Part 1 — Jillian finds the will to live after years of slow suicide
She was 16 years old when she shot dope for the first time. Drugs had never been around much for most of her childhood, but she had been dating this mega-hot senior, and she was head over heels.
For months she had avoided his offers for her to “try it just once.”
It wasn’t particularly the drugs that scared her the most. It was the needle.
She had never been around drugs or heard much about them, but she assumed that the movies made it look much worse than it was.
That needle though. Ew. Just the thought of using a needle to shoot a substance into her veins made her skin crawl.
This night though, there was some crack in the armor that she usually wore. Her boyfriend had recently cheated on her, and although she decided to forgive and stay with him, she was a tornado inside.
She had too many tequila shots that night, and when she saw him looking at his phone she fought the impulse to snatch it and throw it out the car window. But she remained committed to acting as though she was feeling fine.
Her fears of abandonment permeated her mind as she strategized ways to ensure that he wouldn’t leave her for the other girl like her father left her mother.
In desperation to find relief from her thoughts and some way to connect with him — connect with him in a way that the other girl hadn’t — he caught her at the perfect moment.
“Sure you don’t want to go with me, babe?” he said, motioning towards the bedroom.
She knew what he meant. And for the first time, her mind grabbed ahold of the idea and started tossing it around.
“I’m good, babe,” she said as he walked into the bedroom to get high.
Then it occurred to her. What if the other girl gets high with him?
Within moments, she found herself sitting on the edge of the bed with her arm out and her eyes closed. That’s the last thing she remembered from that night.
What felt like an eternity had passed since that 16-year-old girl had made the impulsive and cataclysmic decision to get high with her boyfriend — just to be close to him. And, now, six years later, Jillian finds herself in rehab at twenty-two.
It is the first time she has been clean for more than a couple of days since that morbidly reflected day at her ex-boyfriend’s apartment. And for the first time in over five years, she can see her life.
She can see what she has become. A high school dropout with a two-year-old child she barely knows and hasn’t raised. A criminal and a prostitute. A dead person — one who is dead but still alive.
This realization of still being alive is bittersweet. You see, our basic human instinct wants more than anything for us to live. But for the addict, to feel this life emerge within you — after being numb for so long — is also to feel all the life you have lost, the pain you have been covering up, and the damage you have done.
The addict who has suffered greatly in the grip of addiction only has three choices. They can go on numbing and destroying themselves — committing slow suicide, they can get clean, or they can die. That’s it. There are no other options.
What seems like the obvious option is only obvious to someone who has never gotten clean after spending years in addiction. If it appears obvious, you do not know what this option is like or the pain it requires you to endure.
Yes, of course, you would choose the option that doesn’t involve dying. Right? Yes, you would think so. But that isn’t always true when the alternative feels worse than death.
That instinct that tells normal people that the only reasonable option is the one that involves living, is the same instinct that makes it almost impossible to go on living clean.
To get clean and allow yourself to come fully back to life, you are required to feel your own destruction. All the things you destroyed while using, all the life you sucked away from yourself and others, all the pain you caused — you feel it all, and you feel it all at once in overwhelming and uncontrollable bursts.
The dark part of you — with no regard for human life — rises to the top of your soul, and you must sit there and stare it in the face. You must sit with it and see what you became — see what you destroyed.
Moments that should be memories appear at some distant corner of your mind and haunt you like ghosts — moments that you missed even though you were there.
To stare all this in the face and at that moment believe you deserve redemption enough to endure the pain it requires is a challenge that I cannot explain in words. It is a challenge so difficult and a burden so heavy, that many choose death over sitting with that beast of darkness, destruction and shame.
This was the beast that Jillian faced for the first time.
She had been in treatment for five days now, and the emotional pain was almost too much to bear.
Have you ever had an all-painful death wish kind of toothache? Or any pain that is so intense you would do anything to make it stop? It is a pain worse than childbirth, pain that leaves you considering cutting off a toe because at least then you wouldn’t feel the pain you are feeling now.
That is the kind of pain that one feels, emotionally, when they get clean after a long period of crippling substance abuse. It is a pain that is almost impossible to live through.
Jillian had always been able to push through pain, but always for a good reason. But this beast and the pain it inflicted upon her thrived on her guilt. Her guilt for all the life she had swallowed up is what fed this monster in her head.
Why go through all of this pain to save the life of a person so riddled with darkness? What’s the use anyway?
The guilt of her self-inflicted sabotage and how that destroyed the life of her loved ones — including her own child — drained any passion for life she had left, and she could feel it flickering inside of her, like a flame that would go out at any moment.
She had to do something. She felt like if this flickering flame turned into smoke, it could never be lit again.
Jillian didn’t know what she was about to do as she urgently dashed from her room to the staff desk in the hallway. Even when she stopped at the counter and placed her arms on the top, crossing them over her chest, she still didn’t know what she was going to say.
Peggy was still on from the morning shift; she must have had to stay late.
As Jillian stood there and looked at her, tears filled her eyes. She tried to think of what to say because she didn’t really know what she actually wanted or why she was standing there. She knew she wasn’t okay, that was all.
But she didn’t need to say anything. Peggy knew immediately what was going on and what Jillian needed. She leaned towards the counter and smiled, “Oh, sweetie. Are you feeling those emotions now?”
There were only two words that Jillian could get out.
“My baby…” she whispered.
Peggy came around the counter and placed her arms around Jillian in a way that no one had for a very, very long time. And for the first time in ages, she melted into the embrace.
Peggy rocked lightly as she rubbed her hair.
“Shhhh. Shhh. Shh. It’s okay. It will be okay. Your baby is okay.”
Jillian stepped back and looked at her, mortified.
Peggy looked at her with certainty.
“You feel like you don’t deserve it.”
After blinking a couple of times, it clicked.
“Yes. I do. Because I don’t deserve it.”
Jillian half expected a regurgitated response about how worthy she was, but Miss Peggy did not oblige.
Listen, kid, I could tell you how worthy you are and remind you that God doesn’t make junk, but the truth is, nothing any of us say is going to be enough to make you see your own worth. So just let it go and forget about yourself for now.
Jillian felt annoyed. This wasn’t making her feel better.
“But I am the reason I am here. I am what has to change.”
Peggy giggled like the wise old owl does when consoling the grasshopper.
Yes, but you don’t have to be worth it to do it. Whether you are worth it or not, you have two choices — recovery or addiction. Whichever one you choose is the one you feed. And that isn’t only in choosing to pick up or not you choose between recovery and addiction many times a day. Every choice you make feeds one or the other. If you don’t have it in you to do it for yourself, do it for all the others — do it for the world. In the meantime, we will love you until you find it in you to love yourself.
Jillian returned to her room and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Peggy is right”, she thought.
If I choose addiction, I am not only harming myself. I am feeding addiction and allowing more of its darkness to enter the world through me. It has already swallowed years of my life. I refuse to choose it again. I will not feed it. Not even for a second. I choose recovery.
And, recovery she chose.
She spent the next six months doing every single thing they told her to do. She went to 352 meetings in 90 days when the suggestion was 90 in 90, and she took notes every meeting. After obtaining a sponsor, she began working the steps and got all the way to her fifth.
For those who don’t know, the fourth and fifth are the ones that most people skip, skimp or avoid — leading to relapse or people who are what recoveries call clean and crazy. This is where you get honest with yourself and someone else — where you truly face your demons.
Jillian also did what is arguably the most important thing for a newcomer to do and threw herself into service work. She dedicated herself to helping others and helping with meetings and events. Showing up early to make the coffee and staying after to help put away chairs, she practiced getting out of self and being of service.
Her life was not perfect, but compared to six months ago it was like heaven. Her family had started talking to her again and she was even seeing her daughter once a week. Most shockingly, Jillian didn’t have the desire to use.
Six months ago she would have happily welcomed death and now she was living life.
Until she wasn’t.
Written by Holly Kellums
Originally published on Medium.com