Lost and Found

Delta Winds cover 1997Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Lost and Found

Karen Kulkowski

Hi. My name is Karen and I am a recovering addict. People who are not addicts cannot understand or make any sense of why addicts do what they do. Addicts cannot even tell you why they do what they do. The disease of addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. The best way I can describe it to you would be that it's a very strong obsession. The getting and using of the drugs is all you think about. You have to have drugs at all costs. You know that you are hurting your loved ones and other people, and you know that what you are doing is wrong. You also know that your behavior is insane, but you cannot stop. The wall of denial sets in, you justify and rationalize your behavior, and you tell yourself, ''I'm not that bad. I'm not hurting anyone. I'm only hurting myself.'' But you know in your heart that it is a lie. You will give up all your morals, your self-respect, everything you own, and everyone you love for the drugs. You are willing to take the chance of losing your freedom and your life. That's how powerful the disease of addiction is.

In the vicious cycle of addiction, you feel as though you are possessed. You feel trapped and you feel as though there is no way out of the pits of hell on earth. You carry with you great shame and guilt, a load that becomes unbearable to carry. You feel hopeless, desperate, and scared. Then you have society telling you that you are no good. They think you are a low-life and that there isn't any hope for you. You will believe that lie because you already feel like that. You are all alone and desperate, and you feel you have nowhere to turn.

It takes an act of divine intervention to release you from the bondage of addiction and the hopeless state of your body, mind, and spirit.

When I went into treatment the first time, I was full of anger and hate. I was a disobedient, disrespectful, nasty, and self-centered person. I hated myself, and I was always in conflict with everyone I came in contact with. I rationalized and justified all of my actions. I blamed people, places, and things for all my problems. I later learned I was to blame for the mess I had made out of my life. I couldn't imagine life without dope, yet I couldn't live with myself and the person I had become any longer. I needed the dope just to function like a normal person, yet in reality I wasn't functioning at all. My addiction had progressed; I was homeless, living on the streets, in motels or wherever I could find to stay. It was a very insecure feeling, not knowing from day to day where to sleep that night. It's a horrible feeling, waking up dope-sick, in dirty clothes, not remembering when I last showered or ate anything. And the sad part of it is I really didn't care anymore. My attitude was that if you don't like what you see, then don't look. I had lost so much weight that I looked like a walking dead woman who had been dragged through the gutter a few times. I felt angry and depressed and my thinking was crazy, my behavior insane. Drugs no longer killed the pain, and I knew I needed help desperately.

When I got to the treatment center, they put me in detox. I was very sick kicking the dope for a couple of weeks. When I went into withdrawals, I got so sick and hurt so much that I wanted to die. But I didn't. I couldn't sleep, eat, or get comfortable. Every minute seemed like an hour, every hour a day. I thought I would never make it through this, I wanted a fix badly, and I wanted to leave detox many times but had no place left to go. I was too sick and weak to do anything. I did a lot of crying and praying. It was truly a miracle that I made it through.

In detox nobody talked to me; they acted as if I had a contagious disease. The first person to speak to me was a counselor named Sandy. We clicked instantly. It seemed as though I had known her a long time, only I had just met her. We had a lot in common, and she seemed to have a way with me. She encouraged me and took a lot of time out to work with me. She was also a recovering addict, and she shared her story with me. She gave me my first ray of hope. She was and still is my inspiration. I never listened to or respected anyone, but she was different. She was able to get through to me and I listened to her when she spoke. I have always been a closed-up person with a wall ten feet high built up around me, and I was not letting anyone in. Somehow she was able to get me to let my guard down a little and to get into my head and my heart.

This lady was very special to me, and I think of her as my guardian angel. I believe she was God sent, and I would not have even made it through detox without her. She has been a big influence in my life and my recovery. When I was at my lowest, feeling like nobody cared, she reached out to me, guided me, and gave me direction in my recovery. She encouraged me to grow, but she also told me straight out things about myself that I needed to change. She made me look at myself (something an addict does not want to do) and take responsibility for the part I played in any given situation. She was gentle with me when I was sick, but she gave me tough love when I needed it. I know that I tested her patience and tolerance many times, but she never gave up on me completely. She had faith in me that I was going to make it, but I ended up letting her down.

Unfortunately, relapse was a part of my recovery. After almost eight months clean, I relapsed. Because I was not working my program the way I was taught, I had not built up a strong foundation, so I had no support system to fall back on. I let false pride, fear, and shame control me for one more year. Within that year I went back to detox only to leave two days later. Back on the streets, strung out in San Bernardino, I was admitted into the hospital for an abscess. My body was run down, and I was not able to fight off the infection. The first words the doctor said to me were ''I don't want to scare you, but you are dying." He told me I had blood poisoning, and that I was going into septic shock. He told me if I didn't get aggressive antibiotics soon, I would die. While I was lying in the emergency room, the doctors hooked an I.V. to my heart muscle. I cried out to God, asking him to forgive me for turning my back on him and to give me one more chance. If he would let me live, I would do whatever it took to get clean and stay clean. I was very scared because I knew I wasn't at all ready to meet my maker. After I talked to God, a very comforting feeling came over me, and I was no longer scared. I knew he had heard my cry, and I knew he had forgiven me and was there with me.

It was six more months of hell before I got the courage to go back into treatment and start all over. This time around, I did things differently. That near-death experience had gotten my attention, and I finally opened my eyes. I went on to a longer term program and completed it. I then moved into a half-way house. I did a lot of work on myself and my attitude. I had to. I didn't get clean to stay a miserable person. It's amazing how changing your attitude changes everything. Facing Sandy was really hard because I knew that I had disappointed her, but I hoped I could make her proud of me one day and also proud of herself for a job well done.

After eight months clean, I returned to the treatment center as a volunteer. The counselors treated me like I was one of them. It felt good that they were proud of me, and that they had noticed the change in me. I really had come a long way.

As a volunteer I spent my time getting to know the residents and sharing my story with them. I tried to encourage them and give them hope, letting them know that there is a way out, if they wanted it. I took residents to the hospital or sometimes for a walk. I also helped the counselors with whatever they asked me to do. Doing volunteer work at the treatment center helped me to stay clean and at the same time I was helping others. That's really what recovery is all about; one addict helping another to stay clean, the same way my guardian angel had helped me. Some residents told me they felt better just because I listened to them and cared about how they felt. Others told me I was an inspiration to them. I felt very good inside to be able to give back to the treatment center and to know that I was making a difference in some people's lives. I wish I could save everybody, but I am not God. Recovery is hard work but I believe if I can do it, anyone can. I remember Sandy telling me, ''Karen, if you stay clean, there is no reason why you couldn't be working as a counselor one day too.'' I didn't believe her then because I didn't believe in myself.

I have a purpose in my life today. My goal is to get a substance and child abuse certificate and also an A.A. I hope to one day be working as a counselor with juveniles.

When I look back on my life, it's hard to believe who I was one year ago: a hopeless, pitiful dope fiend. I have a long hard road of reconstruction ahead of me, but I see my new life in recovery as an adventure. Thank God for my guardian angel.