After a meth addiction, a woman owes her sobriety to an abusive relationship.

“She was 30 minutes late picking me up from school.” Drunk. Again. We headed to the plaza bar where she usually drinks. To play pinball, she handed me a roll of quarters. We lingered long after the quarters had vanished. I’d ask her to leave, but I knew from previous experience that it wouldn’t work. Later, as we drove home, I clenched my stomach, terrified of what she could hit or, even worse, that she’d end up in jail again. I’d weep myself to sleep after we got home, telling myself that I’d never be like her. I’d start a family and have children, but I’d never be like her. I’d have dreams about my father (who I’d never met) coming to my rescue. I had a feeling he was looking for me somewhere. He’d love me in a manner she hadn’t been able to.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

I had the opportunity to put this hypothesis to the test when I was 14 years old. She was on her way to prison; a warrant for her arrest had been issued, and it was only a matter of time before she was arrested. She realized it, so she took me on a summer road trip from Texas to Oregon to meet the man I’d been fantasizing about since I was a child. At this point, I was drinking whenever I could. I’d started the summer before when, in a futile attempt to persuade her to stop drinking, I downed a bottle of liqueur in the hopes of scaring her. She didn’t show it if it did.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. It was not at all what I had anticipated. The fireworks were missing. There was no link between the two. He felt like an outsider… and he was. She was arrested the day after we landed in Oregon, making a move difficult. I lived with him for the next year and a half, and he treated me like a stranger the entire time. We never got along. That want to be liked and loved persisted… perhaps even deepened. After a major dispute, I left when I was 15 years old. He wanted me to pretend to be someone I wasn’t: a typical adolescent. He didn’t comprehend how damaged I was, and I was enraged by the lingering emptiness I thought he could heal. So I walked away.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

From then, the partying escalated, and I fell pregnant with my oldest daughter at the age of sixteen. I quit school and spent the following three years attempting to fill the void with my first husband… and, of course, drink. The wrath continued since it didn’t work. We chose to have another baby after remembering our love when my daughter was born. That would close the gap that had been growing between us. Wrong.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell
Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

We divorced when our baby was six months old, and I enlisted in the Army, where my alcoholism grew and turned into drug addiction. It’s a shame since I would have appreciated the Army a lot more if I had been sober at the time. It provided me with many things I needed: structure, family, and security. Instead, it became a facilitator. I got medications if I was wounded. I took medicines if I felt worried. If I felt depressed, I took drugs. Pills, medicines, pills to cure whatever sickness I pretended to have. I rapidly learned how to use doctors to my advantage and acquire what I wanted. It was commonly acknowledged that I drank, and no one in the company ever mentioned that I could have a problem or seek treatment. My mother, ironically, was the only one who expressed concern about my drinking and using… and I was not going to listen to her. ‘Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?’ says the narrator.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

I left the Army even more broken than when I entered it. I’d had a traumatic childhood and had just developed a drug addiction. Men were my other addiction. It has always been that way. Always looking for someone or something to fill that void inside of me… But I usually end up more devastated and empty than I was before.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

After a string of disastrous relationships, I ended up with a man who struggled with his addictions. He introduced me to substances I’d never tried before and kept me so high that I didn’t see he was abusing my child. One morning, the cops showed up at our house to arrest me on a warrant obtained for a robbery I committed while intoxicated. After being brought to jail that night, the man I had let into my house put my son in a coma. My ex-in-laws arrived at the house to check on me and discovered my son blue and unconscious. He was airlifted to Portland, Oregon, a four-hour drive away, where he spent the next three weeks in intensive care. After learning of his health and being told that I couldn’t see him, I plummeted to a low point in my addiction, and I stayed there for the next two years.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

I packed all my stuff, placed them in a storage unit, and moved in with a different ex-boyfriend to live on the streets. One night while camping, we got intoxicated and got into a brawl. I was detained, and when I emerged, he had vanished. I was freed from prison with a group of people, an attractive young man. By now, I’m sure you’ve seen a pattern. I followed him to the coast, where I began abusing meth. I stripped to support my habit, but when that wasn’t enough, I went to prostitution. I had lost interest in myself. I didn’t give a damn about the hole in my heart or the fact that I was unloved. I didn’t want to be affected in any way. I wanted to die, but I couldn’t because I was terrified.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

I once went to the VA for treatment, but I didn’t want to be sober; I just wanted to get out of the cold. ‘God, if you’re there… if you’re real… why have you let this happen to me?’ I recall calling out to God while there, with a shred of sobriety. Why did I deserve this dreadful existence?’ That night, I heard God as I’d never heard him before, and I haven’t since. ‘I’ve been walking with you through it all along; I’ve never left you,’ he said almost audibly. That occurred in November of 2013. I wish I could say I was still sober at the time, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t quite ready, but I was getting there.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

I was back to prostituting to pay for my habit and jumping from drug home to dope house a few months later, after getting expelled out of rehab after an argument with a person I had gotten connected with there. Most of the individuals who contacted me were married men who wanted to cheat and thought it would be a simple method to avoid being caught. They sickened me, but I disgusted myself as well.

Someone fresh texted me late one night—a John who would grow into something more. We went to his place, where I got high in his bathroom, and he picked me up. He paid me after we had sex, but I didn’t leave soon afterward. Instead, we sat in his bed and talked, which, contrary to popular belief, is not what generally happens in these situations. We spoke about life, and I told him about my experiences before telling me about his. He had been sober for a long time and encouraged me to do the same. I was enamored with him. He contacted me a couple more times, and what began as a professional partnership quickly devolved into a toxic friendship. I was codependent, and he was controlling, but I got sober. At first, I tried to stay sober for him. To keep him from abandoning me, I’ll do everything. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, I felt a connection with another person, and I didn’t want to lose it, so I did everything he requested, including being sober.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

I became pregnant with our daughter after dating for six months. The pregnancy was a nightmare. He was abusive, and I was insane. I was terrified that he would take her away from me, and when she was six months old, he attempted but failed. We went through a horrible four-day custody battle after nearly two years of healing, and by the grace of God, I was granted custody of our daughter. My first husband succumbed to his addiction a few years later, and my two older children returned to me. None of this can be attributed to me. I may have put forth the effort, but I do not doubt that my Higher Power was involved.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell

I’ve been free of any mind-altering chemical for five years and nine months now. I’ve put forth a lot of effort to repair the wounds that led me to drink and use them in the way that I did. I revert to old habits now and then (last year, I hurried into a marriage that was annulled three months later), but I’m improving. It doesn’t all happen at the same time. I wanted things to go back to ‘normal’ as soon as I got sober, which was stupid because things had never been normal for me in the first place. I had to invent a new way of life. I needed to start over with a new life… a new me. Everything has to be changed. I couldn’t use my past traumas to explain my actions anymore. I had to face the fact that I wasn’t merely a victim of circumstance; I had options.

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell
@amybookerphotography

It’s powerful for me to hold myself accountable for my actions today. I get to choose how my life will go for the most part, and when things happen that are out of my control, I get to choose how to handle those events. It seems liberating to live in a way that isn’t bound by my past. I still have PTSD, anxiety, and depression. But now I know I can confront those difficulties without the help of a drink, a drug, or a man. God and recovery have filled the hole I’d been living in for so long, and no one can take that away from me. The promises of a better life, a life I could never have imagined for myself, have come true, and more is on the way as long as I show up to do the work. I got sober for a man, stayed sober for my child, and now I’m sober for myself.”

Courtesy of Tiffany Howell
Courtesy of Tiffany Howell
@amybookerphotography

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