"...As I realized where I was, I began to cry..." Faces Of Recovery - Rae Ellingsworth

I awoke early one morning not being able to sleep because of the painful withdrawal symptoms.

My entire body felt disconnected, my hands were cold and clammy, my muscles jolted in the cold sheets. I felt nauseous. I got out of bed, walked over to the window and carefully drew back the shade, not to wake the other 3 young women who were still asleep in the room.

As the sun shone in, I gazed out the window looking down from the 7th floor of the secured unit I was on. I looked across the river to the snow covered banks and watched students walk to class with their backpacks on. I watched them for a few minutes and as I realized where I was, I began to cry. The tears stung my face. I felt angry and confused. “How the hell did I get here?” I thought. I was 21 years old, confined to a hospital floor, in a lock-down detox unit. I had been admitted to the emergency room a few nights earlier for my substance abuse issues.

I had lost everything.

I used to be one of the students walking to my classes at the University of Minnesota. Now, that had all just seemed like a dream. The life I was living was no longer filled with classes and essays. My days were consumed by finding ways and means to get more. Getting high became my full-time job. I was unemployable and if I didn’t have dope a few hours after I woke up, day after day, I was sick and was willing to do whatever it took to get money or drugs. I had become someone I didn’t recognize. My frail body ached. My arms were covered in track marks and bruises. I longer took care of my appearance or body, when I arrived at the hospital I was a mess. Drugs had taken over my life, I felt desperate and alone. That moment while standing at the window, on a cold February morning gave me just enough of the realization I needed to try.  Just try, something different. I knew that I could no longer go on living the way I was living. Something had to change.

I believe that my addiction began long before I ever started using drugs. From a very young age I realized that I was different. My mind was always racing with crazy ideas and in my soul, I desired to be accepted, I just wanted to fit in and feel like a normal kid. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that my displaced feelings were only a symptom of my disease.

No one ever plans on growing up to be a drug addict. When I was a little girl I had big dreams of being an actress or model. I was always dressing up and putting on skits for my family and friends. Growing up I had a loving family, a good childhood, I was well taken care of. We definitely weren’t perfect, every family has its dysfunctions and mine was no different. My parents were working class people with strong moral values who took care of my siblings and me the best they could. I was a good student, always wanting to please my parents or teachers. I picked up perfectionist traits early. I thought that if I studied hard enough, got good grades and stayed out of trouble I might find the acceptance I was yearning for. I excelled academically, I had all kinds of friends growing up but always felt apart from. I never felt “OK” inside, something was always missing. I can recall feeling in school like everyone had this instruction manual, that they all knew what to do, and I didn’t receive a copy. My instruction manual was lost.

I started experimenting with drinking at a very young age. At first it seemed fun. I lost any inhibitions I may have had, I loved to entertain people and be the center of attention. That familiar empty feeling disappeared when I partied. I soon began to pride myself on drinking more than any of my friends. Drinking on the weekends wasn’t enough for me, I remember many days in high school of swigging from a water bottle of liquor that I had stolen from my parents in my backpack before classes. I started making poor choices, blacking out and putting myself in some pretty dangerous situations. I quickly developed a strategy to continue my using while “maintaining” my life. I became a liar, a manipulator. I hid things from different groups of people. It was exhausting trying to keep all of my different stories straight. But, no matter how much I drank the emptiness returned.

And then I was introduced to drugs. I was hooked almost immediately. I wanted to try everything and experience all of the different effects I could. There were no restrictions on what I said or did when I was using. I felt free. I moved out when I was 16, I switched schools several times as I moved around but somehow managed to graduate high school early.

I had learned to put on the façade that everything was under control. If I could just make everyone think I was doing ok, maybe I would feel that way too. By the time I was 18 I was renting my own apartment and working 2 jobs. I managed to pay my bills, buy a car, work and go to college. I told myself I was independent, that I didn’t need help from my family or anyone. I thought that I was living a great life because I had nice clothes and designer purses. I thought my life was so glamorous, partying all the time, hanging out with gangsters. I began to believe my own lies. The truth was that I was living with my abusive, drug dealer boyfriend, barely maintaining my grades to keep my scholarship I had earned to the U of M, I was neglecting my family and I was miserable. I began to do things I never thought that I would do.

My life during my using is a blur, I can categorize those years by the drugs I was on at the time, “...the summer I was on meth, where I was awake for 21 days." “2011 when we could get OxyContin like candy..." I did any drug I could get my hands on, there was a time when not knowing what I was about to snort excited me. But I always told myself I would never shoot up, because to me that meant that I was a real addict, which I had told myself for so long that I was not. I fooled myself into believing that I could control my using. Opiates were definitely my drug of choice and once I was introduced to heroin all bets were off. I became jealous of the people I was using with who seemed to get so much higher than me by shooting. I was scared because I had always hated needles, but my curiosity overcame my fear.

My life slowly began to spiral out of control. I was jumped by 3 men during a drug deal gone bad. I collapsed on campus and stopped attending classes. I lost my job because I missed too many shifts. My car was repossessed and I began prostituting myself for drugs. I acquired 3 felony drug charges and spent time in jail. I felt as though I could not function without drugs.  I had become so physically dependent on drugs that I had knew I would have to find a way to get drugs every single day for the rest of my life. I was certain that was the only way I could survive. I pawned all of my possessions, stole from whoever and where ever I could and did absolutely despicable things to get high.

After being kicked out of several places I finally ended up at one of my dealers houses for a few weeks. He eventually dragged me out of his house because he said I was “too o.c.” (out of control), he forced me into his car and told me he was bringing me to my mother’s house. On the car ride there I begged him to please give me something just to take the edge off, anything - I pleaded. He tossed me a few pills and I scoffed, “That’s it?”

I was at the end of my rope. I hadn’t spoken to my family in months. My boyfriend was in jail, I had distanced myself from any friends that I had left and even my drug dealer couldn’t stand me. I wanted to die.

I literally jumped out of his car as he came to a stop and ran away, he screamed at me from the window. I walked for hours, I thought about my unsuccessful suicide attempts in the past and how stupid I was for not even being able to do that right. My mind raced as I searched for anyone who I could call for help or at least one more hit (although I didn’t even own a cell phone anymore and had resorted to searching for the remaining payphones in the city).  My cheap winter boots became soaked with snow and slosh, I hadn’t showered in days and wasn’t wearing any make up or a bra for that matter. I eventually made my way to my mom’s house, cold, desperate and ashamed.

My mom and I were always close – more like girl-friends than mother and daughter. And although my addiction had caused distance between us, as soon as she opened the door and saw all 110 pounds of me, she knew immediately. I could never hide anything from my mom. That’s why I tried my best to just stay away completely. She held me tight and wiped my forehead as I confessed to her my problems. She wrapped her arms around me and prayed while I cried and tried to catch my breath. I knew I needed help but still wasn’t sure if I was ready. I had been to treatment before, because my parents who were now divorced wanted me to go, but  I didn’t stay clean, I had been to 12 step meetings because the courts wanted me to, but that didn’t keep me clean either.  I just didn’t think I could do it. It seemed impossible.

I tried detoxing at my mom’s for a few days, she would bring me Aleve every few hours and try to make me eat. I couldn’t stand being there, I escaped a few more times to get high and she had enough. She called my dad to come to get me, and when he arrived the look he gave me was one of disappointment and disgust. He told me he was bringing me to get help and I refused. I turned into a 5 year old, stomping my feet and screaming that I wouldn’t go. After arguing back and forth for some time he firmly shouted “Get your shit, we’re leaving." 

I was filled with resentment and packed a small bag filled with a change of clothes and a few undergarments unsure of what was to come. But I had a plan, I was the type of addict that always had a plan. I told myself that I was just go to appease my family and when my boyfriend got out of jail I could get high again. I had hope that someone would come save me from whatever facility I ended up in with a bag of dope and a rig ready to go. I never imagined that day, February 7th, 2011 would be the last day that I used.

After being in that lonely detox unit for 5 days I entered an inpatient treatment program for 21 days. I had agreed to go talk to the counselors and go to sessions where I began talking about how I was really feeling. They offered a family program which my parents both attended. Around this time, my mom had been given 6 months to live. She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer a few years before which had worsened and spread to her lymph nodes and other organs. I was grateful to be able to be a part of her life again. My gratitude was swallowed by the selfish addict voice in my head that whispered to me, "When your mom dies you can use again. That will be the perfect excuse." I graduated treatment and participated in an aftercare program at the same facility.

In treatment I was introduced to all kinds of 12 step fellowships: AA, NA, CA, and CMA. I moved in with my mom and younger sister and attended meetings on almost a daily basis. I got a part time job at the mall and things were getting better. I didn’t have a car so I got to know people by asking for rides. I made a few friends, got a sponsor and followed suggestions. I couldn’t believe how quickly 30 days turned into 6 months. I started working steps and repairing some of the damage I caused in my past. I had heard other people share at meetings and started to feel a small flame of hope inside of me. I saw the possibility of actually living a “normal” life.

My mom passed away on December 13th, 2011 at the age of 51. I believe that it is only by the grace of God that I was able to be there to take care of her in the months previous to her death and to be there to hold her hand as she struggled to take her last breaths. Being able to comfort my siblings and be present during that time is a feeling that no words can describe. I was able to be a part of my family. I made amends to my mom before she passed away and she was so overjoyed to have her “Rae-Rae” back. That reservation that I had about using when she died was lifted and I was able to stand up at her funeral in a church that was so packed with people who loved her - it was standing room only and honor her memory by giving a eulogy. Processing death is a painful process but I know that I never have to use over my feelings of grief or sadness. I get to celebrate my mom today by making her proud because I know that she is smiling down on me saying, “Life’s a trip."

When I had about a year clean I discovered my place in Narcotics Anonymous and now exclusively attend NA meetings. I never imagined feeling so at home in the drafty basement of a church. I get to hear others share their experience strength and hope and I never have to feel alone again. Getting clean is no longer about just not using drugs, it is about finding a better way of life. I feel a part of the fellowship.

I regularly attend meetings, I have a home group, I have a sponsor, I work the 12-steps. Those are all things that were suggested to me and I have done them and will continue to do them because my life is at stake. I take my recovery very seriously and never want to become too complacent in my program. I believe that working a program of recovery helps me on the path of self-discovery. There is no doubt in my mind that I am a person who suffers from the disease of addiction. Addiction manifests itself in all areas of my life which is why I must always put my recovery first.

Recovery has given me the opportunity to live so much more than a “normal life." I live an extremely blessed life today. I am so grateful for the path I had to take to get here and for the journey that God has given me. My lost dreams have awakened and I am thankful for another chance at life.

There have been many people that I used with who have died. I have seen people relapse and go back to actively using and I know in my heart that doesn’t have to be me anymore. Today, I have true friends, people who want what’s best for me and love me for the person I really am. I am allowed to be myself today – the beautifully flawed, imperfect being that I am. I never thought that recovery could be fun, but after getting to know myself and finding out what it is that I really like to do and who I am, I have had some amazing times! After 4 years there are still days that are really hard for me to stay clean/ This is a process and a difficult journey. But I know that no matter what is going on in my life there is absolutely no excuse for me to pick up. I have been empowered with the freedom to live my life today. I am no longer restricted to the chains of addiction.

I am currently in college and will be graduating with my associate’s degree after this semester! I am planning to go on to complete my bachelor’s degree next year. I have great relationships with my family and friends today. I am proud to say that I can be held accountable, I am trustworthy, and I am honest. I never thought that my life would have turned out this way, I didn’t know that there was any other way to live. I am excited about the possibilities my life is open to now and I am forever grateful.