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Recovery Month Testimonials 2018

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Thomas Hicks, Exec. Dir. of Wellness Recovery Community Center, Baltimore

Good day. I have been in long-term recovery for 19 years. I was actively using heroin intravenously for 30 years. I would like to share my story of recovery because there is someone who might still believe recovery is some distant planet far away in another galaxy.

I started using heroin at the age of 14, from 1968 to 1998. Through all those drug, street, and institutional wars, I was told by my parents, associates (that didn’t use), and clinicians that I wouldn’t be anything in society except for a drug addict (which I already was), a convict, or dead.

Because street life is shrouded in such negativity, it’s hard to realize anything positive that may be going on. A good day for me, during my years of drugging, was making enough money to use. So, as you can see, my expectations about life was nil after years and years of listening to “you’ll never be anything worthwhile”. Add the stigma and trauma associated with that life style, I lived like the moment to die was now.

I tried MAT programs, which worked as long as I was in that environment. But as soon as I left, I went back to using. I had gotten so depressed because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and my desire to use. Everyone that was an authoritative figure in my life was giving me reasons why I was using, like my exposure to childhood trauma, and how I was predisposed to that particular lifestyle.

Well, in the end of that trauma and stigma-filled life style, I learned to look at everything that happened to me while I was in that lifestyle as one hell of a way to learn a lesson. I didn’t realize until much later in my addiction that, when the attraction of the lifestyle was wearing off, I was actually fine tuning my ability to persevere and be resilient.

So today, to show that recovery is very possible and you can take a lemon and make lemonade, I went from what society deemed me to be as a throw away piece of trash, to an executive. My name is Thomas Hicks and I’m the Executive Director of Helping Other People through Empowerment (H.O.P.E.), a Wellness Recovery Community Center for Behavioral Health System Baltimore.


I want you to put these pair of shoes on your feet, but with a fair warning. Walking in these shoes will open your eyes to a world that was my reality. One of the most beautiful pair of shoes you’d ever see. Perfectly embroidered designs with authentic patent leather, the type of shoes that people stop in public to tell you how beautiful they are, but what they don’t see is what’s on the inside of those shoes. They’re a size too small so your feet are suffocating all day, the insides are made of plastic so you’re soaked with sweat and they rub sores on your ankles and toes. All I am asking is you just walk a mile in these shoes, my shoes.

Anxiety was something that I had struggled with since about 14 years old, I was never diagnosed though. I honestly didn’t even know that what I was experiencing was in fact anxiety. Not until fast forward a few years later when I married at 18 years old. I have always been a hopeless romantic, so the idea of marriage at such a young age was fulfilling to me.

My husband was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – as soon as I said “I Do,” he said, “I don’t anymore.” He became very abusive toward me and I bottled it up inside instead of telling anyone because I was afraid to look like a failure. I let the abuse go on for far too long and it took a toll on my mental health. I didn’t realize this until I found myself laying on a table connected to an EKG machine thinking that I was having heart problems because I was always short of breath, I would have hot and cold flashes, the shakes, heart palpitations, chest pains, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat.

I remember the Doctor asking me this question, “on a scale from 1-10. what is your current level of stress?” This was the first time anyone had ever asked me this question so I had to pause to think about it, and before I could answer – my Mother answered for me. “Stress?! She doesn’t have any stress in her life. She has a husband that adores her, she doesn’t work, she goes on a vacation every month, and has anything she could ever ask for!”

THAT is the moment that I knew that I was completely stressed out. I felt like a prisoner in my own body, screaming on the inside but looking like a step-ford wife on the outside. Having someone answer for me was the icing on the cake. I ended up being prescribed a small dose of anti-anxiety medication to help with the physical effects of my anxiety. I ended up divorcing my husband after a year and a half because of infidelity on his part (which was a blessing from God for me). When I left he said to me, and I can still hear his voice “You’ll never be anything or have anything without me!” I used those words as my motivation.

Shortly thereafter, I started working at a nightclub waitress and was able to get my own apartment and slowly made it a home. When I started working at the club someone had given me a piece of advice “Use the industry, don’t let it use you” – that stuck with me. I was very headstrong and motivated to have a happy, comfortable life for myself that I created without anyone’s help. The environment that I was working in was very drug prevalent but that never seemed to bother me, but over time, I am not going to lie – drug use and shady behavior almost seemed normal, because everyone I associated with did it.

After years of working the night shift, I started dabbling in Cocaine to help with the late hours and to bring me out of my shell. I was never the type to really enjoy alcohol because it took the control away from me, but Cocaine, Cocaine gave me the ability to stay in control, come out of my box with an upbeat personality, and stay up late. You know that saying, “You’re only as good as the company you keep?” Well ain’t that the truth! The type of people I was hanging around would make me feel like doing drugs was OK. This was my new normal.

Fast forward a few years later when I was sexually assaulted, raped, by someone I had considered a “friend.” I buried this deep, deep down inside of me, I never told anyone. I was carrying an Elephant on my back but no one could see it. On the outside I was this vibrant, beautiful woman who had everything she could ever ask for materialistically. But on the inside, I was dying a slow death. I soon became intensively paranoid and couldn’t sleep because of nightmares from the Post Traumatic Stress from the assault. The Cocaine use became heavier and heavier from the lack of sleep, which fueled my depression and anxiety. I ended up quitting my job at the club and the Cocaine, because I was so disgusted with the men always gawking at me and treating me like an object and the depressive spiral that this drug always sent me on.

I started dating a female. I have never been attracted to women before and I didn’t really know why at the time I had fallen in love with her, I felt like she had saved me. I went to my doctor and begged him to fix my mental state. I remember sitting on his table and balling my eyes out to please please help me. I was so sad, broken, lost, lonely, and had this huge secret that kept me a prisoner inside of myself. I was prescribed anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, sleeping pills, and a Benzodiazepine, without really explaining the side effects, risk factors, and the potential for abuse and chemical dependency. I was so desperate for help that I was eager to take these medications.

Taking my first dose was almost like an out of body experience. I felt the entire Elephant that I was carrying lift right off of my back. I could breathe again, my mind stopped racing, my heart stopped pounding out of my chest, I could focus again, and I could finally sleep. I felt like all of my problems had been solved, but I still never told anyone what had happened to me. I wish my doctor had explained the way these drugs work in your brain and body. Maybe if he had, I wouldn’t have taken them and maybe I wouldn’t have been brought to a point in my life where I seriously wanted and wished for death.

The psych medications would work for a brief period of time – until they didn’t – and when that would happen, I would be right back at the doctor’s office begging him again to help me feel better. I thought I was being responsible. I thought I was taking care of my mental health. I stopped working in a toxic environment, I stopped doing recreational drugs – I was taking care of myself the best that I knew how. I would get a new trail of SSRIs (prescriptions of any class of antidepressants (as fluoxetine or sertraline) that inhibit the inactivation of serotonin by blocking its reuptake by presynaptic nerve cell endings — also called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor; compare snri). I was told to report back to my doctor in 2 weeks to evaluate how the medication was working for me. I always felt better the first few days taking it but it never failed to stop working and I was back to square one. My tolerance was building up with the Benzodiazpine’s and the sleeping pills so now I had found myself needing to take more to get the desired effect, not high, just to do what they are supposed to do, and my doctor did not have a problem prescribing more.

My family had no idea what I was going through and because I was dating another woman they decided to distance themselves from me because they didn’t agree with that way of life. This took a major toll on me. My family was my backbone and they just turned their back on me so easily? Without asking me what was really going on in my head.

I felt myself slipping into a deeper and darker hole that I no longer could climb out of myself. I would be half way through the month and realize my pills were almost gone. How could that be? I am only taking what I need to not fall apart. I am not abusing them. I am not getting high. Why are they all gone? How do I get more? Am I addicted to these? I didn’t know, but one thing I did know is that when I missed a pill, I was overwhelmed with a crashing wave of anxiety. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t talk. I was a mess without my medication.

This is when I began buying Benzos off of the street. I was desperate. I had started this medication taking the smallest milligram twice a day to taking the largest milligram 4, 5, 6 times a day in only about an 8-month time span. My life had spiraled out of control. All I wanted was to feel normal. I started experiencing these things called ‘brain zaps’ where my brain felt like it was being electrocuted. I would see shadows and hear voices, had blurry vision and severe paranoia, couldn’t sleep even with sleeping pills. I had to drop out of school because I could not concentrate. I had developed a stutter, it seemed like I had a mild form of Tourette Syndrome from the muscle spasms.

I remember waking up in bed two days after the day that I actually fell asleep – on a regular basis. I would drive to a store, walk inside and forget where I was or what I was there for. My room had four dark walls with no windows because any small bit of sunlight was painful to me. I had no idea who I had become. I was very angry all of the time. I would snap undeservingly at the people that loved me the most. I felt like no one understood how I was feeling and everyone looked at me in a judgmental way. My Mother would say, “If you just got out of bed, if you just got out of the house, if you just went to hang out with your friends … then you will feel better.”

Well let me tell you something about depression – NOTHING will make you feel better, no person, place or thing. I was completely trapped in darkness and misery. This wasn’t the type of darkness where you just feel sorry for yourself – I was way past that. On a daily basis, I would daydream about suicide. How I could do it in the least painful way for my parents, how they would find me, constantly contemplating the best way to off myself. I even wondered if I wanted to write a suicide letter because what would it say? I’ve accomplished nothing in life. I haven’t left my bedroom in what felt like a year, I lost who I was completely. I could barely hold a conversation with anyone. I used to be an extremely outgoing, hilarious, loving, spontaneous person. I wasn’t only mentally ill though, I was very physically ill. My skin color was about 12 shades paler than I normally was. I had huge breakouts all over my face. My hair was falling out. I was about 30 lbs lighter than I am today and I had 10 cavities from not taking care of myself – I was a mess.

But the worst part about looking at me was my eyes, they were so lonely. It’s hard to explain but looking at old pictures of myself, I can see the “nothing-ness” still. The desperation was at an all-time high. I would try to cut down my pill intake but when I would, I would be trampled like a stampede of Bulls with anxiety. The anti-depressants had my mood SO stabilized that getting out of bed in the morning seemed like climbing Mount Everest.

One day a friend of mine came over and she had Cocaine with her. She said “here just take some. I know it’ll make you feel better,” and it did. I FINALLY had enough energy to get up and take a shower, do my makeup, get a few things done. I hated that I had to turn to a recreational drug to feel normal but with the type of desperation that I was going through, I honestly would have tried anything. After that, I found myself using Cocaine at home – alone, just to get simple chores done. I knew this was wrong but it was the only thing that would help me.

I regulated my Doctors office at least 4 times a month, trying this- taking that but I was nothing but a Guinea pig at this point. He had diagnosed me with manic-depressive disorder, bi-polar disorder, severe anxiety disorder, and chronic insomnia. I accepted these diagnoses and started to really realize that I was never going to get better. This is who I am. These are the cards I was dealt. Deep down inside I truly felt like I was Schizophrenic but I was too afraid to say that out loud. I knew I heard voices and saw things that didn’t exist but if I said it out loud then people would know that I was truly crazy. Not once did my doctor recommend therapy or to see a psychiatrist, and to this day I still hold a resentment toward him because I believe that maybe if I had just talked to someone about my initial problem then all of this would have been prevented. But that’s not how it went and there I was.

Now, there are roughly 2,000 steps in a mile, and my mile marker was considered rock bottom. At this point, you’ve only walked about 1725 steps in my shoes – you’re almost there. Back to my anger.

I hated everyone and everything. Nothing could make me smile. I hated that no one could help me. This is the thing that I regret more than anything that I’ve ever done. I would give my whole arm to take this back but I can’t. I got into a physical fight with my Mother. I was under the influence of about seven different prescription pills and my Mother had had enough. She hit me. I blacked out and I hurt my Mother very, very badly. She ended up in the hospital for a couple of days and suffered injuries that still affect her quality of life to this day. I am not proud of this. I am mortified. I understand why my Mother snapped on me. She was so upset to watch me keep poisoning my body with these pills and constantly walking around messed up. She felt like she had truly lost her daughter, everything that she had worked so hard for her entire life raising me. It wasn’t just hurting my mother physically that has me mortified – it was the fact that I saw her laying on the ground knowing she was severely hurt but I stepped right over her, got in my car, left, and slept peacefully knowing the ambulance was on its way to come pick her up. I will never forget this and I will spend the rest of my life showing my remorse to her.

This is where the plummet to rock bottom really took off. I was no longer able to fall asleep with large amounts of sleeping pills mixed with muscle relaxers, mixed with benzo’s, mixed with alcohol. Anything that had always helped me fall asleep was no longer doing the job. I asked somebody I knew if I could buy some 30 mg Percocets from them. I remember this person telling me to be very careful with these pills. But I didn’t have any reason to be careful, I didn’t necessarily want to die, but I also didn’t necessarily want to be alive. I guess you could say that I knew taking these pills was going to be a coin toss between life or death, but I really didn’t have anything to live for and if I was going to live I just wanted to get a decent sleep. I was home alone one day and decided that I wanted to take these pills during the day for the first time so I could see how they affected me and if I liked them and could handle them enough to take them before I went out in public and try to accomplish any daily tasks.

My mother tells me that she got a strange feeling like she needed to come home from work to check on me, something that never really happened before. When my mother checked on me, she saw something that she will never forget for the rest of her life, her daughter was lying lifeless in bed, gray in color, not breathing, and she couldn’t feel or hear a pulse. I had taken a handful of pills, not to die, but to get a peaceful sleep – something I had not done in months. Well, the type of sleep that I got was death.

I can remember waking up to what seems like 100 officials surrounding me pulling the breathing tube out of my lungs. I couldn’t hear anything. It sounded like my ears had cotton balls in them. I was in the most excruciating pain that I will ever experience for the rest of my life. I instantly knew what had happened. I said in my own head “What did you do? You’re dying. You’re dying” and I truly knew that I had died and been brought back and still was very close to death again. I can remember being in the ambulance and asking where my mother was because the paramedics wouldn’t let her in the back with me. I remember looking at the monitor at the amount of beats my heart was making and then I remember complete silence, a temperature of cold that no human being has ever experienced before. Like laying naked in the middle of a snowstorm in Alaska. And then my vision went black, I was gone again. Nothing inside of me wanted to hang on. I was fighting to keep my eyes closed – I wanted to die.

I remember waking up in the hospital and being so ungrateful to be alive. I had lost all belief in God when I stopped breathing and nothing warm happened. No flash of life before my eyes, no warm and fuzzy feeling, no light – just cold, silent, darkness and PAIN – torturous pain. I remember looking across from my hospital room, while I’m in my bed with a bracelet that says overdose, staring across the room at a girl who I went to high school with working at the desk. I can still feel the physical embarrassment knowing that she knew exactly who I was.

When the nurse came in to read my toxicology report, my family was disgusted to say the least – I was disgusted too. When I went home from the hospital, my mother had taken all of my pills, every single prescription was gone she told me “we’re going to get through this, I am not leaving you.” She laid in bed with me while I experienced some of the most horrifying withdraws that you could imagine. My Mother didn’t realize that taking my pills away cold turkey could kill me. No amount of words will ever be able to describe what my mind and body went through during the next few days.

My mother and I decided that I needed to go to a treatment facility to safely detox from these medications, and on the way there I remember saying to her that the light and the car was bothering me from the sunshine and I went to put my visor down. When I woke up I had ambulance paramedics working on me. I had no idea what had happened. My Mother was crying and I was completely disoriented and sore. I had had a Grandma Seizure, which could have killed me. In the hospital my Mother had turned to God. She had called the Priest from our church growing up to come pray for me. When I woke up, she asked me “do you remember him? He’s here to pray for you.” I could see the sheer desperation in my Mother’s face. In a matter of a few days my Mother had almost lost me twice. As much as I hated God at this point, I used the smallest ounce of faith left in me to pray for recovery.

I decided to go to a treatment facility on the opposite side of the country. I wanted to be as far away from home as possible so I could focus on myself. This is where I felt the most at home. For the first time in my life I was able to sit in a room with people that understood what I was going through, that understood how I felt, they didn’t tell me that it was all in my head, that didn’t make me feel crazy. Instead, they gave me hope. Hope that I had a shot at getting out of this. I was surrounded by people who had very similar stories to me and who were upstanding citizens of the community that were happy. Happy was something that was very foreign to me. This was the first time in a long time that Hope was in my vocabulary.

The detox and withdrawal process from Benzodiazpines, SSRIs, and sleeping pills was unbearable. Every day I felt like I was dying, even with medications to help soothe the detox process. The fact is you CAN DIE from coming off these medications. I never thought that the torture would be over, but I had hope – hope that one day I would just feel better. Slowly but surely I did. Each day got easier. Each day I laughed a little more and slept a little better. Before I knew it I was sitting in front of a psychiatrist who is telling me that I wasn’t bipolar and I didn’t have manic depressive disorder I didn’t have severe anxiety and I didn’t have insomnia.

I – was – “normal!” I couldn’t freaking believe this. I just cried, but this time it was tears of happiness. She explained that the medications that I was on were causing my hallucinations, they were causing me to have anxiety, they were causing me to have insomnia – they were fueling my depression. This is what happens when somebody that is not qualified to prescribe psychiatric medication does prescribe them.

I am so proud of the woman that I have become today. I now work for a living with patients that suffer from addiction and mental health. I give people HOPE when they’ve lost it. I help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if that light is just a tiny glimmer or a crack in a rock where it’s softly shining through. I remind my clients that when they think it’s time to give up, that’s the time where it is so important to find your grip and KEEP DIGGING.

I could go on for days about my story – where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to go, but with this story – I just want someone to read it and have hope.

(Anonymous did not want to publicize her name but wanted to share her story to give hope to others and show them they are not alone.)
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