Today was my 32nd birthday. I had a wonderful day thanks to all of the fantastic people that I am blessed to have in my life. I was barraged with literally hundreds of happy birthday messages on social media (130 at last count), I was able to go on a child free date with my husband to dinner followed by ice cream and a walk in the park and sitting at the lake and having conversations like we did when we first met. To top it off, I was thrown a surprise party by my closest friends- people that I consider family. I am truly blessed and thankful to have such wonderful, beautiful people in my life.
When I woke up this morning to the flurry of "happy birthday" posts on my facebook wall, I posted a status that jokingly said "ahhh... it feels so good to be 24 again! ;) ". It was meant to be a joke, because I honestly feel much younger than my 32 years. However, once I posted it, it got me thinking. I started to reminisce about where I was at in my life in 2007 when I was 24 years old. I'm sure many people would love to go back and relive their early 20's if they had a chance. For most, it is a time in their life filled with wonderful memories and reflections of better days gone by. However, I am not most people.
Twenty four was an age that you couldn't pay me a million dollars to go back and relieve. Twenty four is usually considered to be the prime of someone's life- when they are adult enough to do what they want, make their own choices, start working towards their goals in life and begin to really form their personal identity and what they stand for - yet young enough to be carefree, have energy to party all night, fit into their skinny jeans, and feel like they are invincible and are capable of conquering the world if they put their mind to it. For me, however, 24 was an age filled with horror, desperation, despair, and sadness. I wasn't living at 24, I was dying.
By the time I hit 24, I had been through my 13th drug and alcohol rehab- a path that I first went down when I was all of 12 years old. With 12 years of very heavy drug and alcohol use under my belt, I was a seasoned addict- someone who had the horrible "privilege" of living through devastating consequences and loss in 12 years that takes most alcoholics and addicts three or four decades of drug use to experience. My "rock bottoms" were not spread out, there was no breathing room for me to have "a few good years" or any "moments of clarity." It had been 12 years of being stuck in the nightmare cycle of unquenchable drug and alcohol addiction. At 24, I had been homeless too many times to count, overdosed on heroin over a dozen times, lost custody of both of my children, racked up a plethora of assault and battery and drunk driving charges (among other things) that made quite the impressive of a criminal record, almost been killed due to bar violence or motor vehicle crashes dozens of times, tried (and failed) to go to college four times, lost all of my friends due to my addiction, destroyed my credit, and was a sad, bitter, shell of a person who didn't care if I lived or died. Actually, I welcomed and sought after death. Every night I went to sleep with the hope that I wouldn't wake up in the morning. Death would have been a welcomed escape from my own personal hell that I was living in.
At the age of 24, I entered what would be (little did I know then) my final drug rehab. Court ordered into it (or face a possible 10 year prison sentence), I had no desire to actually stop. I loved my drugs and alcohol, because they were the only thing I had ever known since I was a 12 year old girl. They were my only friend and my only coping mechanism. I had messed my life up so badly that they were the only thing I had left. No way was I giving them up. But, I would go through the motions for court. Prison wasn't exactly where I wanted to be. I was terrified of going through heroin and alcohol withdrawal. So I did what I needed to do to be able to stay in society and use as much as I wanted to. I went to outpatient rehab 5 days a week, 5 hours a day for a year and a half. I was smart, and learned how to dilute urine drug screens, pass Breathalyzer tests, and only use at home or at the homes of people I trusted instead of going out in public to cut down on the risk of being arrested for something I did while under the influence. I just needed to look clean and sober on paper to the judge. And I succeeded- for awhile.
While in my last rehab at 24, I met a guy who was in rehab for substance abuse issues as well. We hit it off right away, and quickly became friends. He knew about my legal problems and vowed that we would never ever use together. He would never put me in a situation where I could get into trouble. He was an amazing guy with a loving heart, but he was sick just like I was. We hung out for awhile and were able to stay sober, but that quickly took a turn for the worst. There is a reason why they tell you not to date other people in rehab. Before we knew it, our friendship had turned to love, and our days of "hanging out" were nothing more than alcohol drenched, drug fueled craziness. We moved in with each other, and things only got worse We got into violent, drunken fights ( I even pushed him in front of a semi-truck once), and our entire existence was focused on being so out of it that we didn't have to feel, think, or function. We were drinking over the equivalent of 45 beers each a day, and if we went longer than four hours without a drink, we would have alcohol DT's (the shakes) so bad that we couldn't even hold a coffee cup. We popped morphine pills and Oxycontins by the handfuls, I would take up to 30 Vicodin at a time, and when we really needed something to kick the party up a notch, we would spend $800 on crack cocaine- all of which was gone by the morning. We were thrown out of bars for being so obliterated that we fell off of barstools and out of family Holiday gatherings for showing up so drunk that we couldn't walk. We were completely and utterly out of control, two hardcore addicts who were enslaved to the point that we were under the influence of SOMETHING, every second of every day. We couldn't do anything but do drugs and drink. We tried to quit many times, but our resolve to get sober usually only lasted until noon, sometimes 3 pm if we were really trying. One of us would give in, and the other one went down with them. We were two sick people who fueled each other's insanity, and there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel or hope of getting off the nightmare of a ride we were on.
Little did I know that the nightmare would come to an end the next year, at the age of 25. When I came to a point in my addiction where I saw absolutely no hope, and I was afraid to live as much as I was afraid to die, was the point where I became desperate enough to cry out to God for help. That is when I had a head on collision with Jesus, and he rescued me out of me out of my nightmare. The light at the tunnel did exist, and it bore nail marks in its hands and feet.
So, when I say it would feel good to be 24 again, it's a lie. A horrible, nightmare of a lie. Twenty four years old again is the last place I would ever want to be. I As horrible as it was, if I could go back and do it over, I wouldn't change it. The person I was at 24 is exactly who I needed to be for God to change me into who I am now. Their was purpose in my pain- and God has redeemed every hurt, pain, and loss that I went through in the first 2/3 of my life. I have compassion on drug addicts because I was one- compassion that I wouldn't have had if I didn't live through the experiences that I did. However, where I am at in my life right now- thanks to the redemptive and saving power of Jesus Christ- is the best season of my life I have ever experienced. I would not change the life I have now for anything. God has blessed us beyond measure. I have a loving, devoted, caring, handsome, Godly husband, children that mean the absolute world to me, a loving church family that are some of my best friends, relatives who care about and support me, the beginning of a career that gives me purpose and the ability to help other people who have been in my shoes, and a ministry where I get a front row seat every day to the astounding, miraculous power of Jesus Christ to break the chains of addiction and redeem and restore addicts the same way that he has my husband and I. This is what living is really about- living for others, and using the nightmare of my past to give hope to others instead of chalking it all up as wasted years that meant nothing. Is my life easy now? Not at all. It still has a lot of "hardness" in it. But it's a different hard than the hardness you live through in addiction. The trials I go through now have purpose, and I can prevail through them by relying on Jesus and knowing that he promises me a hope and a future. At the age of 24, I had no hope, no reason to believe anything could ever get better, and no power to change- because I didn't know the one who was able to make all things new. My life is not a bed of roses, but it is wonderful and beautiful and chaotic and purposeful. What more could I ask for? Thirty two is exactly where I want to be. And I can't wait to see what 33 brings!