Do you identify with Niki’s story?
Listen as Niki shares her experience, strength, and hope on a journey through addiction to recovery. And most importantly, what life looks like today!
Niki uses all the tools in her belt to maintain a life second to none. She touches on her battles with several addictions throughout her life, and what it took to finally get the help she needed.
Your story might not be the same experiences, but the underlying spiritual malady that leads to the mental obsession is shared by almost everyone suffering from substance use disorders.
When someone makes the decision to seek treatment, they are often at a hopeless place. While they’ve decided they want recovery, they may feel like they can’t imagine how it would ever be possible. A line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous describes this as “the jumping-off point”, in other words, a place where someone can’t imagine continuing to rely on substances any longer but they also can’t imagine life without them.
So many thanks to Niki for participating in this process, not only was it an amazing story that I am sure will help more than one person out there, it was fun working with you!
We look forward to checking in with Niki in about a year to see how her journey is progressing.
If you are interested in learning more about the work at Journey Magazine and how they make recovery from addiction visible visit https://www.recovery-journey.com/
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My name is Niki, and I identify as a woman in long-term recovery. I have addiction issues, I’ve had substance use disorder. I think pretty much from whenever I can remember sugar being the first substance I think I ever was addicted to and stole after. All the behaviors that came along with my addiction started young. I was addicted to approval. I learned how to read at a young age, and I would read book after book until like four o’clock in the morning regardless of what I had for things going on the next day like school or activities. I couldn’t put the book down. Addiction, you know, had captured me right from the get-go.
I knew that when I found horses. Horses were my next addiction and I always tell the story. Like I found this barn where I grew up. And the guy that owned the barn, Herbie, would let us shovel stalls to be able to ride the horses for free. So I would. I was a maniac at shoveling stalls, like I wanted the horses so much I would have waided through waist-deep crap to ride ’em. And that kind of like sums up like all of my addiction. I would go through whatever I needed to get what I wanted. That that is like the beginning of my addiction and the whole idea that, I, yeah, I would do anything, you know what I mean, to get what I needed to feel okay.
It blossomed from you know pretty innocent things like reading books and horses to boys. I was, you know, addicted to having a crush on somebody, like that’s, you know, that’s part of my addiction. And I would hang out with guys when I started to get a little older when I was a teenager. If they were drinking or smoking weed or whatever, like, I just participated.
I was more interested in their attention at that point, and that was like a big part of how I dealt with um you know being part with them. That if that’s what they were doing, they would like me more if I did that.
The Start of the Addiction
So I started drinking and smoking weed and found that I loved, loved the way it made me feel. So I would just do it more and more, and I was funnier, I was smarter, I was prettier. I was like all the things these guys would want or at least in my mind that’s what I thought. And, um, you know I would do whatever was necessary for their attention so that meant, you know, those things. I was a really good student in school with very little effort. I seemed just naturally to do academics wise.
I’m thinking about all of the judgment that I felt that was against me. A lot of the times why I ended up drinking and using more was to hide these feelings of separateness. All my classmates were good at sports, and I remember missing the ball in kickball in third grade and people like making fun of me. And just being like I don’t want that, I don’t want to be made fun of um so I avoided things like that. So whether or not I was good at something, it was dependent on your approval whether I would continue to do it. The things I was good at were a school with the academics and band. Band practice, I loved band. I excelled at it, and when the music stopped working, and I found that alcohol and drugs did.
Off to college
Alcohol and drugs made me feel better. I think that my addiction took off when I went to college. I was able to do what I wanted. I no longer was under my parents’ roof, I didn’t have to have to a curfew. I could hang out anytime anywhere. I had made a best friend, and, oh my god, we partied. I was being known as the girl that had a great time, never got sick. Like I took pride in this idea that I could drink exorbitant amounts of alcohol and never get sick. And that I was the last one to pass out, and so I was the best at everything.
Again, approval was really behind it all but the drinking brought me blackouts it brought me sleeping with people that I didn’t want to be sleeping with and in my freshman year of college when all this partying blew up.
Having a child
I ended up pregnant with my son so that was the first time that I realized that maybe I needed to slow down and start doing things right. So for the next eight years I did, well, I um, you know, I would only drink on weekends after my son was born with friends. You know that was the norm and I you know did pretty well I went back to college. I dropped out of college while I was pregnant for him.
And then I went back to college when I was like 23, and um I was successful again I picked up that academic side of my life. I did well I ended up in honor society, president of the math club, president of the math honor society, and um I say that now and think wow make you late you did you were you did awesomely.
But I can tell you at the time I felt like a complete fake. And I felt like people are going to find out that I’m not as smart as they think I am. I’m not as organized, I’m not as good of a leader as they think I am, and I had that constant pressure feeling they’re gonna find me out. Like people are gonna know that I’m not everything that I’m putting out there and I hated that feeling.
So I think I was um toward the end of my college pretty much right around. When I graduated, um I ended up starting using cocaine with a friend of mine a little bit to party. And I started getting back into this idea of feeling good like cocaine gave me that up feeling that I wanted and I could tell the truth and be okay with it and everything was great so that went on for a little while.
And then um and then I met a guy and you know he was like the love of my life. And um just loved the way I felt when I was with him and six months in I found out he was a heroin addict. Um he was trying to get clean and he warned me I’m going to be detoxing it’s going to be horrible. Of course, I’m going to be the best girlfriend in the world because that’s my game being the best at whatever um if you’re going to love me or proof of me.
So I would jump through hoops I spent money um to make sure he had enough drugs to lean off of and not be as sick. And just did whatever he needed to be okay and so that I could be okay and I was scared to death for them like.
I didn’t know everything I knew about heroin what came from the movies. It was gonna lead you into like bare rooms with mattresses on the floor and spoons and needles and candles and just um you know newspapers and I don’t know. That’s this image I had and um but they were coming home and then they would go to bed and they would still go to work and everything seemed for the most part pretty um I would say normal. But not like what I thought and uh but I felt left out when they were gone and I hated that and I just wanted to be part of, you know.
And it brought me back to when I was in high school and like all of those feelings and it ended up. I did exactly what I did then and I started using um along with them. They knew that I had used cocaine before so my boyfriend decided that he would bring me home a little bit of cocaine and that would make me feel part of. And by the end of the night I’m ready to keep going because I’m doing the cocaine. They’re ready to stop and go to bed because they’re doing the heroin, and um my boyfriend gave me a little bit of heroin to try to help bring me down.
I was in love and it was the best and worst feeling in my entire life because I knew at that moment that I would be willing to die to feel the way I felt. When I had the heroin-like I didn’t care I, I knew in my soul that this was absolutely the worst thing that I could ever do and it was probably gonna kill me and I was okay with it. And like that right there it defined my addiction like nothing else had ever defined my addiction. I think that I just I don’t know I just didn’t care. Like that feeling that I wanted was there and I had finally found it. And I finally discovered that this um this was what I’ve been looking for I had a sense of freedom and a sense of.
I don’t know just um it’s hard to put into words and I think you know if you know you know. And if you don’t please don’t know um you know really um. So that was the beginning of a 10-year spiral of drug use um and becoming the person I wasn’t. I was no longer the girl who was the vice who was the president of the Math Honor Society.
I was no longer the girl who was the um you know did well in school I was no longer any of it I was the girl driving the getaway car I was the girl that had people shooting out of the car at other drug dealers I was the girl who was helping to steal things from um businesses friends and different stuff and I was just everything that I hated you know and other people I became I became that and um 10 years of that.
It took 10 years of that it wasn’t until through a series of events. I ended up moving back home to Maine to try to get clean to try to get you to know sober from the drugs. And um and couldn’t that you know it was the serious events that got me there that I finally was like I need to do something different. My son looked at me one day and knew that I was lying to him. Again and there was just a look that day of disgust in his eyes and I couldn’t handle that anymore.
Asking for help
I decided at that point that I had to do something different and I called for help I called the 1-800 number and I asked for help. I asked um for some rehab information and I ended up at a rehab here um nearby in Windham. And I went there for 15 days and then ended up in a halfway house in Portland at crossroads for women, and I knew that I had. I was 40 years old. I knew that I had 40 years of behavior and beliefs that I needed to work on. So I knew I was it was going to take longer so into a halfway house with that expectation to learn more about it. And honestly I’m so grateful that I finally asked for help. I remember calling my mom and saying can you take me to this intake appointment at rehab and the look of relief um in her the look of relief that she had. That like I was finally ready to get help because she had never said anything to me at that point about where I was at so um my son dropped me off at rehab.
I feel like when I left that morning from a disgusting trailer that I was being evicted from. When I left that morning with a suitcase full of um clothes that weren’t even going to be useful at rehab. I just threw it together. I knew I was going to a different life and I think that I was like hopeful for the very first time in my life. Um and that hope like fired me up for the first time and I might have probably definitely driven people nuts at rehab. Because I was like all that optimism that I had like stuff down in me. All those hopes and dreams and positive vibes that I am as a person like naturally um literally burst out of me like a volcano-like a volcano and I know I drove people insane.
I know I did because I just everything was amazing and beautiful and pink cloud and um and honestly I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been sober for nine almost nine and a half years and I feel like it’s still that way. I did the right thing coming into recovery to not just learn about my disease. But also to learn that like women are not scary and intimidating and um my competition. That like women are there to support me and to lift me and all that excitement and everything that I like felt about recovery.
Trying to learn
I tried to put into learning more about being around women and stuff. And that’s not saying that I didn’t have a lot of growing to do in the men category. Because my, my early recovery was still filled with a lot of my addictions um other than drugs. You know and men had met had been one of their food.
I came in and I gained 100 pounds right away like literally in a year. Um but I was still happy and I was still hopeful and I was still all these things you know and uh I was learning about my disease and learning how everything changes you know when you and you start you deal with things as they come you don’t fix everything overnight you know.
I was super fortunate in the beginning um to be exposed to the Portland recovery community center as one of the resources that I was able to utilize for recovery. And uh you know started building a network of people that was um as my, my crew of people.
The people I grew up you know grew up within recovery my littermates. I’d call them and we all would like to hang out and we would do a fellowship. And we would have fun events at the recovery center and there was a lot of laughter and a lot of positivity and I’m grateful for that.
I’m grateful I had that I don’t know if I would have received that where I’m from in Aroostook County you know. I don’t think I would have had that same um setup and uh so yeah I just read the pink cloud.
Like I am a 12-step recovery person. I have done my recovery mainly in the 12 steps. I have supplemented my recovery with things like hope group at the recovery center church, I have utilized women’s groups, I I try to keep an open-minded thing. And whatever I need in my recovery like as it comes up I I try it and if it’s helpful to me I keep using it.
I’ve fluctuated back and forth between sister programs in recovery various 12-step programs. Um and just try to keep growing um in a spiritual way and helping others. Like things that I’ve learned and hold on to from my earliest recovery is to be of service to other people. Like that’s the number one priority that I work on is the less I can think of myself and the more I can think of others the better my life seems to turn out. When I get stuck in like the selfish wants and needs of Niki, like I make myself crazy even today.
What sobriety looks like
Nine years sober, I can still fall into that same pattern and it is it’s just it’s kind of funny. Now like it is what it is I dealt with a lot of things in recovery.
I think I was worried in the beginning. Um I remember 40 years old having the first mammogram of my life and then having to have a second follow-up mammogram because they found um some like abnormal growth or whatever. And thinking oh I got into recovery to find out I have breast cancer and I’m probably gonna die and but I’m gonna die clean. Like I was able to learn how to flip all of these struggles and fears and things into gratitude you know. I learned about gratitude.
I didn’t end up having breast cancer. That wasn’t the issue but it helped me to form this habit of knowing that I could make it through various trials without getting high that I could make it through life on life terms without having to use the substance or to drink or to numb out
A new outlook on life
I do know, like this is still amazing to me, like you don’t have to get high once bad stuff happens, you know you don’t have to change a feeling. Um you can feel the feeling; and walk through it and then it goes away and a new feeling crops up like the feelings never last forever.
So that’s been pretty eye-opening I guess like inspiring to do um I dealt with some deaths in recovery I’ve dealt with getting fired in recovery I found out that um all of those behaviors um that could get you in trouble don’t go away overnight you have to work on them.
I’ve done amends on taking money that wasn’t mine within the program. That’s appropriating funds and learned that part of that is I had come from a place of not having enough from a lot from a young age. And I had learned how to get myself what I needed and that didn’t just go away miraculously.
I got clean so you know I had to learn that doing the next right thing meant telling somebody about these behaviors and asking for help and getting you to know getting support around that stuff. So I don’t have to take anybody’s money anymore come to find out I can make enough of my own money. And that I already have enough and I already have enough so those kinds of things have been um such a gift to know.
I had like four years sober and I was able to open up a sober house through the help of another um a fellow person in recovery who had a women’s sober house. And I did that for a couple of years and um actually had one of the lowest years of my life at like five years sober. Um I hit one of the lowest periods of my recovery and was very unsure how to go about getting help again you know I felt stuck again I was crying all the time.
I didn’t know what was wrong everything in my outside life was great but I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t stop um thing and when I was able to talk about it with people because that’s what I’ve learned to do I was able to talk about it with others um some suggestions were made that maybe I see a therapist and I was diagnosed as being having depression.
I filled out the questionnaire that they have and like oh you’re clinically depressed. You know you had all these big life events happen in a short amount of time and you know I had to look at getting outside help and get on medication for a little while to re-stabilize. And I learned that I could do those things in recovery. That I could have trials and bad times and still come through them and have um and not lose hope you know and not lose that hope the hardest the next hardest thing I did was um when I decided to close the sober house.
Closing the sober house
I had come through the depression, gone through a breakup, had my life on life’s terms and realized that somehow all of the reasons why I had opened the house had shifted and I was now worried about what the recovery community would think about me if I chose to step out of this role as a sober house owner. And for the first time in my life, I realized that it isn’t the people outside of me that make me important. It’s me and the knowledge of myself that allowed me to know that I was important with or without a sober house. You know with or without a boyfriend, with or without the perfect job, and I made a really hard decision.
And I decided to close the sober house and I remember the feeling that morning when I made that decision. I had this moment of calm and peace and ease that I didn’t have to be anything other than who I was in that moment and who I was a woman who needed to not be running a sober house who needed to just focus on herself and take care of herself.
So one of the things that I learned is that the validation from outside people doesn’t make or break who I am. I am a good person exactly how I am and that’s taken me a while and I can still struggle with um believing that at times. Because that’s true um but I know that’s true and it’s what I would tell somebody else.
Another thing in recovery is I learned to speak life over my own life of what I would say to somebody else for advice or encouragement I do that to me now like I empower me um and turn that encouragement back to myself and those are like so many valuable things that I’ve learned.
Today in my recovery I don’t know, I’ve been dealing with things like its layers right like I am you know I’ve dealt with the men you know I’ve dealt with the um the drugs obviously and the alcohol um I’ve dealt with now with the approval and the need for you know for validation and stuff and now I’m in a season of my recovery where I’m dealing with my first addiction which was sugar and food and you know how all of that um has impacted my life throughout the years.
I’ve struggled with weight my entire life um since I I don’t know I’m 10 11 12 you know when I remember feeling the effects of being chubbier and you know needing people’s approval so literally I have gained and lost weight in my entire life fad diet after fat diet did all of the different stuff and um this past year about a year ago I just I had enough.
I was like I can’t keep doing this like this I experienced the level of surrender around food and stuff and I asked for help just like I did for my recovery and I asked for outside help from experts like doctors who deal with health issues you know and um so I asked the right people this time and that was like the light bulb moment you know like oh my god duh.
I went through the process and went through a weight and wellness program and this summer I had um I had gastric sleeve weight loss surgery in July and since then I’ve lost 45 pounds I’ve re-found my motivation like when I talked earlier about coming into recovery and being hopeful and positive and excited and jazzed about recovery like that’s how I am now about my um my health journey.
So now I am into um taking care of me and like because I’m worth it and I want to live and I have this amazing life that I want to support and um it isn’t about approval anymore like I got over that I needed people to like how I looked and stuff like that I don’t care about that part I don’t want to die of a heart attack.
I don’t want to end up with diabetes or high blood pressure like I love who I am, I love Niki, and want her to live past 50.
So that’s my recovery journey today um I am excited right now I’m helping um a group we’re starting a new women’s group so I’m excited about that and just being part of a community of people that try to help others.
One of the coolest things I get to do right now is I get to write for a magazine like never did I expect that I would be a writer and the minute I just told you that I remember that I was I have always been a writer um when I was younger.
I used I won a young authors institute in my class for fifth grade I wrote this chapter story called the adventures of Tango al Amelia which was a flying horse um and her owner which was a young girl probably my age at the time and they had adventures and um basically saved a dog and I think is another one of the adventures saved a kid from drowning and just like these different hero type adventures like everything I wanted to do um when I was growing up which was to have a flying horse duh and um but anyway that I was a writer and I had lost that and then I started writing for work.
The magazine I write for is journey magazine is amazing and is all about amplifying hope so that mission that we have to amplify hope and recovery and make recovery visible for other people is like, I don’t even know the word I want um like the highlight of my life is to be able to write for this magazine and to step into ownership of my journey in recovery um in that I am a writer you know and I get to help people with my writing and amplify hope for them um by utilizing my talents and skills and like how cool is that you know and then I can own it and say it today without being like I think maybe I’m a writer I don’t know, I just am, so that is one of the highlights.
I work a job that I love I work with students at a school and I love it what else do I get to do I am an active member of my church I love the people being with a group of people who are like-minded and focused on the same thing and um that’s huge so I think like my life’s pretty awesome right now!