Imprisoned by Addiction, Freed by Recovery

Becky R. believes in miracles. How else can she explain the change in her life from two years ago when she heard a judge say these words after her arrest for selling ecstasy to an undercover agent: “You will spend a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 45 in the Illinois Department of Corrections.” Today, the 25-year-old Chicago native is free in every sense of the word — no longer behind bars and no longer captive to the substance use that had dominated so much of her life.

When I was younger it was like I have to be sober. Today, I’m grateful that I have the desire to be sober. That’s a new feeling for me.

Instead, she’s happily drug and alcohol free, employed as a sobriety tech helping others who are dealing with addiction, and studying to become a certified drug and alcohol counselor. “I’m doing what I love with the people I love. My parents are proud of me. It’s just crazy what two years can do.” It’s sobriety such as she’s never experienced before, she explained. “When I was younger it was like I have to be sober. Today, I’m grateful that I have the desire to be sober. That’s a new feeling for me.”

Anger and Self-Hatred

When telling the story of her destructive turn to drugs and alcohol, Becky starts far back in her past, at what she realizes now are its roots. Adopted at birth into a loving and supportive family, she nonetheless struggled with feelings of abandonment. The result, she said, was “a lot of inner anger toward anyone older than me, and a lot of self-hatred.” She also struggled to deal with her realization that she was attracted to the girls on the playground, not the boys. “It was really conflicting for me when I was younger because I didn’t really understand what being gay was. So I kept that in for a long time.” Her parents had had her in therapy ever since she was about 5, she said, but it brought little relief from her growing emotional turmoil. But what did make a dent was her first taste of gin. “This was in 8th grade, and I had stolen airplane bottles from my parents. I absolutely hated the taste of it, but I immediately loved the warm effect it had in my whole body. I knew that I loved doing it.” From that point on, she drank any chance she got and soon added marijuana to the mix. By her freshman year in high school, she was also using cocaine, ecstasy, and pain pills. Eventually, Becky said, “I just stopped caring about anything really.” Her parents knew she was spinning out of control, she said, and when she was 18, they convinced her to go to inpatient addiction treatment. Becky embraced the process, and it helped her for a time. She also began a romantic relationship with a fellow Alcoholics Anonymous member. “She relapsed,” Becky explained of her girlfriend, “but she was drinking just like an average, normal drinker. And I would see this and I got it in my mind, if she can do this, so can I.” At a wedding in Vegas the two attended, Becky found herself with a drink in her hand, “and that sip threw away 21 months of sobriety.” When the couple returned, Becky dropped her girlfriend off at home with an excuse about running an errand. “And then I was gone for four days, shooting heroin.”

Chaos and Denial

The years that followed were filled with increasing chaos and denial. Becky bounced from living with friends to occasionally having a place of her own to staying on the streets. “I’m drinking and doing all these drugs, and I think it’s totally normal to be homeless and looking for places to sleep at night.” There was a return to detox and rehab at one point after she began vomiting blood, “then I was right back into the same situation.” Eventually, she hit upon the idea of supporting her habit by selling ecstasy at raves. As her need for cash increased, so did her sales. A turning point was Becky’s discovery of the drug ketamine. “I was just completely blown away. I had never experienced anything like this in my life. I couldn’t feel any pain, and I got extremely addicted to it. But I turned into this angry person, resentful of everything in life.” Before long, she said, “all I cared about was making money and shooting up ketamine.”

The End of the Line

Meanwhile, Becky’s family continued to worry and wonder. By 2014, when she was 23, she hadn’t spoken to her sister in three years and hadn’t seen her parents in more than nine months. Finally, she agreed to meet her mother and father at a restaurant to belatedly celebrate her father’s birthday. “Being the manipulative addict again, I tried convincing them everything was fine. And everything was fine for me because I didn’t need their help,” she said. “I had plenty of money, I had a roof over my head. I was OK. I had everything external that I needed even though I was dying inside and really miserable.” After the meal, her parents dropped her at a bar where she said she was meeting a friend. The friend, however, was someone to whom she was delivering ecstasy. She went to the bathroom and shot up what she didn’t realize would be her last hit of ketamine and went to the parking lot to make the deal. Minutes later, sitting in the car with the friend — in reality, an undercover agent — she suddenly found herself surrounded by 10 police officers with guns all pointed to her head. “And in that moment, I was just so lost.”

‘This Crazy Miracle’

The first few months in jail were a blur of court appearances during which the judge made his pronouncement that she could expect to spend 10 to 45 years in jail. “My mom came to my first visiting hours, and that was definitely one of the hardest moments of my life — to see my mom in so much distress, thinking that her daughter is going to spend the next 10 to 45 years in prison.”

And once I accepted that, this crazy miracle happened.

Becky discovered there was a section of the jail dedicated to addiction recovery, and she successfully lobbied to be included. She threw herself into the classes on addiction and codependency and the AA and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. “I remember so clearly the first AA meeting I went to where they read the 12 steps and I just completely broke down in tears. I thought to myself, ‘How did I walk out on this program before? This is where I’m meant to be.’” Meanwhile, the years of her sentence continued to be bargained downward and finally hovered around four years. But regardless of the ultimate outcome, Becky resolved to make peace with it and remain committed to changing her life. “I did this. I need to accept this. And if this is where I’m meant to be, everything’s going to be OK,” she told herself. “And once I accepted that,” she said, “this crazy miracle happened.” Suddenly, the state’s attorney on her case was replaced, and she found herself being allowed to leave jail with only a year served and enroll in addiction treatment at Promises West Los Angeles young adult program. “I think I was such a weird client,” she said with a laugh, remembering her arrival. For one thing, most people don’t start rehab with a year of sobriety under their belt. “And I think most people who get to residential treatment are not that happy to be there, but I was so excited and just so happy. I hadn’t been outside in a whole year. I was in county jail so I literally didn’t even get to see the sun. So me not only getting to leave jail but being in California was this incredible blessing. “And getting released from jail like that made it so easy for me to believe in and accept a higher power in my life because that’s something that was not supposed to happen. It was one of the first real miracles that I ever experienced.”

Finding Her Purpose

One of the best parts of her time at Promises, Becky said, was becoming connected to the clients and staff in the program and being plugged into the alumni network, all of which provide her with an unshakable base of support and friendship. It also introduced her to volunteer work, “and I fell in love with being in service.” Working with others struggling with addiction became her obvious path forward. And it’s allowed her not to waste time regretting the past “because I feel like everything that’s happened in my life is for me to share with other people. I feel like there’s a purpose behind it.” She describes her life now with more than a little amazement. “All these great things keep happening. I didn’t think that in less than a year of me being out of jail, my life would already be where it is. I have my family back. I’m on my career path. It’s just very surreal. I’ll forever be grateful to my parents, my attorney, the judge and Promises for giving me the opportunity to not only to turn my life around but to help others.” For those who can’t quite believe a similar happy ending could be theirs, Becky shares this reminder — and an invitation: “There are millions of people in the world who have recovered from addiction and who have found a new way of life. And we’ll be waiting. There will be an open seat for them in the rooms.”

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