Anyone who believes that addiction only afflicts people who have experienced difficult childhoods, or unstable families, should meet Kimberlee, a Sound client. Meeting her, it’s easy to think that Kimberlee has never struggled with addiction issues or experienced trauma. Kimberlee is bright, sensitive and articulate. She comes from a stable and loving family, has parents who are still married, has two younger sisters who adored her and spent her childhood raised in a wonderful and safe neighborhood.
But addiction, and its wake of destruction, can prey on anyone. Regardless of circumstances, family life or living environment, addiction does not discern or discriminate. Kimberlee, now in her 30s is here to tell you that.
In sharing her story about addiction, Kimberlee starts at the beginning. For years, she buried a devastating childhood traumatic event, never sharing it with her parents, siblings or friends. Years of shouldering this silent burden, keeping it down, began to draw her closer and closer to what she calls “a really dark road” after entering high school. Triggering events began to bring up the past trauma — and still, she wouldn’t share it with anyone.
“My grades started slipping, I started self-harming,” Kimberlee says. “And I still didn’t tell anybody. So everyone just thought I was going crazy and they didn’t know quite what to do with me.”
Still, despite her struggles academically and socially, Kimberlee was able to get into college. But she didn’t complete her first year because she could not focus on academics.
“All I wanted to do was party,” she says regretfully. “I started drinking, a lot.”
Though she finally told her family about her past trauma, they believed, at the time, that it was an excuse for her erratic behavior in college. After college, she confesses, she began hanging around the wrong people, one of whom turned her on to heroin.
“I didn’t know how deadly and dangerous it was,” she says. “I just thought it made me feel good … it maybe made me not feel like ‘me’ and I didn’t want to feel like ‘me’ anymore.”
Though her family ultimately did acknowledge her trauma, “it was too late,” she says.
For the next 15 years, her addiction to heroin took her life over. It destroyed her spirit, isolated her from her family and friends and ultimately resulted in homelessness.
“The biggest thing is that I hated myself, which was kind of a vicious cycle,” she says. “I used because I didn’t want to feel like me, because I hated myself. I used because I didn’t want to feel… but then it caused all of these problems which was the reason why I wanted to not feel.”
As her addiction progressed, Kimberlee’s lowest point found her living in an R.V. in a homeless encampment in West Seattle, staying in constant fear and experiencing physical assault. And she lived through this for four and a half years.
“I couldn’t get away from it for a really long time,” she admits, of her addiction and the daily traumas she faced.
But Kimberlee did find a way to get away from it. Legal issues brought her to Sound 10 years ago, where she underwent an alcohol and drug assessment, as well as addiction treatment. Nearly five years ago she began working with Geoff Archer, SUDP, AAC, a Sound addiction treatment clinician. Kimberlee participates in addiction treatment groups, some case management services, individual therapy and primary care services, which prescribes her Suboxone, a prescription medication to combat opioid addiction.
“Coming to Sound wasn’t my choice,” she says, about the first time she arrived at Sound’s doorstep. “But staying with Sound definitely was.”
The road to recovery, cautions Kimberlee, is rarely ever a straightforward one. She’s had times when she is actively engaged in services, followed by times where she steps away, calling them “hiccups.” But she always returns to Sound and Archer.
“I can’t imagine doing this without Sound, without Geoff,” she says. “It’s unending support. No matter what I do, how much I mess up … there’s always that support.”
“It really takes a lot of effort and work together,” Archer agrees. “I’ve said it enough times that Kimi understands it, but I think it is important for people in the community to understand that this truly is an ongoing process.”
Kimberlee is quick to express how much Sound has meant to her, even as her recovery journey has had pit stops.
“I would have never gotten through my legal issues without you guys,” she says. “I would have never started to work on my trauma if it wasn’t for Geoff. It’s been a locked box for a long time that I’ve been just terrified to open…I’ve been too scared to go at it, but I don’t have to go at it alone. I have someone there with me.”
Kimberlee is well aware that she is a work in progress, always remaining hopeful and resilient. As she continues to work on her recovery, she believes it is important for those struggling to never give up.
“I’ve been through some stuff and, I know this sounds so cliché, but I want people to know that they are not alone,” she says. “They are not the only ones that have done bad things or had bad things done to them. Help and recovery is possible; it doesn’t have to be pretty, or perfect.”