“I remember when I hit my one year I could stop and look back from where I was a year ago—homeless, living in a tent, stealing food out of people’s pantries, hiding in abandoned houses and getting high—I just can’t imagine doing any of that again.”
I grew up in Cleveland with my family. There was really nothing wrong with the way that I was raised or my life. My parents took really good care of me and my siblings, and I graduated high school and decided that I wanted to try other things—and that wasn’t a very good idea.
Right after I graduated high school I moved in with a boyfriend that my parents hated and I ended up miscarrying a baby with him and I really didn’t know what to do. I was working my job at the time and the boss that I worked with, she smoked a lot of pot. She used to do that in my car all the time [when] we were driving and it didn’t really bug me. But one day we were driving and she just asked me if she could get high in my car. I was really confused because I thought that’s what she was already doing—and she just started shooting up in my car.
It was a little—not even a little—it was very scary because she didn’t handle it very well. She kind of just passed out and had the little seizure thing in my car and I was so scared. I thought, “I’m gonna have to take this girl to the hospital,” and, “I’m gonna get in trouble,” because I had no idea what was going on. And because she was my boss I didn’t really want to get yelled at, so I didn’t really tell anybody. That went on for a couple weeks actually, just in my car, that I didn’t like very much but again, I’m not going to yell at my boss.
“One day we were driving and she just asked me if she could get high in my car. I was really confused because I thought that’s what she was already doing—and she just started shooting up in my car.”
I was going through the miscarriage at the time, too, and that was just really hard. I had kicked out my boyfriend from my house at that point so then I was losing my apartment, too, because without him I couldn’t afford to stay there anymore. But he just had to go—he was really violent and wasn’t worth keeping around anyway. I was just getting really upset about it and I remember one of the days I came in and she started kind of poking me at it—not literally poking with it, but just, “Well, you’ll feel better, you won’t be so sad,”—just all those kinds of things. I ignored her for a while, but one day I just came in and was just done with everything. So I let her, and she did it all for me because I had no clue what I was doing, but that was the first time I got high with heroin—in probably 2012 I would say, the end of.
I still kept my job for a little bit after that—not very long. It’s hard to do. I think I was probably addicted way quicker than I realized that I was addicted, but I kept it hidden for a while. After I lost my apartment one of my friends and his boyfriend, who lived in Vermillion, Ohio, agreed to let me live with them. So I kind of crashed on their couch for a while until we could clear enough spot for me to stay there. It got better for a while, mostly because I think I didn’t have any way to get it, so it helped a lot.
I got another job and it was all going good, but then I started dating another guy who was from Michigan, and I went to stay with him for a little while after we had been talking—and he was an addict. It went okay there for a while because at the time I met him he was a “recovered addict,” so it was okay. I don’t know if it’s just because it was the first other person I’ve dated who understood how badly I wanted to do that, but we would talk about it a lot because our thought was that if we could talk about it, we wouldn’t want to do it as much. I’d never been to a meeting or anything, so I guess we talked about it the wrong way, because all that made us want to do was do it again—which we did.
I stayed in Detroit, Michigan for many months—way too many months with this guy—living in a tent in his parents’ backyard, because they knew we were addicts and wouldn’t let us in the house. I think about Michigan sometimes and I feel like it can’t even be part of my life because it was just such a crazy thing up there. I’d never had to steal anything before in my life, be it just to have or for food or anything—in my life I’ve never had to take anything from anybody to be okay before. We were living in this tent and I remember breaking into people’s houses, not for any of their stuff—just for food—and we’d come back to our tent with just a box of crackers and it was the greatest on earth.
We did that for a while and you can’t just do that, so as addicts we wanted more, so we started [going to] parking lots and I would just be watch while him and his other friends would find whatever they could in parking lots. We were going through ridiculous amounts of money. I could’ve paid my rent at my previous house with the money that were blowing through. I had a check waiting from the job that I had worked previous to moving to Michigan—it was only like a $50 check probably—and I remember we made a six-hour drive from where we were to go get this small check just so that we could get high again.
I took this paramedic class when I was in high school, and I loved it and I was really good at it. I never worked professionally in that field, but I liked to know it—it was a lot of stuff—some of the simple first aid and things helped a lot in my life. When I was in Michigan, my friend who had let me live on his couch had called me a bunch just to try to get me to come home and I wouldn’t do it—I just wouldn’t do it. I loved this guy, which I think in the end I just loved the drug—I didn’t realize that, though.
“I looked over and the person that I was sleeping next to was just completely blue and he had vomited everywhere. He was still breathing, but barely.”
One day I remember we were in our tent and we went to bed and the next morning I woke up—and I mean usually we got up pretty early because we had a long day of money to scrounge up—and it was afternoon already and no one had woken me up. So I looked over and the person that I was sleeping next to was just completely blue and he had vomited everywhere. He was still breathing, but barely. It was just the scariest thing I’d ever seen in my life. It’s one thing to know how to do all these emergency medical things; it’s a totally different thing to have to actually do it on someone you care about. He ended up being okay after more CPR than I hope I have to ever give again. We had an ambulance come and they took [him to] the hospital and he stayed in a coma for about two weeks in the hospital. He had overdosed on heroin—when I was sleeping he had snuck out to get high.
His parents didn’t come to visit us once when we were there—none of his family did. It was horrible. I knew obviously that it could do these things to people, but I’d just never seen it before. I remember just waiting and the hospital pretty much told me, “There’s nothing else [we can do]—we just gotta wait.” I stayed there for two weeks—I didn’t leave that room—and I was so happy when he finally woke up. He didn’t remember who I was for the first day he woke up. At the same time I felt like a horrible person, because as soon as he woke up my first thought was, “Oh, thank God. I can get high again. He’s okay.”
We left and I stayed there a little bit longer. After he got out of the hospital his parents had us come in the house for a little bit, and we were leaving their house and going somewhere. His mom had given us their car for the evening, and I think I thought we were going to dinner, and he’s like, “No, we’re just gonna go pick up more.” I was so upset. I was like, “You just got out of the hospital five hours ago for this,” and I called my friend back and I told him that day, “You have to come get me.” Because when I told the guy that I was living with, “No, we just did this,” he looked at me and just straight-out told me, “I will do this until the day I die.” And I didn’t want to die like that. So I called my friend and him and his boyfriend came and picked me up that night and took me back to their house.
I stayed there for a while and it was okay, except the guy from Michigan then drove down to where we were and stayed with us just long enough to convince me to go back to Michigan, which was stupid but you don’t notice those things at the time. Even after that thing in the hospital, it still didn’t click once to me that I might be an addict.
We went back and I remember the one day we were picking up our drugs from some dude’s house. We always had to just find abandoned houses or weird spots, and we were in some abandoned house and he had already gotten high. It was such a stupid thing, but he knocked everything off the table on accident because he was high and kind of falling asleep, and I got so angry I started throwing things. Through that I realized, “Oh my god, this shouldn’t be happening for anything. I didn’t know what to do, so I called my friend again and they came back up and got me again—not very happily, but they did—and they brought me home.
I went to my parents’ house for the weekend—I was going to try to stay with them. They had already found out about my addiction about a week prior because it was my dad’s birthday party. They had called and asked me to come down from Michigan to come to my dad’s party, which I did, but decided that it would be a wonderful idea to bring the guy that I was staying with and one of his friends who I didn’t know who was on the run from the police. So we drove to my parents’ house, and I don’t know what made us think that it was okay to get high ten minutes before we got to my parents’ house, but we did, and then rolled up of course thinking we’re perfectly fine, you can’t even tell—which is not true at all. We were there for about ten minutes before they boxed in my car and demanded that the three of us would be staying there.
“I don’t know what happened, but I decided it would be a good idea to do twice what I normally do and ended up overdosing.”
It was a horrible night. My parents were screaming and crying and all my family was there because it was my dad’s birthday. My little siblings were screaming crying—all my family was—and it was horrible. I had to stay because my dad had boxed in my car—I had no other choice. So we stayed the night, but as soon as I woke up the next morning I took my keys and we just left. So they had known about it, but I didn’t really want to do anything about it at the time. I was angry that they would be upset with me as I wasn’t hurting anybody and I wasn’t asking you for anything.
So I remember after they picked me up I went back to my parents’ house and I thought I would try to stay there for a little while because I had been sixty days clean once I went to my parents house. I stayed at my friends’ for about sixty days. Then I went back to my parents house and thought I would be okay, but my parents were out of town. I don’t really know what triggered it, but while I was sitting there I just decided I wanted to be high. I panicked and I tried to call a couple people and get someone to come and help me, but no one could come over or come get me or do anything like that. I was able to ignore it for about a day—and then I couldn’t. I found some people around where my parents were living that I knew had it and got it from them. I locked myself in the room that I had been staying at and I got high at my parents’ house.
I don’t know what happened, but I decided it would be a good idea to do twice what I normally do and ended up overdosing. One of my friends found me later in the night just passed out in the driveway of my parents’ house and he brought me to a hospital.
I don’t remember all of that—I remember bits and pieces. I know I woke up and he was still sitting in the room with me and his girlfriend was there. They had to leave after a while and they finally cleared me to leave the hospital and it was like five in the morning when they cleared me to leave and one of my other friends was really mad because she had to work, but no one else was there to get me, so she did come pick me up from the hospital at five in the morning. She took me home and yelled at me and all that, but I got home and one of my aunts was waiting there—and she had a problem, too. She was like, “No, you’re not just gonna leave the hospital from this,” and drove me straight back to the hospital and demanded they admit me— which they did.
They considered it a suicide attempt because I had done so much and they put me in a whole psych ward/rehab place for a while. I don’t really remember the beginning of that. The people I met there were really wonderful. They had me in my own little blocked off room because I was violently sick so much. They gave me I don’t know what pill, but some pill pretty much so I just slept through most of it. It took me a while because when I finally was able to get out of my room and try to do other things I didn’t want to. It was really awful. The only thing I could think of was I knew that I still had one little bag left hidden at home. I just didn’t want to be there, [but] because I was there I just kind of kept pushing through it because there’s really no other choice when you’re there.
After a while of that I was talking to two other girls there who were about my age, and we all had really similar stories. It was just really weird, but it was really nice. It was nice to see that I wasn’t alone and there were other people who understood and wanted to get better. That was strange to me because they were the first people I’ve met who had this addiction who didn’t want it anymore. I knew I didn’t want to die from it, but at the same time I loved it. What else was I going to do? We stayed in contact for a little bit after we got out, and I think that helped a lot because I don’t think that I would’ve ever wanted to be clean if I hadn’t met those girls.
“My mom came up to visit me for the first time and there was kind of like woods behind the visiting room that we were all in, and my dad brought all my siblings to stand outside the window and they all waved and blew kisses at me and I just wanted to go home.”
I wasn’t talking to my mom for a while because—of course none of this was any of my parents’ fault—but I was really mad at my mom. She wasn’t even allowed to come visit me for a while. I wouldn’t let her—just my dad and my aunt. I hadn’t been really allowed to be by my siblings too much in the past year or so with my addiction, which I was mad at at the time. I have a lot of little siblings, but understandably of course you can’t leave me with them. My mom came up to visit me for the first time and there was kind of like woods behind the visiting room that we were all in, and my dad brought all my siblings to stand outside the window and they all waved and blew kisses at me and I just wanted to go home. I didn’t really know what to do because I didn’t feel like I had a home anymore.
My mom talked to my doctors and agreed that I would go back with her when I got out and it took another week or so after I finally let my mom come up, but she finally got them to agree that I would be okay to stay with her and she gave me a new room at her house. I stayed there for probably a year-and-a-half after I got out and went to a lot of meetings and met a lot of people. They helped—I was really bad at following the structure of the meetings—but just to see other people sometimes was enough for me, just to know that I wasn’t the only person who was trying to deal with that.
I was really shy about it for a while I guess. I was never really embarrassed about it— it’s just something that people don’t talk about. I don’t even remember who I was talking to—I think it was one of the girls that I ended up meeting when I was in the hospital—who said that she didn’t understand why we didn’t talk about it, because how are we supposed to tell other people or stop or get anyone to understand if we don’t talk about it? So I started being a little more open about it.
I remember the day I decided I wasn’t going to just pretend it didn’t happen anymore. It was over a really stupid Facebook comment. There was just a news article about addiction and I don’t even remember the point of the article other than it was about addiction. I was scrolling through the comments and someone had posted on there that addicts shouldn’t be allowed to put their opinion into addiction because our minds are cluttered by it or something. I just didn’t understand. If you’ve never actively had addiction to anything, how were you going to understand it? Or if you don’t talk to these people at least, you’re never going to get it.
It just bugged me so much that it got posted on my Facebook that I have this problem—well, used to have this problem—and it turned out a lot more positively than I thought. I got a couple negative comments, but I don’t think any of them were from anyone I actually knew. They were all just strangers and for the most part if I don’t know you and you don’t have something polite to say, I didn’t even hear it.
It was good. I had a lot of family and friends who I didn’t know had addictions to other things just come and talk to me. I had some family who I didn’t know had problems just come to me with issues about their addictions. It was a lot better to know that I wasn’t alone and just that other people appreciate your honesty, especially when you’ve spent two years being nothing but dishonest. It was a really big deal for me just to have that.
I don’t think I associate with anyone from Michigan anymore—not that there weren’t some very nice people I met there, too—it’s just easier to cut it off as a whole I think. I don’t talk to anyone from my other jobs or anything like that. I have a couple people now that I sponsor, too, which has been pretty cool to do. I have a couple people that—to be honest, I don’t even know their names—just people who have reached out to me online.
I don’t go to meetings anymore not because I don’t want to, but I just moved here from a different area and I don’t like to do things by myself. That’s just my anxiety more than the addiction. I still have to see counselors though because I afterward, when I stopped using, had some really bad depression and anxiety, which I’ve borderline had my whole life, but it got really bad afterward. I still see them. I see them three times a month now, but I feel a lot better. There’s just some people I don’t hang out with for very long, and nothing against them, there’s just situations I can’t be in anymore. People are usually pretty respectful of that, too.
“I can see all of my siblings whenever I want again, and I go over my parents house still probably about twice a week.”
I’ve had two jobs I worked at after that and I remember the one I had already been moved in with my mom, so everything was pretty much better again, but I was still going to meetings at the time. [My boss] had scheduled me for a day that I couldn’t do it because I had a meeting during that time, and I told her, “Hey, I’m not trying to be a pain, but I will not be here.” I had to explain it to her and she started arguing with me that I was so young I couldn’t possibly actually have to go to this meeting. I thought that was kind of insultful. You can’t tell anyone they don’t have that problem if someone is trying to get better, especially I don’t think it’s fair to tell them that, “You don’t have this disorder.”
It’s been just really different having people who are supportive of this. Right now I live with my fiancé and I think he’s probably the first link relationship I’ve had where I’ve been completely open about it. And that was just a really weird thing to me, too, because all my friends know about my addiction to some extent. I just don’t think that it’s something that I can be friends with all people if they don’t know about it. Maybe not the whole depths, but it’s gotten better.
I can see all of my siblings whenever I want again, and I go over my parents house still probably about twice a week. It took a while. Everyone was just—since I relapsed the first time I got clean—for a while everyone just seemed really sure that I was going to do it again and I hated that. I understand it now, but I hated it. Now it’s just entirely different. It sucked, but if you can push through it gets a lot better.
It amazes me. I have an app on my phone that just keeps track of how long I’ve been clean. When it’s a special day—an anniversary every six months or whatever—I’ll post about it online. It’s just amazing to me. I remember when I hit my one year I could stop and look back from where I was a year ago—homeless, living in a tent, stealing food out of people’s pantries, hiding in abandoned houses and getting high—I just can’t imagine doing any of that again. I have a home, I have friends, and I have all my family—it’s a lot more than I could’ve asked for.
Photographs taken outside Amanda’s home in Akron, Ohio.