Picking up where I left off in part one of my story, high school was coming to an end and I was beginning to walk down a path that would lead to full-blown drug addiction. Drugs began to replace a razor, and my life began to spiral out of control.
Graduation came and went, and most of my friends went off to college. I thought I finally was going to be able to settle down and figure out what I wanted out of life. I didn’t account for the intense feelings that came with coming out as a lesbian, unrequited love, being left behind, and the general sense of loneliness that began taking over my life.
I began to hang around people I knew used harder drugs than me and who lived life not really caring what others thought. In my mind that was the answer. I always thought my resolve to say no to harder drugs would allow me to never fall subject to becoming addicted to anything. But I was wrong. So very wrong.
I was just about to turn 19, and I began hanging out with friends who lived on the more rebellious side of life. To me it was fascinating how they didn’t really care about consequences or anxiety about getting in trouble or seriously hurt.
Looking back, it was the perfect foundation for my addiction to grow. I had just realized I was gay and in love with my best friend who was straight, and I was left behind while all my friends were off at college advancing their lives. That night I tried cocaine for the first time to impress this girl (something that would become a theme in my drug use) and show her I was “fearless.” That was when I crossed a line I would never be able to uncross.
It’s truly insane how fast addiction progresses. Within a matter of weeks, I was doing cocaine all day, every day. I had learned all the tricks of the trade in terms of how to scheme and what to steal in order to keep my drug use going. I wound up not sleeping, eating or showering for days at a time, and began stealing things like checks and jewelry from my mom’s house. I was staying at this girl’s apartment in Long Island, and had no idea that we were actually squatting until after I had made my way back home.
I’ve always been able to be honest with my mom for the most part, so I went back home and told her about what had been going on and how I couldn’t stop doing coke every day. She suggested I needed to go to school and find things to occupy my time and get away from that group of friends. Neither of us were educated on addiction, so at the time that made sense.
I moved back home, started college classes and got a job at the local mall. My life seemed to be stabilizing and I was finally free of cocaine. What I didn’t know is that would only be a temporary reprieve.
I made a new group of friends between college and work, and oddly enough they actually overlapped with each other. Soon I began partying again, and sure enough cocaine crept back into my weekends. Then during one party at a fabulous motel, my closest friend asked if I wanted to try OxyContin with her. I didn’t know much about the pill, only that she said it was going to make me feel amazing. And she was right. It was amazing.
Soon enough on the weekend I would dabble in cocaine, painkillers, alcohol and weed, and I started to lose my stable life again. I basically moved myself into my closest friend’s apartment and it became party time almost 24/7 from then on. Then I met her sister, Mal, and again I was immediately obsessed. She looked like a famous actress and was way out of my league, but somehow I got her attention and we soon became best friends… who made out a lot.
I always describe our relationship as “the worst storm in the history of mankind.” It was two very damaged and lonely people, who loved doing drugs, who came together and created chaos. We began spending every single day together smoking blunts, doing coke, and just getting to know each other. From what I knew she didn’t let many people in, but she let me in and I got to know the real her. Up until that point, I had had one girlfriend and it was a very convenient relationship. But with Mal it was different. Our souls connected in a way that I had never experienced with anyone else before.
Our friendship would only last 6 months before it ended in a way I never in a million years would have predicted. On August 7, 2007 I woke up next to Mal, after a night of partying in which we shot coke for the first time, she drank methadone, and we both drank a lot of alcohol. She was snoring really loud, but I thought nothing of it and went about my day. When I came back home from a job interview I went to wake her up for work. But she never woke up. Mal died of a drug overdose that night resulting from a mix of methadone, Suboxone, alcohol, cocaine, and Xanax. My life changed forever that day, in ways that still affect me from time to time even today.
After she died I was sent to my first rehab immediately. I wasn’t ready to hear anything they had to say. I was too traumatized to listen. So after seven days, I left. It took a whole year before I would enter rehab again, but this time it was for something I always promised myself I would never do: heroin. In the year following Mal’s death, after coming out of a state of shock, I began misusing painkillers worse than I ever had, and like most people it came down to easy access and finances that led me to switch to heroin. It was like I had found the secret to getting through life with heroin.
I again began stealing from my parents. Then I wasn’t allowed in their homes, so I started moving from couch to couch as heroin became my number one priority in life. Every day I would wake up and figure out with my small group of using buddies how we were going to get enough money to be able to get high each day.
Finally, on the year anniversary of Mal’s death, I had what 12 step programs call a “divine intervention.” I was arrested for theft and possession two days in a row, and was forced to admit to my parents that I had a severe heroin problem and needed help.
Within a day my dad had me on a plane, and he flew me down to my first real drug rehab program. There I learned that I wasn’t as broken and damaged as I forced myself to believe. I had a disease, addiction, and there was no cure, but there were ways to recover. I was introduced to a 12 step fellowship, received therapy for the trauma and guilt I had from Mal’s death, and began to finally see a life filled with happiness without using drugs or alcohol to cope.
This program ended up being just the beginning of my recovery journey. But it’s a journey I’ve been proud to be on ever since.
Stephanie Maitner is an owner of MGMT Digital, an addiction marketing company and The Real Addiction, a non-profit that encourages education, prevention, and treatment for the younger generation. In her personal life, she is a passionate member of the recovery community and volunteers much of her time to help people in the most vulnerable situations find a glimpse of hope in recovery.