Molly Peterson (name has been changed) is still the same girl she was sixteen months ago. She’s smart, funny, sarcastic, and, as she puts it, “a little crazy.” But after spending most of her young life high on drugs and alcohol, for the first time in fourteen years, she’s sober.
It all started when her two-year-old brother died from cancer, sending her family life into a tailspin. “My mom got depressed, and my parents split up, so no one really noticed what I was doing,” she recalls. “I hung out with older guys and started drinking, at about age nine or ten. When my mom did notice, she figured it was typical pre-teen behavior.”
Typical pre-teen behavior it was not. Molly’s heavy drinking quickly led to marijuana use. “I was smoking a lot of pot, every day, and when I would drink, it was always blackout drunk. I could never drink or use drugs in moderation,” she says.
All the while, encouraged by her mom, a teacher, Molly excelled in school. “I would leave school to smoke pot during lunch but still got all A’s,” she says. Molly’s grades were so good that she graduated early, at age sixteen. But instead of going to college, she decided to switch her job at the local IHOP from part-time to full-time. “I loved the lifestyle… and the money,” she says. To stay awake through long overnight shifts, she tried cocaine. “It was off to the races from there,” she says.
Soon after, Molly got arrested for the first time. “I was really high (on coke), and I got in a huge fight with my mom because I told her I was planning to move out. I didn’t find out until last year that I hit her in the face.” A week after she turned seventeen—the legal adult age in Texas—Molly went to jail for drug possession and dealing.
“As Long as I Wasn’t Robbing or Selling Myself, I Felt Like Everything Was OK”
When she got out of jail, Molly had nothing and nowhere to go. So she went to live with her dad, a man who had abused her physically, emotionally and sexually in the past.
“My life went back to the way it was before I went to jail—I still had the job at IHOP, I worked a lot of overnights, and I hung out with the same people,” she says. She was still doing a lot of coke and taking—and selling—Xanax, which her dad gave to her in handfuls.
Then, in the midst of the drug-trading crowd, she tried heroin.
“In Texas, heroin is called ‘cheese.’ It’s like tar broken down into a pill, so it doesn’t look like you are doing heroin. It felt glamorous,” she says.
In reality, things were far from glamorous. “I did heroin every day and ecstasy every weekend. I would drop thirty to forty pounds, go into detox and then relapse the first day I got out.”
While she was doing heroin, Molly maintained her job, and so she thought, her self-respect. “I was able to function and always tried to stay somewhat of a good person—I wasn’t robbing anyone or selling myself, so I felt like everything was OK.”
But behind the scenes, she nodded off in the bathroom at work, manipulated older guys to feed her habit, and eventually quit her job and lived off a friend’s father’s life insurance policy. “We went through $300,000 in one year—all on drugs,” she recalls.
A Phone Call for Help
Then one day, as she was flipping through the channels, she caught the end of an episode of Intervention on A&E. At the end of the show, there was a hotline for anyone struggling with alcohol or drugs to call for help.
“I called that hotline, and within two days, I was on a plane to a recovery center in Florida,” Molly says. She spent fifty days in treatment, including her 21st birthday. “I thought I would get away from drugs and alcohol and become a new person. But that’s not what happened; I relapsed the day I got off the plane back home.”
From there, the downward spiral continued. “I was arrested close to twenty times, overdosed repeatedly and had to be revived—I would seize and stop breathing, and all of a sudden, come back to. The people I hung around with didn’t care—they would just leave me and hope I woke up,” she says.
She tried a few more stints in rehab and failed. Desperate to feed her habit, she started stripping. “I made $300 to $1,000 a day, but I lived in my car. I would spend all of it to get high and only have enough money left the next morning for a dollar cheeseburger,” she recalls.
The first turn of events happened when Molly met a man whose dad was in recovery with seven years sober. They gave Molly a job doing administrative work at their family construction business and invited her to live with them on the condition she stayed off drugs. She agreed, but she did what so many addicts do—she covered up her heroin use. “They would pay me at the end of the day, and I’d use the money to go get drugs, making up excuses about why I felt sick during the day and abscesses I had,” she says.
While living her double life with these two men, she hit her first rock bottom—at an Alcoholics Anonymous Gratitude dinner, of all places. “It was November of 2014. I got high before the Gratitude Dinner, and I had to pretend to be sober in front of hundreds of recovering addicts. There were people there with thirty, forty, fifty years of sobriety under their belts, and I was so high I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. I had never felt so humiliated in my life,” she recalls.
Molly left the AA dinner, packed her stuff and drove to the nearest treatment center. “I sat in the parking lot for an hour, deciding, ‘Should I dance for one more night, get a hot shot, and kill myself, or should I go in?’” She knew if she went in, this time her recovery had to be for good. “I didn’t care how hard it would be, I didn’t care how much pain I had to go through because I had nothing left. The drug had taken all of my self-worth and my soul, and I was so lonely.”
She did go into the recovery center and had a long, difficult withdrawal. “I detoxed for an entire month, I couldn’t sit still, and my bones hurt, but I wanted it so badly. I kept saying, ‘I am going to feel better tomorrow. This will all be worth it.”
Molly got off the drugs, but she didn’t make it through treatment. “I got kicked out for having sex with someone in the center. I remember walking out the door with nowhere to go and no one to call, thinking, ‘I can’t believe I am here again.’”
Conquering the First Step in Recovery
With the other two people she got kicked out with in her car, Molly drove to the gas station, where the three of them brainstormed how they could get money for heroin. As she sat there waiting for the drugs to arrive, she finally grasped the first step in recovery: she realized she was powerless. “With everything in me, I didn’t want to get high. As I stuck the needle in my arm, time slowed down, and that’s when God provided me with the moment of clarity I needed.” In that moment, Molly realized the two hard-core meth addicts she was with told her she “had a problem.” She also remembered telling fellow addicts in jail that if she could live the rest of her life in a cell, alone with unlimited cigarettes and heroin, she’d be the happiest person on earth. She realized how truly sick she was. On that day, which was December 3, 2014—her baby brother’s birthday—Molly entered rehab for the last time.
During her final stint in rehab, Molly went through detox without any medication. “I thought, it’s time for me to do the right thing, the courageous thing,” she says.
A few days into sobriety, she went into the hospital for an infected abscess in her arm. A nurse came in her room with a syringe, ready to administer morphine. “I turned it down. Shaking and crying, I said to him, “I can’t, I just can’t.” He said, ‘What do you mean, you can’t?’ I told him I only had three days sober and he started smiling and put the syringe back in his pocket.
“I’m a friend of Bill’s, too—twenty years,” he said. (For people in Alcoholics Anonymous, “I’m a friend of Bill W” is code for “I’m in drug or alcohol recovery.” Bill Wilson was one of the founding members of AA).
For Molly, that moment in her hospital bed was one of the most empowering of her life. “I had never said no to drugs ever before, and I felt so proud of myself, so good about a decision I had made and stuck to. I have never let go of that feeling.”
With that sentiment in her grips, Molly underwent recovery the right way. “I detoxed without medication, worked my 12 steps, and I got a sponsor,” she says.
A Lifetime Yet to Live
Today, Molly calls her life “beautiful.”
“I used to be so angry at God and resentful because of all the trauma I went through and my brother dying at such a young age. Now, I have put my whole life in a higher power, and I pray every day. I go to bed feeling fulfilled, and I sleep through the night without being medicated. I wake up with a choice of what I can do with my day—I’m no longer a slave to drugs” she says.
She passes her young but seasoned life lessons onto her sponsees—girls who are eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. One of the most important things she passes onto the addicts she counsels is perspective. “When they ask me, ‘But what am I going to do to celebrate my 21st birthday?’ I put things into perspective for them and say, ‘Really, how many 21st birthday celebrations have you already had?’
Instead of getting high, Molly drives around neighborhoods in search of people like her former self, who are homeless and helplessly addicted.
“I give them my number and tell them to call me if they want help,” she says. “I talked to a woman the other day who was carrying all her possessions, covered in track marks. She said to me, ‘as long as the money and drugs don’t run out, I’m going to be OK.’ Problem is, I told her, the money and the drugs always run out.”
Ultimately, Molly would like to start an indigent treatment center or halfway house. “I want to be down in the trenches, helping the struggling people everyone else has forgotten,” she says.
Molly admits, like anyone, she still has her good and bad days, but she always stays grateful. Perhaps most importantly, she is happy—in life and with herself. “My motives and intentions have changed—I have integrity now, I have true friends I can call at two o’clock in the morning, and people trust me,” she says.
Molly also trusts herself, including around drugs and alcohol. “I went to Buffalo Wild Wings for the Super Bowl. People were pounding beers all around, and it didn’t even faze me. I have picked up girls off the street who have drugs on them, and I know I’m never going to use them again.”
She has also repaired her relationship with her mom. “I talk to my mom every day on the phone now. She actually calls me for advice! I went to Texas to surprise her on Christmas Eve—it was so great.”
At the young age of twenty-three, Molly has seen more than many will see in a lifetime, but in many ways, her life has just begun. “If this is how great being sober is after only a little over a year, I can’t imagine the wonderful things in my life that are yet to come,” she says. “I feel blessed each and every day.”
Liz Bowers is a contributing writer to Beach House Center for Recovery, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, Florida.
Image courtesy of unsplash.com.