From IV drug user to recovery and an abundant life: Vanessa’s story

What I am about to tell you is a true story, but in many ways it seems unbelievable. Matter of fact, without God, it would have been completely impossible! I grew up as a normal little girl, kind of chubby, and rather outgoing and funny.

As a chubby kid, I made people laugh so they would be my friend. Let’s face it, I wasn’t getting picked for their kickball team for my athletic abilities, but they had fun talking to me and laughing while waiting their turn to kick the ball. I was a straight A student, K-12, I was in the class for advanced children from the 4th grade until the 8th grade, and completed four of the five college prep classes offered by my high school.  

Academics came easy to me for the most part, but I also had a mother at home who refused to accept anything less than perfect grades from my sister and me. My sister is two years older than me, and I compared myself to her in every way.

The problem lied in the fact that I wasn’t supposed to be just like her, but from a very young age, I felt like I was less than her and constantly fell short in every area because I wasn’t as skinny, tall, smart, or as popular as her. The enemy tricked me! At a very young age, I fell into a trap of low self-esteem.

Middle school was tough, I was awkward and overweight, I played basketball, but wasn’t very good at it, or anything else in my eyes. I was smart, but not confident enough in my academic abilities to fully apply myself. I always felt like the other kids were smarter than I was, but our grades showed differently. I just wanted people to like me, and they did, but I wasn’t one of the pretty girls, just normal.

As my 8th grade year came to a close, I decided that I was going to be skinny when I went to high school, and at any expense. I basically starved myself throughout that summer, and as exercise, I would run up and down the road (holler) in front of my house. I lost 86 pounds that summer and I became anemic due to improper nutrition, but I was skinny on my first day of 9th grade. Sadly, I saw that as a success.

Now, I was funny, outgoing, smart, and skinny! All that I had ever wanted, and guys were paying attention to me. They didn’t just want to be my buddy who helped them with their homework, they wanted to hold my hand. I started dating a football player toward the end of my freshman year and midway through my sophomore year, since I was such a good kid, the football coach offered me a job at his gas station. Mind you, I was only fifteen at the time and it was completely illegal for me to be selling cigarettes, but who was watching?

It didn’t take much convincing, for my parents to agree for me to take the job. At that point, my dad hadn’t worked in 8 years due to being disabled from a coal mining accident. My mom was a regional manager in Home Interiors and Gifts, which kept her out of the house a lot while she busted her butt to make ends meet. The thoughts of me getting a job, for them, was a relief on many levels.

That job, though it paid for my first car, was where I met every person that I never needed to know. The party scene was very enticing to me, I knew how much fun that my dad would have while drinking and smoking with his friends. My mom took us to church every Sunday and Wednesday, and tried everything that she possibly could to shelter my sister and me from that lifestyle, but she was so stressed out all of the time. My dad looked to be having a lot more fun than she was. So the party began in my life, girls just want to have fun, right?

That party that began when I was fifteen, nearly took my life on many different occasions. I was officially addicted to Percocet by the time I was seventeen, my first car accident got me the “golden ticket” also known as an MRI, and a prescription.

My weekend and after school use turned into getting high to go to school, skipping school to get high again, leaving school and getting high on the way to work, getting high on my work break, and then again on my way home from work.It was still fun and my tolerance was low enough that I could pay my car insurance and keep a buzz, so I was good to go. Did I mention that I was selling weed to my classmates at this point? Oh yea, that was an extra source of income.

I still managed to graduate with honors, and headed to the local community college to get a degree in something. I started working as a dental assistant and taking night classes, but my lifestyle continued. I was then introduced to cocaine, ecstasy, and the one and only OxyContin! I had officially met the love of my life, Oxy, and we had a nine year-long romance that I could never imagine ending. The more I did, the better I felt, and I was in love.

A year later, I met an Oxy dealer in a bar in West Virginia and in a little over a week, I dropped out of college and moved in with him in the big town of Columbus, Ohio. That was a completely rational decision on my part, he was cute, had a nice truck, and sold Oxys. What more could a girl ask for?

Two months into the relationship, he quit his honest employment as a mason to focus on more important things. He grew weed in our upstairs bedroom and together, we transported OxyContin from Canada and Michigan to Kentucky and West Virginia. All while I worked a dental assisting job and drummed up some customers by slinging drinks at a po-dunk bar on the weekends. I thought that I was on top of the world, simply living the drug addicts dream.  Then the abuse began, broken bones, a collapsed windpipe, and a lot of bruises that I wore around. He would hear voices, tell me about them, and then trip out because he just told me that he was hearing voices. The physical abuse was bad, but I was too numb to feel much pain. The mental abuse however, I carried with me long after the bones healed.

Though I’m no psychologist, I am fairly certain that he was schizophrenic. I say “was” because he passed away a few years later. That chapter of my life was over, but the true hell was yet to begin. Though the abuse was present, my life in Ohio was stable compared to what came next. I had a steady romance and supply of drugs. Once those were both gone, it was time to put what I had learned to practice.

My next fella was a friend from high school who just got out of prison, but he was nice and I needed “nice” at that time. I was pretty beat down and it felt good to have someone to at least try to show me that they cared. I went into this relationship with only one arrest on my record, and left it with quite a few more. My new fella was known as a thief, but he was a nice one. I committed every kind of crime imaginable, even my drug dealing skills couldn’t be outdone by the thieving skills that I picked up… but we stayed high! Together, we were like fire and gasoline, but he just couldn’t stay out of jail and I just couldn’t wait on him forever.

In 2008 I became an IV drug user and my life as I knew it ended. I could no longer hold down a job, I began to steal, I lost every sense of morals that my mother tried to instill into me. I became a monster that no one recognized as I sat injecting drugs into my veins, just to feel normal. In 2010, I was in my seventeenth, yes you read that right, seventeenth car accident and began to deal drugs again with money from the settlement that I received and the insurance payments that I stole from the medical providers. Finally, the cops had had enough of me. Within a two week period, I was charged with a DUI, possession, possession of paraphernalia, and theft. I wasn’t getting out of this one.

I had to appear in court two days in a row, and the judge was not very impressed by me. On day two, I was arrested while in the courthouse on a warrant that had been issued on me. The prosecuting attorney, who had watched me grow up, told me that he was not going to have my death on his conscience. He gave me the number to Odyssey and told me that he would make sure that I didn’t have to do any jail time if I would get help. If I refused help, he was going to see fit that I did a county year. A year in jail seemed fine by me, I hadn’t ever pulled that long before, but I had “friends” in jail. My mom on the other hand was going to make sure that I went to treatment, and a program that included Jesus in it.

On December 2, 2010, I became the first resident of Karen’s Place. I was very reluctant about going, but my mom wasn’t going to give up on me. After all of those years of disappointment and shame, she still knew that God had a plan for my life, even if I couldn’t see or believe it yet. I was scared to go to treatment, not that I thought that I was going to get hurt, but just because I didn’t know what to expect. I was surprised to find that the staff was just as freaked out by me as I was by them, and they really had no idea what they were doing. They were just a bunch of people who loved Jesus and believed that He would save and deliver me from my addiction. They were right!

Vanessa in 2011 as the first Karen's Place graduate with Karen Byrd's parents
Vanessa in 2011 as the first graduate of Karen’s Place with the parents of Karen Byrd. Karen’s Place is named in memory of Karen Byrd.

In the middle of what I thought was my end, God saw it as the beginning. I asked Jesus into my heart after being in treatment for a few weeks, and I have never looked back. At that point, my mind wouldn’t slow down enough for me to be able to read and comprehend what I was reading, but I knew that I needed a savior. I can remember sitting in the big room upstairs at Karen’s Place and repeating 2 Timothy 1:7.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

I would almost scream, sound mind. I didn’t even know Jesus like I do today, but I knew enough to believe that the Bible was real and that if it was written in there, then I could have it.

Today, I have a sound mind, I am no longer tortured by my past or my thoughts. My mind is not only capable of comprehending what I read, but I will complete my bachelor’s degree in psychology in May 2016. I am capable of being a wife, mother, employee, and a student at the same time. I am no longer a drug addict who is dealing and stealing to get a fix.

I can live a sober and productive life. God has blessed me with a wonderful husband, we have a beautiful little boy, and we are in the process of buying our first house. We belong to an awesome and loving church and God has supplied us with the family that he intended for us to have all along. When the world would have said that my life was over, God said that I was to have an abundant life, and that is what He has provided.

I have never left Odyssey/Addiction Recovery Care since I came in 2010. Over the years, I have worked in many different positions throughout the company. After I completed an internship, I became residential staff at Karen’s Place. Next, I was the office manager for a while.

ARC then opened some outpatient counseling centers and I helped with the administrative duties involved with that process. God then moved my family to Somerset, KY to open Lake Hills Oasis. That was a hard year, but a great year! Now we are back in Louisa, where I am the Director of Collections and assisting with the human resources department.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story, I hope you have been blessed by it. Most of all, I pray that you can see that what God has done in my life, He wants to do in yours. Your story will not look like mine in a lot of ways, but it will be just as amazing!

Vanessa Keeton's family today.
Vanessa Keeton’s amazing family today.

Vanessa is the Director of Collections at Addiction Recovery Care. She was the first director of Lake Hills Oasis and was the first graduate of Karen’s Place.