Chelsea, Rutland Vt.

… We do not want to be addicts. When I was a child I wanted to be a veterinarian, not a homeless addict. We are humans, we have jobs, children, hopes, and dreams. I grew up with both of my parents, in a nice house, in a good town. I never tried drugs or alcohol in high school. I was an honor student and was selected to study abroad in Brazil for a year after high school, and that is when my life changed. I was raped, and thousands of miles from anyone I knew. I felt emotions I had never felt before, and was offered a beer and accepted. My life changed forever. Alcohol made it all OK for awhile. Years later, after coming home and keeping my secret, after a four-year abusive relationship, another abusive relationship, and a daily drinking habit, I found out I was pregnant. I quit drinking, but I was miserable until after I had my beautiful daughter, and got a prescription for opiates. I was hooked after the first one, because I was able to function, I had energy, I was "OK." I was a single mother in college, and I saw nothing wrong with taking my prescription to make me "happy" and pain-free. Before long I was buying higher doses off the street, taking more everyday, and abandoned school and all of my other responsibilities, including my daughter who I eventually left at my parents' house. I then became pregnant again, and once again got clean until after she was born. Over the next two years I sold drugs, lived in terrible places, did terrible things, got in trouble, and started using heroin. The day I decided enough was enough, I was in treatment court but was still using and I had a warrant out. I was hiding under insulation while the police searched the house for me. The next day I turned myself in, went to treatment, and even though it has not been easy, I never looked back. We are not losers who should be left to die and judged. We are people in the grips of a disease who need support and compassion. I also wish people understood that recovery is possible. I am living proof, and the programs and treatment facilities are worth the money as they save lives. Incarceration is not the answer, people become addicted because they lack other coping skills to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, anger, etc., and the drugs take away physical and emotional pain. Throwing someone in a jail cell is not going to get to the root of the problem, it will only increase those feelings and lead right back to drug use. Three years ago when I got in trouble, if I was thrown in jail instead of being able to do treatment court, I would not have a job working with recovering addicts, I would not have an apartment or car, I would not have graduated college last semester, and I certainly would not have my two beautiful children. These programs allowed me, and many others, to become productive members of society. Addiction is not a moral failing, it is a disease and the only way to stop this epidemic is for people to show compassion and understanding and stop judging and condemning addicts, because they will not come forward for help for fear of being judged and rejected. We already feel bad enough about ourselves, we don't need to hear what "scumbags" and "losers" we are. If communities come together to help build each other back up, work together on prevention, and get to the root of the problem and begin working on the solution, together we can fight this disease. I work at a peer-support recovery center and see recovery in action everyday. I also see many go back out, and I lost my best friend to heroin last year. Combating addiction has become the focus of my life, and helps me maintain my own recovery, but it takes the whole community.