Emily started drinking when she was 14 years old.
Alcohol remained her drug of choice throughout her teens, but she was indiscriminate—she smoked weed, swallowed down pills, dropped acid, snorted cocaine—anything, she said, "she could get her hands on."
It wasn't about the drug itself. She needed to escape. Any substance that lifted Emily out of her everyday life and made her feel better about herself was fair game in her book. She did drugs from the moment she awoke to the moment she passed out.
Rehab frightened her. She'd heard "crazy things" about it. She didn't feel like moving into a rehab center and being told what do to every hour of every day. She was scared. She was desperate. She was penniless.
The low point came in a motel room in Florida—a dim, grimy, lonesome sort of place. She was cohabitating with a man she'd met in a treatment program from which they'd both skipped out. Two other men whom they'd met on the beach lived in their room with them. The motel was a loathsome, disgusting hole. Emily would wake up, roll over, reach for the minibar, and begin to drink without ever getting out of bed. She lost all her money and every pair of shoes she'd ever owned. Her feet burned on the hot asphalt as she begged and panhandled for loose change on the beach.
She'd had enough.
She called her mother, who flew in from New York to take Emily to rehab.
She agreed to 30 days of treatment.
She stayed for 16 months.
The first week in rehab was the hardest. A whirlwind of sight, sound, sensation, and unfamiliar routine. It was spellbinding and yet horrendous, Emily remembers. For the first time in her life, people treated her like an adult. They held her to task for her past actions. When she transgressed, she was called on the carpet. She learned the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, smart and stupid. The learning curve was steep, but Emily surmounted every obstacle in her path. But she rebelled. She acted up. She had lived by a negative, selfish code her entire life, and she didn't know how to break herself free. So she pushed, expecting someone to push back. But the staff at the rehab center didn't. They pulled her up instead. It wasn't Emily's first time in treatment, but it was the first time she hadn't been asked to leave.
And she learned. She found out about the negative patterns of thought and behavior that were holding her down. She understood why she'd been acting the way she did. She gained valuable insight into the real reasons underlying her addiction. She learned coping skills. She figured out how to handle her problems without resorting to substances. Her self-esteem finally found a firm foundation.
She was given the opportunity to go to college. She was so nervous on her first day of class that she nearly ran away. Emily's roommate had packed her a lunch. She peeked inside the bag. Next to the apple and the granola bar there were pieces of paper. Emily pulled them out and looked at them. Each member of the rehab center staff, and each of her fellow residents, had written her a personal note wishing her good luck. She broke down in tears. For the first time, she had people in her life who cared about her. She had real friends, friends who didn't lie to her, who held her accountable for her actions, and who taught her how to relate to her family. With a new boost of confidence, she walked into the classroom, no longer afraid of rebuilding her life.
She got her associate's degree in two years. Six years later, while holding down two jobs, she got her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and psychology. In 2007, she became a licensed counselor at the very same substance abuse center where she'd been treated.
A reputable rehab center, supportive staff, and a dedication to her cause gave Emily a second chance at life. She rebuilt her shattered existence on a firm foundation, one free of drugs and alcohol, full of promise and hope. With the aid of a quality treatment plan, Emily transformed from a penniless, shoeless, 18-year-old vagrant into a mature, confident, hardworking woman. Emily's dedication to restarting her life and understanding the true reasons behind her drug and alcohol habits allowed her to free herself from the destructive cycle of addiction.