There are 5 million young people in this country dealing with addiction as you read this, and a staggering 90 percent of them will never get the help they need. This story is a digital-exclusive element of our “How to Go to Rehab” package, designed to make seeking treatment easier and less intimidating than ever.
I started drinking and doing cocaine and ecstasy in high school. At first it was recreational, but when I was 21, I had my first daughter, Salia. That’s when things got really bad.
I had a C-section, so my doctor prescribed me oxycodone—two pills every four to six hours. Usually they only give you 30 pain pills total after a C-section, but I kept complaining and got about three months’ worth. When those ran out, I ‘doctor shopped’ for more. I was trying to relieve not just the physical pain of delivery, but the emotional pain of new motherhood.
My husband was in the Marine Corps at the time, and we were stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where I had no mother to show me how to change a diaper—no family support whatsoever—and no friends to reassure me that what I was going through was normal. Drugs gave me that feeling of safety and warmth that I needed.
But I was also succumbing to my environment: My husband had struggled to stay sober, and joining the Marines hadn’t really helped. When I started using, too, I didn’t have the skill set or education to set boundaries.
So I kept doing it, even after we returned to the U.S. My addiction dragged on for four years. When my husband left the military, we lost my health insurance and I immediately switched to IV heroin. We were both doing it by then, and my in-laws threatened to take our daughter away if we didn’t get help. I was reluctant to go, but we entered a co-ed treatment facility together and stayed there for 60 days.
This was an important first step in my recovery, but I felt really self-conscious in the co-ed program. For starters, many people gain weight when they’re recovering from opioid addiction (eating a balanced meal isn’t exactly a priority when you’re an addict)—and this was especially true for me. I gained 40 pounds in two months. Even though I was married and not trying to get involved with anyone else, I struggled with body image, and being around so many guys didn’t help.
There is also a lot of emotional vulnerability in rehab. In group therapy, you open up about your relationships, shame, past traumas, eating disorders—all of it. For me, it was hard to do that in a co-ed setting. Particularly when it came to motherhood and all the guilt I felt for leaving my daughter. I ended up keeping to myself because I didn’t feel like other people could relate. I was completely unable to be open and transparent, which limited my progress there.
When that 60-day stint was up, my husband and I decided to focus separately on our individual recoveries. Trying to get well with another person is extremely difficult, and we were in different stages of recovery, anyway. Honestly, he was the one who wanted to get sober, and I was still terrified: terrified to be away from my daughter, terrified because my body had been so dependent on opioids.
We needed to go on our own journeys, and mine took me to New Directions, an all-women’s outpatient center in southern California. I didn’t have insurance, but I was able to get a scholarship to cover a lot of my time there. I stayed for six months, and that’s where I really began to thrive.
I learned, for example, that I’m an independent person and don’t need my husband in order to have worth or get sober. Without him under the same roof, I realized how codependent we were, and how I’d found purpose in enabling his addiction. I needed to become my own person and to speak up for my own needs—and gradually, I did.
I also connected with other women in similar situations, who were learning to become better moms or going through their own trials in their relationships. I was able to open up to these women, and they helped me realize that I wasn’t alone.
I eventually graduated and started working in admissions at Anchored Tied Recover, an all-women’s outpatient facility in Huntington Beach, California. I continue to find hope and inspiration in other women, and believe women helping women is not only powerful but necessary in rewriting our own stories.
By the way, my husband did better in all-men’s treatment, too. He learned how to be more emotionally available and present in our relationship. We now have four kids together—all daughters.
This content was originally published here.