The United States is currently experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths, and it’s continuing to get worse.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the last 15 years, the rate of death from overdoses has increased 200 percent when opioids are used.
Heroin is an opioid.
Heroin’s overdose death rate has more than tripled in the U.S. since 2010.
The CDC report went on to say that men still out-number women in overdose deaths, but that gap is narrowing rapidly.
One West Michigan woman is sharing her heroin addiction publicly for the first time. She chronicles what caused her addiction to start, through the devastating world of addiction, which led her to rock bottom, to her miraculous recovery.
Heroin rarely has a female face attached to it.
Now, it does.
She only wants to be known as Brittany.
And that’s enough, because she shouldn’t even be alive to share her story.
Heroin addicts usually end up in one of two places – prison, or dead.
With help from a foreign country, Brittany put in the work, and brought herself back from the brink. An amazing accomplishment, because at one point during her addiction, doctors declared her dead.
Brittany’s story can’t be told in the proper context without first defining the word – survival.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, “survival” is: “to continue to live or exist in spite of danger or hardship; finding means to escape, and endure.”
“It’s also someone willing to fight and breathe every day,” said Brittany. “It’s hard to uncover all the ugly in yourself.”
Brittany is the living, breathing definition of a “survivor.”
“I’m probably beyond a survivor,” Brittany said, confidently. “I think the fact that I’ve actually faced death and have been there, and I can come back and say that I love life, and I love who I am today, is certainly survival.”
Brittany’s odyssey began when she was a student at Holland Christian High School in 2006.
“I was 16 when I got pregnant, and 17 when I had her,” said Brittany. “Having my daughter wasn’t the trigger for my eventual addiction. I think it was my self-esteem issues and lack of respect I had for myself that did it.
“I just kind of gave up caring about myself.”
After she graduated from high school in 2008, she started nursing school in Grand Rapids, and began hanging out with the wrong crowds.
“I started drinking heavily,” said Brittany. “Everyone around me did every drug imaginable.”
Her obsession and craving for alcohol eventually gave way to a deadly drug.
“One of my new friends told me to try heroin, so I did,” said Brittany. “After I started using it, I realized that it really helped me just be able to bury everything.”
Brittany says she would shoot up every chance she got, while she also had begun dealing with a new internal battle.
“Everything went into my veins,” said Brittany. “As my life was spiraling out of control, I wanted to see my daughter, and that’s when the guilt started.
“I was high all the time, and I didn’t want her to see me like that, even though I was her mom and I felt like she needed me.
“So, to eliminate that guilt, I thought I should just get high more because that helped cover up the guilt.”
Brittany says her love for heroin would eventually surpass her love for her daughter. Once she passed this stage, her life on the streets began, and her addiction to heroin deepened. She lived in what she called a “drug house” near downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“The house was constantly filled with transients and homeless people, and they all did drugs,” added Brittany. “I would wake up in that house and there would be a homeless person I didn’t know lying next to me.
“We didn’t have any food, so I would often go to McDonalds or wherever and say, ‘hey, you messed up my food’, or, pretend I was pregnant, because that was the only way I could eat.
Brittany says as the days and weeks passed, her heroin addiction continued to worsen, and she eventually needed more money, so she sold her car.
“I got $5,000 for my car, and that $5,000 was gone in two days,” she said, admitting she spent it all on drugs.
Once she had shot the $5,000 worth of drugs into her veins, she had nothing left to sell to generate drug money, so she sold the one thing she had left – her body.
She says she was abused repeatedly during this particular time of her life.
“It’s what I had to do,” Brittany said. “It was another vicious cycle, because I needed money for the drugs so I could be high enough to not feel and not care about the choices I was making.”
One night, while doing heroin at her drug house, Brittany’s addiction went too far.
“We had just gotten some of the ‘good stuff’, and I did quite a bit of it,” said Brittany. “There was something different in that batch of heroin that set me off.
“Minutes later, I was having a seizure and blacked out.”
The transients staying in the house weren’t sure what to do, so a few of them picked her up, put her in a car, drove her to Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, literally dumped her by the outside of the doorway to the emergency area, and then took off so they wouldn’t be seen.
Brittany says by the time hospital staff members had discovered her, she was unconscious and barely breathing. She was swiftly brought into a room where doctors shocked her a few times, but she didn’t respond.
Doctors actually pronounced her dead.
“I was actually dead for two minutes,” Brittany said. “Then the doctors decided to give me one more shock, and that somehow brought me back.
“As soon as I woke up, I realized I wasn’t high anymore, and I was extremely upset. I pulled every cable and cord out and off of my body, ran out of the hospital, walked back to my drug house, and once I got there, found my heroin and started shooting it up again right away.
“That’s how much the drug gets a hold of you.”
Each time Brittany would survive a heroin scare, a new one would start, and she’d find herself at the beginning of another battle for survival.
“Soon after my near-death experience, I started getting infected boils on both my arms where I was shooting up,” she said. “I pulled up my sleeves and showed my heroin dealer and he told me to stop using and go get help.”
Brittany said she’d get help, so she got up enough nerve to go to her grandparents’ house in Holland, knowing that her uncle was staying there.
“I showed my uncle my arms,” Brittany said. “He covered for me and told my grandparents that he and I were going out to a movie.
“Instead, he rushed me to the hospital, and once I arrived there, I was immediately admitted and placed in critical condition.”
Brittany says her arms were so infected, doctors considered amputating both of them. Not only was the infection in her arms, it was also in her heart, lungs and liver.
“I almost died again,” said Brittany. “The doctors were able to cut my arms open and drain most of the infection, which saved my life.”
Another time where her heroin addiction almost ended her life, but just like all the other times, Brittany survived.
“This was the moment where my entire family found out the truth about my addiction,” she said. “Just seeing them come into my hospital room, and then see the disappointment on their faces, was extremely hard.”
Once Brittany had recovered well enough to be discharged from the hospital, her parents decided she needed to go to a rehabilitation center, so they decided on one of the best in the state of Michigan – Brighton Center for Recovery, which is located about 40 miles west of downtown Detroit.
“My parents drove me to Brighton, and I would end up spending a month and a half there,” Brittany said. “It didn’t help me; when I got out, I went back to using heroin, and I used all the time.”
Brittany said she had no money, so in order to get her heroin, she became a courier for a large drug syndicate in Detroit.
“My dealer would issue me one of his cars, and I would run loads of heroin from Detroit to Grand Rapids and deliver it,” she said. “I’d then drive back to Detroit, and my payment for delivering would be free heroin.
“The members of the drug syndicate treated me as family, and I really needed that feeling at the time.”
While Brittany was driving across state delivering heroin, she married a man who she met at the Brighton Center for Recovery, and was also trying to recover from drug addiction.
The couple bought a house near Detroit, and hoped to begin a life together.
“My husband continued to use after rehab, too,” Brittany said. “But he had never tried heroin before; he was mostly into Marijuana and Xanax.”
One night, roughly three months into their marriage, as the couple was preparing to go to bed, Brittany’s husband decided he’d try heroin.
“I had done a whole bunch of heroin that night, and passed out,” said Brittany. “I didn’t wake up until the next morning. I tried to wake him up, and he wouldn’t wake up.
“He was freezing cold.
“If I had to guess, he just didn’t know how much to use.”
He overdosed and died.
“I wanted it to be me and not him,” said Brittany. “I thought at the time, I deserved to die, and not him.”
Less than two weeks after burying her husband, Brittany was delivered another blow. She found out that her grandfather back in Holland was dying of terminal cancer.
“I knew he was sick, but I didn’t know it had progressed and gotten worse,” she said. “It was at this point, I hit rock bottom.”
She then drove from Detroit back to Holland to see her grandfather one last time.
“He was still lucid when I arrived, and from the moment I got there, he begged me to not live on the streets anymore,” said Brittany. “He told me about this place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, called CMI Abasto, where I could be cured from my addiction.
“Before he passed away, I promised him I would go. He died soon after that.”
Losing her husband, then soon after losing her grandfather, was too much for Brittany to bear. She said she tried to commit suicide.
“I went out and bought two grams of heroin, and took some of my grandfather’s morphine,” said Brittany.” I shot up all the heroin at once, then shot up the morphine.
“Absolutely nothing happened. The one thing I wanted – my death – wasn’t going to happen.”
She survived yet again.
Brittany didn’t waste much time after her grandfather’s death, and after her suicide attempt. She knew she had hit rock bottom and wanted to live up to the promise she made and try to get help. Her father flew with her down to Argentina and helped her settle in at the treatment facility there.
Once she arrived there, she would begin to experience a different form of survival – one that brought her back from the brink.
“I did hours, I mean hours of work on myself,” Brittany said. “They never judged me there, and for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could breathe.
“Their philosophical approach managed to get the answers out of me as to why I had become so self-destructive and chose the path of addiction.”
Brittany says she spent three years at CMI Abasto, often times working more than 80 hours a week on fixing herself. Her first year was all in-patient treatment then her second full year was out-patient treatment, where she was able to get an apartment, experience freedoms and independent decision-making and put her new and rebuilt life to the test.
Gallery: Brittany's story of addiction, recovery
“After my three years at CMI, I can’t really say that I have returned to the person I was before I began my life of addiction,” said Brittany. “To be honest, I’m 100 percent better than I was, even before I started doing drugs.
“I’m more of a human being now than I ever was before.
“To become an independent woman felt extremely overpowering. I had made myself feel so guilty and so unwanted for so many years; I was taught at CMI how to really work on my emotions, which helped me uncover what I really looked like as a person. It was always easier for me to be the girl who was high all the time, than to be the girl who always felt like she was never good enough,” said Brittany.
During her time in Argentina, after she had begun her rebuilding process and detoxed from heroin, Brittany began Skyping with her daughter up in Holland. The two hadn’t seen each other in more than two years, but Brittany felt she had rebuilt to a point where she was ready for the relationship she abandoned for drugs.
“She knows Mommy made some bad decisions,” said Brittany. “I have told her that there are good decisions in life and there are bad ones, and the consequences of your decisions – good and bad – you have to own."
Brittany chose to own all the consequences of her bad choices and, because of that, can say with conviction, “I am cured from my heroin addiction.”
“I’m very proud of what I was able to do in Argentina,” said Brittany. “I no longer think about drugs, and even on my crappiest days, I never think to myself that I want to escape and get high.
“CMI has given me so many tools to use, I know I will never venture down that path again.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still have stressful days, and I think that life sucks and I want to give up, but now I believe that everybody has those days, and I don’t think I’m wrong for feeling that.
“Honestly, what CMI Abasto does is a miracle.”
Brittany became the first American woman to complete the 3-year treatment at the Argentina facility. She returned to West Michigan in the spring of 2015. Upon her return, she was immediately arrested at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, then had to wait for U.S. Marshals to transfer her to Detroit. She was charged on “possession of a controlled substance,” held on a no-bond release and spent three days in maximum security in a Detroit jail, before getting out on a Personal Recognizance bond.
Today, Brittany’s legal troubles are behind her, along with her drug addiction. Once she was released from the Detroit jail in April of 2015, she returned to Zeeland where she was reacquainted with her daughter for the first time in two and a half years.
More than a year has passed since her return, and Brittany says she and her daughter now have the relationship they should have had, but heroin addiction prevented.
On July 8, 2015, Brittany re-married. The couple are expecting their first child in September of this year.
“I’m doing great,” Brittany said, with a huge smile on her face. “I’m married to a great man, and truly couldn’t ask for more from this life.
“One of my goals now is to help people; there’s more to fixing one’s self than people think.”
Despite the complete 180-degree turn around her life has taken over the course of the past five years, Brittany knows the dark road she once chose to travel, and will likely never forget it.
“I have a past,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s fair for me to be branded for the rest of my life because of it.
“People tend to just write you off when you’re a drug addict, and I don’t think that’s what should happen.
“I feel very proud of who I am today; I’m extremely happy for myself, and I know I couldn’t have asked myself to have done more.”
Brittany’s probation expired in April 2016, so she’s now completely free and clear to live her new life to the fullest.
If you’re a heroin addict and would like to pursue help, or just need somebody to talk to, Brittany would like for you to reach out to her.
She’s created an email account: Brittstory13@gmail.com.
If you’d like to learn more about CMI Abasto, the treatment facility in Argentina that helped Brittany recover from her severe heroin addiction, click HERE.
If you’d like additional help, there are members of CMI Abasto In West Michigan right now, prepared to answer any questions.
The group will be hosting three free seminars over the course of the next three evenings:
- Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Residence Inn by Marriott - Grand River Room
4443 28th St. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49512
- Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Residence Inn by Marriott - main lobby
631 Southpointe Ridge Rd.
Holland, MI 49423
- Thursday, July 28, 2016
Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott - Great Lakes Room
1520 East Mount Garfield Rd.
Norton Shores, MI 49442
Note: All three events will start at 7:00 p.m.
If you can’t make any of the seminars, you can call or email Kim Advent: (702) 540-2139, 1-800-579-5578 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you know a story that would make for a great feature for “Our Michigan Life”, send us an email at: email@example.com.
“Our Michigan Life” airs weeknights on WZZM 13 News at 6.