I often get close to the people I photograph, but it’s unusual for me to become deeply involved in a subject connected to my own life.
As a young man I was addicted to heroin. In 1970 I left everything and everyone I knew in Philadelphia and moved to Derby, Vermont. With the help of methadone and new friends, I began the long process of recovery and personal reinvention.
Now, forty seven years later, I volunteer at the Turning Point Center in Brattleboro. When I’m not facilitating group recovery meetings, I make photographs of the people I meet at the center and listen to their stories.
They have lived through childhood trauma, committed crimes, served long prison sentences, or struggled through multiple detox treatments. They have watched friends and loved ones die from overdose, survived overdose themselves after receiving emergency Narcan treatment, or lost children to state agencies because of their addictions.
My friends and I have some history in common. We’d been addicted to drugs or alcohol, had engaged in criminal behavior, and had pretty much been given up on by society.
But now we are in recovery, living productive lives, and working to help others find their own paths to recovery. We are trained recovery coaches, meeting facilitators, or program coordinators.
My friend Ella is passionate about her job helping opioid users get medically assisted treatment. One day I heard her say: “I refuse to give up on her; you just never know when someone will be ready to change. The way I see it, if she has a pulse, she has a chance.”
~ Michael Poster
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
I started smoking meth on my fifteenth birthday, in L.A. where I grew up. I was addicted after that first hit. I went into juvenile hall when I was sixteen and inside I snorted any kind of drug I could find.
Soon as I got out I met a girl. A year later we had a son; he’ll be eleven next month. I had two more children, one passed away from SIDS and when that happened I said “fuck everything”. I spent the night before her funeral in a casino in Laughlin, Nevada where you could drink for free as long as you were playing. I sat at the bar, played a quarter at a time and the bartender kept filling me up. I did that for nine hours straight.
I settled down a little bit after that, but it wasn’t long before the meth came back into the picture. Then I broke my hand and got hooked on Vicodin. When it ran out I tried breaking my ankle so I could get more.
I met a woman in South Dakota. She wanted to move to Vermont and I went along with the idea. When I got here my alcohol addiction was bad, but I guess it had to get even worse before I did anything about it. I had an “I’ll try anything once” mentality so I tried heroin. I was hooked. And I was still drinking.
I got arrested for public intoxication. Getting in trouble was a blessing in disguise. I spent two months in jail, then treatment, but as soon as I got out I was back at it. I went back in front of the judge and he said “OK, this is it—you get one last chance.”
I got back into the Phoenix House and RISE Program. I’m grateful they hadn’t given up on me. As of today I’ve been  sober 67 days. I ran into this guy who was amazed at how I looked. He said “The last time I saw you, you were sleeping under the bridge. You couldn’t even stand up half the time. How’d you do this?” I said “What they tell you to do is true. Stop drinking, go to meetings, get a sponsor, reach out. Get away from the people who were bad for you and spend time with people who are good for you. Next time you have a choice, make the right one, not the wrong one.”
I had a wicked craving last week and I pictured myself drinking a beer by the bus station. I came straight here to Turning Point, had a conversation with a volunteer and waited for about two and a half hours ’til the noon AA meeting. I’ve got two meetings yet today, and I help other people in recovery at one of them, so I gotta get going now.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
When I was about ten, I had two cousins I really looked up to. They seemed so smart and cool. They were already wearing cute clothes and talking about boys. They started making fun of me and telling me no guys were ever going to want me. All I wanted was to look like them—to be thin, get cute clothes, wear makeup.
So I’m twelve and still looking up to these two and they’re smoking. So I started smoking. And one of them is cutting her arms. So I went home and started cutting. Turned out cutting helped relieve the pain inside me.
Now I’m in seventh grade and this guy asks me if I wanted to smoke pot. I said sure and it was super fun. We smoked all the time and he became my first love. We started doing drugs with his mom and dad. And his dad says “I can’t keep giving you guys free dope, but I got a plan. You guys bring me stuff worth money and I’ll give you drugs.” So we started robbing places and getting drugs. We cleaned out a store of cigarettes and sold them to kids at school and got busted. Instead of getting in trouble they sent me to Valley Vista.
So I’m there for twenty-eight days and then sober for five months, but I relapsed. I’m fourteen now, I’m back taking drugs and having sex with different guys. I’m pregnant.
My father helped me. I got clean and had a healthy baby girl. But I got postpartum blues and I relapsed again. I hooked up with an older guy, a dealer, and my daughter got taken away. For the next five years I lived in a car with that guy, started shooting up, got beat, got raped.
I went to jail for two months for some older crime, got out and went into treatment. My mom came back into my life and started helping me. She thought I could get my daughter back. That changed me—I finished the program.
I always hated myself and now I love who I am. My dad is my hero. Now that I’m sober I act the way he taught me. I call my daughter every Monday. She’s my motivation—she’s why I do this. If I get a craving or want to do something stupid, I think: if I do this, I won’t get her back.
I’m six months sober and I don’t want to use or drink. I chose guys and drugs over my daughter and I’m done with that. I’m going home in twenty-six days. I go to AA and NA meetings and I’m volunteering. I love helping other people. I’ll keep trying to get my daughter back. I really think everything’s going to be OK.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
I was a very scared, sad, angry kid. My mom was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and wasn’t around that much. I remember sleeping on the floor of her bedroom so I could keep an eye on her. This was right after my dad pretty much disappeared, which she didn’t ever explain. I thought the same thing would happen to her.
In high school I was a straight-A student and three season athlete. I got lots of positive attention but was still painfully insecure. When I was nineteen my boyfriend introduced me to OxyContin. It was the first time in my life I didn't feel scared or angry or worried. I did pills for the first few years. But pills started to get expensive and the drug companies started making them harder to abuse. It was a no-brainer to switch to heroin.
I’ve done detox pretty much every way you can do it. Have you ever heard of rapid drug detox? They put you under anesthesia and pump you full of Narcan three times and then give you a Vivitrol shot. You go through eight days of withdrawal in an hour. With Vivitrol you can’t feel anything if you do use heroin, but if you do use, and you feel the heroin, you need to call 911 ‘cause you’re gonna overdose. That’s what they tell you but I can tell you that you can get away with it. When I got back home from detox, I slit my wrists.
But then I met someone who was in recovery and was happy. He was ten months clean and he was fucking happy. I was looking at someone who I thought was doing something impossible—being happy in recovery. I wanted that. He helped me do that. All the things I’d stopped enjoying, I started doing them again. I came back alive.  
See—I had so much shit I was running away from, but I didn’t have fuck-all to run to, until I did. You have to have passion. It’s the only thing that works.
In early recovery I needed to find joy and support and comfort and self-respect. My dad came back into my life and I knew that if I called him, he would be there for me and I knew that I’d always feel better after talking to him. I also needed structure. I found that at the methadone clinic. I had to go every day. I had to participate in groups before I could get my dose. It took a while, but eventually, not using became its own reward.
I have five years in recovery and a career helping other people with medically assisted opioid treatment. My partner and I have a healthy, happy seven month old baby. During my pregnancy, I was scared that someone would think I was dangerous and didn't deserve to have my baby. But that didn’t happen, we are all together living a happy and productive life.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
My addiction started in Texas, when I was six years old. I had a terrible cough and my mother gave me an adult dose of Vick’s NyQuil—it changed me. That night I finished the bottle and that became my pattern every time I used drugs or alcohol; I would finish whatever was in front of me. My using became frequent when I was ten. I’d steal my mother’s scotch, my uncle’s medication, and antihistamines from the store. I enjoyed the stealing; it gave me the same rush as a drug.
I was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused throughout my childhood. I escaped by hiding in a closet where I could pretend to be whoever I wanted to be. My first sexual relationship was with another boy. I was a big, rough, tough kid and that image contrasted with my sexuality and made me think I was a freak. So I used alcohol, Demerol, crystal meth, hallucinogens; all to allow myself to be a flamboyant, homosexual young man.  
By 1984 I was on the streets, in and out of a rescue mission in Corpus Christie. I was breaking into houses and stealing drugs from medicine cabinets. One day I was coming down from a mix of alcohol, codeine, methamphetamine, and anti-histamines and it was really bad—I knew that I had to give the recovery thing a shot. I’d tried before, like when I got scared or woke up in strange places, with strange people, doing strange things. I’d tried, but never did any of the real recovery work.
So I went to AA. I had three friends there; we kept each other clean. I worked the steps for my addictions. And I used step work to cure my stealing and to deal with my need for damaging relationships. All along the way, I picked up pieces of recovery: like when I was able to admit to being bi-sexual, when I was able to admit to my co-dependence problems, when I began to understand my adrenaline addiction.
Then I met and fell in love with a woman; that was new for me. I moved to Vermont to be with her. I was still in recovery, but I was also still very depressed. I’d already tried to take my life three times and I tried again. After that last attempt I went to the Retreat and they helped me—a lot. I was there a month and then went into Morningside Shelter. I returned to AA and started therapy.
After thirty-three years in recovery, I’m still dealing with three disorders: addiction, depression, and fibromyalgia, but I just live one day to the next. My physical problems make it hard to cook (the kind of work I’m accustomed to) so even though it’s a little late in life, I’m training to be a meeting facilitator and recovery coach. I want to use my life experience to help other people.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
I started drinking when I was twelve years old. I was a bouncer in nightclubs when I was fourteen. I did eighteen years in prison, altogether, for various convictions: arson, two counts of attempted murder, assault and battery, breaking and entering. During my first incarceration I escaped, took off for California and picked up assault and battery charges out there.
There were about 750 guys in my cell block in Soledad, violent enough so that there was a gunner on every tier. To get through it you’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to stand your ground. You can’t show weakness. I was tough, but I was trusted and that gave me access to lots of drugs.
I met a woman when I was incarcerated in Massachusetts, a police sergeant's daughter. I got out, got married, and got back into drugs. We were married six years when she died from a heroin overdose. I took care of my kids, got clean for a while, but then went back to jail in 2007. At that point I just didn’t care if I lived or died. So while I was in jail I decided to give it one more try to stop using, and I did.
Putting drugs and alcohol down is the easy part. Staying away from drugs and alcohol is the hard part. I learned what my triggers were, what made me angry, how to handle bad situations. I was fortunate enough to get a pretty good grasp on it all and became a recovery meeting facilitator. In the meetings I’d say: you remember when you were out of drugs at two o’clock in the morning, no money, no car, but you figured out how to get what you needed. Well, if we have that kind of ingenuity and creativity can you just imagine what we could do with our lives when we’re not using. At the end I was working with 60-100 inmates. Turns out I was pretty good at helping people.
I’ve got eleven years in recovery. I love to dance and I love to shoot pool. But I’m not going to the bar to dance and I’m not going to shoot pool. I can’t risk it. If I start back up drinking or drugging, I won’t stop.
Now, I stand in my kitchen and just start laughing for no apparent reason. It’s because I see my car in the parking lot. I know where it is, I know where the keys are, there aren’t any new dents in it. There aren’t any disconnect notices. I don’t wake up with blood on me wondering whose blood it is. Life is good.
My Own Recovery
Most people think of recovery as the act of changing from a state of sickness to a state of health. In other words, of being sick and getting well. I get that. But there’s another way of looking at the word that makes more sense to me.
Let’s say you lost something of value or it’s been stolen from you or you threw it away. Recovery is the act of retrieving that thing, of getting it back in your possession and under your control.
When I was a boy, the old folks on my block used to ask: hey kid, what do you want to be when you grow up? I’d say: an artist, or maybe a mechanic, or maybe a carpenter. No kid ever says: when I grow up, I want to be a heroin addict!
But, that’s what I became. My life of reading books, playing ball, drawing pictures, and cobbling things together out of wood turned into getting high and selling drugs to support my habit. Heroin relieved the depression and anxiety, but it stole my sense of purpose and identity. All my hopes and dreams vanished in a desperate, drug-filled haze.
Unlike most of my friends, in time, I got lucky. Certain people cared enough about me to facilitate my entry into recovery. Gradually I found my way. I regained a sense of purpose and a desire for a rich and fulfilling life.
The most important word in my early recovery was: NO. No to drugs, no to addicted friends and an addicted lover, no to anything that might trigger a relapse. But I soon realized that in order to get back what I’d lost, I had to start saying: YES. I had to remember who I’d wanted to be in the first place. I became a motorcycle mechanic, then an artist, a carpenter, a cabinetmaker, a businessman, and finally a photographer. I was determined to recover a sense of purpose, and myself as well.
I began the process of recovery in 1970, a long time ago. I’m still working on it.
~ Michael Poster
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
I grew up a really shy kid in a poor, uneducated family. It seems like I was never happy—I always needed someone or something to make myself feel better. When I was sixteen I left home, started smoking pot, drinking beer, got a girlfriend. All of a sudden I was having fun. One day I tried Ritalin. The Ritalin turned me into somebody else; it gave me confidence. I started drinking more, smoking more dope, taking a lot of Ritalin. Soon I tried cocaine for the first time. It made me feel better than I ever had before.
I went to culinary school, started cooking in restaurants, and drinking a lot. I was using cocaine too and got into heroin, Percocets and then OxyContin. I fell in love with how the opiates made me feel. One day, a dealer friend of my brother injected me with heroin. That’s when everything started to go out of control. The high was way better than with the pills, but the withdrawal was way worse.
I had a good relationship with my girlfriend, but I couldn’t hold a job and was spending all our money on drugs. I’d run out of dope and get sick—I hated that. So I tried rehab, but I didn’t get any treatment except for Suboxone; no meetings or recovery work. Even so, I did start to get my life back together. I got a job, we got a new apartment and things went OK for a while.
I started taking methadone and that took care of the heroin cravings, but it didn’t stop me from getting into crack and then back into opiates. I drained our bank accounts and ruined the relationship with my girlfriend.
I had no job, I lost my girlfriend, got evicted three times, went through withdrawal more times than I can count. I had nothing, I was homeless, I had to stop using. I got into the methadone clinic in Brattleboro and I was sleeping in a building corridor, but I was happy.
I started going to meetings with good people who were in recovery and wanted to help me. I started volunteering and helping other people; that was the key to my recovery. They always tell you to focus on yourself in early recovery, but helping others was how I helped myself overcome the shame and guilt I’d lived with for so long. In the past I used drugs to help myself feel better. Now what helped me feel better was doing good. Volunteering gave me self-esteem. I’m tapering off methadone and I even have a career helping other people. My life is worth something and that gives me the confidence to stick with it. I know it’s still a risk, but it’d take something monumental to make me start using again.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
I was sixteen and hanging out with bad people when I started using heroin. My older brother was stealing guns and went to prison, so it was just me, my little brother, and my mom. She worked all the time. I partied all the time—I was never sober. I started selling drugs for a pretty dangerous guy. He got me a house, clothes, food, and plenty of heroin.  
I got pregnant, stopped using, but had a miscarriage. I was devastated and my using really picked up. I got busted, went to jail, and found out I was pregnant again. I had an emergency C-section for my daughter and they gave me Dilaudid for pain. When that was gone I went back on heroin.
I ended up with another guy, got pregnant and had a little boy. We lived at my mom’s. I’d disappear for weeks at a time, so my mom got custody. My brother broke out of jail and got caught at mom’s place so she lost my kids and they got adopted. I see them sometimes but they don’t know who I am.
I really fucked up after that. I got wasted, beat up my son’s father and went to jail, then into a program, but I messed up again and went back to jail and I was pregnant again. I got out of jail and into Tapestry, then the Lund Home where I had my daughter (who went into foster care), and then Northern Lights. I graduated, got an apartment, got my daughter back. I had two jobs and was saving money. My baby was happy, my apartment was clean.
But I met this guy who beat me and destroyed my apartment. He went to jail, but DCF took my daughter away. I relapsed and went back to jail. I got out and went back into Tapestry—my counselor there helped me so much. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here.
Now I’m on Suboxone and I’ve been clean since September. I had a goodbye visit with my daughter before she was adopted. I’ll get pictures on her birthday. If someday she wants to know me, I want to be somebody she wants to know instead of someone who’s dead or getting high. I volunteer at Turning Point and I’m going to the RISE program. I want to get a job and get my shit together. It feels so good to look in the mirror and not want to die. It feels so good to be sober. I still struggle, but it feels good to wake up in the morning and remember what I did the night before and not wake up with some random guy. It feels good to call my mom and have her know I’m alive. It feels good to have people trust me and it feels good to trust myself and know that I’m not perfect, but I’m trying so hard.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
I come from a family of alcoholics. When I was really little, I would stir my grandfather’s drink. My grandmother would put a maraschino cherry in the bottom and after I took the drink to Pop-Pop he would give me the cherry, soaked with gin. That’s my earliest memory of alcohol.
When I was about fourteen I’d tag along with my brother and sister to the neighborhood bar and by the time I got to high school I was drinking. I think my parents were so tired after raising four other kids, that they just didn’t pay attention.
I got married when I was twenty and I drank between pregnancies. After my second son I had postpartum depression, bad enough that I thought I would harm my baby. I drank to calm myself down and relieve the depression. After my next baby, I went to therapy and got over the depression, but kept right on drinking.
I moved to Vermont from Connecticut and developed a chronic condition where I’d get these huge hives all over my body. It was probably alcohol-related, but I just kept drinking. Eventually, I got divorced and remarried. The new relationship was very codependent. He worked, I drank. I drank all the time. I drank until I passed out.
At one point, I finally realized how bad it was getting and I stopped; I white-knuckled it for three months. But then I went out to dinner with my husband and his family and I had a glass of wine. After that, I just kept on drinking.
One day, it was in 2006, I sat in my garden, and prayed: “God, please help me, I cannot do this any more.” I guess I was ready - that was the last day I drank.
I went to an alcohol and drug counselor and she thought Alcoholics Anonymous might be good for me. At my first meeting I sat down next to an older woman who held my arm and told me I’d be alright. That’s how my recovery started.
For the first six months I cried at every meeting; I was embarrassed and terrified. I’d been so isolated when I drank that I just didn’t know how to be with other people. I can only believe that God kept me coming back to those meetings. Eventually I got a wonderful sponsor, started doing the twelve steps, and had a realization: this is how you’re supposed to do life. I stuck with AA because I knew that if I drank, I would die.
I began to do things I used to do before I started drinking. Things I loved - being outdoors in nature, writing, music. Once I wasn’t numbing myself with alcohol, all these wonderful things came back into my life.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
My father was a drug addict; he committed suicide when I was three years old. My mother was an alcoholic, but she did everything she could to make a better life for us. Part of that was moving the family from Ohio to Vermont. I resented leaving all my friends behind so I chose to act out. I started smoking marijuana because I was an angry kid and smoking weed was the thing to do because it was wrong. Then I started doing all sorts of stuff with my new friends: cocaine, ecstasy, mushrooms, you name it. I used to say “I don’t do drugs, I get drugs done.” No matter how much was in front of me, I’d take it all. I wasn’t worried about getting addicted. I figured this was just stuff that kids do. I was sure I was in control of all this and that I’d get over it some day. But it turns out, my brain didn’t work like that.
I became addicted to heroin and started selling it to pay for my habit. Eventually, I got busted and went to federal prison. But, I’m thankful for going to jail because that’s where I started my recovery. Before that, I couldn’t have gotten clean by myself. I just didn’t think I was worth anything. I considered myself a lowlife who deserved to be a miserable addict. So I quit in prison. I was sure I’d start using again when I got out, but I didn’t.
That was almost three years ago. At first I stayed away from the people, places, and things that threatened my recovery and I took each day one hour at a time. If I was having cravings, I’d distract myself, maybe watch a movie. When the two hours were over, the craving had passed. Over time, I realized that everything in my life was getting so much better without the drugs. I felt much better. I even looked better.
About a  month ago, I sat next to my sister. She was in a coma, dying from a fentanyl overdose. I held her hand and promised her I’d stay in recovery; not just for me, but for my mother, for my daughter, and for her.
Now I pay it forward. I have a friend I drive to the methadone clinic every day. His recovery is important to me. I spend time at Turning Point and try to help others. I’m a recovery coach and a meeting facilitator. Everything is just so much better now. Why would I want to go back to that old life?
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
I spent my thirteenth birthday in a funeral home; my aunt had died the day before from a heroin overdose. The next day I was sent to live with my grandparents. It wasn’t too long before I started mutilating myself. I stopped for a while, until my step-father abused me. Then the cutting got worse. By the time I was seventeen I’d started smoking weed and drinking a little, but I did stop the cutting. Just after I turned eighteen, my beautiful baby boy was born. After pleading out to a DUI, I had another amazing baby boy just two days before his brother’s birthday.
I got into pills after three serious surgeries. The pills helped me deal with the pain from the operations and the abuse from the boys’ father. I left the abusive relationship just to wind up in another one. That’s when I started taking heroin, on and off for two years. I started using a needle and that’s when the dope really took control of my life. My brother was selling heroin and ended up going to jail. So I started dealing. I sent my children to live in a safe place so they wouldn’t find me dead one day. My life was out of control.
I sold a lot of drugs and watched people I loved overdose in front of me. I used Narcan to revive them; if I hadn’t been there they would have died. I actually told myself I couldn’t get away from the drugs because then I wouldn’t be around to save people any more.
I got arrested more than once and I guess that saved my life. The arrests planted the seeds for my recovery. I woke up one morning, did my last shot and called my dad. I said I needed to come and stay with him. That was the beginning of my last detox. I didn’t eat or sleep for fourteen days and I didn’t feel normal for months after that, but I didn’t use. That was September 30th, 2016. I haven’t been allowed to see my boys since September 1, 2016 but I still keep fighting for them.
I was raped on May 11th, 2017. I thought about using but stayed sober. Some days are harder than others, but I’m comfortable with myself now. That’s huge for me because I always hated myself. I have goals: I want to help the people I used to poison. I plan on becoming a recovery coach and a drug and alcohol counselor. I’m happy with my life now.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
My parents are wonderful people, they’re still married, there’s no abuse, no drugs. I played sports and graduated at the top of my class in high school. I went to military school, studied civil engineering, then went through officer training, airborne school, and ranger school.
My alcohol dependency started at Fort Bragg. There’s an aggressive culture in the army that breeds this feeling of invincibility. And alcohol is not just accepted, it’s endorsed.  
I was twenty-four when I got back from my first deployment in Afghanistan. We’d been through plenty of fighting and seen stuff happen we wished we hadn’t. There’s a part of me that still wakes up, every day, in Afghanistan. When we came back, we spent a lot of time together, drinking and trying to make some sense of it all. One morning I woke up under some bushes near the railroad tracks, but I still didn’t see where I was heading.
By 2012 I was back at Fort Bragg. I guess that was when it really started to become a problem. I was in a bar every night and my tolerance to alcohol began to rise. I met a girl, we had fun, but a lot of our time together was spent drinking, then arguing, and the relationship started to fizzle out.
In 2014 I got in a parachuting accident. I couldn’t walk for a couple of months. They gave me a bunch of Percocets for the pain, but I didn’t want to become addicted to that stuff so I just dealt with it by using more alcohol. Things got worse—my girlfriend left me and my house got robbed.
I got in another relationship with a wonderful woman. She helped me get sober and I stayed that way for two months. But one day I ran into an old army buddy. Somehow, catching up with him went along with eight beers and a few shots. Driving home, I got pulled over for speeding which turned into a DWI. That finished my military career. I desperately needed to turn my life around and I finally had the resolve to get into recovery.
I’m actually very thankful that everything happened the way it did. For a while I was ashamed and just wanted to hide from the world. That only lead to more drinking. Now I attend weekly therapy sessions at the V.A. Hospital and the rest of each week I volunteer at Turning Point. We all support and help each other here. I attend meetings and I learn something new every time I go. I’ve had relapses but have managed to mostly keep on track. I’m using my G.I. benefits to go back to school to study business. This time I hope to help others right here in my community instead of helping people halfway around the world. I’d like to have a family some day, but that’ll have to wait while I work on my recovery.
The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.
My dad was a farmer, and an alcoholic. He liked to socialize and that always involved drinking. Even when I was small I noticed that during social occasions, dad and the other people I knew and loved would change when they drank. They’d become scary strangers.
As I got older, I realized that not everybody drank the way my dad did. I started spending more time away from home (and the drinking), with my friends and at after-school activities. Eventually I ran away to college in Texas. I thought the craziness at home was behind me.
I was determined not to drink, ever, but I began to hang around with other young people who were drinking so I thought I could do it too. The first time I took a drink it was as if I had exhaled for the first time in my life. I’d always been anxious and wound up tight; the alcohol relieved that. But from that very first time, I always drank to excess. I worked hard and I partied hard, just like my dad.
Drinking seemed to solve my problems. It relieved my social anxiety and my overachieving anxiety too. I became a binge drinker. I got married and the two of us continued our college lifestyle that included lots of drinking. When the marriage ended it felt like I had divorced my drinking problem—I didn’t drink for three or four years.
But then someone I was dating offered me a beer and I was right back at it. When I drink the booze runs the show. It takes me where it wants to take me and throws me away when it’s done. I am truly powerless over alcohol.
Years went by and I stopped doing all the things I really cared about. I became too afraid to even show up for work. I lost my job and went on a two week binge. At the end of that two weeks I called a friend for help. He said “I can tell you’ve been drinking, if you’re serious about quitting, call me in the morning.” I packed my bags and he helped me get into a program. The first night I was there, some folks from a local AA group visited. I heard their stories and saw this light in their eyes. They were happy and at ease with themselves. I knew that if they were OK, I could be OK too.
It was just like someone turned a light on for me. I started going to meetings and became part of the twelve step community. The program helped me learn what my patterns were, what my character defects were, and just how unmanageable I’d made my life. I got very involved, did the steps, and made amends to the people I’d hurt. That was nearly twenty years ago. I haven’t had a drink since.

The story below, told to me by a friend in recovery, was recorded, transcribed and edited for brevity.

My mom used drugs and alcohol and abused me. At home, I spent a lot of time looking around to find what objects she was going to hit me with next. I figured if my own mother didn’t love me, why would anyone. The abuse at home continued and I started hurting kids in middle school. Then my sister’s dad tried to molest me. My mom didn’t believe me when I told her and that’s when I knew I had to get away.
I started hanging around with kids who were smoking marijuana thinking maybe they would like me. I started experimenting with other drugs and drank alcohol for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen. I wound up going into foster care and spent six months there, but finally ran away.
My first criminal charges were for shop-lifting and credit card fraud. I got some assault and battery charges and ended up in juvenile detention for 13 months. I didn’t care about what happened to me; I was out of control.
When I was about nineteen I started experimenting with cocaine with my brother’s best friend. I liked the feeling and it made me the life of the party.
A few years later I hooked back up with a childhood friend, we’d been in foster care together. We got married, but it didn’t last. After the birth of my first daughter I was put on Oxycodone for pain.
I had my second daughter by C-section and got more prescription medication. That was when my opiate addiction really kicked in. You wouldn’t think that something so small as a pill could have that much control over your life. The chemical hits your brain and you’re in a place where nothing else matters.
I tried to make it work with my ex-husband so we could be a family. But the pill thing got worse and I was still taking cocaine and ecstasy. We started doing a lot of illegal stuff and my daughters got taken away but I still couldn’t stop taking drugs. What finally stopped me was when my kids were about to be adopted and I got into a car accident. A week later I went into rehab.
I was lucky—DCF believed in me. They saw that when I was with my daughters, I was a good mom. All I wanted was to get them back and I did. I heard about Turning Point from a friend and kept working on my recovery. I went to meetings and got training to help others.
Now I’m a recovery coach. I know what it’s like to suffer and I want to give back. I want to help other women who were abused as children or have been in foster homes or suffered domestic violence or have lost their kids or have problems with substance abuse. Because we can recover. We do recover. We do heal.
If you're lucky, one day things just seem to fall into place
All that matters is the heroin or the pills or the crack or the meth or the alcohol. You’re sick, exhausted, and desperate. You know there is nothing good about your life, except that you are still breathing. Or maybe you think if you stop breathing, that will bring relief.
But then you meet someone in recovery who seems to be thriving. Or you think about someone you love who still loves you. Or you remember who you wanted to be when you grew up. Or you help a man who has fallen in the street and realize you’re not really a monster. Or you get arrested and decide you have only one more chance. And on this particular day you are ready to try something that seems impossible.
Make no mistake, you may have to quit using over and over. Even though you’re confident that this time it’s for good, you wind up back in your room, just you and a bottle; or in a public bathroom with a needle in your arm. But then you try again—you’re back in detox. You are, in that moment, the most hopeless, and hopeful, person in the world.
Think about this: did you ever have any trouble finding a drink or a fix? You may have started your day without a cent, but within an hour you had the booze or the dope you needed. You apply that resourcefulness to your recovery.
You cross the street to avoid your addicted friends or your dealer or the liquor store on the corner. You move far away from your home. You leave people you love. You run from an abusive partner. You give up your child. You sleep under a bridge if you have to. You find ways to heal: therapy, social services, recovery meetings, and new friends—people who really care about you.
It will take months or even years, but if you’re lucky and work harder than you ever have before, you begin to live again. You get excited about food, flowers, a pet, a lover, a hobby, a job. You get your kids back. You may even forgive yourself for the pain you caused. Then you balance the scales; you help others find recovery. Because you know just how damned hard it is.
~ Michael Poster
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