I was twelve years old when I first smoked pot. Suddenly, I was free. Free from anxiety and depression. Free from pressure. Free from pain.

I thought I’d found something that would make life better or at least easier; but instead, the addiction enslaved me. It turned my life and my family’s life into a living hell.

Addiction doesn’t just happen. No; it slithers its way into your life and then slowly begins to choke out the light until all you can see is darkness. All your hopes, dreams, and aspirations fade away. Life becomes an art of survival as you try to feed the darkness within.

Growing up, I knew I was loved. I had wonderful parents. But I had such emptiness inside, and I never knew how to express it. Drugs filled—or more like numbed—that emptiness in my heart and helped me function without all the pain. Drugs gave me a means to live.

At the age of fifteen, I began dating a boy I knew my parents disapproved of. So I kept it a secret. When he cheated on me, I was devastated. The pain in my heart was so great, I no longer wanted to live. I swallowed a bunch of pills and drank from my parents’ liquor cabinet.

A friend found me having a seizure on the kitchen floor. I was taken to the emergency room, where they pumped my stomach. My dad held my hand with tears rolling down his cheeks. I was so full of shame and embarrassment. When the doctors asked why I had taken so many pills, I responded, “I just wanted to sleep for a long time.” They sent me to a mental institution for my addiction, and that’s where the humiliation really began.

I was greeted by a boy my age who actually attended the same high school I did. “Who would have ever thought someone like you would end up in a place like this, with people like us?” His words still haunt me today.

To the outside world, I looked like I had it all together. I was the cheerleader, honor roll student, on the homecoming court, a member of the student council. But on the inside, I was falling apart. In the mental institution, I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication.

The meds made me so tired. I began skipping classes in my senior year so I could go back home and sleep. I had so many absences that the prospect of me not graduating became a scary reality. Fortunately, I did graduate and was accepted to the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. I planned to start in the fall.

A week before graduation, I took a trip with my parents to Minneapolis. I thought we were attending a convention for my dad’s business. Instead, my parents were dropping me off at the Hazelden Rehab Center. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to attend a twenty-eight-day program to overcome this addiction and then live in a halfway house for a couple of months before I entered college. I was angry and devastated to say the least.