Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Dolan
I’ll never forget that day—I was sitting on the couch with a razor in my hand, ready to end it all, but then I thought, who would find me if I did? And in that moment, I realized I needed help.
I started drinking and smoking cigarettes when I was very young, around 13 or 14 years old—drinking with friends on the weekend, smoking weed casually. But things took a turn for the worse in college after I ended a three-year, abusive relationship and started immersing myself in using different drugs. I felt alone. I had no self-esteem. It became a form of self-medication: I felt more comfortable with myself when I was high or intoxicated.
"People generally have a perception of who an addict is, what their life is like, that they can easily point us out in a crowd. And that negative stereotype is simply untrue—this disease can affect anyone."
My self-confidence was gone, and I felt, almost, family-less. So I found a new family in the people I would go out with. My home became the place that everyone hung out, and I found myself constantly surrounded by a party atmosphere. Reflecting on this time in my life, I had completely lost sight of myself and who I wanted to be. My days revolved around using.
This went on for years, throughout my entire career. It may come as a surprise, but throughout this low-point in my life, I excelled at my job. I was moving up in the company, I was promoted and was a valued employee. Every day, I put on a “happy face.” I maintained that professional lifestyle, yet inside, I felt nothing. It’s funny, people generally have a perception of who an addict is, what their life is like, that they can easily point us out in a crowd. And that negative stereotype is simply untrue—this disease can affect anyone.
My addiction reached its worst point when I was living on my own for the first time, after divorcing my first husband. We had been together for over 9 years. I began a new relationship immediately after the divorce, and after 3 years of dating, and not without trying to help me, my boyfriend decided that he “couldn’t be with someone like me.” At this same point, I had been working for almost nine years. The company decided to relocate and asked me to help transition the business. Soon after, I lost my job.
"And then – that day happened – I found myself on the couch with the razor, ready to try again. But I would’ve died entirely alone."
I didn't work for an entire year after that. I filled my days with taking drugs. It got to the point where I felt helpless and hopeless—I just wanted to die. I took a bunch of pills one night thinking I wouldn't wake up the next day, but I did. And then – that day happened – I found myself on the couch with the razor, ready to try again. But I would’ve died entirely alone. The part of me that was still very much alive knew I needed to get help.
I finally shared my struggles with addiction and mental health with my family.While it shocked them–I was so good at hiding my problems–my parents were incredibly supportive. They didn’t judge me. They didn’t shame me.I ended up staying with them for a month, until I thought I was ready to go back to my life, but addiction is a disease that doesn’t just go “poof” and vanish.
I tried to get help, but I lasted three months before falling back into my old habits – drinking, drugs, partying. Eventually, I contracted an infection in my face that ended up forcing me into rehab. When I went to the hospital, I was told if I didn’t stop using, I would have a brain hemorrhage. That’s the moment my family intervened and convinced me to go into residential treatment. Something that I honestly didn’t want to do.
"I was smoking crack, but this time while looking into the eyes of a complete stranger."
Two and a half months later, I was kicked out of the recovery house where I was residing because I had entered a relationship with somebody who was using. Eventually, I began using with him.
A year later, in a motel room, not even knowing where I was, I had my first spiritual awakening. It was a typical day. I was smoking crack, but this time while looking into the eyes of a complete stranger. I thought to myself, “This is what my future looks like.” It felt like a terrifying dream that I was trapped in—one I desperately wanted to wake up from. Overwhelming fear took over, and I felt like death was right behind me.
I used one more time after that, but that feeling stayed with me. I decided to go back to my parents’ house, and I remember the words my father said to me like it was yesterday. “I don’t even know who you are. This is not the girl that I remember, the fighter, the person that always tried her hardest at doing things. You’re not even trying.”
"I’ve found my passion: using my experience to help others who are struggling with addiction."
So, it was time to rebuild my life.
I got a minimum-wage job and managed to find myself a small, and frankly, disgusting apartment. Honestly, it was what I needed. It taught me to find gratitude in things that I never did before. Throughout my recovery, I spent a lot of time volunteering and going to as many support meetings as I possibly could.
Flash forward to today, I’m now Alumni Relations Manager at Mountainside Treatment Center, the facility that helped me in my own recovery. I’ve found my passion: using my experience to help others who are struggling with addiction. I was always too afraid to ask for help, and I’ve made it my mission in life to make sure addicts have all the resources necessary throughout their recovery process.
I was afraid to find out who I really was, and I know so many of those struggling with addiction feel the same. We’re our worst enemies, and I want to spread the message that asking for help isn’t scary and to trust in the people who want to help. I want to show people that being authentic and honest about who you are is key to the recovery process.
I’ve never been without a relationship, but this past year I started a new path, being alone. I’ve embraced my personal growth, and I’m focusing on my wellbeing and energy. I have finally become comfortable with my true self.I'll be celebrating 10 years of sobriety this coming May, and I couldn’t be happier.
Jessica Dolan is the Alumni Relations Manager at Mountainside, a nationally acclaimed alcohol and drug addiction treatment center. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach. She has much experience working with various public-service groups to empower clients, helping them identify personal goals and make positive choices. She was an advocate for children and families, and also created programs and services to help foster success and self-sufficiency among the formerly homeless. At Mountainside, Jessica works to support the continued recovery of our alumni after they complete treatment. She provides consistent follow-ups as well as coordinates support groups, and creates networking opportunities for alumni to stay connected to their recovery. In her free time Jessica enjoys spending time with family, her two Labradors and two cats, cooking, and being active.