Alison Cebulla's Story of Meth Addiction & Recovery

Hi. I’m Alison.

I live in Austin, Texas. I grew up in Grover Beach, California.

I work as Life Coach and am a Certified Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world’s largest nutrition school. I am a Huffington Post blogger and speak at conferences in the US and Europe about trust, intimacy, and intuition. 

I am on a quest to always improve my physical and mental health, learn more and share more of what I learn with others. I derive purpose and meaning by ending suffering for myself and others.

And as Colin wrote about in his piece on The Example Rule, I was once addicted to meth.

How did I become addicted? 

Looking back on that time 12 years ago, with all that I’ve learned about myself it’s now easy to see that I was seeking connection with others. Drugs were a medium of connection: they were a ritual experience that helped me talk intimately with others.

The whole process was a ritual: getting the drugs, getting a friend or group together at someone’s home, taking the drugs out, doing the drugs, etc. Then the drugs themselves would facilitate talking, stimulating endorphins that would keep us chatting all night until the sun came up.

I didn’t have another ritual in place for this. I was 19 and was drinking alcohol a little but that one never appealed to me. I did join the Cal Women's Rugby team my freshman year but that didn't give me the deep intellectual talks I was craving. 

Dr. Brian Little says in his book Me, Myself, and Us; that extroverts, of which I’m one, perceive sensory input less.

So stimulants always helped me feel “normal” in my own skin; they brought me up to a level of stimulation where I could comfortably interact with the world. When sober, I felt itchy in my own skin, awkward, and removed.

The when/where/how of my meth addiction: 

For those of you reading this who just cannot even fathom how one might go about using methamphetamine, here are the specifics.

I had been exposed to cocaine in high school and halfway through my freshman year of college at UC Berkeley, I thought it could be fun to seek this drug out again. People are always shocked to hear that I sought it out on Craigslist and found it easily there.

I was finding interesting and exciting people on Craigslist with whom I was partying and was exposed to all sorts of new drugs. I was curious about them all!

One morning after an all nighter of cocaine and MDMA, I needed to go to work (I was a shop clerk at a women’s boutique) and my partner in crime, who was the director of an area hospital, crushed up a line for me.  

After I snorted the line, I asked him what it was. It was methamphetamine. I’ll never forget my thought in that moment, “shit, this is one of the ones I wasn’t going to do!”

I’d just crossed over from party to serious in one line.

Creating an addict

But like Colin says in his Example Rule piece, 85-90% of people who try meth don’t become addicts. My addiction didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t immediately want more. I wasn’t immediately hooked. I didn’t become a drug fiend.  

I didn’t start scratching imaginary scabs off my arms, lose my teeth, or move into a trailer.

But now I knew this thing existed and the line had been crossed. So as I continued to “party” on the weekends, sometimes I would use methamphetamine. It was a lot cheaper than cocaine and the high was about 100 times more intense, lasting for days and taking me to a place of euphoria.

What’s meth like?

Imagine your happiest most blissed out moment. Close your eyes and remember everything about it. Now imagine amplifying that feeling by 10 times, maybe 100 times, even. That’s a methamphetamine high.  

I do not at all want to glorify this destructive drug but the high feels really good.  

How did I go from casual use to addiction?

They say addiction is when something gets in the way of living your life. After several months of casual weekend use, I started to need it to function normally: to be awake enough to show up to class and work.

Taking it on a Monday morning instead of a Friday night: that’s addiction.

My life started to unravel: someone broke into my apartment and stole my laptop and camera, I was failing 2 out of 3 of the classes I was taking, I was feeling more lonely, depressed, and guilty by the day. Other weird stuff started happening and my life felt totally out of control.

What points did I reach to make me realize I had to quit?

My mom sent me a card in the mail that read “I love you and am so proud of you!” THAT is a moment when I felt so much shame about my drug use. “She wouldn’t love me if she knew what I’ve been hiding,” I thought.

I cried every day for a week and used a lot of drugs (counterintuitively) to mask the shame.

I had joined the Cal Women’s Rugby team at Berkeley and practices were becoming increasingly difficult. We did a lot of running and I was out of breath sooner and unable to keep up with the other women on the team. I felt embarrassed!

Failing at school. I had always been a straight-A student and it was a large part of my self worth. I was not allowed to fail!

I just knew “this isn’t me.” No one else in my family was a drug addict and I didn’t identify with myself anymore. My idea of myself was that I was a good student and an important community member. I’d grown up volunteering for community service groups and overachieving in every area.

I felt depressed. After a few months of drug use at regular intervals my thoughts got dark! I was questioning the purpose of life; the shame and guilt were really intense.  

How did I quit?

1. I wasn’t afraid to ask for help.

The minute my life started spiraling downward I went to the UC Berkeley health clinic and started seeing a therapist and going to a group for addicts. The therapist sucked, which I can only say now. She’d never been an addict and just did not relate. I left every session thinking “fuck you.”

But still, it was awesome that I knew I deserved help when I needed it. I learned this from my parents. They both saw therapists after they got a divorce so I learned there’s no shame in seeing one.

2. I had the support and love of my parents.

Telling my parents that I had a hard drug problem was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my whole life. They were shocked and disappointed but it never occurred to them to do anything else other than offer their love and support.

I moved back home with them while attending rehab and they trusted me which was a huge gift, and one I didn’t betray.

3. I had a strong identity based on being a successful person.

Much later I would come to see how much of my self worth was based on achievement, which is typical for children born in the 80s. It has taken a lot of work to find self worth that’s not based on external factors.

But this part of my identity was instrumental in helping me not stay addicted to meth. Because my worth relied on my success as a student, it was the stronger of the two identities and I could apply myself to school to feel good about myself.

4. I had a loving therapist who gave me empathy.

I’m not sure what I would have done without Donna from San Luis Obispo County Drug & Alcohol. She just gave me pure love and empathy. She had been a cocaine addict herself and related to me. She never shamed me for my behavior. She saw the good in me and always brought that out.

In her office I felt whole, enough, and capable of greatness. She treated me like a regular human: she never put me down, treated me like a criminal, or said demeaning things. I told her that I wasn’t enjoying one of the classes and she said “then don’t go! Don’t do things you don’t enjoy!” And that was that. No one had ever given me that permission before!

5. 3 month outpatient rehab program that was almost free.

I think I only had to pay $5-$10 for each visit which was about 3 times a week between one-on-one with my drug counselor and the group classes. Thanks SLO County!

My parents would not have been able to pay for me to go to a fancy treatment center so I’m so grateful this nearly-free resource was available. I consider myself so lucky. I’m not sure that all communities have free centers this good.

6. 12 Step meetings: believing in a power greater than myself, a sober community and sober friends, 1 day at a time.

The 12 Steps are popular for a reason! They really work! I never got a sponsor or anything but I went to meetings every week, even though that felt weird, new, and uncomfortable. Hearing everyone’s stories helped me feel not alone.

Not everyone at the meetings were great company but I did make one sober friend and we would carpool to meetings. I had been an avid atheist my entire life so this believing in a higher power was a change. It helped me step away from narcissism and cynicism.

The 12 step program is a lot about powerlessness and that might seem counter-intuitive but it just works! Once you admit powerlessness over addiction, you can treat it with the reverence it deserves instead of pretending it’s not a problem.

7. Desire to be healthy and in shape.

My family members are all in shape and athletic. Going to the gym became my new behavior replacement for drugs. If I felt myself remembering how good the meth was (that pull was strong), I’d go to the gym and get on the elliptical machine for an hour until it went away.

8. Vanity.

I often joke that this was the biggest factor in my recovery. When I was 17 I won a beauty pageant and rode in the back of sports cars in parades waving at patrons while wearing a crown and gown.

After 6 months on meth I was way too skinny, pale, and my face was broken out. I looked hollow and felt even worse. How I looked was important to me. If the urge to use was strong I could fall back on “no, I don’t want to look that gross again.”

9. Boyfriend = addiction transfer.

I was in a codependent relationship with one boyfriend for several years after rehab. He was a great guy and we grew a lot together, but I used it as a crutch in a lot of ways and would get very emotional about little things.

Looking back I see I transferred many of my addictive tendencies to relationship addiction, which was much less destructive than hard drug addiction, and much more socially acceptable. This topic is a whole separate blog post!

10. Moving to Asheville, North Carolina.

Part of drug use for me was exploring new things and having exciting experiences. Moving to Asheville filled that hole for me. I had a new town, new state, and new coast to explore!

11. I got a life.

I attended Unitarian Universalist Church every Sunday and joined the choir, I took organic gardening classes, I went hiking in nature often.

12. Luck factor: having a roommate that introduced me to yoga.

By chance I moved in with a woman who was coincidentally attending grad school to be a drug counselor. Thank you random chance! She managed a yoga studio and hooked me up with a few free classes to try out. This was a gateway to Eastern spirituality, mindfulness, self reflection, being present in my body, and meditation.

“How many times did you try and how many times did you fail to quit?”

This goes to prove Colin’s point in his piece. People have huge misconceptions about drug use. It’s assumed that everyone who tries drugs must fail and fail again on their path to getting clean. For me it just took deciding once.

This same person responded upon hearing this, “well then that makes you an expert on willpower!”  Hopefully my list of factors that contributed to my recovery paints a picture of why I’m one of the ones who used and found it not that hard to walk away.

I know that drug use and rehab led me on the path to coaching and I love my career as a life coach. Rehab taught me that there were new ways of being to be learned that could improve my life. This got me curious about all the habits and mindsets I didn’t know about yet that could give me a better life!

“You mean I can just call a friend when I’m feeling sad instead of using drugs?!” This was a revelation, ”What else don’t I know about?!”

Thus started my path of coping with the mystery that is life. This has now turned into learning more each and every day about how to thrive. Not to simply cope or survive, but to savor and enjoy every moment.

This is a guest post by Alison Cebulla.

Alison works as a Life Coach and is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world’s largest nutrition school. She is a Huffington Post blogger and speaks at conferences in the US and Europe about trust, intimacy, and intuition.

Alison Cebulla

Hi. I’m Alison.

I live in Austin, Texas. I grew up in Grover Beach, California.

I am a Certified Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world’s largest nutrition school. I have a Bachelor of Science from UC Berkeley in Conservation and Resource Studies, where I focused on food policy and agricultural ecology. I studied abroad in Peru on a Fair Trade coffee cooperative and also did undergraduate research with the Berkeley Center for Weight & Health and Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program on the effects of garden curriculum on childhood nutrition.