Creative Writing Contest Winner: Amanda Nelson

This summer, we hosted a poetry/essay contest for Penn State World Campus students that focused on the theme of “Dual Identities.” Amanda Nelson was chosen as one of the winners. Her essay appears below. Reader advisory: this essay shares anecdotes from Amanda’s struggle with addiction, including details about drug and alcohol use. 

Drug Addict to Penn State Student

The day my meth dealer looked me in my eyes and told me, “You were born to do great things,” I was desperate enough to believe him.  This dude never got to see me at my best, but somehow, he saw something in me, past all the brokenness, past all the destruction, that no one ever saw in me before. Ironically, the one that saw me at my absolute worst is the very one that helped set me free.

The year 2015 started off like a dadgum country song. I lost my job, totaled my car, got evicted and my dog died all within a matter of a few weeks. My daughter, that I had raised by myself since she was six months old, now 13, had been living with my parents for quite a few months. My life was spiraling out of control so fast. It was one of those situations that I knew exactly how I got here, but HOW DID I GET HERE? I was a good person deep down. What did I do that was so horrible to deserve this life? I thought for so many years I had my addiction under control, but in all reality, it had me under its control.

I fell so hard in love with alcohol that first night we met. I was sixteen, at a prom party with an upperclassman, feeling on top of the world. Up until this point, I never felt I could measure up in my parents’ eyes. I always felt as if they were too consumed with their own lives to pay any attention to me. I just wanted to be loved. Was that too much to ask for? They divorced when I was four and positive co-parenting was never high on their priority list. I always felt stuck in the middle in a sense. But let me tell you, that night I first met Jack, it was as if he knew everything I was missing in my life, because he filled every void right then and there. Jack and Coke was the man that gave me that warm, loving embrace, and whispered in my ear “Amanda, I’ll never leave your side, stick with me and I’ll love you forever!” In that moment, I vowed to always love alcohol, not knowing that for 17 years it would be the very thing that destroyed me.

The closer alcohol and I got, the more we had to invite others into our relationship. It was getting harder to spend all night with my new dude and then function the next day, so drugs were introduced into the mix my junior year of high school. By the time my senior year rolled around, I had been arrested twice and came super close to not graduating. Thankfully I got to walk the stage and get my diploma. My parents thought I was going through a “phase” and never questioned anything.

When I was 20, I got blessed with a beautiful baby girl. Finally, I thought, my own little family where love can be given and received. Nope! Wrong again. Her father was so controlling; one day while he was at work I packed up everything I could in my car and left. My punishment for leaving him? He chose not to be involved in our daughter’s life. So here I was again, just wanting to be loved, but no one to give me that love. Raising a child by yourself is super hard and allow me to shout out to all you single moms out there!

As the years went on, my relationship with drugs and alcohol became deeper. My self-esteem was nonexistent. I got in one bad relationship after another. Within a year’s time, I had been beaten up by two different guys.  I still have a knot on my head to this day from being knocked out onto the pavement one night. One of these relationships landed me a few days in jail for a domestic violence charge (my third arrest). I had gotten to a point where I was not going to take the abuse anymore so I fought back. The worst part? My daughter was witness to so many of these abusive nights. I felt worthless. What kind of example was I setting for her?

My parents decided to do an intervention at one point and throw me into rehab. This basically was a glorified jail. It was the most horrible experience ever. For a whole month, I was locked up in a cell by myself, then got transported to a facility and locked up with 40 women. You want to talk about drama? This place was full of it. I did not leave that place feeling super confident I could tackle the world. I stayed sober for a couple months, but I fell right back into the trap. I justified it by saying, “Just one beer won’t hurt anything.” That one beer always turned into a case.

Eventually, because nothing was numbing the pain I was feeling inside me anymore, I turned to the very thing I had stayed away from for so many years. Meth. It was as if my intuition was telling me to leave that junk alone, because it already knew this would be the very thing that destroyed me. And it did. I have done just about every drug you can think of, but this was the one that took me down such a dark, scary road.

I was snorting and eating meth only for about a year. I got arrested for the fourth time, but this time it was a felony. I embezzled money from my employer because I could no longer support my habits. I never thought they would arrest me, I honestly thought they would just ask me to pay the money back if I got caught. I seriously was not trying to hurt anyone, I was just trying to help numb all this emptiness I felt inside. After my arrest, my daughter and I could not ever get along, so she went to stay with my parents for a couple of weeks, which turned into months. I had turned into that mom I never wanted to be. I never, under any circumstances, wanted my parents to raise my child, but they did. I felt even more worthless.

I wanted to eat a bullet. I felt there was nothing to live for anymore. On Mother’s Day 2015, my daughter came to the house I was staying at to hang out with me, but instead of being happy, I was so depressed and blamed all my problems on the world. It was everyone else’s fault I was in the position I was in. Or at least that is what I told myself. She slammed the door angrily when I would not stop with the nonsense and left me wallowing in my own self-pity. But oh my, when she did that little bitty spark ignited inside me. I knew in that moment I HAD to make a change. My drug dealer on that day added fuel to that spark by speaking life into me.

I decided to pack my car up with only $200 in my pocket and move from Mississippi to Florida. I had no idea what was about to happen, but I knew this was my only window of opportunity to get my life back.  I did not have a job lined up or a place to live, but I now had this burning desire in me to change and nothing was going to stand in my way.

I lived on a boat for a while until I could get back on my feet. Once I got on my feet I finally got the keys to my own apartment and man did it feel good. My daughter came to live with me again. I felt like I was moving up in the world. It was a challenge to keep myself in a good state of mind, much less trying to raise a teenager that had not lived with me in a year. We had some serious fights and I threatened to ship her back to Mississippi several times. But I never did, because I was determined to make this work.

Since I decided to get sober and live a good life now, I assumed that life was going to be super easy. This was so far from the truth and I found out the hard way. I just believe that when you make your mind up to do something, life will test you just to see how bad you really want that thing. I decided to start building my brand with high hopes it would be an overnight success. I mean I was being a good citizen these days, I was giving back instead of taking from. I just knew that life would bow down to me. I had an ego problem that needed to be resolved, so life hit me again with another eviction (2nd one within a year) and a car repossession. Sometimes the only way to solve an ego problem is through humility. My pride was hurt as my daughter and I drug our suitcases down the streets. I did not have a clue what was about to happen, but I knew I had to muster up the courage to figure it out.

I had to get a job because believing my business was going to take off was not even in my sight anymore. I had to humble myself and take a job as a server. Before I lost everything due to my addiction, I had been in top positions in the banking and mortgage world. So, when I say humble, I mean I did not want to serve food to people, but at this point I was desperate. The good thing was I made cash every day so I could afford a hotel to live in. I promise you, it was no fancy thing, but it was our home for two months. When I took the job, it did not even cross my mind that I would be serving people the very thing that destroyed my life for seventeen years. It was another life test and I am happy to say that I have been employed there for over a year and I pass that test with flying colors every single day. I got my car back and worked so hard last summer, so many hours, but I finally saved up enough money to get our house just in time for school to start so I could enroll my baby girl in a local high school with our own address.

College never was a priority in my life. I never felt worthy enough to go. I never thought I would succeed at it until recently. When I got sober, I completely changed my environment. I surrounded myself with people that celebrated me and not just tolerated me. I found that love I was always searching for. And they accepted the true version of me! They believe in me, which makes me believe in myself even more. They are now the people that tell me every day “You are born for great things, Amanda.” Those words have a special place in my heart! I know I can do this.

I recently became an author and I am on a mission to set folks free of addiction. I want everyone that has ever felt broken, or unworthy, or unloved to know that they can patch their wings and learn to fly again. I want them to know if someone like me can overcome, they can do it too. Being a student through Penn State World Campus is giving me the opportunity to spread my wings and accomplish things I never knew were possible. To say I am honored to be at this school is an understatement.  Honestly, I can’t even put the proper words down to express the amount of gratitude I feel inside. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for me!

I promise you this was never a lifelong dream of mine, but I have learned that when the door opens, sometimes you must walk blindly in faith and go through it. Some things are not about me. There is someone out there waiting on me to get my Human Development and Family Studies degree so that I can help them overcome addiction. We all go through things so that we can show compassion on a deeper level to those that will experience those same kinds of things. My path just happened to be addiction and now that I have found my way out of the trenches, it is my “purpose” to reach back and help as many as I can.

I have always heard, “Nothing worth having is ever easy in life,” and now clear-headed and focused, I finally understand what that means.  I am learning how to balance being a mom, being a student, chasing my dreams, and working to pay the bills. I am learning how to learn again as crazy as that may sound. I did not even know how to write an APA style paper. But once I knew it was a much-needed skill, I had to take the necessary steps to make it happen. “All or nothing” — that is what I live by.

The first couple of weeks as a student were a little overwhelming. I had no idea what to expect or how I was going to get everything done on time. At the beginning of each week, I get little butterflies in my tummy and I wonder how I will accomplish all the given tasks. I must sit down and break it down to daily goals and reflect on the week I just accomplished. I say to myself, “Amanda, you made it through last week, YOU GOT THIS GIRL!” I give myself pep talks all the time.  I look forward to doing my school work each day and to think I almost did not graduate high school because I allowed a substance to take over.  I do not know what the road ahead looks like as a student, but what I do know is this, I am an OVERCOMER! I am a CHAMPION! I am a SURVIVOR! I am WORTHY of this opportunity. Nothing that I face from here on out will ever defeat me. August 10, 2015 is the day I became free of addiction forever and I plan to add a Penn State graduation date to my life achievements! However long it takes me, one thing I know for sure is I WILL NEVER GIVE UP!

My daughter is my “Why” — the reason I wake up each day and take a breath of air. She is the reason I chose to change my life. I owe this to her! I owe her every ounce of my energy into me being a successful student. She deserves to see me at my best, because she tolerated me at my worst. I am proud to be a Lion and I am looking forward to growing on this new path in my life.

Penn State World Campus students who are in need of supportive listening or connecting to a community-based resource to help them overcome addiction can contact Mental Health Services