Tal started drinking at the age of 12. At 13, she began using drugs. Cocaine was her drug of choice, but sedatives were also easy to acquire. Even SSRIs, a class of drugs often prescribed for anxiety and depression, could give her a high when she took them at higher doses.
What Triggered Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol?
Looking back, Tal says she struggled with severe depression and anxiety at the time, and before that with an eating disorder. In time the eating disorder went away but the depression and anxiety grew worse. These issues went undiagnosed but were likely one trigger of the drug and alcohol abuse.
Another trigger was environmental: Her parents were “big into partying and drinking” and normalized these behaviors for Tal at a young age. Drinking and doing drugs were “expected behaviors in our household,” Tal recalled in a recent interview. “My mother was like, ‘If you drink and do drugs, just do it here,’” so Tal’s friends would come over to her house to drink and use drugs that her mom’s friends would supply her.
Those drugs included cocaine. They were so easy to procure from friends, in fact, that Tal said she never had to buy drugs from a dealer even once.
“Through all my years of using, I didn’t have to use a drug dealer,” she said. “It was easier to make a phone call to one of my friends and say ‘Hey, I’m running a little low,’ and they’d say, I’ll be by in an hour.’”
Tal said her mother “knew I was using cocaine,” and that “my mom’s friends would supply me,” anyway.
Later, during sobriety, Tal would struggle with the fact that her own mother enabled her cocaine addiction. “It took a while when I got sober to not be mad at her, but she was a drug addict and alcoholic,” Tal said. “For her it was the best she could do in her state. She was looking for a best friend rather than a daughter, and the best way was to include me in her lifestyle.”
Tal struggled with cocaine addiction for three years and continued drinking for another two years after that. During school, she would sneak out of the classroom to use drugs in the bathroom or hide alcohol in water bottles to get through the day.
The Turning Point That Preceded Recovery
Was there a turning point or wake-up call during those years of being addicted to drugs and alcohol? Yes. Tal said it was “a combination of things.” She remembered a point when “I was 16 and had a younger brother who was 10 years younger than me, and he’d be so excited to tell me what he was learning. He’d try to curl up in bed with me and say, ‘I missed having you around.’ It made me say ‘I hate what I’m doing to myself, and I don’t want him to think this is okay. People were looking for me to be an example.”
Tal was also beginning to experience serious health issues because of the substance abuse: “My memory was so shot that I couldn’t remember what I did that day. I was having kidney and liver problems that the doctor said might be expected in someone in their 40s but not someone in their teens.”
And then there were the legal issues. Together, these factors drove home the reality that what had seemed like just “young, dumb and fun” behavior was now “destructive and life-threatening.”
How Avoiding “People, Places and Things” Helped
Who and what helped Tal find recovery? At the time she “didn’t have the ability to seek treatment in a facility.” It was not an option that her family could afford. She was 16 at the time. Here is how she recalled it:
“I was talking to my mom and saying I needed a change. She wasn’t ready for that. But I moved away for two months, and my mom got us a two-bedroom apartment, which was six hours away from anyone I knew. I got out of my environment in order to get stable and then reached out to Narcotics Anonymous groups.”
At the same time, Tal began to attend to her health. “I would go to the women’s health center that was close by,” she said. “They were good about supporting my medical needs.”
There’s a common refrain in the recovery community that “people, places and things” are relapse triggers and that the best way to avoid these triggers is to eliminate exposure to them. What Tal knew to do intuitively—leaving her Chicago neighborhood to go live in northern Michigan for two months—proved lifesaving.
Starting Over and Building a Healthier Life in Recovery
Tal couldn’t stay in northern Michigan forever—or at least not in that season of life. She had to come home. Successfully navigating that transition took hard work, self-discipline and more intentional separation from the people, places and things that belonged to her old life.
“When I got back, I changed my number, deleted all contacts, and separated myself from that whole social group,” Tal said. “If my mom was going to have parties, I’d arrange to go to grandmother’s house.”
Tal also got a job to keep herself busy. “I started working full-time and taking college classes on top of high school—anything I could do to separate myself from my old social circles. It wasn’t easy at all. It was essentially starting over but in the same place.”
Still, when confronted by offers to party and drink and use drugs, “it helped to be able to say, ‘I have too much on my plate right now.’” Staying busy and occupied was an important protective factor.
What Makes Recovery Worthwhile
At the time of this interview, Tal was preparing to celebrate her 12th-year anniversary in recovery the next day. At 28, she is happily married to someone who is also in long-term recovery. Together they have two kids. Tal described her life in recovery as “incredible”:
I finally got healthy enough to have kids. I met a man who is also in recovery. We established a life based on who we want the next generation to be … Everything makes recovery worth it. You wake up knowing that you are walking through the day on your own and that the decisions you make are what you want and not what you need. If I’d kept going [with drinking and using drugs], I wouldn’t be able to be here or watch my kids grow up.
Life in recovery, while rewarding beyond imagination, has not always been easy. When Tal’s sister passed away from a heroin overdose, “I hit a really hard time and was in a bad place, and it was so easy to go the other way. Instead, I went back to outpatient therapy and NA groups and started a non-profit organization to help people in the area who need treatment.”
Words of Encouragement for Anyone Struggling with Addiction
What words of encouragement does Tal have for anyone struggling with addiction?
“Realize that running from a problem isn’t going to solve it. We can’t run from ourselves, and no matter how much drugs or alcohol we consume—or whatever the addictive behavior is—we still have to face ourselves. Recovery takes time. Addiction is not an overnight occurrence and recovery can’t be either.”
Also, she added, “Our past doesn’t define us. We define us. We don’t have to say we’re drug addicts for the rest of our life. Patience is everything.”
There’s no shame in getting help for an addiction or mental health disorder. That’s the message of our “No More Shame” campaign, which seeks to reduce the stigma of addiction and mental illness. In continuation of that theme, this story is part of a monthly series featuring the true stories of people who asked for help and found hope and healing.
Are you feeling like there’s no way out of an addiction? Learn how you can find healing. Call our 24/7 helpline at 1-844-335-8506.