I remember that evening like it was yesterday. It was warm and humid, and everybody was wearing barely nothing. I was always heavy growing up, so the summer was a hard time for me, because of self-consciousness.
I was 12 years old, and I’d been bounced around from school to school until I ended up in an alternative school for Jewish girls. I liked it there; I could make up lies about myself, about how tough I was, and there were no consequences.
That summer night, one of the older guys in my town asked me to come hang out in his garage. He lit a candle and took out a bag. He started pulling weed apart and rolling it into a brown paper. I didn’t really know what he was doing, and my bones were shaking. He asked me if I had ever smoked before, and out of fear of sounding naive I said yes. I pulled in as if it were a cigarette, and then coughed and sat down on an old couch.
Everything changed that night.
Everything seemed to make sense, and whatever didn’t make sense was okay. All the anxiety and racing thoughts I always felt just vanished. It was a feeling of such euphoria! I wasn’t thinking about the fight I just had with my father or the test tomorrow that I didn’t study for. Just peacefulness. Everything I’d ever been looking for, and I found it. I just wanted to feel that way all the time.
So that’s exactly what I did. I’d wake up, go to school, leave at lunch, wait for the boys to get out of their school, and get high the rest of the night. When more drugs were put in front of me, I felt the need to do them out of peer pressure. I didn’t know I was going to like them so much.
When my principal found drugs in my locker, I was kicked out of that school too, and sent to another alternative school for girls. Around Pesach time, the girls there started talking about this “JACS retreat” they were all going to go on. I loved parties, so I wanted to go too.
Well, a party it wasn’t, but a weekend for young people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. I thought all these people were crazy. Everybody hugged. It was like they were all one huge family of alcoholics. But I felt reassured knowing that I had bought enough drugs to get me through the whole thing.
Unfortunately — or fortunately — I ran out of drugs by Friday night. All I thought about was getting home to call my dealer. When a woman shared how she had 20 years sober, I couldn’t fathom how she could last 20 years and I couldn’t last 20 minutes. I had enough. I broke down and left the meeting. I think I may have even tried to walk home barefoot in the snow.
Two counselors found me. One told me something I will never forget. “You know, Sara, you don’t have to ‘use’ today. You do have choices.” I don’t like uncomfortable feelings. That’s why I’m an addict. She said to me, “Sit with these feelings. It’ll be OK.” That was it. I was putting it all behind me. I wanted to be part of these people. I didn’t have to use any more.
But soon I began hanging out at “the crack house.” I surrounded myself with people who did the same things I did, so I didn’t feel like I was bad. I didn’t need anyone, because I had drugs and alcohol. I had a love affair with substances. I would steal from my parents, friends, and even my siblings to get what I needed.
After getting fired from working in a hotel over Passover, I returned home to find my parents had locked me out. I moved in with friends, but it wasn’t long before I was forced to leave because of my drug use. My principal told me I couldn’t come to school until I was sober. I was homeless, school-less, friendless, miserable and alone.
That’s when I decided to go to New Jersey to see some old friends, because I knew they had a lot of drugs and parties. When I got there, I saw horrid things I had seen tons of times before — people drugged out, and more — but they affected me differently this time. I realized that if I stayed there, that’s where my life would be going. I’d started using for freedom, and drugs had made me enslaved.
I decided to try to get sober. After three weeks in rehab at a short-term treatment center, I called a girl I had met on the JACS retreat and asked her to sponsor me. We began working the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I learned how to handle situations without getting high. I stopped obsessing about drinking all the time. When I had four months sober, I applied for college and got a job that I love. I have had a lot of difficult challenges in sobriety, but with God’s help, I was able to get through them.
I’m 17 now, and I’ve been sober 14 months. It feels like a lifetime. Somebody asked me what advice about drugs I’d give to parents raising adolescents. I really don’t know. By the time I became an adolescent I was in recovery.
Adapted from Jewish Sisters in Sobriety, published by Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS; www.jacsweb.org), a program of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (www.jbfcs.org), and made possible by a grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (www.jewishwomenny.org).