When I got the news that my little sister Celeste had died of a drug overdose, there was, ironically, something freeing about the tragedy. You see, she was my favorite thing on this earth and losing her gave me permission to give up on my own life. I was already in what I thought was quite possibly the world’s most miserable marriage, completely isolated from my friends and family in a middle-of-nowhere Alabama town. Most days, Celeste’s support was all that got me through. Her death marked the end of my efforts to survive an unbearable situation and the beginning of my efforts to join her.
As you can imagine, I spiraled quickly. Addiction runs in my family and my own increased exponentially. I lost my children because of my inability to control my drinking and drug abuse. Then I decided I might as well be as far away from Alabama as possible. A geographical cure is defined by addicts and alcoholics as a move from one location to another in an attempt to get clean without making any of the other necessary changes. The move to Utah was, in every way, just that. At the time, I believed that, in a state comprised mostly of Mormons, my chances were good. I have since found that if you position yourself in the shadows rather than the sunlight you can find trouble just about anywhere.
Doing hair reminded me of what being an artist felt like:
it felt like being alive.
A secondary reason for the move was to attend school. I initially attended another institution and managed to maintain some period of sobriety. During that time, I realized that I loved to do hair, I really loved it. I had been a studio art minor before getting married and doing hair reminded me of what being an artist felt like: it felt like being alive. I remember when I won first place for women’s cut and style in a hair show at my school; I had to hold back tears when I went up to receive my award. Then I stopped putting my recovery first. I forgot how critical it is to love myself every day and that made it all too easy to accept a prescription for pain medicine when I had some trouble with migraines. I deteriorated at such an amazing rate that I was terrified.
I took a leave from my school and then decided to transfer to Paul Mitchell The School Salt Lake City. There were many reasons: some rooted in a desire for the best education possible, some perhaps seeking the old geographic cure again, and some that I really believe were divinely inspired for the reasons I’m about to share with you.
When I started at Paul Mitchell, I was completely lost in my IV heroin and cocaine addiction. Every morning I woke up just sober enough to be flooded with such fear that I could not get to the needle fast enough. Trying to balance school while keeping my secrets, obtaining money and drugs, and making sure I didn’t get sick or caught was exhausting, to say the least. Then began the absences. One day, after a string of days of not showing up for school, I left a message for Shane in the financial aid department. I was so ready for him to call me and leave me some horribly angry and aggressive message, threatening to pull my financial aid money or throw me out of school. But he didn’t. In fact, he expressed concern and explained how I could take a leave of absence. This freaked me out, but I chalked it up as the Christmas spirit.
You people were all around me, and your kindness was killing me.
But it wasn’t killing me; it was killing my disease. I could not continue to hate and harm myself with this kind of love around me.
It was too constant and too consistent.
After New Year’s, I returned to school but it was stormy that day and I extorted the situation and hid in my car all day. At the end of the day, Brent in admissions caught me and told me to come to his office the next day. I thought about it all night, sure that I was going to be suspended or something. In a way, I looked forward to a big confrontation, a reason to blow out of there and never return. You have to understand that anger and hate were my fuel. Those negative emotions were like the blankets with which I shrouded myself: I could use drugs over your cruelty, drink over your hate. It was a perfect alibi, every time. I reported to Brent that morning wearing my war paint. He asked how I was and again expressed concern. He said if I needed anything . . . You people were all around me, and your kindness was killing me.
But it wasn’t killing me; it was killing my disease. I could not continue to hate and harm myself with this kind of love around me. It was too constant and too consistent. I can’t tell you what will happen if you “be nice or else.” I can only tell you what that gift did for me. It gave me the courage to take a leave of absence, check myself into detox, and kick heroin and cocaine. It was the scariest move I have ever made, followed by a close second when I walked back through the doors after getting clean. Once again, I was greeted with open arms.
You really never know how your kindness will affect another. It just might save a life. It saved mine.