Despite the darkness of addiction, there is light for many who seek treatment and recovery.
But many on the front lines will tell you relapse is often part of recovery and it may take several attempts in rehab to find sobriety.
With opiates, most consider success at least five years sober, but the addiction lasts a lifetime.
Tina Valentine is still at the beginning of her journey of recovery.
The track marks on her arms are like a road map of her life.
“I call them badges of honor," Tina said. "I used to be ashamed of them, but they remind me every day of where I came from."
Her addiction story begins at age 19 when she was attending Kent State University.
The first night she tasted alcohol turned into a binge.
She found herself in the hospital the next morning sucking on ice chips and dealing with alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol became her initial drug of choice and would last for the next twenty years.
She dabbled with Ecstasy and found herself making incredibly poor life choices.
Eventually she left college and became an exotic dancer, where the lifestyle was easy to lead for an addict.
During the next two decades, she would have three children, all of whom watched her battle her demons of addiction.
Most often with alcohol. Her addiction lead to legal troubles, and by the time she was forty, she was desperate.
“I wanted to get out of it so bad," Tina said. " I just didn't know how."
She admits to many bad relationships, but the one she was with at that point of her life sent her on an even more destructive path.
“He was an opiate user,” she said.
Lost, desperate, confused, and wanting to end the pain, her addicted mind convinced her that heroin was a better choice than alcohol.
She knows how insane that sounds.
At age 40, she started shooting up and her life went downhill even faster.
She overdosed once and was brought back by a fellow addict.
“I didn't want to kill myself ," she said. "But I was just an empty shell there was nothing left inside of me and I knew the next step was death."
She attempted rehab twice on her own and forced into it two other times.
Each time she relapsed and returned to an existence she said she had no control over.
Like most opiate addicts, her life didn’t revolve around staying high.
The focus was mainly to avoid coming down and becoming dope sick.
That’s the biggest fear of an addict, the tremendously painful and sick feelings of withdrawal.
They’ll do just about anything to avoid what is commonly referred to as the “Super Flu.”
She knew dealers were beginning to add Fentanyl to heroin, sometimes referred to as “T.N.T.” and many were overdosing because of it.
She never thought it could happen to her.
Like many addicts, when she heard someone overdosed on a dealer’s “stuff” it was basically free advertising.
The twisted thought being that it must be “really good.”
At her lowest point Tina weighed 105 pounds.
Her life was solely focused on that next high and she expected to die.
“Everybody had wrote me off to die, they were preparing for me to die,” Tina said.
The one who never lost faith was her mother.
Tina barely knew her father, but later learned he too suffered from addiction. He died from it.
Tina expected a similar fate and was literally surprised to wake up one morning on her couch.
“I remember opening my eyes and I thought I was dead and I looked around and when I realized I was still alive, my heart sank,” she recalled.
That’s when she looked to a higher power and began to pray.
“I just said, God I don't want to live like this no more, I don't know what to do, please help me,” she said.
Then the phone rang.
It was Stella Maris, an addiction recovery center in Cleveland. They had a bed available if Tina was ready.
“When I realized it was life or death for me, I chose life,” Tina said.
She went into the program willingly, but knew how hard she would have to work to achieve and maintain sobriety.
“People in recovery looked like superstars to me and I couldn't see it but there was just glimmers of hope, the longer I stayed the more my life began to change and I started to have faith in myself,” She said.
After treatment at Stella Maris, Tina was then moved into a 30-day residential program at Orca House.
“Once I started to understand my disease, and I knew it was a disease, and I knew it was out to kill me, my sponsor told me when I accept it here in my heart and not here [in my head] I would never pick up again,” Tina recalls.
After Orca, Tina knew she couldn’t go back to her old environment, so she moved into Monarch House, a sober living facility for women run by Recovery Resources.
“I love the fact that it's called the Monarch House because I feel like I've been in a cocoon,” she said.
Now she’s spreading her wings.
She has not only maintained her sobriety for over a year, she received her CDCA, which stands for chemical dependency counseling certificate, and she completed the Women in Transitions program at Cuyahoga Community College.
She now interns at Stella Maris and will return to college in the fall.
She plans to study addiction counseling at Cleveland State.
“I personally want to be an advocate for women in recovery, particularly women who are recovering from opiate addiction and I definitely want to give back what was so freely given to me,” Tina said.
In the meantime, she’s healed her relationships with her family, especially her three children aged 22, 19 and 17.
She's also ready to become a grandmother for the second time.
She’s open and honest with her children about her addiction and says she “unpacks” her life experiences for them, hoping they can learn from her mistakes.
“The best thing that I could have done for my kids was to show them that I could overcome this and when I think about them they give me strength,” she said.
She’s very proud of the fact that her children are proud of her.
“The example that I am living today is better than anything that I could have told them,” she added.
Like recovering addicts did for her, she’s hoping her story inspires others.
“The beautiful thing about being human is that we are the only creatures that can transform our lives at any given time in our lives," she said. "It doesn't matter how old you are or how young you are, if you make a decision to change then you have the opportunity just like anybody else to recover.”
She plans on being the definition of “living proof.”
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