My life started on 5th May 1997 in Washington DC. I was quite a lively and clever child. I liked going to school, learning about everything, and especially reading books. My mom has a good job and she used to travel a lot for work. Ever since I can remember, my mom led a very busy life and was barely around. My dad had a good job, too, and wasn’t around much when I was young. While we were growing up, my younger sister and I had a lot of Dutch nannies. I remember how hard it was to say goodbye to them when they left, especially our last nanny, who stayed with us the longest; she felt like my mother.
When I was 9 years old, my parents told my sister and I that we were moving to Luxembourg. I remember the first time I went to my new school. Suddenly, everything was in English whereas before, it had all been in Dutch. When I introduced myself, everyone started laughing. They made fun of my American accent when I spoke Dutch and even the teacher made jokes about President Bush! It was hard going through such a big change at the age of nine, having to make new friends and adjusting to a different culture. The environment at my new school in Luxembourg didn’t feel as safe to me as it had done at my school in the U.S. I started to care more about the way I looked, the way I acted and how other people saw me.
This got worse when I went to high school: I started to become more insecure and self-conscious. I was obsessed with being popular and started to worry about my weight. I was home alone a lot because my parents were at work, so when I got home after school, I ate everything and anything I could find around the house! After I had binged on food, I made myself throw up. I used food to suppress my feelings of loneliness and emptiness.
The first time I tried alcohol, when I was 16 years old, I knew it was something special for me. I started drinking every weekend and got blind drunk every time! My friends would tell me the next day that I had kissed three boys in one night but I couldn’t remember anything! People at school gossiped about me and called me a slut. I was ashamed of getting so drunk but the same thing would happen the next time I went out.
I graduated from high school and I decided to travel to Mexico and then down to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and Peru. During this trip I tried cocaine for the first time. I remember feeling confident, powerful and more alive than I had ever felt in my life. When I was in Colombia, I was using cocaine almost every day. I slept with a lot of guys when I was on cocaine because I had a hard time setting boundaries and I often felt disgusted and used after those one-night stands. The first time I realised that I had a problem was when I started looking for cocaine on my own in Costa Rica. I neglected the friends I had made on the trip and I followed a cocaine dealer when we went out. This guy I was seeing got very mad at me because he saw me flirting with the dealer.
When I came back from my travels, I expected to be able to leave my ‘need’ for cocaine behind me. However, at that point, I felt like I needed it every time I drank and I felt that I could just go looking for it on the streets.
I started studying Neuroscience in London. I made friends with a girl on my course, who loved cocaine just as much as I did. She introduced me to some people who used a lot of drugs and also sold them. I started using other drugs besides cocaine. I pushed my body to the extreme to see what it could handle and the more drugs I took simultaneously, the more interesting it got.
I barely passed my exams that year but things got worse in my second year at university. I stopped going to university. I felt too depressed to get out of bed. I started drinking on my own and using cocaine secretly almost every day. I started feeling so guilty and ashamed about doing drugs alone. I hated myself so I used drugs to escape and be someone else. I felt nothing: I felt as if I were detached from reality and people, walking around like an empty shell.
Finally, I decided to tell my parents everything and that was when they sent me to Yes We Can Youth Clinics. I was angry with them because I didn’t want to go to a clinic. However, I knew I couldn’t solve my problems on my own, and I can say now that I am so grateful to Yes We Can. I had never met people, who were as open as the fellows there! When they were asked how they were doing, they didn’t reply with the usual monosyllabic answer, such as, “good” or “fine”, they gave an honest answer.
I quickly found out that not only did I have issues with food and drugs, but I also had issues with boys. In group sessions, I shared about my loneliness and emptiness. During the first few weeks, I put on a mask because I had no idea who I really was. I became a lot more comfortable speaking in front of a group. I made a list of my qualities and got a better idea of who I was. Through the activities, I discovered that I loved sports. I know it will take me a long time to build up my self-esteem but I have learned a lot at Yes We Can. I’m thankful for the opportunity I got to learn how to be honest with my parents and reconnect with them.
Yes We Can started to feel like home after 10 weeks. I learned to trust people and speak out. I realised that I didn’t have to be alone anymore; everyone had similar problems and people never thought differently of me when I talked about my thoughts and my past.
After my time at Yes We Can, I went to a safe house in Rotterdam, together with other recovering addicts. I had to get used to not being around fellows all the time, but the meetings have helped me to connect with other people with the same problem. I try to go to a meeting every day and I have a sponsor. The contact with my parents has improved so much. I see them often and they trust me enough to let me go back to London to start studying again. I’m excited about going back to school and in the future, I want to become an addiction counsellor. I want to help addicts like myself recover, just like the counsellors, who truly saved my life at Yes We Can.