Jess Kessler joins the discussion this week to share her story along with her perspective. Jess actively works an Alcoholics Anonymous program and recently celebrated two years of sobriety. Along with AA, she works an Alanon program because, as she put it, “substances are only a symptom of this disease.” She walks us through her progression into substance abuse, the reasons behind why she started using, and the impact it has had on her life. We talk about her passion for life as well as the optimism she has for the future.
What are your thoughts on addiction?
I think addiction is a progressive disease that a lot of people truly don’t understand. I think it terribly effects a lot of families and it is taking people down by storm.
How have your thoughts on addition progressed?
I was always an athlete growing up, so I looked down on drug use and it wasn’t until I tried it myself, that I was like, “oh this isn’t that bad, I guess it’s kind of fun.” It was then that I started putting the drugs before my athletics and everything really. It started with me really looking down on it, and towards the end that changed.
Could you be more specific?
When someone said drug addict, I thought about a person with scabs and scars all over them living under a bridge.
How was your progression into drug use?
For me, it started with pot. I remember I smoked with my older brother and then it kind of grew into what it is. Then I started drinking with people in high school, I always noticed I was the one staying up the latest and drinking the most. I just couldn’t get drunk enough. I was introduced to pills, benzos, at a party I threw when I was seventeen, and I really liked them. From there I found opiates, I didn’t like them at first, but I kept doing them because I’m an addict. Then I found heroin and it just brought me to my knees.
What was the reason behind why you wanted to start?
I think I wanted to smoke weed because my very first boyfriend smoked sometimes and he made it sound fun. We were with my brother, and I knew my brother was doing it a lot, so we decided to get high one night. We smoked a joint and were acting like complete idiots, but we thought it was hilarious. The peer pressure of high school, I don’t like when people talk about peer pressure, but it’s definitely real. I wasn’t comfortable with myself from a really young age, I always felt isolated from people, and being under the influence took away all the fear of social settings.
I can totally relate to that because for me, I was painfully insecure. When I started with the drugs, it was like that inhibition was just gone.
I remember being at parties in high school. It would be two in the morning and everybody would be passed out already. I would be wandering around looking for empty beer bottles and trying to drink whatever was left out of them. I would get tobacco spit and cigarette butts sometimes it was terrible, gross. There was no off switch.
How has it impacted you?
It really wrecked my self-esteem, any self-esteem that did have, it tore apart my family. I still have a lot of amends that I need to make for things that I’ve done. I did some really terrible things to my parents and I lost a lot of friendships, burned a lot of bridges. I never really gave myself a chance to have any aspirations or dreams. Until now, that’s something that’s just starting for me. I’m just figuring out who I am now that I don’t use anymore. I really stunted my growth mentally and emotionally.
How long do you have clean?
Two years on the 13th of June. It’s been a long road.
What are your aspirations, tell me about you now?
I don’t have that many aspirations yet. It’s slowly coming for me, but back in high school, I was a pretty artistic person. That’s something I want to do with the rest of my life. Also, I want to bring awareness to this disease and help as many people as possible who are struggling.
What sort of art do you do now?
I like to doodle, I don’t do much yet. I’m slowly getting there. I guess for a really long time I was scared to do anything because I felt like that’s something that I just can’t get back, but that’s not reality.
The artistic side of you?
Yeah, that artistic side of me, that’s not reality. I know that if I just dig in, it’s still gonna be there. That’s what made me happy in the past and that’s something that I really want to get into eventually again. I’ve been doing a couple of things, but not as much as I’d like.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think I would do anything differently because I think that addiction has made me more well-rounded. I guess if there’s one thing I would have done differently, I would have gotten sober at a younger age. I would have gotten sober earlier, but everyone has their own journey, everybody has the path that they need to walk down. For me, I just took a little longer than I would have liked.
Was your view of different drugs different at all? By that I mean did you view pills in a different light than you viewed alcohol, than how you viewed pot? Or were they all the same?
When I was younger, it was all of them are bad. I grew up with an alcoholic dad, he’s in recovery now, but I really looked down on anybody who would put anything into their body to make them act like an idiot or tear apart their family. As I got older, I think they definitely differ on the spectrum of what’s worse. I saw meth and heroin as super bad, and weed not that bad. As I started to dig into the different substances I was like, “well, this isn’t that bad, it’s not like it’s heroin or crack.”
You start to rationalize, that was one of the reasons why I started on pills so young was because they were all the same to me. What do you think of the social stigma attached to addiction?
Like I said, a lot of people don’t know enough about addiction, I think it’s a genetic predisposition and a lot of people don’t know that from my experience. I think a lot of people think it’s a lifestyle choice, which I think it can definitely be circumstantial, but it’s sad that there’s not enough awareness brought to it because I would have looked at it a lot differently when I were younger. Had I known how it was a disease and not a lifestyle choice.
What do you think about what’s being done as far as how we better educate people?
I remember when I was in school, we had DARE. That’s really all we had with addiction, we never learned about how it’s a disease. I don’t think I ever learned that.
When did we have the DARE?
It was fifth grade, and that was it. Just one year and that was it. Drugs are bad and just say no. I think we could definitely throw addiction into the education system, that’d be very beneficial.
Do you work AA or NA?
I work AA, that’s how I got sober.
What are your thoughts on NA, AA, and rehab?
I think they’re all great programs. Rehab, for me, kind of just told me about my addiction, the psychological part of it. So did AA really, I think it’s whatever works for you. For me, in the area that I specifically live, AA is more prominent. That’s where all the old-timers are. The treatment center that I ended up going to took us to AA so that’s where I got sober. I’ve read both pieces of literature and I think they’re both equally awesome.
How many times had you been to rehab?
Probably like twelve times or fourteen times?
When did you first start (going into treatment)?
I started out going to psych wards because my parents didn’t know what was going on and they really didn’t know what to do with me. That was when I was sixteen and I didn’t go to my first rehab until it was 21, actually I turned 21 in rehab.
I also had a birthday in rehab, I think I turned 24 or 25 in Brighton. I also went to a psych ward at one point and that was a terrifying experience. Did that help at all?
It didn’t help at all. I made some friends, probably not a good place to make friends, but no it didn’t help me at all.
When did you realize, for you, it had become a problem?
I overdosed when I was 18 and I ended up in the hospital for a couple weeks. I was in a medically induced coma. My dad ended up finding me on my bedroom floor. That was before, when I was doing pills, so that’s when I kind of thought, “okay, maybe I’m not doing it like other people do recreational drugs.” So when I was eighteen, but even after that, I still tried to justify it a lot.
When you’re living with an addiction the worst part about it is nothing else matters, at least for me, you might be able to relate. All you care about is getting high.
It is all you care about, it’s really all that matters. I was just thinking about that this past weekend. I went up to see my grandma, and it was such a foreign feeling to be worried about other people and to be concerned with other people as opposed to just constantly worrying about where my next fix is gonna be or how I’m gonna get it.
Looking forward, what do you have on the horizon? What are you excited about?
Someone said this to me a couple of years ago, she’s someone I really look up to, when I was trying to get sober she said, “Jessy, you know what it’s like to get sober for a couple of months, and to get housing and to get a job you know what it’s like to get all this stuff back, but what you don’t know is what long term sobriety you can bring you and really what the promises of Alcoholics Anonymous are all about.” I know for me, I’ve seen a lot of people have their lives turned around miraculously. I have no idea what’s on the horizon for me, but I’m excited. I know that if I keep doing what I’m doing and I help those still suffering from this disease then God has something good in store for me. Something beyond imaginable.