During the summer of 1996, when I was 11, I became drastically sick with lupus. I was admitted to Children’s Hospital Boston and put on high doses of steroids, which made my face puffy and round and made me gain 80 pounds. Despite frequent hospitalizations, the lupus got out of control and my kidneys were a step away from needing dialysis. With no other options, I went on chemotherapy for two and a half years.

I was losing sight of a normal adolescence: Because I looked and felt different than other kids my age, I began having really low self-esteem and crushing anxiety. Since I was never in school, I had a hard time connecting with people. Then, the summer after graduating from high school, I started dating someone who seemed to have the solution for all my problems. He encouraged me to take a pill–OxyContin–that didn’t just erase my physical discomfort, it also relieved my anxiety. Finally, I came out of my shell and stopped caring about what people thought of me. My anxiety was gone and I was happy when I was high.

Before I knew it, I was taking five pills a day. One time I didn’t take them and I thought I had the flu; it turned out it was withdrawals. That’s when I realized I was addicted. I wasn’t getting high anymore, but I needed the pills to keep from getting sick. It spun out of control so fast: I couldn’t function without them–if I didn’t have them first thing in the morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. The pills consumed my life and made me constantly angry. I wasn’t showing my face at home, and if I did see someone in my family, I’d just start a fight with them.

When I broke up with my boyfriend, who was supporting my habit, I had no idea how much these pills cost. At $80 each, I quickly realized that I couldn’t afford it, since every cent I earned was going to drugs. I needed a cheaper option that could still give me the fix I needed, and I soon found my answer in heroin, which cost only $20. I always said I’d never do heroin, but my habit was so bad I thought it was my last resort. The deeper my addiction got, the cheaper and easier it was to fill the void.

After about a year and a half, I decided that I’d had enough. I’d gotten arrested and my life wasn’t my own. I’d forgotten how to be happy and emotionally satisfied without drugs. So I told my parents and we searched for a detox program. I had to get clean. I went from detox to detox, where I had the shakes and lots of throwing up–all of the usual, horrible withdrawal symptoms. Then my parents found me a program that would guide me on my path to recovery: Children’s Adolescent Substance Abuse Program (ASAP).

ASAP doctors prescribed buprenorphine, a drug that helps reduce opioid dependence; my cravings went away and I stopped using drugs. However, for some reason I still wasn’t feeling right. That’s when I found out I was pregnant. I knew my decision to not go back to drugs wasn’t just about me and my future anymore; I had to think about the child I would soon bring into the world. I entered ASAP’s weekly group therapy program, where I met other kids struggling with addiction. Every week I drew strength from them as we learned to live without opioids.

I am now 23 and have been clean for three-and-a-half years thanks to ASAP. If I didn’t have this program, I don’t know where I would be today. I’m the oldest one in the program and have the chance to share my story with younger kids just coming off drugs. I want to find other ways to prevent kids from trying drugs. I don’t think they know it’s the worst thing they could ever do and that it’s something you live with for the rest of your life. Addiction is something you never get over: You always have to fight the cravings, keep yourself busy and go to meetings so you won’t relapse.

It used to be that when I had a bad day, I turned to drugs; the only way I coped with things was to get high. Now I turn to the program; when I have a bad day, I call someone in the program. I also turn to my daughter, Isabella, for inspiration. She turns 4 in November and loves going for walks, eating ice cream and when I read her books at night. Four years ago, the most important thing was when and how I was going to get my next fix. Today, the most important thing in my life is her.

article by By Jaclyn Calleva and courtesy DreamOnline