A Story of Recovery

addict-oxyASHLAND — Lindsey Savage remembers the first time she snorted OxyContin.

“To the best of my memory, I have always felt different than everybody else. I lost my mom when I was 13 and picked up with Oxy. I snorted an actual OxyContin 40. The best way I can describe is to say it was like I had held my breath my entire life and snorted that pill and could finally breathe.”

“For me, it sped me up and gave me energy. You feel like you can do anything. That’s one way you could always tell when I was high — I was cleaning or on the phone, or just out of bed! It gave me that 10-feet tall and bulletproof feeling and not a care in the world,” she said.

An early start

By the time she was 15 and a student at East Carter High School, Savage said she had already developed a serious addiction to oxycodone.

“Before school, I had to have something to go to school on,” she said, adding it wasn’t long before she began skipping school to find drugs, or because she was “dope sick” without the medicine. Her grades suffered and she abandoned sports, but drugs remained the most important thing in her life.

“The things that were important to me — drugs took precedence,” she said, explaining she found herself being whisked directly from school to the medical detox unit at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital after she slipped and told a teacher, “I will kill myself if I don’t get help soon.” Her father and sisters had already figured out she was on drugs, Savage said, and made it clear they planned to force her into a rehab program upon graduation.

“So I thought, ‘I’ll party it up and get clean whenever I graduate.’”

Vicious cycle

Savage said she refused to use the tools she was given during her five-day medical detox, and returned to her drug abuse.

“It was probably three weeks and I started hanging out with my old friends,” she said. “I thought I was untouchable. Your mind tells you that you can do just one and quit.”

She enrolled at Kentucky Christian University without amending her drug use, she said.

“I flunked out in the first semester and I was back at Pathways detox within two months. I left the first night. I hadn’t had enough yet,” she said, adding she still was not seeking detox or recovery because it was something she wanted for herself.

As an attractive young woman, Savage said she had no problem getting her oxycodone for free.

“It’s easy for a female — just flirting with these older guys who get dope,” she said, noting she never had anyone offer drugs for sex, and that the men who gave her pills did not seem to expect much more than companionship.

While others became addicted after being prescribed prescription painkillers, Savage said she had no problem getting her drugs from other people. And, while drug use among friends is often called “partying,” Savage said she ultimately found herself alone.

“You want all your dope for yourself,” she said, adding she most often ended up doing drugs by herself before her use came to a forced halt.  

“I continued until I got charges,” she said, explaining she got caught stealing jewelry she could sell for drugs. “By that time, I’d had enough, but I didn’t know what to do.”

A probation officer guided Savage to Cumberland Hope Center for Women in Harlan, where she remained in long-term treatment for nearly two full years.

“The first seven months, I was mad. I did not want to be there. I hated myself,” she said, explaining that while she wasn’t using drugs, she was continuing to engage in the same type of behaviors until she “hit emotional bottom” and embraced the program.

“That was it for me. I opened my mind and used the tools they provided,” she said. “When I stopped fighting everything and everyone, I was able to find some … I guess you’d say peace of mind.”


“Heroin came out while I was in treatment,” she said, noting she became aware of the illicit narcotic becoming more available in the area as the supply of pharmaceutical drugs dried up. “I started seeing it after I came home, but I guess it became more readily available after they shut down the doctors. It is scary because you never know what you are getting or what it is cut with. It is like playing Russian roulette.”

But even the prospect of getting a fix cut with potentially lethal ingredients isn’t as frightening to an addict as the prospect of having no drugs at all, Savage said, explaining why many made the transition to heroin after the supply of pharmaceutical opiates slowed to a trickle.

“It’s like the flu,” she said, listing a string of physical effects for an addict who is forced to go without drugs, including seizures, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, chills and sweats.

“And that’s just the physical part. The mental part is the kicker,” she said.

As an addict, Savage said she and others often asked themselves “Why can’t I stop?”

“We ask ourselves that on a daily basis,” she said, adding “And, every time is the last time.”

Describing a cacophony of “voices in your head,” during dope sickness, Savage said “You will do anything to get your mind to be quiet. And that gets worse as your addiction progresses.”

An addict struggling to not use drugs faces a flood of internal questions and rationales, she said.

“It drives you crazy. Your mind constantly going. There is fear — ‘I don’t know why you are even trying. You know you are going to get high again. Why are you wasting your time?’ Especially when it is teamed up with the physical part. It is learned behavior. You say, ‘You know what is going to make all of this go away.’”

Tough love

Savage said she found great help from the Al-Anon sessions she attended while in long-term recovery, and believes such a program locally would benefit the families of local addicts.

“They suffer from the disease of those of us who are addicted. I know my dad felt like he was the only person to ever go through this,” she said.

Family members often view a loved one with an addiction as something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

“Addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how you were brought up,” she said.

Rather than enable an addict or cover up for their behavior, Savage said family members should ask what they can do to help, and offer the addicted person support in the form of “tough love.” Article Link…

“Tough love, but be supporting,” she said, with measures including not giving money or delivering a message such as “Get help or get out.”

“You may have to learn to love them from a distance, and to learn boundaries,” she said.

Savage, 24, now works as at the Pathways detox center in Ashland where she tries to let clients know they can succeed.

“When I came home, my heart was in addiction and I appreciated the people who worked with me,” she said. “Doing this is a good reminder every day. I know what it is like to be scared and fearful sitting in detox. I think it takes an addict to help an addict.”

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