At my lowest point, I was an addict living in my dad's basement. Now, I'm happy, healthy, and passionate about life in a way I never could have imagined before.

By By Shelley Leone as told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen

Lots of kids party in college, no big deal, right? Not for me. I really enjoyed partying, but I never could stop at one or two drinks and always ended up staying out later and drinking more-to the point where it felt like I couldn't stop. Drinking made me feel smarter, more attractive, outgoing...invincible, basically. Then one night at a party there were people using cocaine. I refused the first couple of times they offered it to me, but eventually I gave in and tried it. I fell in love with it. It was the ultimate escape from the problems and painful feelings of reality.

Eventually, I graduated and got a job. But while some people can walk away from the party lifestyle after they graduate, I got sucked into a cycle of addiction, abusing alcohol and drugs for years. At first, I was able to hide it well during the day, but eventually, my addictions took over my life. Finally, my boss got sick of me chronically showing up to work late and hungover or going for days without sleeping, and he fired me. After that, I lost my apartment. Then I got two DUIs, which were the last straw. I knew I needed help at this point to stop drinking and using drugs, so I moved in with my dad. Nobody wants to be nearly 30 years old and living with their parents, dead broke, jobless, and friendless. It was absolutely the darkest time of my life, and in 2007 I made the life-changing decision to get sober for good. I checked myself into rehab and thanks to a lot of hard work and vigilance, I've been sober ever since.

At first sobriety felt great. I got a new job, moved to a new town, got a whole new circle of friends, and started taking care of my body by exercising and eating right. But then in May 2012, I twisted my ankle while hiking. Immediately I knew something was seriously wrong with my calf and ankle. Doctors diagnosed me with a calf strain, which hurts way more than you'd think. The injury, besides being incredibly painful, sidelined me and took me away from my new lifestyle. I coped in the only way I knew how: by resorting to addiction. But I knew drinking and using drugs was not an option because I had truly hit rock bottom and was determined to never go back to those vices. So instead I turned to food. (Related: 5 Symptoms of Food Addiction)

As a child growing up in an Italian family, we showed each other our love with food, and I kept that same emotional attachment to it in adulthood. Eating all my childhood comfort foods, I wallowed in self-pity. I had poor eating habits to begin with and was overweight. But after the injury I gained 70 pounds, becoming obese. The poor diet combined with obesity caused me to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, insomnia, and anxiety.

In September of that year, I finally decided to have surgery on my leg to fix the painful inflammation left over from my injury. Afterward, I started walking again and for the next year I did my physical therapy exercises diligently. But I wasn't exactly fit, and I didn't feel good about myself. Then in November of 2013, my friend Christine Hiler, who also happens to be a state sports psychologist and amazing trainer, challenged me to start running. She inspired me to sign up for a Turkey Trot 5-mile fun run. I was nervous about re-injuring my ankle but she reassured me I could do it. I was slow, but I finished. And I loved the sense of accomplishment I got from it. (Read how another woman turned to running to help with a different addiction.)

I was hooked! Running turned into a serious passion for me and I began running five days a week, both with a group and on my own. In 2014, Christine and I completed a half marathon in Ft. Lauderdale, crossing the finish line together. And, as I logged longer and longer training runs and proudly crossed more and more finish lines, the weight dropped off. It took nearly three years but I didn't care because I was having so much fun doing it. I love running so much that it's never felt like work.

But then in July of last year, I hurt my knee and had to drop out of a race. I'd never had to do that before and I was devastated. At first, I panicked. But this time instead of turning to something outside to make the pain go away, I looked inside myself and found I had the strength to recover and overcome the disappointment. I wasn't going to let an injury mess up my health again. Even though I couldn't run, I focused on lifting weights, active recovery, eating well, and getting a solid eight hours of sleep every night. It worked. My knee is all healed and I'm back doing what I love. And now? I'm strong enough, all on my own, to handle whatever life throws at me. I know it's true because I'm proving it every step I run, every day.

For more information on Shelley's story follow her on Instagram @Shelleyleone


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