“At the end I stopped singing. I stopped listening to music. And that’s not who I am. That’s the one part that I did know of myself, and that’s the one part that hasn’t changed. I have music in my life today—all kinds of music. All day.”
My name is Marianna and I am an addict. I’ve been in recovery for just over two years now. My clean date is October 4th of 2012. I spent half of my life in active addiction. I went to rehab for the first time at thirteen. I was a self-mutilator, I ran away, I got pregnant in high school—I was the poster child for everything that could have been wrong. But I was a poster child before all of those things became prevalent. Before there was self-mutilation, I was a self-mutilator. When anorexia was still really new and eating disorders were really new, I had an eating disorder. I was all of those things that really messed up kids were.
I got in trouble for drinking and went to rehab for the first time at thirteen. That was really just the beginning, because the eating disorder was already occurring but all of those other things came afterwards. The self-mutilation, the running away, the pregnancy—all of that stuff came afterwards. So at thirteen, when I went to rehab, it was still really, really early. I believed that I had a problem and so I did the whole agreeing thing, but something just didn’t really click. So I got out of rehab and moved around a little bit and my disease progressed. More drugs, different drugs, all of them. That was just really who I was growing up.
I didn’t date people who didn’t do drugs, because I didn’t want it to interfere with my drug use, and I was a runner—I ran a lot. That’s a really important part of my story. I think that’s true for just about everybody. We’re runners and we have all those feelings like how we don’t belong. Some people—not everybody—but some people talk about how these addictive tendencies are prevalent even before you pick up the drugs. And for me, that was true. It started real young. When I told my mom “I wanna move,” and then so I moved. Any time that I didn’t like where I was living, I always took it into my own hands to get on that situation. I always thought it was going to be better somewhere else, and it never was.
The obsession, even as a kid, I would read three or four books at a time and I would read through them in like a month. I thought up until my twenties that that was normal for people to read like that, but it’s actually really not. As I continue in my process of recovery, I’ve been able to identify a little of these things.
I got clean for the first time in 2009. I was really fortunate at that point to not have the physical dependency aspect. So I got clean and I found some support, and took some steps to find my way. But I still had some behaviors that were really, really sick and I still had some baggage that I found my way into recovery with. Ultimately, I didn’t change those things and I wasn’t able to see those things. I wasn’t able to get honest about those things and I wasn’t able to see those things. I wasn’t able to get honest about them.
Those behaviors and those negative things that I did ultimately took me back out. So I relapsed Easter Sunday of 2010. After having about nine months clean I relapsed. It took me a really long time to make it back and put the chemicals down, and put some of those debilitating behaviors down. So I went back into rehab in 2011, it was like April, so about a year later. I came out and tried to make a go of it and I lasted a couple of weeks, and I went back out. But I was still trying to hold on and trying to white knuckle it. It just didn’t work and ultimately I just went out and just stayed out.
The following year, about a year later, I wound up in prison. Not like prison—but jail. They only kept me in there to get rid of the worst detox. I was in there like six or seven days. I got out and still felt really crappy, so I did what every addict does—I went home and I used. I kept using for a little while longer. I tried to go to rehab in June, I tried a home detox, and then I tried another rehab and I tried another home detox. So I was in and out of rehabs for a couple months and trying home detoxes, and nothing worked. It was a really, really hard road to get back because I was really sick and that’s all I knew.
I didn’t have the best childhood and that’s not an excuse. Some of us have really great childhoods, some of us don’t. But for me I didn’t have a really great childhood, and so growing up as a victim and then becoming of an age enough to make my own decisions, I kind of continued that sick cycle of victimizing myself. I was no longer a victim because other people victimized me, but I was a victim because I allowed other people to victimize me. For me a big part of that was extremely unhealthy relationships. Not that I was in really physically abusive relationships, but they were just so unhealthy and I was so unhealthy. I didn’t have a clue how to have a healthy relationship.
There’s not a whole lot that I can say about my addiction, because I think so many of our stories run parallel to each other. While there are differences between some people’s stories and other people’s stories, I think there’s a few very common parallels. That self-destructive behavior, that victimized mentality, the obsession, the compulsions, the feeling like you don’t belong and you don’t fit in everywhere, the feelings of hopelessness and desperation. Ultimately that gift of desperation is what finally allowed me to come back, what finally allowed me to free myself. So I really don’t have a whole lot that I want to say about my active addiction. I mean, it was a mess, I was a mess, and everybody that touched me and everything I touched turned to shit. That’s the truth of it and I think that’s pretty standard.
As an individual in recovery and a professional that works in the field of recovery, I think it’s important to know that one, recovery is possible and two, how I got my recovery. And that is because I was really fortunate to not just find quality care, but long-term care. When I finally made it into rehab the final time in September of 2012, either the 28th or 29th, it was the last Friday of the month. And I remember that last week. After using for about two-and-a-half years, I had went through every single vein I had. I was in my feet and it was just terrible. I would wake up and figure out how I would make it through this day, and how I was going to get it in me so I’m not fuckin’ sick.
So I woke up one day and this is the gift of desperation that I just mentioned. I woke up one day and I realized that my whole life was in shambles. I have three children, and I raised those kids for most of their lives. I didn’t have them at that point. Their father and I had tried to work things out—again—and I didn’t have him. I was evicted. I was evicted from my apartment and I lost everything. Up until that point I still had everything. I wasn’t the junkie who hocked all of her shit to make it. But I would have been, but I always had another way. So I had thousands of dollars of crystal and I still had first-edition antique books. I still had all of that stuff—but I lost it.
I woke up and I was pained up. All of a sudden, the drugs weren’t killing that ache inside of me. So I said, “I’m gonna go to rehab.” And I called, but they didn’t have a bed. So I called another number and they didn’t have a bed. So I was put on a waiting list and was told to call the next day. So I woke up the next day feeling the exact same way, wondering how I was going to get a hit in so that I didn’t have to be sick. At this point I had been using so long, that I had to do this more than once a day. This wasn’t a twice-a-day thing because it just didn’t last. So I called and I couldn’t get in again. And so the third day I called and couldn’t get in again. So for six days, I woke up feeling like this. Six days.
Finally on Friday, I woke up and I said, “I cannot do this shit anymore.” We learn some techniques and some survival skills. We learn how to dope fiend the system. And so I told myself “If I can’t get a bed today, I will go to the hospital and I will tell them I am suicidal, because that will get me a bed because I can’t do this anymore.
And like, that’s hard. That’s really hard to get up, not just to experience the things that I experienced for those last six days, but to even get up. When we’re in active addiction, we change our minds. It’s like the wind blowing, and how the wind changes direction. We change our minds, and for six days, I didn’t change my mind. Some days, I called more than once a day because I needed help. I was ready. It was so hard to get to that point because for the longest time I really knew there was another way. I had been clean before. I really knew there was another way; I just didn’t want it. I didn’t want to feel the pain and face the events and face the stuff that I knew I would have to face to recover. So that kept me sick for a really long time.
Finally, that sixth day, I got a bed. And I went in and I wasn’t sure if I was gonna be able to do it. Because at this point, this had been my third rehab since July. But I had also tried the two home detoxes, too. So this had been my fifth time to try and get clean in a very short amount of time. I think that’s pretty common. A lot of times you’ll see people when they’re at the end, they keep coming back in a quicker succession.
So I got into rehab and I was like, “I’m just going to try and make it through detox.” Because every other time, even with medication and assisted detox, I just couldn’t make it. I was just so crippled by that obsession to use. But I made it through detox. How I made it through detox is I broke it down in increments. Like, I just have to make it through the next four days. And if I can make it through the next four or five days, then maybe I can go into the rehab part and make it through a week or two. And if I can make it through a week or two, then maybe I can make it through…
So every time I hit one of those milestones in time, once I made it through the detox, then I set myself another goal, like another week or two. And when I made it through the first week or two I was like “Okay, well maybe I can make it through another week or two.” And that’s kind of like how I got through the process. I think I was just so used to running. I was so used to running and at that point I was so used to living the way that I had lived. We get reduced to [an] animalistic level of living. It really, really was hard to crawl out of that black pit.
To further describe that gift of desperation, it didn’t stop there. Because I had [gone] into rehab earlier that year, I went in with the person I was staying with. And they got discharged earlier than I did from detox, so I had them leave and then come back and get me. Now when we went into rehab that first time we told them that we weren’t staying at the same house. They lived in an apartment building kind of house, so we were able to play it off like that. But, when I went back this final time, I got called down into the detox center and I was told that my funding got cut because I had a warrant. And I was crippled. I was like, “Listen, I don’t have another place to go. This is the only place I have to go. We were just in here a month and a half ago and he’s been in here I don’t even know how many times. You know that he continues to use in the cycle. If I go back there, I know he’s using, I’m going to wind up using too.”
But it was a Friday; it was the end of the week. The judge wasn’t going to be available to process trying to hold off on the warrant and I wound up getting scholarshipped into the rehab program. And it didn’t stop there. Back to the quantity and quality of treatment—it’s not a requirement. You can get clean without it. But for me that’s what I needed, because I was so messed up. Remember, I’m this thirty-year-old woman-child with all of these issues with relationships and with an eating disorder. I’m physically sick and mentally sick and spiritually bankrupt and the self-mutilation. I was so damaged that for me, I knew I needed long-term treatment and I needed some place that I could go and stay that was going to be safe and that was going to allow me to work on myself. Because I had never learned that. I had started using at such a young age. I was a full-blown addict by the time I was fifteen or sixteen and I continued using up until I was thirty, for the most part pretty consistently on a mostly daily basis.
So I completed an inpatient facility and I left inpatient rehab and I went to a halfway house. That was a four-to-six month program. I think I was there for about four-and-a-half months. Then I left there and went to a recovery house. That program was a six-to-eight month program. And I wound up staying there for about fifteen-and-a-half months and completed that program. For me, that was a huge, huge part of my road to recovery. I bring that up because I think there needs to be a push to have long-term quality treatment available to more individuals. Like I said, I don’t think it’s necessary for everybody, but there absolutely is a higher success rate of finding recovery when you find that. I was really, really fortunate.
I was fortunate to get into a licensed halfway house for women that was a really great quality program for women. I was fortunate to get into a recovery house, which was a really great program. And that’s something else that I want to stress. I don’t want to say it wasn’t just a recovery house; it wasn’t just a house that was housing people in recovery. It was a program. I had accountability tools, I had support, I had requirements, and that was important to me. For me, it was a really great for me, and it was a really great process because it allowed me to move through some phases. There was no gap between treatment and me finding my way. There was kind of somebody standing there guiding me, keeping me from making my own decisions because my decisions were bad. They were sick. So there was somebody guiding me through each step of the way. And it wasn’t always the same level of care [or] the same guidance, but it gradually stepped down.
And I kind of think my treatment went beyond that because when I left the recovery house, I moved into somebody’s house and rented a room with them. That individual was also in recovery and they were somebody that I knew well and I respected their program of recovery and I knew they had things they applied in their daily life that made me secure in moving in with them. That’s really what’s allowed me to get here to where I am today.
I’m in my own apartment. It’s not even really in an apartment, it’s like a whole freakin’ house. Like, it’s huge. And I did it by taking baby steps. I did it by taking baby steps and by doing everything that I never did before. My life is just really so amazing. It’s still not together. It takes time to rebuild, like I still don’t have my kids, but I’m extremely fortunate that they are not in the system. And I really feel like I have a fighting chance for them, because I’ve just been able to accomplish so much from being in recovery. That’s only a piece of being in recovery, but I’m going to touch base on a little bit of that first.
Since becoming an individual in recovery, I went back to school. I study human services at a local community college, which I think is really important. Maybe some people are like, “Eh, community college.” But I lived in Harrisburg, and consequently I used in Harrisburg. I could walk three minutes away to where I used. So it’s not for everybody, but for me I’ve heard that [if] you’ve used there, you can get clean there. And for me, that’s part of my story. It just took some determination and some support.
I learned some tools through each of the programs that I completed and I was ultimately able to go to school. Being in Harrisburg— I love Harrisburg. Some people, not so much. But for me, I really love Harrisburg. It’s such a culturally diverse area. They have a ton of things to do: museums and festivals and there’s a ton of resources. I absolutely love Harrisburg. So it was important for me, even though I don’t live in Harrisburg anymore, it’s important to me to still support that community. I feel by going to a community college, it’s still kind of keeping it local and trying to keep it in the community. And I work in Harrisburg too.
So I was able to go back to school, and this is coming from someone who dropped out a week into her senior year and drug her feet at getting her GED until I got to the point where they were like, “Listen, the tests are going to get harder this year so you need to take them now or you’re going to have to study more.” So I’m like, “Oh crap,” and hurried up and threw it together, and managed to get my GED. So I went back to school, I made the Dean’s List, I have a 3.5 GPA, which is insane because I never applied myself in school. I might have brought home C’s, if I did some of my homework. A lot of the time I got incompletes, and I had to scramble around to figure out how to get myself out of that.
I got a car; I didn’t have a car when I got clean. And that’s one thing I loved about Harrisburg. Like, they had a bus. So I didn’t have a car and I walked everywhere and I took the bus everywhere. And I went to this great little place called Recycle Bicycles where you put in volunteer time and you got a free bike! And I had this totally retro free bike, which I still have. It’s in my shed out back. I pedaled all over Harrisburg and people just thought it was great—Marianna the little hippie chick got her little old-school Schwinn-looking bicycle with the fenders. All I needed was a basket, a bell, and some streamers and I would have been set. So I rode the bus, I rode a bike, I walked, I went to school, and now I have a car. Now I’m successful as a student.
And I worked at this job that was very trying, and the character[s] of [the] people that I worked with were not always the easiest to deal with. But I sucked it up and I did it. It was a minimum-wage job and I freakin’ hated it, and I don’t work at this minimum wage job anymore. Even crazier is I’m having a housewarming party this weekend and my boss, that I used to work for, is coming to my housewarming party and she wants to know what she can bring me.
When I put in my two weeks I actually gave them three weeks, and like, listen. I never put in two weeks anywhere. I was the person who knew I was gonna get fired so I hurried it up and quit because I didn’t want that on my record. But I didn’t just put in a two weeks, I put in three weeks because I had learned some things, I had grown within the company, and I knew they were going to have to find somebody to replace me. And I was off for school for a couple of days, and I came back and they offered me assistant store manager. Like, crazy! They had a little going-away party for me. I think that was the first time that I actually felt normal. Like a cake, and cards, and people standing around and hugging me, and, “We’re sorry to see you go.” That was crazy!
Now I have a great job. I work for Pro-A, which is Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, and I do an insane amount of work. As an agency, I think the work that we do is super, super important. We do the CRS trainings, I talk to people in the department of drug and alcohol programs… like what? The only time I talked to those people is when I needed funding for rehab! Now I’m talking to those people to find out how we do this or how we do that, or what they need us to do or what can we do. I do the Certified Recovery Specialist trainings [and] I’m currently in the process of getting the Certified Recovery Specialist training. Our mission is to educate and help eliminate the stigma of addiction for everybody—communities, families, individuals.
I was in a training last week—one of our trainings, it’s actually called “Healing the Stigma of Addiction”—and I said that, “For so long we’ve been trying to call attention to addiction, and that’s extremely relevant. I think we need to continue that important work. But we also need to start giving recovery a voice too.” People need to know that this is possible—there is hope out there. It’s an amazing process. It’s not always the easiest process but for me, and the life that I had lived, it’s a lot easier than it was.
So now I work in the field, which was a huge goal for me. I really wanted to give back to the recovery community and I get to do that now. I get to do that in so many ways. I get to volunteer. I never did anything for free. I just wanted stuff for free. But I volunteer and I work on establishing relationships in the community because that’s important to me.
Now I have my own place. This is the next step for me. And I guess something I should say before getting to this “own place” thing. I talked about having three children and not having my three children. I had to go to court to get my visitation increased because there was no court order. Even at about eighteen months clean, I still only got to see my kids once every three to four weeks, so about once a month. It was always supervised, it was always where the grandparents wanted to have it. It was always on their terms and it was only like three or four hours. It was usually in a public place, so it was really hard to kind of interact with them. You’re sitting in the middle of a fast food joint trying to play games and have conversations. It was always just really awkward. I tried to work things out with the grandmother and she just didn’t really want to move.
I actually went to seek out advice and the guy was like, “Wow, this really strikes a chord with me. I’m going to cut my fees way down to something that’s affordable for you and I’m going to help you get through this process.” So we went to in court. I was asking for one thing and they were offering something far less. And the conciliator gave me more than I was asking for, and way more than what they wanted to give me.
So now I get to see my kids more [and] I’m working on a phase-in thing. Now that I have my own place, I’m hoping to take it to the next phase. And I’m not so scared of that anymore. Because having a program where recovery has allowed me to do everything that I needed to do—I’m better now than I’ve ever been. I have a better job than I’ve ever had, I have more education than I’ve ever had, I’m more stable than I’ve ever been. And I’ve stopped a lot of the behaviors.
I’m really, really hopeful today. I’m really, really hopeful that things are going to continue to get better. And my experience has been that ever since I found my way into this way of life, things have continuously gotten better. I’ve talked about all of the outward[ly] social things and those things are great. They help reaffirm who I am as a person. They help reaffirm the decisions that I make today. But now I need to talk about the person behind those things. Because those things weren’t just given to me; I had to work for them. And I got some gifts in order to be able to accomplish those things.
One of the biggest behaviors that I had when I got into this process was I had worked on the eating disorder, worked on the self-mutilation, I had worked on the using drugs. The next thing I needed to do was I needed to work on relationships. I didn’t know how to be alone. I was always in a relationship, and usually I had one foot in one relationship and another foot in another relationship. I was probably one of the sickest people I know when it comes to relationships.
So that was one of the first things that I cut out—no relationships. I cannot do relationships because I needed to work on myself. And after I put down the drugs—that was the first best thing I did for myself was just to stop using. The second best thing I did for myself was to stay out of relationships, and to stop using those relationships, and to stop allowing those relationships to use me. When I was able to do that, I was able to find myself. And that was one of the greatest joys of this process was finding out who I am.
So I have dreadlocks, and they’re part of my recovery process. I got them after I got clean. So that’s part of who I am now. And I’m a vegetarian—I don’t eat meat. That’s part of something that I discovered about myself. And I love me today. I love being who I am.
It’s odd, being on my own after essentially two-and-a-half years of programs and always living with other people. But I’m not crawling out of my skin. I come home every night and I sit in my room in my living room on furniture that I finally got, and I feel at home. I feel at peace. I feel calm. I feel serene. I’m not crawling out of my skin. I don’t feel like I have to blow something up or cause destruction anywhere. And it’s one of the most beautiful things that I’ve experienced in my entire life is learning who I am and learning how to believe in myself that I can do things. That was a big gift for me. I think I always knew that I could do things, but I just never really wanted to apply myself. Today I want to apply myself. I have done nothing but grow in this process and I want to continue to grow.
I remember I would always kind of quit things. When I got clean this time, I got to my year point. And right before I got to my year point, I had this expectation that I was going to climb this huge mountain, I was going to get up there, and I was going to look down and see the same shit. I was just going to be done growing. Because that’s what my life had been like. I would accomplish something and be on top of the world for thirty seconds, and be like, “Oh this shit sucks. Let’s move on to the next thing.” Being in recovery, that’s not been the truth for me. Like I didn’t reach this pinnacle and just be like, “Oh. Okay.”
So I’ve continued to grow, and be happy, and learn things about myself, and be kind, and have a higher power. It maybe isn’t what someone else’s is, but it’s mine and it works for me. And I get to just be a good person and that’s really what it comes down to every single day—discovering who I am and knowing that just for today, not only do I not have to use, but I don’t have to cause any harm. It doesn’t matter what you do to me. I don’t have to hurt you back. And sometimes it’s really hard, because hurt people hurt people. But I’ve gotten some practice with that, particularly with the situation with the grandparents who are still raising my children.
And I get to have my children. I get to see them now. I get to have them unsupervised. I can’t wait until I pick them up today and I bring them here and let them see the house. The last time they saw this place it was before I had even signed the lease like, three weeks ago. And it was empty. Completely empty. Now I have a whole downstairs furnished, almost.
I’ve learned to care. I remember to smile. I was able to see that the laughter stopped, and I was able to learn to laugh again. Music is such a quintessential part of who I am. I was in chorus growing up, I played an instrument growing up, my family was very musical growing up, and my children are very musical. I try not to be the fun parent as in, “I’m your friend.” There still has to be boundaries. But I still consider myself a fun parent, and it’s pretty normal for me to have them on a weekend and spend four hours taking turns putting on songs and running around dancing and singing.
And I think for me, at the end? At the end I stopped singing. I stopped singing. I stopped listening to music. And that’s not who I am. That’s the one part that I did know of myself, and that’s the one part that hasn’t changed. I have music in my life today—all kinds of music. All day. I sing at work, my boss sings at work; it’s fantastic. It’s absolutely fantastic. I love the fact that I work with somebody that loves music just as much as I do. And I have music back. And that’s so beautiful.
I have gratitude. I have gratitude for the things that I have in my life today, because I know that I’ve earned them. And that’s not to say that I deserve them, but I know that I’ve worked really, really hard to get to where I am today. And I haven’t done it alone. And I don’t have to do it alone. I’ve worked. I think that I can be proud of who I am today.
Photographs taken at Marianna’s house just outside of Harrisburg, PA.