by Jeffrey Stockbridge
Don’t blame yourself… cause that’s what we do… addicts in general blame ourselves for everything and that’s what kills you… is holding on to that guilt and shame. It will make you go back out and use drugs. If you put that blame on yourself. Because I know I’m a different person whenever I’m using. I’m not, I don’t care about anyone and that’s just with everyone that I’ve met. So don’t blame yourself for things that have happened like in your addiction. Because that makes you who you are and that’s why I’m telling my story because it might help somebody else.
I’m Amber Lynn Nichols, I’m twenty-four, I’ll be twenty-five in like two weeks. I grew up in a very abusive household, like physically, mentally, emotionally and I was a very confused kid because not only was I getting abused physically and mentally, like my step dad and my half-brother were molesting me at the same time.
So I was like eight years old and all these people like said they hated me and they didn’t want me part of their family, they called me it because I wasn’t a human being, I wasn’t allowed to eat with them, like just really like twisted stuff.
My dad was like in and out of my life and he was an addict and I always remember like packing my bags and waiting outside for him to show up and he would never show up. Like he was just never there. But then when I was eleven, my dad introduced me to like drugs and alcohol and I started drinking and I started doing Percocet and Xanax and Adderall and before I knew it, I was like doing it every day.
That just like kinda helped me cope with the fact of what was going on and it helped me escape. Because all my life like I felt like I wasn’t good enough, like nobody loved me, I wasn’t good enough. And like that stayed with me my whole addiction.
And whenever I‘d drink and do drugs like… I felt good enough, you know? I never, I never felt good enough but whenever I’d drink and do drugs I did. Like nothing mattered. As soon as I took a drink or as soon as I did drugs nothing mattered.
I grew up in Cuba, Missouri. It’s a small town like a thousand people. There wasn’t much to do there so I hung out with kids that got high.
And my mom was so different back then. Like she was very codependent and she would do anything just to make a guy happy, so whenever he was abusive like she wouldn’t argue with him because she just wanted to be loved and we were like poor and we met my step dad and he was rich and so he was like ‘Oh I’m gonna save you,’ kinda thing like… and then he just turned into an abusive asshole.
My dad was, he was just, always my best friend, like he was not a dad. Like I can never honestly say he was a father because he wasn’t, like he was my using buddy.
Whenever I would go over to his house it was like socially acceptable for me to be drinking… so I loved going there and um, I just remember getting really drunk and he would take away all my liquor because I would just be outrageous. Like one time I broke somebody’s nose while I was drunk and my dad took away my vodka and then he gave it back to me because he was like ‘You don’t know how to control your liquor,’ like but I was really young so like of course I didn’t.
By the time I was sixteen, let me just fast forward a little bit… My mom had left my stepdad because she had suspicion like he was molesting me and she just was unhappy finally so she left him and by the time I was sixteen, I was always hanging out with older people because they were always getting drugs and drinking and so I started shooting up meth when I was sixteen and but my whole life, like pills, like opiates were a constant, like no matter what, I was still doing opiates, like I mixed in every drug there was but opiates were always there.
My mom had no idea, like that I was on drugs like she had no idea um, like the cops would bring me home and stuff when I was fourteen, they would like knock on the door and I’m like wasted, they’re like ‘We found your daughter in the back seat of two twenty-three year old males car and she was passed out,’ ha yeah like, I was uncontrollable.
Like my mom would ground me, I would sneak out, get arrested all the time, but um my mom would um… after she left my stepdad, me and her did not talk and she blamed me for us having to move out and her leaving him, um, we never talked about what she thought he was doing or anything but she ended up getting with another guy named Chris, and Chris hated me. He would like call me a worthless monster and just say I was no good, she should just ship me off and get rid of me.
And so my mom tried. She tried to put me in this place called Boys and Girls Town, its for like juvenile kids, like kids that have charges and stuff but I never had charges stick on me so when she tried to ship me off it didn’t work and he left her and he said it’s my fault because I was, you know, no good, blah, blah, blah, he couldn’t get rid of me…. and so my mom when he left her she’s like ‘I hate you, I wish I never had you,’ and I remember writing her a note saying that I was so sorry that he left her. And I just wanted to be her friend and she ripped it all out, like ripped it into pieces, threw it in my face and left.
I hated her, I hated my mom for a long time. Like, it just… I couldn’t, I couldn’t stand her and then on my sixteenth birthday we were going to the city because she was like ‘I’m gonna buy you a present,’ so I- I bought my car myself, and we got there and I said my foot hurt from driving cause it was like an hour and a half and I had just got my car. And she was like, ‘You’re an ungrateful little bitch, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ and she was just going off and we climbed back in the car and she was like, ‘fuck it, just get in the car.’ So she’s driving my car but she’s screaming at me and so I’m yelling at her back and she just reaches over and she backhands me. She had a ring on and it chipped my tooth. And I called my dad through like, I stuck the phone in my sleeve and I called my dad and my dad heard everything and my mom thought like I was talking to myself, like cause I was trying to explain where we were and um, I explained where we were and the cops came.
And she ended up getting DFS involved which is like [The Department of ] Family Services, um, they were at our house for like six months.
They came in and she was like oh, well like this is how she is, she doesn’t listen, she doesn’t show up for curfew, like she won’t listen to one thing I say and DFS told her, ‘Let her do what she wants, she’s just a teenager, she’s going through a phase.’
When I lost my virginity when I was fourteen, she pulled me out of school and homeschooled me but she had two jobs and she was in college, so she was never there, so I didn’t do any homework, and I would leave and go get high all day and then come back you know.
I always got shipped off places. So when I was nineteen I started getting shipped off to rehabs, um, because I’d be like, ‘Ah, I can’t do this, I want help,’ and they would ship me off to Florida, Mississippi, Chicago, Jersey, Philly and when I got shipped here I went to detox in Jersey and I AMA’d which is like leaving against medical advice, with some guy and I hitchhiked all the way from Tom’s River to Camden and they were like, ‘Oh no, I know a place you’ll love, Kensington, its zombie land, you’ll love it, everybody walks around nodding out, like they got the best dope, like you’ll love it.’ And that’s how I ended up in Kensington.
In my addiction I was a prostitute and I was a stripper but I put the prostitution behind me so I decided to strip in South Philly and so I, I didn’t sleep for the whole two weeks like I was so scared because I didn’t know where I was and I looked around me and the shit I saw… So I would like sit at bus stops and I would like nod out but as soon as I would come to, I would get back up and keep walking again. And the guy that I left rehab with wanted more drugs off me one night when I got off work from stripping and I told him no and he pulled a knife out and chased me and he was trying to kill me or whatever, I don’t know what he was trying to do, he was trying to rob me but… um, I got away from him and then I was just alone, in Kensington… yeah, it was not a fun time.
I was like on crack and heroin, so, like if I was feeling tired I would do crack but like, I’ve always loved heroin, I’ve never, if I, hands down you hand me like any drug, I will always choose heroin. Like, if I could use successfully without the consequences I would.
I always had sugar daddy’s, everywhere I went, like even when I was homeless in Kensington, my sugar daddy’s from St. Louis were sending me money. Yeah, so like, how I explain it was, I was a snake, like, I would slither into your life and I would stick my fangs in you and I would suck all you had out, like your emotions, your money, everything I could take from you I would, and when you didn’t have anything left for me I would leave, like, that’s just how I was. It was bad, it was a horrible way [to live], like I’m doing my step 4 right now and I really got to look at myself and how bad I hurt people.
I was engaged 3 times at the same time with all different people that thought I actually loved them and I didn’t, I loved heroin. I didn’t love anybody else, you know. I loved heroin more than I loved my son. I can say that because I know that it’s true. That’s all you think about, all you care about. And every time I would do heroin I would always mix Fentanyl and Xanax together and every time I would do it I would just wish I wouldn’t wake up. I would sit there and pray like, ‘Please do let me wake up.’ And I would overdose and they would Narcan me. And I didn’t overdose for a long time but then I started overdosing, like 3 years of straight heroin addiction and never overdosed, then I started overdosing.
In October of last year, um, me and my boyfriend, my boyfriend was sober, I was sober, I got paralyzed by a chiropractor and I was in Jefferson for a month and a half and they were giving me opioids for the pain. And I got out and I last like a week. I went to Kensington got drugs, yeah, that’s where everybody goes. And I used and then I set it right down and I went to a meeting. I had a week clean and then my boyfriend who had a year and three months came over and he was high. And instead of like saying… well I did try to call someone but he didn’t want me to call anybody. But instead of saying like get out, like I can’t be around you, I did what I always did. Like in every one of my relationships it was a using relationship so I was like if I use with him nothing bad can happen. And so I used with him and we went to Kensington, got more drugs, came back to his spot and then the last thing he said to me was, “I love you,” and “we’re not doing this tomorrow.” And I nodded out, when I woke up, he was having trouble breathing, but you know like with heroin like, sometimes people like have trouble breathing but they come out of it, so I threw water on him, I smacked him and I snorted another bag instead of calling 911 and I nodded back out. And when I woke up he wasn’t breathing. He was dead. And I have no idea for how long because I was out you know… and for three days after that I thought, I was in such denial that I thought he was alive but nobody was telling me. And I went to detox, but they had hit me with Narcan, when the ambulance got there, because by the time they got me to the hospital I had overdosed… so, but I didn’t like eat or sleep or drink anything for like 8 days, the whole time I was in detox because I just hated myself so much, cause anybody in their right mind who wasn’t on drugs would call 911. But my thing was, he’s not overdosing, let me snort a bag and figure out how to deal with this situation. Like that’s how you think on heroin. Like let me get high so I know how to deal with this situation.
Like, I get in my head about being on Suboxone because I was in NA and as soon as I got put on Suboxone my sponsor told me I wasn’t clean and I couldn’t claim to be. I, I thought about just giving up when she said that to me. Thank God I didn’t, but when she told me that I was like, ‘Why should I even do this thing?’ Like I couldn’t share and say, ‘Hey I have thirty days clean.’ She’s like, ‘You can’t do that.’ I was furious, I was in tears, I was like, ‘I’m not welcome?’ And I had been a member of NA for a year and I had all my friends there and everyone I asked said, ‘You’re not clean.’ All my sober friends told me, ‘You’re not clean.’ If I didn’t go to AA (instead of NA) I wouldn’t have stayed clean. I wouldn’t have…
If you were to tell my mom like, ‘Your daughter shouldn’t be on MAT.’ She would be like, ‘Well she would be dead.’
I mean I don’t run around with a sign on my head sayin’ hey I’m on Suboxone but the people that are close to me know. And like my boyfriend knows. He’s an alcoholic, he’s in sobriety, he has like 8 months clean. He knows I’m on Suboxone and he said okay. Like, I’m in psychology in school and I’ve seen the statistics of the maintenance combine with recovery and its positive. Like I don’t even care if you’re high and you come into a meeting. Maybe, in-between like nods or whatever, you’ll hear something that makes you come back. You know, you need to accept people at where they’re at. Like I’m a big fan of harm reduction. Because some people aren’t ready so like what can we do, like, don’t use alone, you know, use clean needles, don’t share needles… I shared needles! I’m really lucking I didn’t get anything. I was a sex worker! I’m really lucky I didn’t get anything. You know but, people are so easy to push people away because they are not where they want them to be.
In this stage of my recovery I try not to put myself closer to a drink or a drug. Have I helped people? Have I thrown out their drugs before in recovery? Yeah. I brought my friend Brandon when I had six months clean, I brought him to detox. I was just picking him up to bring him to a meeting and I talked him into going to detox, he’s been clean ever since. He has a year and a half now.
If I just help one person by saying look, like this is what happened and this is how I got through it and this is who I am today, like that’s all I want, you know.
And by the way, my mom and me are best friends now. She’s my biggest cheerleader. She’s, she never thought that she’d be able to see me sober. She never thought it. It was hard, cause I blamed her for a lot. You have to surrender. You have to want more like, I always say your rock bottom is whenever you raise it up to meet you. Cause I hit my rock bottom a long time ago. But I, you got to stop digging. That’s what it’s all about. I had to surrender to the fact that I’m powerless over alcohol and drugs and I can never use again. Like just for today. That’s all I try to do, make it till midnight, go to sleep. Some days it’s easy, some days it’s hard.
Like right now I almost have three months but the last time I used, I used for five days and I lost my house, I lost my job… in five days, I was broke, I went through all my savings and I got kicked out of my house, I lost my job, like it was horrible, for five days of using and I detoxed myself on my bed. And that’s hard to do, I’d never done that before in my life. I always like, anytime I would get sick, automatically, ‘Where can I get money? Where can I get drugs?’ Even if I’m broke, I’m either gonna rob somebody or I’m gonna have sex with somebody so I cannot be sick.
That’s the scariest part of the heroin addiction is your body, not only does your mind scream for it, its like your body screams for it. It’s horrible, I wouldn’t wish dope-sickness on anyone, not even my own worst enemy, I would not wish it on them.
I never thought I’d be able to say it but, from High School drop out… I’m a college student. I work 40 hours a week. I’ve had the same job for over a year. I’ve gotten three raises while I was at that job, like I don’t know… I wake up everyday and I’m not dope-sick which is like amazing and I don’t have the want to use drugs on most days which is a miracle because that’s what my whole, I don’t know, what, thirteen years of my life was about. And the crazy part about it is, is I have a life that I never thought I would. Even though life gets ‘lifey.’ Like, I never thought I’d be okay being a ‘normy.’ Like I actually look forward to doing nothing. Like, I like going home, snuggling in bed after a long day and watching a movie. Like, I’m boring or whatever, but like, I love it. I love like, I don’t have to like, run around trying to find drugs or figure out how I’m gonna get something to eat or figure out where I’m going to lay my head at night. Like my life is okay, like its stable and it’s only gonna get better. With recovery that’s what happens.
I have a good foundation of sober people and have a great sponsor. I go to five meetings a week. And like I do everything to combat against my disease. I found a higher power which really helped me. Um… but I think I really had to get beat down for that part because I didn’t believe in God or a higher power on anything. But I got to the point where I had to believe in something.
Ummm… my biggest fear is that I will relapse after I have time and die an addict still. That’s my biggest fear because addiction is so sneaky. And it comes to you and its like ‘Hey like, lets get high.’ And your brain just goes ‘Okay,’ one day. Every time I’ve relapsed, that morning I woke up, I didn’t plan on relapsing and it just happened. But that’s my biggest fear… that I’ll die and addict. A using addict. Cause I see people with thirty years, five years, they go back out and they die. That’s the thing about this disease, is you can be doing great and then the next day you’re not.