“There’s no one other person that can convince me that I’m not amazing. I’m a miracle and no one’s going to tell me that I’m not.”
My name is Liz and I am an addict. I have been in and out of recovery since I was seventeen and last week which was the seventeenth of February—a week-and-a-half ago—I had two years clean. So that kind of tells you I didn’t really stay. Maybe I’m a little bit different than some people, but I don’t consider it being time lost.
When I relapsed, you don’t forget all of that. A lot of people have something different to say about that, but every day that I’m not drinking and getting high is a miracle for anyone who suffers from the disease of addiction.
I grew up—I wish I could say, “Oh I had this horrible, traumatic thing,” but really no. I had a decent family; there were issues obviously. My stepdad was a jerk, my mom was valedictorian and Olympic hopeful and worked on Capitol Hill and did this and that and it was amazing and everything. I was adopted and was a black sheep that no one could figure out.
From a very young age my mom used to find me in the grocery store and she’d lose me in there and she’d find me and I’d be in the freezer section with my head stuck all the way down inside smelling the cold. It made my lungs feel neat. My mom says now that she knew back then that there were going to be problems. I was that kid when that commercial would come on like, “‘I want to be a ballerina.’ Nobody says, ‘I wanna be a junkie,’” I’m like, “I do!” Joking.
I did really well in school. I went through AP classes and I was always an honors student. I never got below a 3.5; it wasn’t acceptable. If I got an A- it was like, “Why isn’t it an A?” Super, super tons of pressure. So I was never really the party kid. I was a big nerd. My friends and I we’d raid my friends’ parents’ liquor cabinets and we’d do dumb stuff, but we were never really big partiers.
It was probably my junior year of high school when I really started drinking and I started drinking hard. I would go to parties every night, sneak out of the house, go to parties, and then get back home and I’m still getting A’s in school. Then I made the genius decision with my parents to skip my senior year of high school and go right to college. So at sixteen I moved into my own apartment and went to college and it was off to the races. I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. At sixteen I did that and by seventeen I was in treatment for the first time. I had chemically-induced psychosis because I didn’t sleep for a long, long time. I don’t know exactly how long, but I ended up in treatment when I was seventeen.
I got out of treatment on my eighteenth birthday and I was working a program, I did everything I was supposed to do and I stayed clean for two-and-a-half years. But then I found this guy and I stopped going to meetings and I stopped plugging in and stopped being accountable and didn’t need it anymore and I thought, “I’m too young.” It was just like a ‘where I was at’ kind of thing and so I decided, “I’m going to try it again.” I was also told by people—and this pisses me off so much—that I needed to earn my seat because I had never shot up and I had never smoked crack and I had just snorted coke, so I didn’t deserve to be there I guess because I was so young. That’s a horrible thing to say to somebody because I went back out and I definitely earned my seat, but I didn’t need to do all that. I’m not saying it’s anyone else’s fault because no one else made me do it, but that run for the next few years was awful.
I went from college scholarships to crack houses. I joke now and say I took that silver spoon that I was raised with and used it to mix up a lot of dope. I joke a lot about it because I’ve worked my ass off trying to work through the stuff that I’ve been through and I deserve it. I can use it as an excuse to be horrible and a miserable person, but for me if I can’t joke about it it’s going to be something that takes me down.
I did trick and I was not an escort—I was a crack whore. I’m totally okay with saying that. I shot up with puddle water, screwed guys for five dollars when I was that sick. I would’ve done anything at that point to get high. I ended up with a blood clot in my arm and was in the hospital for over a month. This was back in the end of 2005, the beginning of 2006. They said, “You put a needle in your arm again and you’re gonna die.” So I got out of the hospital and of course I was sick because they weren’t giving me any Dilaudid anymore, so I was sticking needles in my arms and I woke up one day and I just woke up one day and couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired of it. I woke up and just couldn’t do it.
So I went to detox and stayed clean that time for over six years. I didn’t do it all as was suggested. I stopped going to meetings after the first year. Just basically nobody could tell me anything. [I thought], “I know it my way. Why would I go to meetings? That’s another addiction. I don’t believe in the same things as these people.” I was looking for all the differences instead of the similarities. It’s all the things that now it’s like, “Duh!” I see newcomers come in and I’m like, “Why can’t you get this through your head? It’s not that difficult!” But I really had so many reservations and one thing in my life today is I for the first time—even when I had six months—I have no reservations this time. There is not a single tiny, little inkling of me that thinks that maybe I could do that anymore because I know I can’t. I know I could physically if I wanted to and people say, “I don’t have another run in me,” and I definitely have another run in me—I don’t have another coming back.
In recovery I did amazing things. I got a college degree, had a son—my son’ll be six next week and I haven’t seen him since he was three—because I chose getting high over feeling the regret over some of the decisions I made. My situation was unique. In 2012 I moved back to Pennsylvania from Minnesota and I had had a bench warrant from an underage drinking charge in Delaware County from 2003. I got pulled over for a broken tail light—and this is with over six years without drinking or using—and ended up going to jail for that warrant and my son got taken into CYS/DHS custody because I’m not from Pennsylvania, I don’t have family, and I had just moved back and didn’t really have friends here. So in order to keep him out of foster care I signed over temporary custody to his grandparents in Minnesota. I thought, “Oh, I’m just gonna be able to get him right back when I get out,” and through circumstances just happening they told me that it was going to take a few months and my parole officer who had been my parole officer for ten years said, “There’s no way you’re leaving the state to get him back.” So I went, “You know what? I’ll show you.” So I went right to the Badlands and went and got some dope and shot some dope and that was in October of 2012.
I got clean February 17, 2013 because the lovely State of Pennsylvania thought that I should not be on the street anymore. I was arrested being in the wrong place at the wrong time—thank God. When I got arrested I was shooting four bundles of dope a day about. People say that’s impossible—no it’s not—along with a gram or two grams of coke and whatever else I could put in my body. I’d just gotten my tax return. There’s just no way I would’ve lived. Absolutely no way. There’s no doubt in my mind. Thank God that I did get arrested and that I did have to sit for fourteen months, which seems ridiculous for a bench warrant for underage drinking, but I feel like that’s my higher power in my life making me sit still long enough to realize this isn’t what I want to do anymore.
So I did spend the first thirteen-and-a-half months of my recovery this time in jail and people want to say, “Oh that doesn’t really count.” Yes it does. I worked my steps when I was in there, worked with a sponsor while I was in there, and really that was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. It gave me a lot of time to look at myself.
I’m thirty-two years old and spent a majority of my thirties incarcerated and I can honestly say my thirties have been so much better than my twenties. People are like, “Really! Why?” Honestly I for my entire life cannot remember loving myself ever until some time in the last year or so.
I can look at myself in the mirror. There’s a lot of things that I’m struggling with—the guilt over not seeing my son. We talk every couple weeks or so and that’s a huge amount of pain, but being able to look at myself in the mirror and know who I am and love myself—I don’t really like myself a lot of the time—but there’s nothing that can make me not love me because I know who I am deep down. I know I’m a good person and I know I’m trying as hard as I can to live a better way of life. I know this time I can’t do it without my medicine—which is meetings.
I am not a poster child for recovery, but really who is? Those who are judging my recovery probably need to take a look at their own. I always tell people, “You call your sponsor. I’ll call mine—maybe.” I’m not the best at calling my sponsor. I was for quite a while and then I just—because I’m an addict I’m crazy in my head—my head can convince me of a lot of stuff [like], “She doesn’t want to talk to me. She’s mad at me.” All these crazy things. I don’t go to as many meetings as I probably should. I go to my home group every week, which is super important to me—being accountable because sometimes what keeps me clean is, “I’m not gonna have these bastards have the satisfaction of seeing that I’m gonna relapse.” I’m so grateful that I haven’t had the desire to use since probably about six months, maybe less.
I go out to clubs, I go to shows, I go to bars. My friends aren’t all in recovery. When people ask how I can do that [I say], “I’ll tell you what. When I was getting high you would not see me at a bar. You would not see me at a show. You wouldn’t see me around because why would I possibly want to spend any money on anything besides getting high?” My disease was a very private thing, so if you see me in public I’m not getting high.
I’m a little twitchy and weird. I have leftover things, as a lot of us do, from using and drinking. There’s times where I’m like, “Whoa, I’m kinda shot out.” People talk like, “Oh, she’s high.” People come up to me and ask me, “Do you know where to get the shit?” It makes me laugh, honestly. It used to really bother me, but now it’s like, “No, I don’t know where to get it.” God bless people who get high or relapse or drink and go to a meeting, but that’s not what I would be doing. If I were to relapse, the last place you’d see me was trying to pretend I wasn’t high in a meeting. I would be in another state, you would never see me again. It’s funny. I don’t understand it.
One thing that’s super important in my life is my step work and I’ve done my steps several, several times over the years. This time I decided I wanted to not move onto the next step until I felt that I didn’t just have an understanding of it, but was living that step. So I probably need to talk to my sponsor and move on to my second step, but I just redid my first step. In the first step it talks about unmanageability and there’s a whole lot of unmanageability that happens in my life in recovery, too. I am definitely, definitely an addict and it definitely pops up in so many aspects of my life. I need to focus on that because I can use all kinds of things. I use men, I use food, I use shopping—basically anything. If there’s anything that can possibly be used to excess, I do that. And if we’re not sure if it can be used to excess, I’ll try and I’ll let you know about it later. But I’m aware of that today. There’s a lot of things that I need to improve on in my life, but I’m aware of those things today and I’m making a conscious effort to do those things differently.
I’m really proud of the person I am today. I got out of jail March 27th of 2014 and in October I started working for Fangoria magazine, which was like the hugest thing to me ever in the world. I mean that was like my dream job from when I was a kid, and it ended up not panning out the way I wanted it to. I realized that financially stable and really cool job don’t always go together, but those are these opportunities that I have now that I’m pretty sure that no one wanted to give me anything with any sort of responsibility [when I was using]. They would trust me with five dollars or a dollar. It’s a miracle in my life today.
Working at the tattoo shop is fun. Two of the people here—the guy that owns it and the head artist here I’ve known since I was a teenager—and they still let me have keys to this place, which is kind of funny. I have good friends in my life and being back in Philly is a really cool thing for me. I never lived in Philly when I was using at my worst. I lived up in Wilkes-Barre and I would drive down here. Being back here and being able to experience the city because I love it here—I grew up on the West Coast so of course the East Coast was the cool place to be—but I’m starting to do music again, which is awesome. That’s my life. And theater. I’m acting in a mini-series right now and I just got cast in a feature-length film. I’m so poor it’s sad. I’m so broke—the struggle is real—but I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.
That’s a hard thing to swallow sometimes because my son is not here with me, but I know that I can’t do anything for him or anything for anybody if I’m not here for myself and if I’m not making sure that I am working a program. To me working a program is going to meetings, I read literature, I pray. I never knew that I could pray before. I never believed in a higher power because it wasn’t cool. Now my friends make fun of me. The friends that aren’t in recovery are like, “Oh, are you gonna pray about it?” But yea, I am. I pray about stuff and things happen in my life and it’s really cool.
Bad days are awful and I have those moments like, “Ugh,” but I haven’t had a moment that was so bad that my thought was, “Let’s get high over it,” in as long as I can remember. That’s not a viable option. When things are so bad that they just hurt, hurt, hurt, I pray about it, I go to a meeting. And like I said I don’t go to a meeting every day. For me that’s not what I need or what works for me, but I know where to go if I’m having a problem. There’s never a, “I’m not sure.” I know who I can call. I’m connected. I have friends in and out of the rooms that honestly I can say love me and accept me because I’m a crazy mess and I can do some stupid shit—dumb, dumb things, you know? They accept me for that and they’ll tell me, “You’re an idiot,” and get mad at me, but I have true friends in my life today.
One thing that’s really important to me is honesty. I don’t think I knew how to tell the truth ever in my life. I was a pathological liar completely. I didn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie. This time around I tell the truth so much it bothers people. They’re like, “Can you stop?” They’re uncomfortable by my honesty. Maybe I lose friends over it or maybe I rub people the wrong way by it, but I’m all or nothing 100% totally brutally honest all the time or I’m going to die. It’s a life or death thing.
I’m very open about my past. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m actually in the process of doing some stuff with a band where a lot of what we sing about is just dumb things. A lot of the songs talk about shooting up and being a prostitute and all that. My mom saw the website and was like, “Whoa! Okay?” But the underlying thing is be aware, get tested. I get tested every four months. I have my test results framed at the foot of my bed. I am who I am and I’m crazy and I’m nuts and I’m weird, but I’m doing all of that clean. I’m able to thrive on that instead of being so awkward because of my weirdness that I want to cover it up.
I’m me. This is who I am. If you don’t like it, you’re more than welcome to walk away. You can tell me you don’t like it. I’ll listen, maybe for a little bit. I’ll probably say, “Cool. That’s fine.” No one is worth me not having my life today. There’s no one other person that can convince me that I’m not amazing. I’m a miracle and no one’s going to tell me that I’m not.
Photographs taken at Liz’s work, Hunter Gatherer Tattoo & Piercing in West Philly.