It took time to repair the enormous trail of wreckage I had created.

When she was 16, Cortney was given one prescription opioid pill by a friend, and that one pill changed the course of her life. The pill made her feel like her emotional pain had gone away and made her feel completely numb. Within a year, her use of opioids had turned into an addiction. She dropped out of high school and her only motivation was to get money to buy more opioid pills.

After walking out of several treatment facilities because of her fear of withdrawal, Cortney’s turning point came right after her 19th birthday, when she had warrants out for her arrest in four counties. She tried to take her own life by intentionally overdosing on multiple drugs, but it didn’t work. She woke up alone and cold in her car and did not have the will to go on. She then turned herself in to the police. It was in jail that she went through opioid withdrawal and began her process of recovery. With the support of recovery programs and great counselors, Cortney started to finally feel worthy of living a life of recovery.

Now, Cortney works with others on their journeys to recovery to give them the same hope and strength that she received. She strives to make sure people struggling with addiction have a safe community of support around them.

My recovery from opioid addiction took time to repair the enormous trail of wreckage I had created.

Supporting people in their addiction recovery is so much more than my job—it is a passion. This passion not only helps the individuals I work with, but also helps me sustain my own recovery from substance use disorder.

From just one pill…

My first prescription opioid pill came from a girlfriend, who told me that it was safe and harmless because it came from her doctor. But that pill flipped a switch inside me that took away my emotional pain and made me numb. I knew hard drugs were illegal and taboo, but I didn’t think that these pills were dangerous. I had no idea that I could actually get addicted—I just knew that I felt sick when I stopped taking them.

I went from being an honors student and varsity athlete, to a high school dropout in just one year. I tried to go to college after getting my GED, but my life revolved around using pills. I was so dependent on the pills, that I became a shell of the person that I used to be. I stopped eating, lost weight, my skin was ashen and gray, my eyes sank into the sockets, and my hair became so brittle. Even worse, my personality was not there anymore, I was only functioning to get money to get more opioids to prevent getting sick.

Turning it all around

My family tried to get me into treatment programs, but as soon as I started feeling the symptoms of withdrawal, I would sign myself out. Finally, things changed right after my 19th birthday. I was living with a gang, had warrants out for my arrest in four counties, and had destroyed almost every meaningful relationship. My absolute lowest point was when I drove to a rural town and tried to intentionally overdose on multiple drugs. I had resigned myself to the idea that I was going to die addicted to drugs. There was no hope or fight left in me. That night I should have died, but instead, I woke up cold and confused in my car the next morning. It was then that I decided to stop running. I went home to my mother where she hugged me tight, told me she loved me, and called the cops. I was arrested in my kitchen and taken to jail.

After months of withdrawal symptoms while incarcerated, I finally felt like my mind was clearing up. Thanks to recovery resources and wonderful support from peers and counselors, I realized that I didn’t have to live that way anymore; I realized recovery really was possible for me. This was not the end of my journey; I had to climb out of a really big hole. With the burden of legal expenses, lack of education, strain on the relationships in my life – I had a lot to heal and repair as I moved forward with my life.

Sharing my story

So many amazing people helped me through my recovery process, making me feel like I was worth getting treatment and really living a good life. Because of this experience, I work to support others on their addiction and recovery journeys. I know how disheartening it feels to have people judge and stigmatize you. I am hoping to use the insights I’ve gained in the last 10 years of recovery to give others the same hope and encouragement I received. I know how profound it can be to have people share their own experiences with you, knowing that they may have gone through even worse, yet are living full lives.

Now, I work to let people know that no matter what you have done, there is so much life left to live.

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Learn more about opioid misuse and overdose, data, and prevention resources at CDC’s Opioid Overdose website.

Learn more about opioid data and resources.