by Courtney Nunnally
My name is Courtney and I’ve been in recovery from heroin addiction for five and a half years.
Addiction can happen to anyone and believe a lot of my issues stem from my childhood. When I was four years old my brother was killed in an accident then my mom was killed in an accident when I was five. My dad was an alcoholic and avoided dealing with these issues, which made me unable to deal with them, as well. He was somewhat detached as a father, which led me to seek attention in other ways.
Fast forward to teenage years
After moving from North Carolina to Virginia at age eleven, I felt completely alone and outcast. I was a straight A student, as well as athletic star in both basketball and baseball, but never felt comfortable in my skin. I didn’t feel like I fit in with the athletes, so I started seeking attention from older guys. They were involved in drugs and drinking, so I joined them to be accepted.
I started with alcohol.
I would steal beer and liquor from my parents or Sutter Home wine from CVS. By age thirteen, I was drinking regularly. Then I got introduced to crack/cocaine. Before long, I was smoking marijuana, using LSD, in addition to the alcohol and cocaine. Despite these erratic behaviors, I maintained my GPA and my “All-Star” status playing sports. I did, however, begin having issues at home and was grounded most of my high school career. This just caused further rebellion and attention seeking behavior.
At age seventeen, since I knew everything, I ran away with an older guy from Lynchburg to Richmond. I got a full-time job and struggled just to get by. I smoked weed and drank daily. He became abusive, so I moved in with a friend and her brother. Shortly after moving in, I began dating the brother and we got pregnant and engaged. We got married and I had my son at age eighteen.
I decided I needed to graduate high school to be a good role model for my son. I went back to school and received my diploma with a 4.25 GPA. while completing high school, I was working full time and raising a baby. This was very overwhelming so I started drinking and smoking weed again.
When the marriage fell apart two years later, I was able to regroup for a short period of time. Then a bad car accident led to a dependence on pain pills and things got bad.
The pain management doctor didn’t seem to have any interest in finding or fixing the problems the accident had caused and I soon became frustrated. I felt like their only interest was to feed me pills.
After my last appointment there, I ripped up the prescription and threw it in the floor of their office. I woke up the next day SICK. A “friend” started helping me find pills on the street after explaining why I felt so bad.
Then one day we couldn’t find anything. She said there was one thing we could do that was stronger and cheaper and I was all in. It came in a capsule and I had no clue it was heroin. The only thing she told me was not to inject it because I would like it too much. So, what does the kid do when you tell them not to touch the hot stove? I shot it up and by the time I learned that it was heroin it didn’t matter. I had sold my soul to the devil.
Heroin addiction comes with a compulsion that drives you to the depths of Hell and below. Your entire life is consumed, and every single moment is about getting the next fix. All the behaviors I judged others for engaging in and said I’d never do, I did, and more.
The grip drugs have you is indescribable
The physical withdrawal is so powerful. Imagine having the flu, multiply it by a thousand, and then know you have a solution to your illness. How do you stop? How do you convince yourself to go through, not only the acute withdrawal, but post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which can last YEARS!!
By the time someone who is addicted to heroin decides to make a change, they have often burned all their bridges, have nothing, are embedded in the criminal justice system, and feel as though their life is not worth living. There is a very fragile point that all the addicted people I know have reached at one point or another. Do you fight or give up? I had to make this decision myself. When you have abandoned everything and everyone in your life and have nothing and no one, what would make you choose to fight?
In my case, I found support from the most unlikely place
The police. I don’t know why these two officers decided to invest in me, other than God having other plans for my life. I wasn’t meant to be a statistic. I survived all the trauma and abuse of my childhood, active addiction, jail, and an overall self-sabotage.
My father had written me a letter with a large sum of money telling me to get out of his life. I was dead to him. My son wouldn’t get in the car with me. Oh, and I was pregnant.
One officer in particular sparked a glimmer of hope that my life wasn’t just a waste of time. He made me think that maybe, just maybe, I would be one of the less than ten percent who beat their addiction. He tried to be supportive, then resorted to the threat of significant jail time, which would mean no relationship with the baby I was having.
I decided to seek treatment
That was December 2012. Today, that officer, along with another one I dealt with during active addiction that offered a more “tough love” approach, assisted me with my efforts to help other addicts. I have formed a nonprofit, Addiction Uncuffed Inc., which I use to bridge the gap between officers and addicts and the community.
Through this organization, we provide training to officers on the unique role and ability to make a difference to someone suffering from addiction, hope to those still suffering through peer to peer support, and education to the community to support for our efforts to change lives. They are people. They are moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and more. They are humans and deserve the opportunity to get better.
What if we created more avenues for this to happen, instead of judging and writing people off as hopeless? What if these officers hadn’t taken the time to encourage me when I had given up on myself completely? I shouldn’t be here today.
I overdosed multiple times, was given a hot dose of heroin twice (that I turned down by the grace of God), beaten, pistol whipped, raped, had guns to my head and in my mouth on multiple occasions, and had a hit on my life.
But the unlikeliest of people chose to believe in me and that allowed me to believe in me.
Today I am strong. I am a single mother. I am a survivor. I bought my own house and paid off my 2015 Jetta this year. I was there to watch my son, who has forgiven me completely, walk across the stage at graduation and I have a healthy five-year-old daughter, despite my drug use while pregnant.
I work full time for Recovery Unplugged, a national treatment center, and am the President of Addiction Uncuffed Inc. I still work as needed at Manakin Sabot Veterinary Clinic and am completing my Licensed Veterinary Technician (Associate Degree) course. I facilitate at Chesterfield County Jail’s HARP (Heroin Addiction Recovery Program) and have gained the support of multiple police departments, including Chesterfield County and Richmond City.
Today I am honored to work with some of the most amazing police officers, and genuinely fantastic people, that I could ever imagine. These individuals dedicate time that they don’t have to support these efforts. To say I’m grateful is an understatement. I can’t even express to these people how much it means to me to have their support and assistance.
In addition to my efforts to break the stigma placed on addicts, I hope to break the stigma the police deal with. A lot of people don’t seem to understand the pressure of that job. They risk their lives daily. They have to be at their best at all times. Lives depend on it. Not just their own lives, but those in the community. It’s a lot of pressure. They are under a microscope and scrutinized by the public constantly. They don’t get to see their family enough, because their shift doesn’t end when the clock says, it ends when they’re done. They are never done.
They deal with abuse, violence, negativity, hate, and are viewed as the bad guys because you were speeding, buying drugs, or beat someone up. Why do you expect them to ignore the fact that you are ignoring the law? Do you think they enjoy arresting parents while their kids are screaming not to take mom or dad away? They must do their job. Sometimes arresting those people saves their life, or the life of others. It did for me. Police are there to help us, not hurt.
I hope to be able to humanize addicts and officers alike, both to each other and to the community.
I want to save the world, but I know that anyone I can save is a success. I want to create understanding for the sacrifice that is made daily for the first responders that don’t have to dedicate their lives to their community. The world doesn’t want to be saved. However, little by little, I hope to make a difference. To impact someone’s life in a positive way. To be the light and the hope.
I extend my gratitude to law enforcement because they helped me achieve my dreams to live the life I live today. I am motivated to work tirelessly and be an example and show that recovery is possible.