We’ve Been There: Debra’s Addiction Recovery Story

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April 30, 2024
Debra, Treatment Center Director at AppleGate Recovery in Crestview Hills, KY smiling brightly as she celebrates recovery and hopes that her addiction recovery story motivates others.

Debra is a Treatment Center Director at AppleGate Recovery in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. She has worked for our organization since September 2022 and has lived in northern Kentucky since 2011.  Debra is ardently focused on helping others on their path to recovery; so much so that she has decided to share her own story of recovery with the goal of helping others feel less alone.  

Early Struggles and Onset of Addiction

Debra grew up in a small town in eastern Kentucky. Growing up in a low-income, blue-collar family, she was faced with a lack of stability due to a lot of moving around from one place to another. This left her with very little she could count on in life, except her grandmother. Her grandmother was her constant. Debra lived life not very afraid of consequences and due to this she became rebellious.  

She recalls her first time experimenting with illicit drugs to be when she was 11 years old. She smoked marijuana out of a Pepsi can with some friends. Debra narrates this experience as something that is not profound. Since it was a small town, there were limited things to do, and experimenting with drugs was a common activity.  

Chronic Pain and the Descent into Opioid Dependence

As a child, Debra had two knee surgeries and dealt with painful arthritis her whole life, starting with an early diagnosis of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis), and later psoriatic arthritis.

When Debra was a teen, she was prescribed pain medications to help cope with the chronic pain she was experiencing. Eventually, she also started to enjoy taking the pills to party. The enjoyment of the high led to Debra manipulating people in her life including her mother, grandmother and employers so that she could continue to use. There was a thrill and excitement that came from illicitly using pain pills.

While Debra’s addiction to opioids escalated, she simultaneously continued to use marijuana, alcohol and other substances. In high school, she experimented with cocaine, acid and other pills with her friends. Debra remembers the night of her 21st birthday when her boyfriend asked her to stop drinking because he did not appreciate her behavior when she was intoxicated. She stopped drinking, but a couple of weeks later, she noticed him snorting a pill. He asked her if she wanted some, and it was OxyContin. It started with her using OxyContin, and eventually, she began using heroin. Her heroin use took over her whole life.

Navigating the Challenges of Addiction

Debra has experienced homelessness and has been in and out of jail due to her addiction. She was sent to northern Kentucky in 2011 for treatment by her probation officer. She went through a 13-month program at Brighton Recovery Center for women and was able to remain sober and graduated to Phase 2 of the program. In this phase, a person can begin reentry into the community and find/maintain a job.

It was during this time that she was caught shooting heroin and was sent back to jail for 70 days. After she completed her 70 days in jail, she was sent back to the same program for another 13 months.

The Road to Recovery

In 2013, Debra completed the program at Brighton Recovery Center after successfully achieving sobriety. She moved out of the treatment facility into the only female sober living home in the area at the time. This transition was tough for Debra. She had no family support and no transportation.

While previously in treatment, she was surrounded by 100 other women, and now there were only five of them in the home. She had a job in a hotel, but it did not pay extremely well. Debra shared that there were times so tough that she had to decide between eating dinner and paying her sober living fees. Working hard and working through her challenges helped motivate Debra during this difficult phase of her life.

Achieving Milestones and Life After Addiction

Since achieving sobriety, Debra has been able to reach several milestones. She received a pardon from the governor in 2015 because she went through a Recovery Kentucky program. Part of the application process included referrals, and Debra remembers her probation officer (the one who sent her to northern Kentucky) listed her as one of his success stories. She has received opportunities to work in the recovery field and help others.

Debra has worked in the recovery industry for ten years now, and she has been able to meet and work with people across the state of Kentucky to be a witness to their lives changing for the better through treatment. She has also received opportunities to speak in correctional and juvenile centers. Debra truly enjoys being able to help others ready to seek recovery. Sobriety has helped Debra find the stability she had been searching for her entire life. Her life currently has a lot of consistency in it.

In 2023, Debra and her husband purchased their first home. She was constantly moving around as a child and was homeless and in jail due to her addiction. Being able to purchase her first home and be a first-time homeowner is something that Debra is very proud to have achieved.

A Strong Support System and the Message of Hope

Debra has a strong support system that helps her remain sober. She’s repaired relationships with her family and can be present for her grandmother as she struggles with dementia. Debra made many friends while in Brighton Recovery, and she is still in touch with the women she went through the program with. They’ve supported each other through marriages, babies, divorces and deaths of loved ones. She describes these women as the sisters she’s never had. Having a strong community is important to anyone in recovery.

Debra’s biggest message to anyone seeking treatment is that they need to take a chance on themselves because they are worth it. She wants them to get out of their own way and stop being so hard on themselves because it does get better. She encourages them to be open to the suggestions of others and find good people to show them the way out of their addiction.

Start Your Path to Healing at AppleGate Recovery

Debra is a great example of how someone can start from nothing and completely turn their life around. We at AppleGate Recovery are lucky to have a dedicated and compassionate person like Debra working with our patients on their recovery journeys. April 30, 2024 will mark 12 years of sobriety for Debra.

If you or someone you love is living with opioid addiction, we’re here to help. Visit our website to learn more about our treatment services and how we can assist you in achieving a life free from opioid dependence. Find an AppleGate Recovery treatment center near you or get in touch with someone from our team by phone or send us a message today.  

We’ve Been There: Stories of Hope

Recovery is possible. Through our “We’ve Been There” campaign, we want to highlight our employees’ recovery stories to show current and potential patients that even though the journey to recovery is long and challenging, hope and a bright future are waiting for each of them.