Fitness played a life-changing role in helping Katie Burlingame quit opioids and heroin for good.
I should have realized I'd hit rock bottom when I stole pills from my grandmother, who relied on painkillers to treat osteoporosis. But, instead, when she noticed some of her pills were missing, I lied through my teeth and denied I had anything to do with it. I remember leaving the house that day thinking I'd fooled everyone, only to come back later that night to locked bedroom doors and medicine cabinets that had been wiped clean. My entire family knew I had a problem—everyone except me.
I wasn't exactly an angel growing up, but I didn't start doing drugs seriously until I met my college boyfriend, the guy I really thought was "the one." Two weeks before graduation, he introduced me to OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. (These prescription painkillers can lead to an accidental addiction, especially for someone recovering from a painful injury.) Pretty quickly, my infatuation turned from him to the drugs themselves. I needed them just to feel normal. I couldn't go to work without them. I couldn't sleep without them. And if I wasn't high, I'd basically be sick and shivering uncontrollably. (If you know someone you love could have a problem, watch out of these other drug abuse warning signs.) I guess I knew my life revolved around the drugs, but I still felt like I was in control. I'd convinced myself that I only needed them the way plenty of office workers rely on coffee to get through the day.
At the height of my addiction, my days were an exhausting cycle of searching for pills, getting high, coming off that high, and then searching for my next high (which is a pretty expensive lifestyle). Eventually, I took up heroin after a "friend" told me it cost a fraction of what I was paying for OxyContin. I would then get so high that I blacked out, and I'd get arrested for shoplifting. (It was kind of like a blackout from drinking too much alcohol, where you are still up and walking around.) The third time this happened, when I called my mom to bail me out (again), she picked me up and told me she couldn't go on living like this anymore. That's when I realized I couldn't either.
That's what I needed in order to actually start my recovery. I'd be lying if I said I had a wake-up call that day and suddenly my addiction was cured. That arrest was in 2012, and it took a full year of going to an intensive outpatient program four times a week and meeting with my 12-step group or sponsor two or three times a day before I really felt "clean." But having a community behind me helped keep me motivated. Everyone in my program understood my story. They'd been there themselves, so they could relate.
They helped me feel better about myself, and eventually, that led to taking better care of my health and my body, too. I started to work out through a program designed for people in recovery and learned how to exercise again. When I was addicted to drugs, I forgot how much I loved exercise! Now, I make it a priority to do something active every day—whether it's an intense CrossFit-type of class with people from my program, a yoga class, or just a walk around the neighborhood to get moving. Being active helps me clear my mind, and it goes hand in hand with staying sober. It sounds cliché, but exercising gives me a different kind of high—obviously one that's better for me.
I live a pretty structured life now, and it's that structure that keeps me sober. I schedule workouts with friends early in the morning to eliminate the option of going out on a bender the night before. These early morning commitments also force me to start my day so I don't have the option of lying around on the couch where drugs could be a temptation.
Back at the height of my addiction, I never would have guessed people would look to me as an example of success, but now they do. My advice to them is to keep coming back—to the recovery meetings and to the workouts—because it does get better.