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HEALing Communities: A recovery journey is filled with challenges

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This personal story has been shared anonymously by a local individual in recovery who gave permission to publish it through the HEALing Communities Study, a multi-year multi-state research study to reduce opioid overdose deaths through the implementation of evidence-based practices:

I did not wake up one morning and say “I want to be an addict.” I did not wake up one morning and ask for the trauma I experienced in my life. The fact is, both of those things happened. Starting small and smoking to get the buzz even for a couple of minutes took the pain away. Later in life, getting addicted to street life and eventually losing everything with the use of opioids. All of that was trauma-induced. Rape, molestation, violence and complete chaos right from the beginning. All a very painful way of living, which needed to be subdued. The only way to subdue it was using as much as possible to get as far from reality as I possibly could. This went on for the better part of 20 years.

At one point I decided it was time for a change. I felt the change was to stop using. Stopping the use of illicit drugs (opioids) was only one thing that needed to happen, and frankly, it was the tip of the iceberg. Two and a half weeks of no sleep, heavy sweats, defecating on myself over and over. Puking to the point that swallowing hurt. Every day getting weaker and weaker. I lost about 20 pounds during this process. It was and still is the worst experience I have ever endured.

Now sober, all of the things previously written come to the surface. Working through these past traumas again is only a little of what needed to happen. To have a complete mental, physical and spiritual overhaul might come close to spelling out the process. All of that while raising two children, attending college full-time and working full-time is what happened. A balancing act to say the least. It is sometimes very difficult to even get out of bed. Facing life on a daily basis is one thing. Looking at all of the pain I have endured, especially in the days of using and living in the streets, is sometimes relentlessly awful. Looking in the mirror and wishing I wasn’t who I was is only a piece of the puzzle. What I have learned over the years is that any fixing that needs to be done, needs to be done on the inside of me with outside help. In short, it is very easy to fail. I know how to do that well. Succeeding, on the other hand, is always hard.

I have failed at so many things in life, that it is ridiculous to even think I could remember them all. Giving up happened daily and it came with all sorts of other trials. Jail, loss of employment, CPS, loss of housing, living under a bridge and literally eating out of dumpsters. See, when I fail, I do it to the best of my ability because I know how to thrive in light of failing. I know how to get services, I know how to get food stamps, Section 8. I know all the places where to get free clothing, free food, even free toiletries. I also know how to get my bills paid if I’m getting services. Fact is, I know how to survive, but “living” is hard.

Learning how to respond to the consequences of sober actions has been at the top of the list of learning objectives in my life. From failed classes, failed relationships, divorce, loss of employment, wrecked automobiles, to top it all off, watching most of the people I got sober with die. These are just some of the trials of everyday life I have encountered while staying off dope and living clean.

I have also found great comfort in success while living in recovery. An associate’s degree, a bachelor's degree and a recently obtained master’s degree. I have raised my children for the last nine years. I also have a relationship with both of my children that is guided by love in an unconditional sense. The place that I am currently employed is second to none in supporting the venture of recovery. I pay my bills on time, I have experienced the fruits of my labor tangibly. Most of all I care. I have a heart, a sound mind (most days), and I own my mistakes no matter the proposed outcome. I no longer live in a world of deceit and anger. I walk with integrity, I am not afraid to say I am wrong and learn from it.

It takes a lot to live in recovery. Not so much because others have not experienced what I have, but rather the idea of not being a person to lean on “dope” to combat the trials of life. I still wake in cold sweats, I still have night terrors, I still find myself in a state of mind thinking I don’t deserve to be loved back. My support network has changed over time. I no longer live in total chaos most days. I do the best I can to manage my response to uncomfortable situations without a negative reaction. I live to help people, not just folks who are in recovery, but anybody. I attempt the action “be of service.”

Living in recovery has had its really high highs and really low lows. No day is simple. I get close with my higher power and think of every bad scenario that may happen for the day. I tell myself that no matter what, I will not use. I will not fall victim to a substance that once ruined any dream or goal I had. So far, I have not found it necessary to use in quite some time. To be grateful is to take action. Being grateful even in times of pain, knowing that no matter what, good can come from every event. Every night I rewind the day. I look for mishaps or mistakes. I attempt to be objective. If I hurt someone, if I owe an apology or amends. I take the appropriate actions to humbly rectify any wrongdoing I have caused. It takes so little energy to love and so much energy to hate.

I try harder every day to be a better person. My mind is clean. I push through trials with hope for tomorrow instead of contemplating suicide. Again, I did not wake up wanting to be addicted. I have a disease. It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility. I am in recovery from addiction. Nope, “no bed of roses,” but I definitely wouldn’t trade my worst day living for my best day surviving. Life today is more than worth living!

Monika Salvage works for the Cayuga County Mental Health Department as the project director for the HEALing Communities Study, a multi-year, multi-state research study to reduce opioid overdose deaths through the implementation of evidence-based practices. If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, please call (315) 253-1522 or email


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