National Recovery Month 2023 – Together We Are Stronger

From Street Cred to Brain Dead

My Addiction Journey

Jessica Wyman

Utilization Review Specialist 


July 2017 – I’m 26 and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel… there’s no happy ending for me.  I’m at a close friend’s funeral, the reality of which is incomprehensible, except to think this will likely be me, soon enough.   

My life was far beyond ‘spiraling out of control’ – it was completely unmanageable.  I’d lost three close friends to addiction in a month, one of which I’d relapsed with.  All of my circumstances and choices seemed to catch up with me; the world was ready to swallow me whole, and I couldn’t see a way out, nor did I want to. Prior to seventh grade, when we’d move, I would be the type of kid knocking on neighbors’ doors to find new friends – it was a reliable strategy.  I thought transitioning from homeschool to public school would be just as easy, and actually, it was – at first. I don’t have an explanation for it, but shortly after entering middle school in seventh grade, I decided to ditch the blond hair, oversized tees, and basketball shorts to become the quintessential goth.  Everyone seemed to accept this transition without question.  

The following year, which is still a mystery, all but one or two of the friends I’d made started bullying me.  Ultimately, that opened the door to a new world where marijuana was easily accessible, and drinking became a way of life. My parents separated shortly after I was born, so I was used to, and even comfortable in chaos, having been in and out of foster care until I was about six when my mom and I reunited.  I was notably underweight then, draped in dirty clothes and infested with lice. Still, it was all okay because I was home, and I had a new dad that quickly became my one source of constant support – the one person in my life who wasn’t fighting the demons of addiction.  

As I settled into this new life with my mom and stepdad, I had little awareness of my mom’s addiction struggles, particularly her battle with methamphetamines. I was just a child, unaware of the hardships unfolding around me, though looking back, I can see just how easily I would dissociate to cope with the turmoil. As I moved further into my teenage years, my mom’s deteriorating state led me down a path of experimenting with harder substances.  She and my stepdad were in an unstable relationship, so when she wasn’t living with him, she’d be at random houses; this is when I tried meth for the first time. I was a Freshman in high school, which is when I met my best friend, also named Jessica.  

Drinking and smoking weed was the new normal, so it was easy to ‘up the ante’ by doing ecstasy and coke at school.  I started dating significantly older guys and found a careless family doctor to prescribe me opiates; that man’s negligence was horrendous and heartbreaking to think about now.  After high school, Jessica and I went our separate ways, both battling our addictions over the years.  When we finally reconnected, it felt like no time had passed. 


From Street Cred to Brain Dead


I was at another close friend’s memorial service when I received a text from Jessica’s mom telling me she’d died from an overdose. It was devastating on so many levels; another close friend from back home died three weeks earlier… also from an overdose.  Not only was I reeling with grief during the funeral because I’d been the person who relapsed with them, now I was faced with overwhelming survivor’s guilt.  

Jessica was gone.  Cory was gone.  Ari was gone. 

I went back home for a week, and instead of connecting with family or friends, I was on a mission to no longer be alive.  I couldn’t dissociate from reality anymore, nor could I face it.  My attempts to overdose didn’t work – instead, I found myself in and out of treatment centers for about a year.  I would stay sober for a few days, sometimes even a few months, but relapsing became even more familiar.  

When I went to visit my family again for Christmas the following year, I connected with an old friend.  I wanted heroin, unaware of the recent trend to lace drugs with fentanyl, though I’m not sure that would’ve changed my decision.  The next morning, my mom and stepdad found me on the floor; my face was blue and I was completely unresponsive after NARCAN was used on me seven times… seven.  This was it – this was the relief I’d been searching for.  

I was intubated at the hospital, where the doctor told my family I was brain dead; they would need to pull the plug or I would stay in a coma. Two days later, however, without a medical explanation, I woke up.  I was back and ready to face reality despite the damaging effects on my memory and brain function. I went to outpatient treatment with a new perspective, spending the next three years leaning on the support of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) while seeking out individual therapy outside of treatment to work on the guilt and shame that I couldn’t deal with on my own.  

Understanding the circumstances from my youth as well as the belief that my brain is predisposed to addiction has helped me integrate the life I’ve lived up to this point.  I mean, I haven’t even touched on the rock bottoms experienced during the time I was homeless in Redding, CA. While I don’t intend to share an entirely new life chapter here, it is a significant part of my story, so I hope you’re still with me while I take a moment.

Once I decided to embrace my addiction, I consciously chose to be homeless, though the 115-degree heat pounded on my skin day after day, making the first few months a nightmare of uncertainty and shame.  Feeling too prideful to seek help from the only shelter available, I slept in random alleys, lived under bridges, and broke into motels while transitioning from methadone to methamphetamines. I met a young man who shared my struggle with addiction; we formed a tumultuous relationship and through him, I met his dad, who became my business partner in the drug trade.  As business grew, I found myself living in a motel room that would get raided by the police after 9 months – my boyfriend and I were both arrested; he was released… I was not.  

Jail offered me time and space for introspection. Though I didn’t believe in a Christian God, I attended chapel to avoid dwelling on my thoughts. During this time, seeds of sobriety were planted in my mind, though I wasn’t ready to clean my act up just yet. With a population of 90,000, Redding felt more like a small, condensed city where everyone in the homeless community knew each other.  I formed a sense of connectedness and belonging there, and can definitely attest to the fact that ‘street cred’ is a real thing; getting it during my time in jail afforded me some level of protection and respect in a world that is unpredictable and often extremely dangerous. It wasn’t until my body had broken down from a staph infection that I finally sought help for the first time.  I’d just gotten out of jail (one of many visits) and reached out to my mom, who’d previously gotten sober and was working to change her life.  She’d cut off contact with me for obvious reasons, but she was receptive to my cry for help, arranging for me to enter rehab in Los Angeles.  

Over the next few years, I went to rehab three times and found myself in a new relationship with someone I met in treatment. We had a short-lived engagement as he tragically passed away from a ruptured brain aneurysm, at which point I faced another rock bottom – another moment of reckoning. I decided to care for the children of my late fiancé, providing all the strength I could until they found more stable ground.  

I told you… beyond spiraling out of control.  

Jessica Wyman

I’ve been sober for almost six years now, and my mom for eight; I attribute so much of that to the community I built during my journey to sobriety; I was guided to make better choices and supported when I couldn’t support myself. I had a friend vouch for me when I was looking to get out of direct client care work.  Despite my criminal record, I was beyond fortunate to land a job at Hansei, where I’m still at today. Their belief in me gave me hope; it gave me an opportunity not only to grow individually, but to grow in service of something much greater than me.  

I don’t know about a happy ending, but it’s safe to say now that I do believe in the light at the end of the tunnel, and I believe that recovery is possible for anyone who wants it, just not alone. 

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