Kimberly Schliekelman started with alcohol and marijuana, graduated to cocaine and crystal meth, overdosed twice, became a heroin addict, then got clean after two stints in rehab.
All before age 18.
The Simi Valley resident hopes her harrowing journey to sobriety can serve as an example and give hope to other young people struggling with heroin addiction.
“It’s just a matter of kids being willing to listen,” Kimberly, now 18, said recently while sitting in her family’s home. “Because I know what it’s like to be stuck in heroin addiction. Nothing gets through.
“If kids have that chance to actually withdraw, you get that moment of clarity where you can start thinking clearly again. That’s kind of what happened to me.”
Kimberly has been clean for more than a year, recently graduated high school through an independent studies program and is taking online classes to become a drug counselor.
Last month, she addressed a packed community meeting in Simi Valley, recounting her descent into addiction and eventual recovery. The city has been gripped by a public outcry over growing heroin use in the area. Four people in their 20s and two in their 40s died of heroin overdoses in the city last year, police say. And at least two other young people whose parents live in Simi have suffered heroin-related deaths this year in other cities. The city has formed a multiagency task force to try to tackle the problem.
A lifelong Simi resident, Kimberly said she had a normal upbringing with her parents, two half-sisters and one half-brother. In sixth grade at Crestview School, she won a D.A.R.E. award for an essay about how she was never going to use drugs.
“It’s kind of ironic how that worked out,” she said with a laugh.
PROBLEMS START YOUNG
Her substance abuse problems began in the seventh grade at Hillside Middle School, where she gravitated toward “the bad kids, I guess you could say,” she said.
She started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana on weekends. She was 13.
“From there, it just took off,” she said. “It kind of progressed from a weekend thing to a couple times a week to almost an every day thing” where she would get buzzed at school during P.E. on homemade margaritas. While she never got caught, she frequently got suspended for fighting and transferred to Sinaloa Middle School.
The summer before eighth grade, she tried OxyContin, a prescription synthetic opiate that police say can be a gateway to heroin. She also started doing Ecstasy almost every day, as well as Xanax, a prescription tranquilizer. Xanax mixed with alcohol resulted in her first overdose at age 14.
“I don’t remember much of what happened,” she said. After falling down the stairs at home, “I woke up in the hospital and my dad was standing next to me.”
The episode served as a rude awakening for her parents, Gary and Jenny Schliekelman, who realized their daughter had a serious drug problem.
“I’m surprised that she’s still alive today,” Jenny said. “I used to see her overdosing, watching my kid dying. And that is not OK for a mother and father to do.”
Things didn’t get better at Royal High School.
The summer before ninth grade, on top of all the Ecstasy and alcohol she was putting in her system, Kimberly started snorting cocaine and smoking crystal meth. She suffered her second overdose that year after taking Ecstasy — at a rave and again at an after-party — but she was not hospitalized.
One time she went on three-day meth binge. “I just went insane,” she said. That led to her first stint in rehab at Action Family Counseling in Santa Clarita.
“I thought I was serious about getting clean,” she said.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
After being discharged, she soon fell back into old habits, drinking and taking OxyContin.
About a quarter of the way through 10th grade, she decided to leave Royal and start independent studies through Monte Vista School in Simi, which enabled her to do most of her studying at home.
She started taking OxyContin more frequently. It quickly evolved into an expensive everyday habit, paying $40 for an 80 milligram dose. She sometimes stole money from her mother to buy it.
A friend suggested a cheaper alternative, heroin, but a wary Kimberly initially wasn’t interested. She changed her mind one day when she was going through a particularly rough OxyContin withdrawal.
She and her friend bought $20 worth of heroin from the friend’s dealer. At age 16, Kimberly smoked the highly addictive opiate for the first time.
“And there was pretty much no turning back from that point,” she said. “It was cheap and the high was better. I was full-blown addicted like after a week of using every day.
“It just got really bad, like really fast. The withdrawals were unbearable, horrible. I think at least four times a month I would say ‘I want to stop. I don’t want to do this anymore. Like I’m done.’ And it just never happened.”
She built up a high tolerance to the opiate. Toward the end of her roughly 18-month addiction, she was smoking close to a gram of heroin a day but not getting high.
She owed people money for the narcotic and received threats. She stole $300 from her father and got caught under her mother’s bed rifling through her purse.
Jenny said that ever since Kimberly’s first stay in rehab, she and her husband were aware of their daughter’s continued drug use and tried just about everything, including family counseling, to get her to stop, but to no avail.
“Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, she’s at the house, doing it,” Jenny said. “Under my nose, up in her room, with her friends and all that.”
Her marriage started to feel the strain, she said.
“I finally told her, ‘I give up, I can’t do this anymore,’ because it hurt me too much,” Jenny said. “I told her, ‘Mom is done. You took everything that I have, all my strength, all my patience. I don’t know what else I can do.’ “
Still, she said, her love for her daughter was unconditional. “I told her, ‘I still love you, no matter what,’ ” she said.
Kimberly said that while her parents knew she was drinking and suspected she was using drugs, they didn’t know she was a heroin addict until she finally told them. “I was just really, really good at hiding it and manipulating them,” she said.
She again tried to get clean, this time at home, where her mother, under a doctor’s guidance, gave her Suboxone, which is used to treat opiate addiction.
It briefly worked, but she relapsed during the 2010 Christmas season when she used money intended for presents to score.
“And I ended up getting full-blown addicted again,” she said.
At age 17, she entered rehab again, checking into the Center for Discovery in Whittier.
This time, success.
Kimberly has been clean since Jan. 26, 2011.
“It’s not that the rehab didn’t work the first time, it’s that I didn’t want to stop,” she said. “And that’s the difference. It’s just a mentality. If you want to stop, you’re going to stop.”
Her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Stacy Haughawout, believes she can serve as a role model for other teenage substance abusers who can better relate to someone their own age.
“She can touch the youth community because of her age and her maturity and how much she’s grown,” said Haughawout, who works at Action Family Counseling in Simi, where Kimberly did outpatient. “She was just hell on wheels when she got here and struggled in the beginning. But she’s matured into just a really amazing young lady.”
Kimberly has one life goal above all others: stay clean.
“At this point, I just want to become a functioning member of society,” she said. “I just don’t want to be part of the problem anymore. I just want to live and not be so controlled by something like a substance, which controlled my whole life.”