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By Jaclyn Calleva
During the summer of 1996, when I was 11, I became drastically sick with lupus. I was admitted to Children's Hospital Boston and put on high doses of steroids, which made my face puffy and round and made me gain 80 pounds. Despite frequent hospitalizations, the lupus got out of control and my kidneys were a step away from needing dialysis. With no other options, I went on chemotherapy for two and a half years.
I was losing sight of a normal adolescence: Because I looked and felt different than other kids my age, I began having really low self-esteem and crushing anxiety. Since I was never in school, I had a hard time connecting with people. Then, the summer after graduating from high school, I started dating someone who seemed to have the solution for all my problems. He encouraged me to take a pill—OxyContin—that didn't just erase my physical discomfort, it also relieved my anxiety. Finally, I came out of my shell and stopped caring about what people thought of me. My anxiety was gone and I was happy when I was high.
Before I knew it, I was taking five pills a day. One time I didn't take them and I thought I had the flu; it turned out it was withdrawals. That's when I realized I was addicted. I wasn't getting high anymore, but I needed the pills to keep from getting sick. It spun out of control so fast: I couldn't function without them—if I didn't have them first thing in the morning, I couldn't get out of bed. The pills consumed my life and made me constantly angry. I wasn't showing my face at home, and if I did see someone in my family, I'd just start a fight with them.
When I broke up with my boyfriend, who was supporting my habit, I had no idea how much these pills cost. At $80 each, I quickly realized that I couldn't afford it, since every cent I earned was going to drugs. I needed a cheaper option that could still give me the fix I needed, and I soon found my answer in heroin, which cost only $20. I always said I'd never do heroin, but my habit was so bad I thought it was my last resort. The deeper my addiction got, the cheaper and easier it was to fill the void.
After about a year and a half, I decided that I'd had enough. I'd gotten arrested and my life wasn't my own. I'd forgotten how to be happy and emotionally satisfied without drugs. So I told my parents and we searched for a detox program. I had to get clean. I went from detox to detox, where I had the shakes and lots of throwing up—all of the usual, horrible withdrawal symptoms. Then my parents found me a program that would guide me on my path to recovery: Children's Adolescent Substance Abuse Program (ASAP).
ASAP doctors prescribed buprenorphine, a drug that helps reduce opioid dependence; my cravings went away and I stopped using drugs. However, for some reason I still wasn't feeling right. That's when I found out I was pregnant. I knew my decision to not go back to drugs wasn't just about me and my future anymore; I had to think about the child I would soon bring into the world. I entered ASAP's weekly group therapy program, where I met other kids struggling with addiction. Every week I drew strength from them as we learned to live without opioids.
I am now 23 and have been clean for three-and-a-half years thanks to ASAP. If I didn't have this program, I don't know where I would be today. I'm the oldest one in the program and have the chance to share my story with younger kids just coming off drugs. I want to find other ways to prevent kids from trying drugs. I don't think they know it's the worst thing they could ever do and that it's something you live with for the rest of your life. Addiction is something you never get over: You always have to fight the cravings, keep yourself busy and go to meetings so you won't relapse.
It used to be that when I had a bad day, I turned to drugs; the only way I coped with things was to get high. Now I turn to the program; when I have a bad day, I call someone in the program. I also turn to my daughter, Isabella, for inspiration. She turns 4 in November and loves going for walks, eating ice cream and when I read her books at night. Four years ago, the most important thing was when and how I was going to get my next fix. Today, the most important thing in my life is her.
Read more about Children's Adolescent Substance Abuse Program
John Knight, MD, talks about the signs of substance abuse
Read other first-person stories by Children's patients and staff
Inspired eating from celebrity chef Ming Tsai
Ming Tsai is the owner and chef of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass., and author of three cookbooks. He hosts Public Television's cooking show, "Simply Ming," and was the long-time host of the Food Network's hit "East Meets West with Ming Tsai." Here, he shares his recipe for Sliced Hanger Steak and Onion Hoagie with Sambal-Dijon Spread.
"This flavor-packed steak sandwich couldn't be easier to put together, so have fun and get your kids to help you make it. I like a lot of heat in my food, but feel free to adjust the amount of sambal in the spread to your tastes. My favorite way to eat this sandwich is in front of the TV, watching the Patriots win!"
1 1/2 pounds hanger steak, trimmed
3 red onions, halved and sliced
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sambal oelek*
1/4 cup mayo
Sliced pickled jalapeños, for garnish
4 hoagie rolls or ciabatta rolls, toasted
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Canola oil for cooking
Your favorite chips
*Found in the Asian section of your grocery store
Season the hanger steak with salt and pepper. In a large cast-iron pan, coated lightly with oil, sear the hanger over medium heat and cook until brown on all sides and medium inside, about 10 minutes. When steak is halfway done, add onions to start caramelizing them, then season with salt. When steak is done, remove to a cutting board and let rest for five minutes. Continue cooking onions until well caramelized, about five minutes. In a bowl, mix together the Dijon mustard, sambal and mayo. Slice steak and build your sandwich: spread sambal-Dijon mixture on both halves of roll, add onions, pickled jalapeños and steak. Slice sandwich and serve with your favorite chips and a few extra jalapeños, if desired.
1 1-pound package raw chicken sausage with fennel
1 1/2 cups coarsely ground coriander
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 fennel heads, roughly chopped, save fronds for garnish
3 ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 cups jasmin rice
4 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Canola oil for cooking
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove sausage from casings and roll into balls. Place ground coriander in a pie plate and roll sausage balls in coriander. Place an oven-proof casserole over high heat, add oil to coat and sear sausage meatballs until dark golden brown and delicious, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove sausage meatballs to a plate. In the same casserole, add the onions, fennel and celery and season. Sweat until softened and reduced in volume, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add rice and stir to combine. Add back the sausage meatballs and pour in chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, cover, and bake in oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until rice is cooked through. Let rest 15 minutes covered, garnish with fennel fronds and serve family style.
More healthful recipes by Ming Tsai
Watch David Ludwig, MD, PhD, talk about how to eat well—and why it's so important
I'm Telling the Truth: A First Look at Honesty by Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker
This illustrated book introduces the concepts of honesty and politeness, explains why they're important and how to teach them. For readers 4 to 8.
Abby Gets a Cochlear Implant by Maureen Cassidy Riski
This picture book illustrates the process of how Abby gets a cochlear implant for progressive hearing loss. For readers of all ages.
Conquering Your Child's Chronic Pain: A Pediatrician's Guide for Reclaiming a Normal Childhood by Lonnie K. Zeltzer and Christine Blackett Schlank
This book gives parents practical tips to help their child deal with chronic pain related to illness or injury. For adults, older children and adolescents.
Just Say Know: Talking with Kids about Drugs and Alcohol by Cynthia Kuhn and Scott Swartzwelder
This book for the parents of teens includes information on different drugs, tips for talking to your teen, information on the legal ramifications of illegal drug use and descriptions of how certain drugs affect the brain.
Certainly as far as substance abuse is concerned, the old aphorism rings true. We know that there are lots of things parents can do, starting when their kids are young, to prevent substance use disorders—including setting a good example, sharing their views openly and setting firm limits on substance use.
—Sharon Levy, MD
Medical Director, Adolescent Substance Abuse Program
Read a first-person story of drug addiction
John Knight, MD, is director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Children's Hospital Boston. In a recent video Q&A, he addressed the topic of teen substance use, and talked about a study showing that the majority of underage drinkers in the United States get their alcohol from a parent or guardian.
Q: Why do parents buy alcohol for their teens?
A:My belief is that most [parents] who provide alcohol to their teens think they're protecting them. They're aware of the dangers of drinking and driving and so will often say, "I'll provide alcohol for you and your friends to drink at our home, and I'll take away the car keys and your friends will have to stay here overnight or have someone else give them a ride home." It sounds good in theory, but in practice it doesn't work. I have a file full of news clippings about tragedies that occurred when parents did that. Some of the parents are well-intentioned, but what they don't understand is they're really increasing the risk for these children, despite their best efforts.
Watch the rest of Knight's video Q&A on teens and substance abuse