My name is Candice Oliver. I am 29. I am a host at a Japanese Hibachi restaurant. I have been in recovery for 15 months and 3 weeks. This is not my first attempt at recovery but this is the longest I have been clean.
At the age of 22 I started using heroin with an ex-boyfriend that took me to the streets of Seattle. I was homeless. I ended up in jail, ended up in drug court and eventually ended up in prison. After prison I was clean for a few months and then relapsed and after about another year of using, I ended up where I am today.
What made you go into recovery?
I cannot use politely or in a controlled way. My life spirals out of control extremely quickly. I only used for probably a total of 6 years, but I found myself in places with people that had been using for decades.
What challenges do you still face?
My biggest challenge is my friends that are still using, whether it be that they never stopped or that they also got clean and now they’ve relapsed. It’s really hard to watch somebody do the same things that you did and you know that there’s nothing you can say to them that’s gonna fix them.
Is your history a problem for you?
Definitely. I am a felon. So before I ever started using drugs I was a nursing student. Now that I have felonies, I cannot get accepted into a nursing program at any school. Washington State would give me a nursing license if I had been a nurse and started using drugs, they would work with that, but the schools do not have to allow me into their program. So, I pretty much ended that with using drugs.
What are some of the big changes in your life?
I don’t stuff things anymore, I use to be – I would get mad at people but I wouldn’t ever tell anyone that I was unhappy and they could do the same thing over and over and I would never tell them that it bothered me. But now I don’t do that, whether it’s my dad or my boyfriend or a friend. If there’s a problem I’m gonna talk about it because essentially what started my use was just bottling feelings of resentment and anger towards other people.
How would your employer describe you?
I’m definitely a hard worker. I’m always willing to step in and step up, do whatever needs to be done. I’m generally a pretty positive person, everyone has their days but generally I come to work with a smile on my face and ready to do whatever needs to be done.
Why are you sharing your story?
I think it’s important that every addict talks about their story. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, they all talk about anonymity. But I think that gets misconstrued. They’re talking about maintaining each other’s anonymity, like you don’t go out and tell somebody else’s story but I think it’s important to tell the world that addicts aren’t just the people you see sleeping on the streets. We do recover, we do become part of society and you have no idea who you see every single day of your life that battles addiction but they’re not getting high anymore.
My story also has a little piece that is pretty controversial I think, especially among people in recovery. I’m on Suboxone, so it can be hard at meetings sometimes because people consider me ‘not clean’ because I’m on this medication. But there’s also people that are clean that aren’t on this medication that aren’t able to function as well, they struggle a lot. I don’t think I took the easy way out because I definitely still have thoughts of relapse. It didn’t fix anything, it’s stability, it helps with depression and no I don’t want to be on it for the rest of my life but, if that’s what it takes for me to not put a needle in my arm ever again…
How would your friends describe you?
The ones that have known me my whole life would probably just say that I’m myself again.
What makes you smile?
Pretty much everything, like cats make me smile. Other people getting 30 days clean makes me smile. (laughs) I’m a mess. Just everything, like when I was using, nothing made me happy. Drugs made me not hurt, but they didn’t make me happy. So now I get to participate in my family’s lives. My mom and I are friends on Facebook again, most people don’t even want their mom to be on their Facebook. But that’s the kind of stuff that makes me happy now.
What is the value in sharing your story?
It humanizes it. A lot of people, even where I work, make comments because they don’t know I’m in recovery or they forgot. And then once they put a face and a story and see somebody that is productive and can tell the story about how they were and how they’re a person that is working and has a life and they interact with on a daily basis, they can’t just be like ‘oh that homeless junkie on the corner’ because I will tell people that that was me.
How have you been treated within your community?
So people that hire despite a criminal record, do a lot to help people, but there’s also people, I mean like just social media. If you go on Skagit Breaking and there’s something about an overdose, all those people saying terrible things makes you want to keep the fact that you’re in recovery to yourself. Nobody wants to draw that kind of anger to themselves. I haven’t encountered anyone in person that has been vicious like that, but anything you say, wherever you say it, it affects somebody. But the people that will employ a felon or employ someone who hasn’t worked for a year and they don’t really have a good reason why, that helps a lot.
How do you see the future?
I’m super optimistic, I plan on going to school to be a social worker. I want to do homeless outreach, work with missions, any crisis intervention. I want to help the people that are in the places I’ve been. Just having a career goal ‘cause honestly for a long time after I realized nursing was out of the picture, I thought I was stuck to minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life.
Do you have any advice for others in recovery?
Just always reach out for help to somebody. Don’t think that nobody else has felt the way you have, don’t feel like you’re a failure ‘cause you’re 8 months clean and all you can think about is using. It’s a long road and it’s a forever road but it’s not impossible.