From a young age, society told me to be quiet, look pretty, go to college, find a man, get married, and have children. However, I have always been way outside of this cultural norm. In reality, I was loud and overweight. I got kicked out of university for abusing drugs. The only long term relationship I was in ended because I couldn’t put the drugs down. I’m 25 and I’m still single. I have no children – instead, I had an abortion. I’m a drug addict, but I’m sober today. I’m a woman, and I fight each day to break the stigma that surrounds women and addiction.

I was raised in a large suburban neighborhood where all the houses looked the same. I was pressured by my family and others around me to be just like the other girls my age. I became obsessed with upholding the facade that my life was perfect. On the inside, I never truly felt like I fit in with others. I was slightly overweight and had no filter on my mouth whatsoever. I would say exactly was on my mind. I didn’t like to play with other girls – I liked to play sports with the boys in the neighborhood. I hated wearing dresses and today you’ll still find me in jeans and a t-shirt.

I started using drugs when I was 14 to cope with my insecurities. I felt like I fit in with others around me when I was under the influence – I felt comfortable in my own skin. I believe that I became addicted from the very start, as drugs quickly became an important and exhilarating part of my life. I had no idea that the very thing that was the solution to my problems would lead me to a place of loneliness and despair.

For several years I was successful at keeping my drug use a secret from my peers. I was terrified of judgement and of being viewed as a failure or a bad person. It wasn’t until my second year at university that the world as I knew it came crashing down around me when I was arrested as a consequence of my addiction. I could no longer hide the perfect facade that I had portrayed for so many years – my mugshot was visible to the public with various drug related charges.

I spent the next two years in a haze of drug abuse and chaos. I was impossible to live with and impossible to trust. I was even more difficult to love. At the same time, I was terrified to ask for help and admit that I had a problem. I didn’t want to face my problem because the society I grew up in frowned upon anything that deterred from societal norms. I knew deep down that I wasn’t a bad person. Rather, my actions were driven by a force that I couldn’t explain – a force that made me do whatever necessary to get my next fix. I felt trapped and bound by chains that I couldn’t manage to escape.

Eventually I learned that I wasn’t as good as keeping my addiction a secret as I had thought. My friends and family knew that I had a problem. They were convinced that I was going to die, but they didn’t know how to help. I also learned that the people who really cared about me still loved me despite the things I had done – they only wanted to see me happy and healthy again. Seeing how badly my addiction had affected the people I loved, I began to walk through my fear and ask for help.

When I finally went to a treatment center in Pompano Beach, FL, I became surrounded by other women who faced the same struggles as I did. This was so important for my recovery, because women experience addiction differently than men. Not only are women more likely to relapse or experience cravings, but they are more likely to self medicate, experience loneliness, and suffer from an overdose. Attending treatment with other women allowed me to gain a sense of comfort through a support system of loving individuals.

The women I formed relationships with in treatment loved me until I could love myself. They had all experienced the same societal pressures that I did and each one of us had our own insecurities. They related to the feelings of failure that I had felt throughout the years. Nobody judged me for my abortion because they understood that I did what I had to do to prevent a baby from being born into this disease. The unique circumstances that had caused each of us so much pain became the foundation upon which we built extraordinary bonds between woman to woman in order to recover from the disease of addiction.

These women didn’t judge me when I was hurting. They didn’t pressure me to be anything else but my genuine self. They taught me how to love my body for all of its imperfections. I came to believe that my purpose in life isn’t what I was taught as a young girl. My purpose is to help the next addict recover by sharing my experience, strength, and hope. My purpose is to speak up and talk about the struggles women in recovery face on a day to day basis so that somewhere, somebody will hear my story and be inspired to recover. All I needed to begin to heal from my past was to know that there were other women out there who could relate to my story. I aim to be that person whom others can relate to. I aim to portray a sense of hope and strength to other women today.

As women who fight each day to stay sober, we must transform our greatest weaknesses into a source of strength. In the light of sexism and societal pressures that women face, it is necessary to educate the public about women and addiction. Not only do women face pressure from society, but they have unique risk factors for addiction, such as a higher prevalence of trauma and abuse. 1 in 4 women are victims of physical violence and 1 in every 5 women experience rape in their lifetime. These are all contributing factors to anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, which are linked to substance abuse, as individuals who suffer from PTSD are 14 times more likely to have a substance use disorder than those who do not.

If we continue to hide from the truth about women and addiction, women everywhere will continue to suffer. Regardless of things done in the past, every woman who is suffering from addiction deserves a second chance at life. Every girl is entitled to their own beliefs despite the pressure society is put on them. Every girl needs to know that they are beautiful, valued, and deeply loved, despite the unrealistic image of beauty that social media lays upon us today. Each girl needs to know that they are not alone. They deserve to feel comfortable reaching out for help without the fear of judgement. More than anything, they all deserve to be sober and happy.