B E E N  T H E R E:  S U B S T A N C E  A B U S E

April 1997

"At age 13 I started smoking weed with my mom."

Angela was having major problems at home so she ran away at age 13. For the next three years she had no contact with her family as she became more heavily addicted to crank. Only when she came close to dying was she scared enough to reach out for help. Clean and sober for over a year, Angela just recently graduated from high school and is planning to start college in the fall.

The InSite: Angela, tell me about yourself. How did you start using drugs?

Angela: My mom raised my sister and I as a single parent mother. I grew up really fast. At age 13 I started smoking weed [marijuana] with my mom. My father is a raging alcoholic. He's never been there. Our family was really dysfunctional, and I got into an abusive relationship myself at age 13. And I had a lot of pain from that. I didn't talk about it. I ran away from home a lot. I was using alcohol and weed. I was doing really well in school before, and I could have gone really far with my sports. But I just screwed it all up with the drugs and alcohol and the parties and the guys.

TI: When you ran away where did you go?

Angela: At first I stayed at friends' houses, and then I started doing crank [amphetamines]. From then on my life just went straight downhill. I ran away and met a married man, and I didn't know he was married. I was only 16 years old at the time, and I was already strung out on crank. He had a cocaine habit. From then on I took off with him, and when I found out he was married I left him. But then I had nowhere to go, so I was staying in the city at a drug dealer's house. In a crack house, basically.

TI: Your mom had no contact with you?

Angela: No. She was looking for me, but there was no way they could find me. I wouldn't call her or anything. I was gone for about four months, and things got really, really bad. My sister and I ran away together. We were doing crank together and she ended up going to treatment.

TI: What got your sister to go into treatment?

Angela: Probation.

TI: So she had gotten into trouble with the law...

Angela: Oh yeah. And I was getting in trouble too. I had been in and out of Juvenile Hall. They could get me for truancy, for not showing up for school. But I was getting into fights. I stole, and I got caught once. By this time I had like, nobody. And I was living in this crack house in the city, and my sister was in treatment. Everyone was looking for me, and I was just strung out on drugs. I wasn't willing to come home, and I really needed help, but I was really far in my disease. I was being an addict.

TI: So what turned it around for you?

Angela: I had been up for nights and stuff from the crank, and I was really really thin. But for some reason I made it home. I wasn't willing to go home, but through my mom's first boyfriend, who I trusted a lot, I agreed to meet him. I came back home, and I met my mom, and I turned myself in.

I had no life by this time.
Everything went down the drain

TI: What happened then?

Angela: I went to Juvenile Hall for about two or three months. It was the most loneliest thing. All I was doing was crying 'cause I was coming off of all these drugs, and I'd been so powerless. I had no freedom. I had no life by this time. Everything went down the drain. It was a really scary place to be in my life.

TI: Did they help you with your addiction while you were there?

Angela: Yeah. They have like the 12 step programs. They come in for NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and they talk to us.

TI: And when your time there was over?

Angela: They wanted to send me to a drug rehab around here. And I wasn't willing 'cause I probably would have run away. So I asked them to send me to Colorado where I could get like a fresh start and not know anyone. And be far away from home and just work on myself. So I got sent to Colorado. It was an all-girls lock-down facility [like a jail where you can't come and go as you please]. That was a lot scarier than Juvenile Hall!

TI: What kind of people did you meet in there?

Angela: It was awful. It was really scary 'cause there were girls from all over. From the South Side of Chicago. It was more like a treatment facility for girls with behavior and emotional problems. And there was a drug rehab so there were all types of girls in there from all over the States. I met a few cool and really loving counselors that were there because they wanted to help.

...she made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted in my life.

TI: And what did you get from them?

Angela: A lot of love. A lot of guidance. A lot of understanding. They weren't into blaming or guilt. My one counselor, she gave me a lot of inspiration and a lot of hope. Basically she made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted in my life. No one had ever done that for me before.

TI: How long were you there?

A: A year. It was a big turning point. But I was such an extremist. I got really good grades, and I got to do all these things, but I really still wasn't focused on the main problems of my life. I mean why was I doing what I did? And I didn't face all the pain of my father not being there and the abusive relationship. And all that. And I asked to go to the same program that my sister had been through. She has been clean for over a year. And that was the most amazing place I had ever been to! The counselors there are all in recovery, and they make you face everything you don't want to face. Most of the people that leave there, their state of mind is so much more healthy. It's really hard and intense, but you totally grow so much. It's kinda like a Tough Love program. They are very loud and clear. If you're doing something wrong, they'll let you know. They don't let you get away with anything and it's a really good place.

I finished that program, but then I had to go to "out patient" twice a week and drive there for family counseling. And I just graduated from there a month ago. It's been like six months that I did out patient there. And that was kind of a stable place to be. Where you could go back and talk about what was going on in your family.

TI: Are you living with your mom?

Angela: Yeah, and my sister and her boyfriend. My sister is in recovery now too. She's two years clean [drug free], and we're very supportive of one another. My mom's been supportive and loving. If she's smoking weed she's not doing it in the house. There's a lot of growing through these programs.

I disagree with probation sending any kid into recovery. They should be there because they want to be there.

I mean it's good to have a good relationship with your parents, but to smoke weed with your mom at age 13!

TI: What do you wish that someone might have said to you?

A: I always say that if I could live my life over again I wouldn't. I've had so many hard experiences that I'm such a stronger person today. And I'm able to give back what I've learned and been through to other kids in that way so they won't have to go through the same thing. But what would have made a difference is my family life? My mom was such a... you know, a "friend." I mean it's good to have a good relationship with your parents, but to smoke weed with your mom at age 13! And to be growing up so fast, you know. It wasn't just what people said to me it was the type of environment I was in. Maybe if there was more hope and praise around the house. There were a lot of expectations on me but there was never any, "Oh, you're doing well." I was doing a lot, you know? I was doing a lot with sports and school, but there was never like... I don't know. I know there was a lot of emotional abuse, from my boyfriend.

TI: How come you stayed with him?

Angela: Because I thought things things would get better. I had a lot of people telling me to get out of that relationship, but I lied, and I was in denial about the whole thing. We were together for such a long time, the whole thing was really sick, and it was hard for me to feel like I could be independent and be by myself. And I kept remembering all the good times we had together. And it was also the drugs. That played a big part in it.

TI: In what way?

Angela: Well, it screwed up my perspective on things. I was more vulnerable. I wasn't strong, you know. It clouded everything.

TI: It's a tough road you created for yourself, Angela. What you've accomplished is truly amazing, the fact that you made it through all of that. You probably met lots of people along the way who you knew weren't going to make it.

Angela: I've had a lot of friends who haven't made it. This boy who I was in treatment with got shot on Easter and died. Because he decided to go back out and try to sell drugs. That's really sad. And I have a lot of friends who look like they're okay on the outside, but they're unhappy. And behind the doors they are all "using." Crank to be thin or... It's really sad.

I wanted to die, but I didn't want to die.
And that's the worst place to be.

TI: So what was it about you that let you break free of this cycle that was holding you down?

Angela: I got to the point where I was so alone. I wanted to die, but I didn't want to die. And that's the worst place to be. So I wanted something more with my life. At that time I didn't know what, I just knew that I didn't want to be where I was. I didn't want to feel all these things I was feeling, and drugs weren't helping. They were just making it worse! But a lot of people do drugs so they don't feel the pain of their lives. I did that for three years. Then after a while it gets worse. The progression of the disease is that you do it more and it doesn't have the same effect and you want more drugs, more drugs, more drugs. And pretty soon all you're doing is running after that drug to heal your pain, but you're in pain anyway and it gets worse.

TI: It's a trap.

Angela: Exactly! And then you go downhill. I did. Really fast. That's why I'm so lucky to be alive today. I say lucky but obviously I wasn't supposed to die because I didn't... but I came really close. You know the places that I've been and the types of people I hung out with. I'm lucky I didn't get raped or beaten up. I'm lucky I'm not HIV positive. But I want to do so much. I want to help people.

But I want to do so much.
I want to help people.

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