Getting My Life Back After 20 Years of Addiction

By The Fix staff 11/21/16

All along, I needed love, support, and understanding—not people telling me to get over it.


Relapse is often a part of the journey to getting clean and sober. After multiple stints at various rehabs, Laney is finally on the path toward recovery and currently a resident at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt, a premier, residential program in the suburbs of Baltimore for people struggling with co-occurring mental health and addiction problems. This is her story:

Early Struggles

I started using drugs after going to rehab for an eating disorder at 16. I’m 35 now and have been to rehab over a half a dozen times.

Ironically, I was born on 4/20 in Little Rock, Arkansas. My family dynamics were very inappropriate. There was a lot of arguing and physical fighting. My mother was abusive physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically, and my father worked a lot.

At age 15, I tried to run away, but was caught at the Greyhound bus station. In response, my family sent me to a psychiatrist. I told them about my mom’s abuse and they gave me the number to child protective services. She never put her hands on me again, but the other non-physical abuse continued.

I was overweight and teased because of it, and there was a lot of pressure from my family to lose weight. Because of the pressure, I dropped from 160 to 85 pounds through restricting, binging and purging. Not being able to eat because my throat was so swollen led to anorexia and exercising too much. But I was rewarded for losing weight with $500 and a stair-stepper, which only enabled me to continue restricting. Eventually, I passed out at school and had to go to the counselor’s office. After confiding in them, I was sent to rehab for my eating disorder in Arizona for two months.

Shortly after returning home, I began purging again. But then my friend’s older brother introduced me to marijuana. I started smoking weed before eating, ate more mindfully and wouldn’t inhale all the food like I would in a binge. After eating, I’d smoke some more to not feel the urge to purge.

Defining Moments

When I met my soulmate, Joe, I was actually okay for a time. Marijuana was helping in a lot of ways. I was social and not acting out in my eating disorder. When I was around 18, Joe’s family moved to Salt Lake City so we moved in together because otherwise, he would have had to go with them. We’d been in a relationship for a while and I loved him, so everything was going great. Eventually, I started working at the preschool at my temple’s daycare and was on track to be a teacher.

I had been with Joe for over four years when I decided to go out and meet another boy. This one decision turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life.

When I got home from my night out, Joe was not there and I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I knew that something was wrong; something awful had happened. About 10 minutes later, my mom called and told me that Joe had been hit by a car.

When my mom picked me up, I sat in the back seat of the car thinking, “I killed my boyfriend. I killed Joe.” We had to drive past where the accident took place to get to the hospital. I remember seeing tiny shards of glass everywhere. A woman driving home drunk from a bar had run a red light and hit Joe.

When they finally let me see him, I put my hand in his and said, “I’m sorry, this is all my fault. I love you, and want to marry you and have kids.” A tear went down his face as he was fading away, and he squeezed my hand. I felt like I’d lost my life that day, and like it was my fault.

All the while, I was abusing ADHD medication to get high and began dabbling with coke. After Joe died, I continued to smoke weed but wasn’t drinking. Still, my mom made me go to AA. I hated it and didn’t think I had a problem with alcohol. I was agoraphobic for four months and paranoid that people were out to get me because in my mind, I was responsible for Joe’s death. Regularly sleeping for 20 hours a day, my body was on 11 different medications. I wouldn’t allow myself to listen to music, or watch TV or movies. My only outlet was art. I wasn’t driving either. The accident happened over Labor Day weekend of 2002 and then the season changed very quickly. It was very cold; sadness took over. It was really setting in that he was gone.

Turning Points

Out of other options, my parents made me go to rehab. I went to so many rehab centers, but nothing worked. I continued to spiral—going in and out of treatment centers and falling deeper into drug addiction. I had been using other substances—everything except heroin—and now had a crack addiction, spending a lot of money to keep up my habit. Then, a doctor who was prescribing me Ambien and Xanax missed an appointment and I was out of Xanax. I was using cocaine and smoking marijuana, but didn’t have Xanax so I had a seizure at a family event. After that, I ended up on a three-day coke binge and couldn’t sleep. I heard birds chirping and when “Tweet, tweet” sounded like “Tweetment” to me, I called my parents and said I needed help again.

I went back to a place in Florida, this time ready and willing. But it still wasn’t addressing the underlying issues of what was really going on. I didn’t find them professional and instead, felt a lot of shame—because they used a tough love approach. When I tried to talk about Joe, they essentially told me to get over it.

I went back to Little Rock and tried to stay sober, but working a program while living with my parents wasn’t conducive to recovery. I tried for two and a half months. After relapsing yet again, my uncle sent me for help in California, where I stayed for over a year, mainly in the detox unit because I couldn’t stay sober.

My parents also sent me to a therapeutic farm in Ohio. But, like the times before, that didn’t help either. When my doctor took me off my ADHD medication, I went through psychosis and wound up in a really horrible program for people with schizophrenia because I was misdiagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Through psychosis, on and off sobriety, an unwanted pregnancy that led to an abortion, accidentally texting a staff member from one of the rehab programs instead of my drug dealer, and constantly relapsing, I knew I really needed help.

What It’s Like Now

That is how I ended up at The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt, a residential program in Baltimore for people with a mental health diagnosis or a co-occurring mental health and addiction disorder. Today, I feel awesome and have been off street drugs for a year, and am even tapering off prescription benzodiazepines. The Retreat has been a miracle for me. It’s been a great opportunity to explore the underlying issues that explain why I was using.

We’re a very close community; the staff is just so loving and supportive. It hasn’t been easy and it’s definitely a process. They don’t do 12-step here but they do a lot of other types of therapy and holistic treatment. You can go to 12-step meetings, though, if you find that helpful. I am currently working with my sponsor on step one. I still have issues with the whole God thing, the Higher Power. Still, I am trying to work the program and hold myself accountable by being responsible, and hyper-vigilant of everything I do or say. While at The Retreat, I was diagnosed with PTSD and started to see a trauma therapist. Understanding that inappropriate things happened in my childhood—that I was brought up to think were normal, but actually weren’t normal—was very validating. All along, I needed love, support, and understanding—not people telling me to get over it.

I’m in a good place and ready to transition into Ruxton House, The Retreat’s transitional housing program. From there, I still have a lot of work to do to stay clean—attending the groups, homework, step work, meetings, tapering off benzos slowly, and trying to stay busy. I love art, music, and movies, and being social and connecting with people who can relate to me. Having individual sessions with my doctors is also key to recovery. My treatment team here is awesome. They know what they’re doing. When I first arrived, I slept for four days then finally emerged from my room and started participating. I started sharing everything, not being ashamed, and just being brutally honest. Being honest has been another key to my recovery.

I was skeptical about coming here, but I didn’t have many options left. It was either the streets, a different residential program in Arkansas, or The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. I think a geographic change was definitely needed.

I would tell anyone looking to get clean to address the reason as to why—why are you using? Get help with that before treating the behavior, because there is always something there. If you do see a doctor, be honest about it. If you’re not honest, you’re not going to get any help.

Want to learn more about The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt? Reach The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt by phone at (410) 938-3891 or by email. Find The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

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