By Aaron Emerson
By Aaron Emerson
What a remarkable difference between the 2017 and 2018 holiday seasons.
Truthfully, last year was a time I wish didn’t exist, and in a way, it kind of doesn’t in my mind because it was such a blur. Looking back, my memories of it are foggy and depressing. The only parts that stick out are the horrors of my bottom.
Last year was spent drinking large amounts of alcohol and taking Xanax to come down from long cocaine binges. By the time November and December rolled around, my four year relationship was coming to an end, I was facing felony charges for stealing credit cards, and my life was literally saved by an Ingham County officer who administered Narcan up my nostril.
The day after I got home from the hospital after the overdose, though, I made one of the most important calls of my life: to Sacred Heart, a substance abuse treatment center in Memphis, Michigan. The near death experience got to me. It really hit me that next day how close I was to not existing anymore. My daughter almost spent the rest of her life without her daddy.
I checked into Sacred Heart with two suitcases of clothes and two warrants for my arrest. I was broken, ashamed, embarrassed, but perhaps most importantly, desperate for change. I completed their program in three weeks and the day after I left I turned myself in to Ingham County. My recovery coach Phil Pavona went to my court hearings advocating for them to put me in a treatment court instead of prison, as I already had a couple felonies on my record.
Thankfully, I was placed into East Lansing Drug Court in Judge Larkin’s program. It’s been one of the most cherished blessings of my life. Not only has it given me another chance, it has also hooked me up with an amazing support system and other friends in the same boat as me. We all go to group therapy, meetings and court together and are a crazy but tight-knit bunch.
It hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. I have drank alcohol a couple different times this year, even going to jail for a month back in May for a violation. But my life is a night-and-day difference. I’ve had a solid job for a while, I haven’t used drugs in seven months, I’ve gone to a couple schools with Phil to share my story to kids, and have developed a regular weekly parenting schedule with my daughter.
So this holiday season, I can’t help but look back on last year and compare it to where I’m at now. When I’m having a rough day, that alone can springboard me into a place of gratitude. I am free, sober, and in recovery this Christmas season, trying to give my daughter an amazing holiday.
I bought her an “Elf on the Shelf” set and its been extremely fun getting up with her each morning to find the elf. I actually have money saved up to get her some Christmas gifts. That’s a pretty big difference than last year when I was in rehab on Christmas Day.
The gratitude and joy I am experiencing this holiday season is sometimes overshadowed by the fact that Andrew’s family is going through their first Christmas without him. One of my best friends died of an overdose in February and I know his mom had a rough first Thanksgiving without him. It breaks my heart. I know he is at peace now, though. His suffering is over this Christmas and the bondage of his addiction is no more.
Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. I love the Christmas movies, songs, decorations, presents and the whole Christmas spirit. I’m just so blessed I am not only alive to experience it this year, but am also sober.
From the officer who saved my life, to the treatment center who helped stabilize me, to Phil Pavona convincing the courts to give me help instead of jail, to the amazing friends and support I’ve met in Drug Court, and lastly, to my daughter and family who I’m thankful to be with this December, it all came together perfectly.
Baby steps. They add up. Trust the process. It works if you just do the next right thing and are willing to take suggestions. This last year has had its ups and downs. Though there have been times I never thought I’d make it through sober, I am here this Christmas season and so happy to be able to share my story. I just hope I can make a difference. I know for a fact that if somebody as hopeless as me can find recovery, anybody can.
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By Aaron Emerson
The disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate.
Black or white, male or female, rich or poor, urban or rural. None of that matters when it comes to who addiction affects.
Trina Day is a prime example of this, as she grew up in a close, safe home. She describes her childhood as “the American dream family,” and they attended church on a regular basis.
So one can only imagine the impact a divorce had on her at the young age of 14. That’s when Trina started acting out, getting involved with different friends and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
She ended up going down a dark road, full of jails and treatment centers, homelessness and desperation. It was a long journey for Trina, but she slowly put her life back together and just celebrated a year of sobriety last week.
It wasn’t easy, though, and she will be the first to admit she still has her struggles. But the life she has today is hard to imagine for someone who has been through so much.
After the divorce, which she said changed everything including her social status, she started seeing an older man and lost her virginity at 14 to a 24 year old. She started smoking weed and drinking alcohol occasionally.
“At that time, it was very fun and rebellious,” Trina said.
Bouncing back and forth between her mom and dad, living in in Williamston and Owosso, she got pregnant. She had a son, Seth, and went to an alternative high school, obtaining her diploma a year late.
Smoking and drinking a lot, she tried to change for Seth, but it didn’t last. Eventually she started drinking everyday, but was still handling her work and college responsibilities.
In her early and mid twenties, she started experimenting with prescription drugs. It started out with Adderall, an amphetamine supposed to treat ADHD. Then, working as a receptionist at a medical facility, a co-worker started providing her with Vicodin, an opioid painkiller.
From there, things got progressively worse. She moved on to stronger painkillers like Dilaudid, then got hooked up with a boyfriend who she later found out was doing heroin. Trina started asking him to try it, seeing how cheaper and more potent it was than the painkillers she was using.
The first time she asked him about the heroin, he told her “you don’t want to do this, it will take your soul.” He eventually gave in, though, and right after he injected her with heroin for the first time, she fell back onto a bed in a euphoric rush, saying “this is it. This is what I’ve been searching for.”
Her boyfriend eventually violated his parole and went on the run, and Trina’s life took a turn for the worst. She left her nice apartment, scrapped her car for $300 and started doing cocaine on top of the heroin.
Jobless, homeless, and in full fledge addiction, she turned to the streets. She made $100 to $500 a day panhandling. “At that point, I dove into heroin head first. I just did what it took to get it.”
Then, one day panhandling in Lansing, she met an older gentlemen driving a nice car who she fed a sad story to. She later found out he was a well known professor at Michigan State University who had written several books. Not telling him that she was using his money for drugs, he was giving her $1000 a week in cash, putting her up in motels and apartments and getting her cars.
With an easy supply of cash to feed her addiction, she was using a lot and diving deeper and deeper into misery. That’s when she started her journey of recovery, though it’s taken several attempts to obtain long term sobriety.
She checked into a treatment center in Jackson, then to the Lansing-based Glass House rehab after relapsing. After falling down again, she checked into RISE for a while, and then Holy Cross for six months. She kept relapsing, but never gave up, always choosing to give recovery another shot.
She had another child around that time. In and out of addiction, she felt it was best to give up her parental rights the day after she was beaten black and blue by a guy she had been hanging out with. Giving up her child was the hardest day of her life, but she truly felt like she was making a decision in the best interest of her child.
Back in hardcore addiction, something happened that changed her life and set her on the path to recovery: she was arrested for the first time. She got charged with three felonies – all related to drug use – and was thrown in jail. The court system didn’t seek to punish her, though, giving her a chance to get help instead.
She was put in Drug Court in East Lansing, a strict probation centered around therapy, 12 step attendance, drug testing and building a support system. Though she was given treatment-based probation instead of jail, she still wasn’t fully committed to recovery. That changed, though, when she relapsed on probation. She was sent to jail for 34 days and then to rehab at Sacred Heart. While in rehab, she detoxed from Methadone and took treatment serious.
She still wasn’t done, though. She relapsed one more time five days after leaving Sacred Heart. She decided to check herself back into RISE, a transitional sober living facility. Her best friend Luke was there and helped her navigate the system, helping her meet other sober friends and motivating her to take her recovery serious.
That’s when tragedy happened: Luke passed away unexpectedly. She was heart broken. Faced with the loss of her best friend in early sobriety, she battled down and for the first time in her life, chose to reach out for support instead of getting high to numb the pain.
A miracle happened. She stayed sober through it and started gaining confidence in her recovery. Then she started dating another guy in recovery. With a firm recovery foundation himself, Brian helped Trina see she was worth it.
“His recovery motivated me,” Trina said. “He sets boundaries and makes sure we don’t become co-dependent.”
Since then, Trina’s life has steadily improved. She graduated from RISE in June and even started working there to help other people in the same spot she was in just last year. She celebrated a year of sobriety on October 23 and is doing very well in Drug Court. She is a fantastic mother to Seth and is working towards a career.
She said taking her time to focus on herself in early recovery was one of the keys to staying sober this long.
“I took my time, I didn’t feel rushed. You have to work on the root causes,” Trina said. “Don’t just rush into getting a job and paying bills. They will always be there. You have to focus on yourself first.”
It’s been a long, crazy journey for Trina. She has one of the most incredible stories I’ve ever seen, not just because she got sober after a really serious addiction, but because of the fact she struggled so much to stay sober. She fell down and relapsed so many times, but never gave up. She is a miracle. She is going to help a lot of people along the way and has a bright future ahead of her.
If you get one thing from her story, just know that there is always hope. Never stop trying. Never give up. If Trina can find recovery after all she has been through, anyone can. There’s always hope!
-If you would like to share your story of recovery, contact Aaron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By Aaron Emerson
I just hit the five month mark two days ago. Five months. Five months without a sip of beer, a pill or shot, even a puff of weed smoke. In the grand scheme of life, five months is nothing, but for me, it’s a damn miracle.
Just about a year ago I was at a point in my life where I just wanted to die. I didn’t want to commit suicide but I also wasn’t scared of dying from an overdose or getting killed in a botched drug deal or something. Man, oh man, it seems like a different life than how I’m living today.
On Sunday, I was hit with an Aaron Emerson recovery trifecta. I celebrated five months, my beloved Lions beat the Packers, and I got a raise at work. Yes, a fucking raise.
I’m 27 years old and have never gotten a raise at work. Truth be told, I haven’t ever truly held a job for more than a few months without my boss noticing signs that something was off. But today, my place of employment actually values me. Isn’t that crazy?
I don’t say all that to brag or to boast, saying “look at me! Look at how good I am doing!” I say it to perhaps spark a glimmer of hope within somebody else who happens to be walking the same path that I was just last year.
See, I got off heroin a few years ago and stayed off of it for over a year. My life improved vastly and I started this process of using my writings to spread hope and raise awareness. But I wasn’t truly getting down to the root causes of my alcoholism and addiction. I would go to a meeting once or twice a week and did some therapy, but that’s about it. I had a recovery coach, Phil Pavona, who did his part in saving my life and helped show me that recovery could be fun. But at that point in my life, I considered myself more of a drug addict than an alcoholic.
That was my downfall. Granted, I wasn’t drinking during that year of abstinence. But I eventually had a beer at a wedding, giving into peer pressure and rationalizing in my head “well, it’s just a beer. It’s not heroin.” That beer ended up taking me down a road that almost led to death again.
I had to admit and accept that I can not control the use of any mind or mood altering chemicals. When I put alcohol or drugs into my body, something changes in my brain. I lose all control and don’t stop until I am faced with severe consequences. It was hard, but today I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I have people in my life guiding me, showing me how they did it and teaching me how powerful prayer is.
Just know that this is a lifetime thing. I will never be cured or be able to drink or drug in moderation. But I have fun today, I am grateful today, I have real friends today, and I am proud of myself today.
One thing I have always put in my blogs is that if you are alive, hope is alive. It is so fucking true! Don’t ever give up. No matter how hard things may seem, there are people out there who care about you. Surround yourself with people who love you. Take life one day at a time. Reach out when shit gets hard. You can do this and have a happy life. I promise.
By John Mullin
“My worst day clean is better than my best day high.”
Such a cliché, I know. I never really understood what people meant when I use to hear that. I would think to myself “Yeah it sounds good but, I’ve had some pretty great days being high,” I thought anyways.
It wasn’t until this time in recovery I gave more thought to that saying. Yes, I did have some good times using, but every time I used it always involved some feeling of regret and shame in one way or another. I either had to do some hurtful act to someone in order to get my drugs, or I would get high wishing I didn’t have to exist in a life that revolved around getting a fix just to function throughout the day.
Beating myself up mentally, feeling like such a failure in life because I was a heroin addict in heavy active addiction. No self worth, covering up my track marks – that, over time, went from small dimples to craters – in fear of people judging me if they saw them. No true friends to hang around because they knew being around me meant potentially being taken advantage of. The lies, the oh-so many lies, way too many lies to even keep up with. Often getting caught in lies and getting upset with the person who catches you in a lie because it foiled your plan to get more dope. Shooting up then counting down the hours until you knew you would be sick again trying to figure out a means to prolong the inevitable sickness.
I know for me the amount of money I had made no difference. Sure, I could go cop enough dope to last me a couple days, but it seemed the more I had the more I needed to do at one time to even feel it. And my three day supply would dwindle down to nothing in a matter of hours. Then I was back on the phone calling my dealer complaining about the quality and begging for a front since I just spent all my money with him earlier that day. Great times huh?
Voicemails from the landlord saying how they need the rent since it’s two weeks late and you still owe a little bit from the past month. Prior to that you were homeless for a long stretch, sleeping under bridges in the dead of winter because you couldn’t get your dope in time to get to the shelter before it closes. The lowest you’ve ever felt in your entire life: you would think you wouldn’t allow yourself to return to that point. When you were blessed with the opportunity of having your own house and stable enough employment to secure your basic needs, why would you risk losing it all? Because you are an ADDICT. Your addict brain will convince you of anything to ensure that you stay sick. The disease of addiction is exactly what they say it is: Cunning, Baffling and Powerful.
I know today even if everything else in my life fails and falls apart, I can at least say I am clean, and for someone like me that is a win that trumps any and everything else. I know I won’t wake up the following day plotting and scheming on the ones I truly love and who truly love me to get another one, telling myself the lie addicts tell themselves over and over: “I just need one last one.” I’ve had my “last one” many, many times and it always concluded the same result, one more after that. This isn’t my first time in recovery, nor the longest amount of clean time I’ve had in my using career, but it is my first time in recovery where I truly wanted it. It takes what it takes and for me it took finally putting the shovel down and start climbing out of the hole I dug for myself. After numerous times relapsing I realized the bottom of that hole gets deeper and deeper. Today I am grateful to be able to just live in the moment and do the next right thing and put my trust in my higher power that he’s got me right where I need to be and everything I need will come in due time.
John Mullin is 27 years old from Lansing, Michigan. He’s a recovering addict who is finding himself after using heroin his entire adult life. He is a writer who enjoys writing poetry, lyrics and journaling. He wants to start making music again.
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