Jenny’s Story


As a teen, I was depressed, diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, and always in trouble at school. But the worst part was my father’s temper — he could really snap. It’s hard for me to discuss my dad, but I think it’s so important to bring up. It was so bad being hurt like that. I was taught that my behavior warranted my head being slammed into a washing machine or a stereo getting broken on my head. My friends got sick of me showing up in the middle of the night because of his rages, and they finally told the school out of concern. Police and children’s services came to talk to us, but my father — the lawyer — handled it, and I had to ride the bus home that very same day with no help, case closed. Can you imagine the ride home after cops and children’s services just sent me home? How could adults let a child down like that? I was just a kid crying for help that fell through the cracks, and it was so painful. I felt scared, frustrated, and without options. I went of deep end.

I developed a heroin habit by age 16. I was living with friends, bouncing around. Eventually, my friend’s mom took me in. She was a wonderful, loving woman, and she treated me like a daughter, giving me unconditional love. However, she did enable my addiction.

A lot of my friends were dying or going off to college and just generally growing up. In the picture above, the guy lying on the couch, Tom, is dead from an overdose when he was about 16. He died on top of his girlfriend, paralyzed her leg because he was dead and on top of it so long throughout the night in bed. Another of those girls in the picture, Kate, she had a methadone-addicted daughter in about 2010. And two of those boys went to jail. And me, sitting on the floor in the picture, I was back and forth with the heroin, getting arrested often for stealing.

At 17 I first found the rooms of 12-step programs, and I went to detox. I stayed sober briefly, but it didn’t last. I needed help. Even though I didn’t stay sober, I did get my GED at 17 in my brief attempt at sobriety. I relapsed and was using harder than ever, shooting dope daily and stealing on a bigger scale. At the time, I was living in Hartford with my boyfriend. One day, my boyfriend left my house and was shot and killed two blocks from me. Everything was getting out of hand. My emotions were a wreck and my depression was growing. I was filled with suicidal ideations.

Then a defining moment happened for me. I found myself on my hands and knees in the mud and rain, just begging God to kill me. I had been trying my best to passively kill myself with the drugs, but it hadn’t worked. I shouted, “God, please help me or let me die!” I’ll never forget that night. I was overcome by a panic attack, rocking in the mud, pulling my hair, just trying to breathe.

Well, the very next morning I went to cop my dope, and I was arrested. A patrol officer ran my name through the database, and there was a clerical error that showed I had a warrant for arrest when I really didn’t. It would have been cleared up and the case would have been dismissed, but I managed to make bond by manipulating an old friend who did not know how sick I was. And two days later, I was again in the rain on hands and knees. I had another panic attack, begging God to help. “Please, God! Help me or kill me. Help me or let me die.” I was truly suicidal, and in my young mind I thought it would be kinder if I died and let everyone mourn and go on with life. I truly believed it was selfish to live.

Well, the next morning I managed to get arrested again for burglary. This time, I wasn’t getting bailed out. God tried to help me with a clerical error the first time, and I wouldn’t let him. This time, God took my will away. No one helped me. No family lawyer. No favors for the lawyer’s daughter. I was on my own.

Surprisingly, I found more freedom in jail than I had ever known. It was stable and routine, and I was no longer sick and dependent on heroin. It was hard, but my mind began to settle and I also was treated for my depression. So instead of cramming Adderall down the “bad kid’s” throat, I was given an antidepressant and time for it to take hold. It was wonderful. What a difference it made! For the first time in my life I was stable. Life wasn’t so dramatic and turbulent. I lived my whole life scared that today is the day he snaps or today is the day the house of cards falls, and now I didn’t have to live in fear.

I was released from jail after serving 6 months. I wish I could say things got better right away, but I relapsed several times and stopped taking the antidepressants. I had no one to enable or help me anymore this time, though. It was January 2002. Freezing. 5 below. I really had nowhere to go, honestly. The life I had lived so far had created a virtual cell of isolation around me. It was too cold to be homeless. I didn’t want to feel all that pain and chaos again. I was tired and done. With nowhere else to turn, I went to a recovery center in Hartford, and they admitted me after 12 hours.

I was so grateful to be admitted. It was over. Detox turned into 28 days turned into 3 months turned into a year at the women’s alternative living center. Meanwhile, I was working a recovery program and growing stronger and happier by the day. I learned to love myself, to like myself, and even to be a friend to myself. I went to college in my mid 20s and got a degree in psychology, starting first at community college and then a university. I built a career as a visual director at Victoria’s Secret. I met my best friend in the world of 13 year in the rooms of recovery. I completed long-term relapse prevention at the Institute of Living and continued to stay on my antidepressants and other medications prescribed by addiction specialists. Most importantly, I learned I had value.

I was stable long enough to grow and learn. I was able to understand that my father was sick, that his violence stemmed from severe anxiety. My sobriety brought amazing gifts to me. I became very close with my father while he was dying over the course of a couple years. He apologized for his past actions, and I learned to truly forgive. I earned his respect and love, and he mine.

My career continued to grow and I met my future husband. We were married and had a beautiful, amazing son. And though the story didn’t end happily ever after — there was divorce and major life changes, even several relapses — my life continued to grow. I grew into a woman with a foundation to stand on. I have support and love from my twelve-step fellowship. I’m never alone, and I never will be again. That terrifying feeling of loneliness and fear, screaming for help and no one, not even the school counselor or police could hear me, I’ll never have that feeling again because I have a fellowship that exists in every town in every state in every country. I have support. I have friends, safety, and a life I choose and created for myself. It was scary, and it took a lot of work but 14 years ago I couldn’t keep a needle out of my arm. I’ll be 34 years old tomorrow, and I just bought 2 houses all by myself. I have 3 dogs and 4 cats and 1 son and a life I’m proud of. I have this all because I got sober, got my mental health issues stabilized, asked for help, pushed through, and held on.

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