To Hell And Back
Through a series of life events, she found herself brought to her knees by drugs and alcohol and used fitness to rebuild her life.
My name is Nicole. I'm a former journalist who lost hope in giving a voice to the voiceless with the written word. I'm hoping you take the time to read my story. I've walked out of my own hell alive and healthier than ever and I'm hoping for an opportunity to help others do the same.
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My rock bottom was waking up with my head on my steering wheel. It was blurry, but I could see the airbag had opened. A deep and stern voice behind a bright flashlight was asking, ‘are you ok,’ ‘are you hurt,’ and ‘can you move?’ I was planning to take a road trip with a friend the following week. Plans changed.
My charge that night was a felony DWI. I didn’t hear the messages in the arrests over the previous years. I didn’t get it. My switch hadn’t been turned on.
I was given a second chance April 28, 2014, when I was admitted into a 28-day program. That day, my face was void of color and I weighed 114lbs. It wasn’t an eating disorder as many assumed. Rather, for the few months prior, my body was functioning on chemicals and alcohol. I forced myself to eat because I knew I had to. Otherwise, food had taken a backseat.
Alcohol came crashing into my life when I was 16. It was the first time I felt it on my lips, tasted it on my tongue, and felt its warmth pass into my stomach. I got alcohol poisoning that night. I drank so much I ended up seizing on a basement floor with my head in my friends’ hands…she said my eyelids were purple. Another friend was taping pieces of that night with a handheld recorder. I’m hoping that tape has been thrown out or destroyed. The fear of it being buried in a box in someone’s home passes through my brain on a regular basis. The guy recording was wild like me. Sensitive too. He died recently after being involved with drugs for many years. We were the same age and met for the first time in pre-school.
After that night, my relationship with alcohol grew stable. We got to know each other. We became close in college and never parted ways. We learned everything about one another. Over time, I forgot how to live without it. The pills started in my mid-20s and I stopped saying no to most things. It took three months to reach the bottom after I met opiates at 32, three dead months.
A few days into the program, some of the women warned me about the day everything hits. They’d been in programs before and I knew nothing about being there. I detoxed for one week. A surly nurse woke me at night to give me my meds. Twice a week we met for group sing-a-longs. It was 30 seconds into Let It Be by The Beatles when I was officially reintroduced to myself. It was day 4.
It was a flood. Everything I’d done in my life. All the decisions I made. All my actions. This was me, 32 in rehab. The girl who liked to write. The girl who liked to make people laugh. The girl who got good grades. The girl who took AP classes in high school to prepare for her future. The girl who went to college and got a degree in journalism. The girl who wanted to help people. The girl who wanted to fix all the worlds’ problems. The girl who could have killed someone that night instead of cracking a telephone pole in half. The disappointment. The girl who sobbed in a hallway in rehab after coming face to face with the reality she created. The girl who just remembered what it was like to feel again.
The following days were better. I remembered how to laugh again, too. I knew I had a life to tend to when I got out. I knew I had legal fees. Fines. Credit card debt because my dealer started accepting gift cards. Piles of bills in envelopes I stopped opening because I had other priorities. The thought of fixing this financial fiasco was a dream. It seemed so overwhelmingly impossible. Not to mention staying sober.
When I left, I did what I was supposed to. I went to a meeting every day for 90 days. I opened the envelopes. I made calls to credit card companies and got my minimum payments reduced. I forced myself to become comfortable taking the bus. I joined a gym. I was there all the time. It made me feel at ease to work out. It was the only thing that helped my mind. It was all I had. I made friends there. I also got a job cleaning toilets a motel nearby. I heard randomly about the friends I met in rehab. Some of them were back in programs after relapses. Six of the women I met there died the following year.
The motel where I worked bartered oysters for gift cards with a local restaurant. On a hot, sweaty day, the owner of the restaurant came to pick up oysters as I was carrying cleaning supplies to one of the units. I knew there was more money to make with him and I asked for a job. He hired me right away because he knew me through friends. I worked for a year there, pulling doubles with blisters on my feet. I paid the legal fees. I paid the credit card debt. I paid the fines. I paid the bills. That impossible dream came true. With the exception of student loans, I was debt free.
As thankful as I am for my mom who supported me in her basement during this time, the dream of moving also seemed impossible. I had nothing. In addition to the restaurant, I got a job working the closing shift at my gym. My membership became free and I so much enjoyed being surrounded by people who wanted to improve their health, like me. This was our therapy. In fact, I got certified as a personal trainer for my own knowledge, for fun.
I biked 10 miles home at night from the gym when the buses weren’t running and 13 miles home from the restaurant when I worked there. I was the fittest I had ever been in my life and I felt amazing. I wanted to help others feel the same way.
My manager at the restaurant gave me rides to work occasionally. She told me about a guy she knew who now worked as a trainer at a gym in the city. New York City. I gave it a shot. I used the money I was making to enter into their personal training program. Soon after I started, one of the instructors urged me to apply for a job saying the process might take time. I received an email the following Monday after I applied and scheduled a phone interview. The first in-person interview was earlier the following week. And the final group interview was that Thursday afternoon. I was hired Thursday after the last interview.
From then, I caught a bus at 4:50am from Eastern Long Island weekdays and stayed on couches and at hostels in the city for six months until I had enough to afford rent. I signed my first lease on April 15, 2017, for an apartment in Brooklyn. That impossible dream of moving out had come true. What was once so far out of reach, was now clenched in my fists.
I remember sitting in a green chair at 7:17pm a night in rehab. I listened to a speaker talk about paying off his credit cards. I thought I’d never be able to fix my financial fiasco. The thought of moving out on my own seemed so far off that I couldn’t even place it on a map. I remember my plan was to be better and do better than I did the day before and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve now achieved my goal of becoming a Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox and now live on the Upper East Side.
I learned that I was angry and rebelling without realizing it. I felt different growing as a lesbian. During a time when gays and lesbians couldn’t marry, I felt I shouldn’t feel obligated to abide by the same laws if I wasn’t afforded the same rights. I learned that being angry wasn’t effective and I learned patience. Patience with people. Patience with life. Patience with politics. I learned to manage my anxiety with exercise.
My goals grow bigger each day. I’m currently working toward becoming a certified health coach. I never want to stop learning. I want to help people who feel stuck. I want to help people feel alive. I want to help people move. I want to help people be better than they think they are. There is so much light hidden from people in the dark. All they need to do is open the door.