Recognizing Women In Recovery For Women’s History Month: Sarah’s Story
Sarah O’Brien is a business development representative with Bedrock Recovery Center, helping people to find refuge from substance use disorder.
In the people who enter our programs for recovery, she sees a reflection of herself. Sarah was introduced to drugs and alcohol during her teenage years, which started her on a decades-long path of addiction.
Today, she lives free from substances, raising two daughters and working toward helping others recover from addiction.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Sarah shared her story of addiction, loss, and recovery. Read on to learn more about a story of hope and strength from this woman in recovery.
Sarah has fond memories from growing up with a wonderful support system and love from parents who had been together since they were teenagers — her dad a fireman, her mother a teacher.
“It was phenomenal,” she said. “My life was really wonderful. We didn’t have a ton of money but we had a lot of love and we had a lot of support.”
Her family lost her brother at the age of three to liver cancer, and she later watched her older brother become consumed with drug addiction. From a young age, Sarah felt this sense of loss and devastation.
The Progression Of Substance Abuse
Sarah was drawn to substances as a teenager because it enabled her to come out of her shell.
“I jumped at the chance because I was a very fearful child. I cried when I went to school every day, and I was extremely, extremely shy,” she explained. “I was very smart…but it also made me very awkward. I had trouble fitting in.”
When she found drugs and alcohol, she felt at the time that she could finally be herself. “I could have fun with people, and I wasn’t so worried about what everyone was thinking about me — if they liked me, if they didn’t like me, if I fit in.” She felt a sense of relief, relief from herself.
Sarah began experimenting with OxyContin, a drug that quickly became popular in the early 2000s for its accessibility and less stigma when compared to other substances.
After intense marketing of the drug, sales increased from $48 million in 1996 to almost $1.1 billion in 2000. By 2004, OxyContin was a leading drug of abuse in the U.S.
For Sarah, this opioid addiction led to other substances of abuse, including a cocaine addiction and eventually intravenous heroin use.
“Drugs became more and more important, and the things I loved became less and less important.”
Sarah held hopes of pursuing a regular life: going to college, attending school to become a nurse, feeling happy and healthy. But the addiction followed, and by her second year of college at the age of 20 she ended up in her first detox center of many.
The Cycle Of Addiction
When she entered her first detox program, Sarah was terrified. “I was completely and utterly broken.”
After day one, she felt hopeful and motivated to get back to regular life.
After day two, three, four, motivation turned to discomfort and frustration in withdrawal: “I need to get out of this state of being,” she thought, “and the only way I know how to get out of this state is to get high, the same state that brought me into this state.”
This cycle of wanting to stop, needing relief, getting high, and feeling remorse continued for years to come as Sarah worked through detox programs, outpatient treatment, inpatient programs, therapy, and anything else she could do to break the cycle.
“Every time I stopped using, I had to really face the problem, which was me. And I was really unwilling to do so.”
The Breaking Point
In 2009, Sarah became pregnant with her first daughter. Excited and filled with purpose, she looked forward to having a child, someone to call her own.
“My substance use was just too great, my addiction was just too powerful,” she explained. “I couldn’t stop, that’s the hard truth of it.”
The reality of caring for a baby who might feel the effects of her addiction set in.
“She was everything I could have wanted, and she was mine. I couldn’t stay sober for her,” she said. “It was heart-wrenching, and it was devastating.”
Though physically present, Sarah couldn’t give her daughter the emotional support she desperately wanted to give her.
At the age of three and a half, her daughter was taken from her to be raised by her grandparents for the next several years. As a result, Sarah’s substance use disorder worsened: “The pain was greater.”
Sarah’s Road To Recovery
A few years later in 2014, Sarah found herself homeless, without her daughter, and in need of help.
She checked herself into another detox program, and from there chose to complete a 28-day inpatient program.
“Day by day, little by little it got a little bit easier to live. That’s all I really ever wanted at this point,” Sarah said. “At the end, I just wanted to be able to breathe easily.”
Sarah started to see herself change: “It was extremely difficult. I had to learn how to be a mom, I had to learn how to fit back into my family’s life.”
A 28-day program turned into nearly four months in recovery, where Sarah learned lessons in responsibility, accountability, and caring for others.
It’s in this program that she learned to let go of her past and work through many of the issues that held her in addiction.
From there, Sarah continued to build on these principles in sober living, working a job she thrived in, surrounded by others who supported her. She was eventually welcomed back into her home where she cared for her daughter and regained much of what had been lost.
After two and a half years of sobriety, Sarah relapsed. This time around, she didn’t feel any of the external consequences of substance use — losing her children, homelessness, arrest, or hospitalization. What struck her was the internal pain: The emotional unrest was greater than she’d ever experienced before.
“I couldn’t do it anymore. I was either going to get sober or I was going to kill myself.”
Devastated, Sarah remembered her children. “At this time I had a three-month-old baby and I had a seven-year-old daughter. I was just heartbroken,” she said. “I can still remember how I felt walking in…It was worse than it had ever been.”
After detoxing and returning to a sober living home, Sarah knew she couldn’t allow pride to lead the way. She needed to accept help and follow the steps that once led her to sobriety before.
Living Life Sober
With the support of her recovery community, a 12-step program, her family, and loved ones, Sarah got sober. Today, she celebrates nearly five years drug-free.
“I work harder now than I did five years ago because I know what I have to lose.”
As she recounts her experience, Sarah is reminded of what her road to recovery has taught her: “It made me more grateful, it made me more appreciative,” she says, adding on that she’s learned the importance of leaning on others, that she can’t do it alone.
Today, Sarah uses those experiences to pour into herself and others. “I pray, I meditate, I help other women, and I attend recovery-based meetings.”
A college graduate and mother to two daughters, now 12 and 5 years old, Sarah enjoys the freedoms of sobriety and stable life, carrying that freedom into the work she does at Bedrock Recovery Center.
“I’ve been able to meet and interact with patients and family members and people in this community, really just give it my all to do the best I can to help these people.”
With sobriety, Sarah reached milestones she never thought possible.
“If someone had asked me what I thought my life was gonna look like five years from now, I would’ve never, ever thought this would be it. I know the possibilities are endless.”
With a final word, she shares, “My life is a really, really beautiful life today.”
National Center for Biotechnology Information — The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy