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A FACE OF HOPE

Jamie L.

jamie l. pic for phone

I was a dedicated athlete and ironic enough I was always against drugs and alcohol.

I Grew up on the south shore in Great Kills. Both my parents happily married and one older and one younger brother. My family was always close. I couldn’t have asked for a more loving and caring home. I loved playing Ice Hockey. I was a dedicated athlete and ironic enough I was always against drugs and alcohol. I never wanted to try drugs, never wanted to drink, I used to tell my friends I was allergic to weed when they’d ask me to smoke. I played hockey my entire life from 4 years of age all the way through college and even today. I was 19 years old entering college the first time I ever tried a substance. A lot of my excessiveness was, in my eyes, was college behavior, not abusive behavior (not that I even knew what substance abuse behavior was). I experimented with drugs and alcohol here and there, nothing consistently or daily. I also experienced a lot of trauma emotionally and mentally in my late teens and early twenties. I never told anyone. I thought I was being strong by not telling anyone. Vulnerability scared me to my core. All that I kept secret eventually wore my emotional stability from a steal fortress to a house cards barely holding on. My senior year of college I was injured. I tore my MCL as well as dislocated my knee cap during a team practice. I was out of hockey for at least 6 months, 3 of which I’d spend on crutches and a leg brace and 3 in physically therapy. To deal with the pain I was given 60 Vicodin for the month and was directed by the doctor to take as needed for the pain.That was all he said to me. Nothing more, nothing less. I remember sticking by what the bottle said, “Take this medication every 4-6 hours as needed”.

I can still remember the feeling I had the day I swallowed my first opioid. It immediately took the pain in my knee away. What I didn’t see coming was everything else it numbed. It numbed the pain that I carried in my heart and soul for all those years.

It was amazing. It took me 2 weeks before I eventually increased my dosage from one pill to two, given my tolerance for the medication had gone up. I went through my initial script relatively fast and was still experiencing some pain in my knee. I went to a different doctor and he prescribed me 80 more Vicodin to help with the pain. By the time I was done with those 80 my brain has already reinforced in my head when I’m in any type of pain (emotional, mental, or physical) that this was the answer to dealing with that. I didn’t know why I always felt they were the answer to all my problems, I just knew when I was in pain and took them, I felt better. I felt Nothing. After I left college I came home to an island, at the time, in an opiate pill epidemic. It didn’t take me more than a month to find the drug that would eventually bring me to my knees. Roxicodone (Percocet 30mlg) was my first true love. I started with one and about 3 years later was up to about 25-30 pills a day. I did things that were so out of character to fill the need and want for that drug that people still find it hard to believe that I’m speaking about myself and not another person when I share my story. I was ready to die that way. The shame, guilt, and withdrawal alone was enough to take me to my grave. I was done using about a year and a half before I stopped because I was terrified to ask for help and of the withdrawal that awaited me. I thought after all those years of dealing with that trauma that I was strong enough to do it on my own. I learned quickly by trying to detox myself that I wasn’t, nobody is.

I overdosed 3 times during my using. As much as I was ok dying that way, I truly didn’t want to die.

I’d get on my hands and knees and made promises to god to give me another day, only to break those promises not even hours later. I am extremely lucky and bless to have the family I do. Because of them, one day walked out of my bedroom into an intervention and was sent away to Florida to get the help I desperately needed. Today I work for the Harm Reduction program at CHASI as the Opioid Overdose Coordinator. My sober date is May 4th, 2014. To say I’ll still be sober come that day this year, which would make 4 years sober, would be naive. I don’t know if I will be because for the rest of my life I will live with this disease. I’m sober today. But every morning I wake up and every night I go to bed, I am still a substance abuser. I make the choice to be a recovering one rather than an active one. The work I put into stay sober every day differs. Some days are harder than others. But I remain grounded, ask for help, and do the work it takes to stay sober. The recovering environment has a huge effect on my sobriety as well. Every other disease gets you sympathy while substance abuse gets you judgement. What I’ve grown to learn is that Stigma, related to anything, is just traditions. We come into this world without any judgement over status, race, gender, religion, etc. It’s our parents and our teachers and our elderly that instill in us that substance abusers are junkies or bad people. The disease of substance abuse does not discriminate. It doesn’t care who you are, how much money you have, what race you are, or what gender you identify as. So Now as a nation in the worst drug abuse epidemic in history, it is my mission to make sure the next generation doesn’t see us the way our older generation taught us to see. We are not just another statistic to feed your scare tactics. We are your neighbors, your siblings, your loved ones, your parents, your friends, and everything in-between. How many more lives do we need to lose before we educated ourselves on how to be better and more compassionate and understanding of someone going through something we have never been through before. Today, I’m incredibly blessed to be here to share my story not for any other reason but to talk for those who no longer have a voice. Good people, with a whole life to live, that was taken from us too young because of our ignorance and greed. Don’t add to the cause because of fear. We’re all scared. That’s why we have each other. This isn’t a battle won alone. If we charge at it alone, it doesn’t matter how big or strong or powerful you are. It will kill you. Thank you for listening to my story.

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