I was fighting a rat for the remnants of a corn dog I'd salvaged from the trash. That's when I realized I'd crossed the final line I had drawn.
I had told myself, as long as I don't shoot up, I'm OK. As long as I'm not homeless, I'm OK. But now I was shooting up and homeless, and there was nowhere left to draw. I had reached the bottom line of my existence.
I was constantly searching for something outside to fix how I felt inside. My first memory of that need was when I was about 8. My parents had divorced, and I was living with my grandmother. We had a difficult relationship. I wasn't fitting in at school, and I was overweight. I went into her kitchen pantry and ate an entire container of icing. I put the lid back on and placed it exactly where I had found it. Before long, I began to make excuses so I could hide in the pantry.
When I went back to my father, we moved around. I never stayed in the same school for more than a year. I was always the new and awkward tall kid, and I learned to downplay my intelligence in order to fit in.
Drugs and alcohol helped me feel at peace with myself, and opened the door to being liked by other kids. I tried anything I could get my hands on: pot, alcohol, crack, hallucinogens, pills, belladonna seeds and household products that I could huff. Only new and stronger chemicals masked how I truly felt about myself: unwanted, unworthy, useless and ugly.
Eventually, substance abuse became the common denominator among the people I allowed in my life. If you did not use, then I didn't have time for you.
My judgment began to deteriorate. I found myself in places I didn't want to be and doing things I didn't want to do. I would get in cars with strangers and drive to another state just on the promise of getting high. It is only by the grace of God that I think I was able to survive.
When I was 17, I had a daughter, but even the unconditional love of a child couldn't coax me away from the demon of addiction. When she was 3, she went to live with her father.
I sold just enough drugs to cover the cost of what I was using. I was now living with others in a riverbed under a freeway overpass. The drainage would bring large deposits of aluminum cans, which we would exchange for money. I was now an IV meth user and couldn't fathom how my life could get any worse. I didn't have the courage to kill myself, but I also couldn't muster the will to stop using.
My 34th birthday was the worst day of my life. I remember begging whomever would listen to either kill me or save me, but don't leave me here in hell.
I remember the next day like it was yesterday. I felt like a cockroach crawling out from under the bridge that morning. When my eyes adjusted to the sun, I saw the police officers. I had already had many run-ins with the law, and for a moment I weighed whether I could outrun the police this time. But my body was just too tired.
I knew I was again going to prison. But strangely, this didn't bother me. I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders. Somehow deep in my heart I knew that I was ready to never live this way again.
I did my time and, with the help of my family, I was paroled into a residential treatment center. The day I walked in was truly the first day of the rest of my life. My mind was ready to embrace the idea of a second chance.
At a 12-step meeting at the center one night, I heard a woman talk about an insatiable hunger she felt in the pit of her stomach — a hunger that could never be filled by any food, only drugs. She called this hole a "spiritual void." At that instant, I felt like a piece of my puzzle had finally snapped into place. I wasn't alone. There were others who felt the void, and who were waking up every day to fight to stay clean.
While in treatment, I went back to school. I was 35. Within two years, I graduated from community college. I took out student loans and transferred to a university, where I graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in business administration. I went after my recovery like I did my drugs and found I was able to accomplish anything I truly wanted.
Today I work with women who serve their prison sentences in residential treatment along with their children. My path to recovery led me to a job where my experience could help others, and that is why I feel my life hasn't been wasted. I hope I can continue counseling those who share my story. I hope I can continue to build my fragile relationship with my daughter. And sometimes, I just hope.
Hill lives in Southern California, where she works with recovering addicts and fosters dogs from an Akita rescue.