I am known for my positivity and willingness to be there for others. But very few people know what I have been through that makes me so eager to help those who struggle.
In my 26 years, I can say that I have truly lived and am blessed to be alive. Because of my journey, I feel a strong urge to share a part of my story, because I see so many young people around us dying at an alarming rate.
I knew some of these people, but they didn't know my story and I obviously didn't know the extent of their struggles. I want to share my story in the hopes that people who need help can see what I went through and learn from my experience. I think we all know the feeling of being alone with our struggles.
I was very sick between the ages of 7 and 17. Initially, my doctors didn't think I would live to be 13.
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My left jawbone was wrapped and embedded with abnormal blood vessels in association with a bleeding disorder that caused me to severely hemorrhage from my mouth many times. There weren't many documented cases of what I was dealing with and thus treatment was difficult.
When I was 7, my doctors decided it was best to completely remove my left jaw bone and replace it with soft bone from my right hip bone. This procedure represented the first nine of 33 surgeries I've had all together.
My jaw was broken twice and wired shut. There was significant pain and my doctors kept me on pain medicine. I was on morphine at first, and then Demerol, Darvocet, Lortab, Vicodin you name it. Between pain medicine, treating my bleeding disorder and treating me for depression, I became addicted to pills at a very young age.
My demeanor when I was younger was nothing like the person I am today. I was emotionally and mentally numb inside. It affected my friendships and family. I had my last surgery at age 17 and spent another two years abusing pain medications and struggling with depression.
At 19, however, my outlook changed. I realized that I had a lot to be grateful for -- mainly that I was alive! My parents had
fought so hard for my life, and I felt like I was making a mockery of their efforts.
I never went to an actual "drug rehab," but I rehabilitated myself and my life at any opportunity available. I decided to uproot my life in Indiana and move to Florida to be near my dad. I know that if I had stayed where I was, I wouldn't have been able to make the changes that were necessary to get my life on track.
I don't even recognize the person I was when I moved to Bradenton; I am a totally different person these days. It took me leaving everyone I knew and loved behind and coming somewhere I barely knew anyone to find myself. There was no history here of my past battles or preconceived notions of who I was.
The first part of my journey was reaching out for help. I found so many resources here that weren't available in Indiana. My first friends became vocational rehabilitation, the Women's Resource Center, United Way 211 and many other free assistance programs that are available in the area. I took advantage of any program that would help me gain the skills and tools I needed to put my life together. When I hear people complain about a lack of resources to help those who are struggling to better their lives, I always share my experiences and the help I have found in our community. The first step was to ADMIT I needed help, then I had to LOOK for help, and then I had to ASK for help. When I asked for help, the number of people who were willing to share and connect me to resources was almost overwhelming. I am grateful for this support system I have found as I continue to become the person I want to be.
If you know someone struggling with addiction, please share my story and tell them there are resources and help for them. We need each other when we are weak. I thank those who were there for me, and I hope I can help those who find themselves in need.
Having an addiction doesn't make you a bad person. But overcoming it gives you the chance to be the person you want to be.
Cassandra Behar, an office manager/accountant for Suncoast Sign Shop and a notary public, has worked diligently to discover that success isn't a place -- it's a feeling.