I grew up in New York City and went to a really prestigious high school. It was the type of school that had a lot of expectations—pressure to go on to places like Harvard, Columbia or Brown. So when I first used cocaine and it actually helped me do better in school, I was hooked. It might have been a strange reason to start using, but it was definitely a real one. I had no idea that my drug use would end up wreaking havoc on me both physically and mentally, and I had no idea that cocaine would take away my friends, my health, and my independence.
But all of that came later—at first I loved cocaine. I could sit in Philosophy class and answer all the teacher’s questions while writing my thesis paper for English honors at the same time. I was multitasking like crazy. I wrote a five-page poem while I was high once and it ended up getting published. At the time, it seemed like the cocaine was making me a better person. Romantic rumors of Jack Kerouac using ‘speed’ to write On The Road, and other creatives and visionaries made my addiction seem excusable to me. There was absolutely no way in hell I would stop.
At the beginning the coke made me feel really social, but eventually it isolated me from everyone. None of my friends did coke as much as I did; my use became taboo and I began to hide it. I was even able to hide it from my therapist. I developed a good relationship with my drug dealer for whom I’d do favors in exchange for money or more cocaine. I’d transport drugs to upstate New York and leave them with another dealer, which enabled me to maintain my expensive new habit. At the worst of it, when I was 18, I was blowing 1.5 to 2 grams a day. That sounds completely crazy to me today; I can barely drink coffee anymore.
My parents didn’t know anything about my use; all they knew was that I was doing well in school. My boyfriend at the time was completely straight-edge and didn’t suspect anything. I managed to hide my drug use while I ripped through school, got all A’s in honors classes, and sold coke on weekends.
Eventually, things began to spiral out of control. I had sore throats every night; it felt like I had a constant case of strep throat. I weighed about 90 pounds. I couldn’t eat anything but smoothies (yes, I considered drinking smoothies ‘eating’). I would get nosebleeds randomly in the middle of the day. I had ulcers. It felt as if I had the flu all the time, but coke would subdue the symptoms. I was falling apart. I remember there was one night when I couldn’t go to sleep because I was too high. I didn’t want to do coke at that point, but I felt like I had to. It was 2AM and I wanted more than anything to go to sleep, but instead I went into the bathroom and did a bump of coke. I’d do a bump every half hour or so, pacing myself; just doing enough to feel normal. It wasn’t fun anymore. A bump every half hour—that was me trying to feel sober.
Finally I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew if I went any further down this road, I wouldn’t be able to turn around. So one night I went into the kitchen with a Glad tupper-ware container filled with $800 worth of coke. I plopped it down on the counter in front of my mom and just said, “Mom, I need help.” It was the most free I’d felt in six months, “I’m doing coke all the time now, and I need help.”
I told my mom the whole story. My mom and dad held it together and helped me move forward. My parent’s called my therapist, who told us about Phoenix House’s IMPACT Program and said I should go in immediately. Less than two weeks later, I was in outpatient treatment.
IMPACT is at Phoenix House’s Jack Aron Center on the Upper West Side, and it saved my life. I loved my group, but for the first few weeks I kept relapsing and failing the drug tests. I knew it was wrong but I kept saying “I need to get into college, so I need to get good grades, so I need to do coke.” It’s crazy how one’s brain works and how one’s thought process gets altered with addiction. I remember thinking, “Well, they’re already pulling me out of the school early to come to outpatient treatment, so now I definitely need to keep doing coke so I can keep up with my classes.”
About four weeks into treatment I stopped relapsing. I began to realize there were bigger reasons for stopping and getting clean that I had to confront. My little brother is probably the reason that pushed me the most to try and stay clean. He’s nine years younger than me, so when I was in treatment he was about seven. I’ll never forget: one day my brother had brought all his stuffed animals into the bathtub with him, and he was washing them furiously. My mom asked him what he was doing and he said “I want them all to get clean. I want them to get clean like Ana’s getting clean.” He would also draw signs with crayons that said, “No Drugs Allowed”. They had pictures of skulls and crossbones and needles on them, things no kids should know how to draw. He’d put them on the door of his room. At some point I finally realized that my addiction wasn’t just screwing me up; it was screwing him up too. That really made me come to my senses and want to change. I knew I had to do a better job, and today I know I’m being the big sister he deserves. Someone he can look up to and count on.
Recovery was a long road and every step was worth it. Eventually my psychiatrist decided to put me on Adderall; she thought the reason I did coke was because I was self-medicating my undiagnosed ADD. She kept me under close supervision, making sure that I didn’t get addicted. That tradeoff, combined with individual therapy and outpatient treatment at Phoenix House, really worked for me. I learned that people can change—and you can choose happiness and change yourself for the better.
I’ve been clean since 2007. I’m not prescribed any medication any more and I still drink alcohol socially on occasion. I graduated high school and then went on to college, graduating from the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in Advertising and Graphic Design. Today I work at an ad agency in NYC. I’ve art directed numerous ad campaigns, music videos, and even a commercial featuring Jay-Z. I’ve also discovered my love for film; I just wrote and directed my first short film, which is off to festivals now. My dream is to win an Oscar for directing and to just keep on truckin’ through life and remembering to choose happiness and to overcome hard obstacles. I still keep in touch with my counselor from Phoenix House, as well as a bunch of people from my group. So many of them are doing really well; one guy became a chef, another is working at a treatment center helping teenagers. We had a really nice group, and it was great to be able to find recovery together.
Being an addict has shaped who I’ve become. If you’re an addict, you can overcome your addiction and channel all that power into something creative or ambitious, and that achievement and power equips you to go very far in life. Few people understand how scary and difficult it is to fight addiction, but the good news is that it’s totally possible, and you’ll come out of it as a much stronger person.