In honor of Veterans Day, three vets share their stories of substance use and recovery.
My name is Linda. I am a veteran. I am also in recovery from a substance use disorder.
When I was young, I was bullied by my peers. So I began isolating myself. I was lonely, and felt so alone. Later, I went into the Army and excelled. When I was released, I had an honorable discharge. I got married and had four children.
When I was 32, I was in an abusive home and as a result, I ended up with a broken pelvis. The doctor prescribed me Percocet, and when that didn’t help, my boyfriend at the time introduced me to crack. It worked to relieve my pain, so I started using it all the time. I tried stopping my use after six weeks, but beyond the pain relief, I was hooked on the high, and that feeling of escape it gave me.
Years go by. I was able to stop using after moving to the country with my family, but when we moved back to town it started again. I was living with my daughter, and when she caught on, she insisted I get help—and I’m so glad I did.
Now, I go to AA and NA meetings every day. It helps seeing others just starting their recovery journeys, like me. It helps to see that I’m not alone. I also have a case manager who has formed my program to fit my personal needs. I feel confident that I can keep up my recovery with the tools this program has taught me.
Almost from the beginning of my alcohol and drug usage, life took on an air of unmanageability.
I started drinking and smoking marijuana at the age of 12 or 13 because it was offered to me by the crowd that I longed to be a part of. You can say that it was peer pressure, but it also offered me the solution to my problems: internal discomfort, anxiety, insecurity, lack of confidence, and confusion.
I had been physically abused by one of my brothers over a long span of time. This left me with a sense of internal anxiety and hypervigilance. Upon taking that first drink and smoking my first joint, immediately I knew that this was a solution to my internal restlessness. Instantaneously I felt on top of the world; as if I could conquer and overcome any obstacle that was placed in my path. I felt powerful, as if walking on air, and I was hooked from that very moment.
But my using become unmanageable fast. My grades started to slip far below the A’s I used to achieve. Alcohol and drugs made me less interested in sports and school. I lost interest in almost all of my former hobbies, and instead fixated on when and where I could drink some beer or smoke a joint.
I started drinking and using before school and church. The substances were calling the shots in every aspect of my life. The consequences of my usage had little to no deterrent effect at all. Grades slipping, skipping class, getting caught by my parents—none of that stopped me.
I started using harder stuff—speed, heroin. It didn’t even matter anymore the potential danger that a substance might cause to my body and mind, if it had the potential of getting me high, then I would try it.
I signed up for the military at the age of 18. On my way to New Jersey to begin my army career, I was tripping on acid. I quickly fell in with the crowd who had similar substance use problems. But my usage was always more intense than theirs, which drove me to start using alone. My usage went beyond hard partying. I only felt normal when my brain was chemically altered.
After years of using in isolation, I finally entered rehab. And I’m proud to say that I’m now discovering, for the first time, a truly new way of life. Recovery is giving me so much personal insight into my past behavior, and has brought me a renewed sense of hope, contentment, and peace. I can see clearly now, the rain is gone!
I was raised in a Christian home. I had a good childhood. But I never really felt that I fit in. I used a little pot and drank some my senior year of high school. This helped me to fit in, and I soon had a few friends.
I enlisted in the Army after I got a draft notice. While in the Army, I was introduced to cocaine and other drugs. I was soon dealing to support my use. This continued the whole time I was in the Army. I eventually got caught with a joint and cited by civilian authorities. As a result, at my reenlistment talk, my Sergeant Major told me the Army didn’t want “my kind” in his Army. I was hurt to say the least. I didn’t fit in, yet again.
I moved back home and for the next 12 years I held down three jobs, all while using and drinking. It was the only way I thought I could fit in. In 1986, I was introduced to freebase cocaine. From the very first hit, I was off to the races. I had many late night trips to my dealer being totally out of control. I lost my current job as a photographer and studio manager. My destructive substance use continued for the next 20 years.
Eventually, I committed two robberies and did hard time in prison. When I got out, I still thought I could control my use. Luckily, I finally entered rehab in 2015. I’ve been through four programs, and I continue to work on my recovery. Today, I feel more committed to my recovery than ever, and I always put it first in my life. I know, thankfully, my life has now changed for the better.