My name is danielle

And optional subtext

Though it makes me feel old to admit it, I was the type of kid that lugged a typewriter around. Wrote stories, made documentaries, investigated and documented my findings. Things of the utmost importance, I can assure you. At the ripe old age of eight, I began documenting my life story. In my free time, I would also play school with my little sister and let me tell you, I took my role as an educator very seriously. I meant business. I also believed in fairy dust and the ability to fly if I believed hard enough, so take from that what you will. In 4th and 5th grade I volunteered at school to stay late and help the younger kids learn how to read. I can say I did it to avoid being at home, but the truth was I enjoyed it.

Had my life growing up been different, I might not have led the life I did. I had a very emotionally turbulent childhood riddled with abuse, suicide, addiction and mental health issues. What I remember most from growing up was feeling terrified and unloved, wondering what was wrong with me. The fruit that childhood trauma bears is insecurity, anger, and more often that not, addiction in its many ugly forms. Let me clarify, in hindsight, I have no doubt I was loved, but my parents were divorced, and engulfed in their own issues of addiction and anger. I miss them both, so much that it hurts, but when you are battling with your own demons it’s difficult to see how it affects those you love most.   

 I consumed myself with plans for the future, about being old enough to leave. I wanted to join the navy, go to law school and one day become the first female president. Grand plans, I know, but it was all I thought about. I would escape from the reality of what was happening around me, and how I felt inside, by expressing myself through writing and losing myself inside the magical realm of books. The weight of words can be a very beautiful & powerful thing.

  I started drinking alcohol at age 13 and smoking pot. I sought that form of escape as soon as I could open my eyes and it wasn’t very hard to find. All the while still hoping for a future. I moved out at 14, working and continuing to go to high school while also continuing to get high daily. I thought this was normal and saw nothing wrong with it. I never even saw it as a problem. I dropped out my senior year because I wouldn’t have enough credits to graduate. It’s hard to make it to school every day when you are working full time and drinking until you black out every night. I did get my GED, started college at 17, but dropped out about 6 weeks in. Of course, I thought I had the rest of my life ahead of me. 

In 2003 I was 20 years old. Between1999 to 2010, the prescribing of opioids in the US quadrupled. Many families are still feeling the fallout from the “Pill Mill Epidemic” today. During this time, I was in a mild car accident and was prescribed very powerful synthetic opiates. If anyone has been given morphine in the hospital, or any other synthetic opiate, that feeling is like nothing I can describe with words. I used to joke, the full body rush and warmth felt like a hug from Jesus. Awful, right? But I can promise you, after feeling like that, the last thing on my mind was my problems or how I felt inside about myself. My use increased and the Doctors had no problem increasing my meds. There was no shortage of Drs willing to prescribe these coveted pills. I remember writing something years later… “I’m a prisoner of Percocet, poison in a pill”, after I had experienced the physical and mental withdrawals from those powerful opiates. Unfortunately, my relationship with opiates only became more intense, more exclusive, and more demanding. 

A son, 2 prison sentences, 3 overdoses later, here I stand. But with more hope in my heart than I can ever remember having. Here I stand with 4 years of sobriety, a village of strong people around me who believe in me, encourage me, and refuse to view me through the lens of my past. Therapy, meditation, honesty, remaining open minded and willing have helped me achieve a lot towards the goals I continue to strive for today. What will I be remembered for? The hopes and dreams I held so tightly to the first decade of my life? The decades after where I lost myself trying to forget? Or the finding of myself and the intense desire to help others who have traveled the same path as I? Which one of these is truly me? They all are. No words, no matter how well spoken, can truly encompass the emotion, experience, fears, failures, hopes & dreams of a person. But we all have them. Every single one of us have common ground to stand on, if we are open to it. To begin bridging the gap between those who have experienced incarceration and those who have not, we first need to have compassion. Understanding. Empathy. To begin bridging the gap, we need to #unjudge.

“We are so much more than the roles we play in the stories other people tell about us.” I remember hearing that and how, for a second, it took away the power of what other people thought about me…But the truth is that generally speaking, people are still labeled and referred to as many things, and the weight of that is felt throughout every facet of daily life. So, Today I strive to be a reliable woman of integrity. It is my hope that by sharing my experience I can help to alleviate the stigma that surrounds those who have experienced incarceration, as well as addiction. By sharing, I hope to spark a connection. To convey meaning & purpose. To find common ground, because it’s there. I hope to change the narrative.