stop taking the pills for a few days, I’d feel really sick, so I’d start taking them again. I started scoring them off the street after my prescription ran out. One day, the guy I got them from told me he had something that had the same effect, but was much cheaper. So I started using heroin. My friends and family noticed a change in my behavior, but I was embarrassed by what I was doing. To my mom, a drug is a drug, whether it’s marijuana or heroin. I was so ashamed, I never admitted to my addiction until just recently.
When I became a father, I realized I needed to get help. I started going to a methadone clinic. It blocked the receptors that make you crave opioids, and those cravings can be so strong when you’re trying to quit. Methadone helped me get my life back. I ended up bringing four or five other people I knew that used with me to the clinic, because they were ready to quit. I even paid for some of them to get started, because the excuse to avoid treatment is always “I can’t afford it.” And those guys kept with it. I get texts and phone calls from them all the time telling me thank you, telling me that I’d pretty much saved their lives.