Rose:"When I was 14, on Thanksgiving day, I watched my city disappear into the gray waters of the Hudson, the skyline fusing with the waterfront as an ambulance drove me upstate. The once imposing skyline became a tableau of miniatures, a child’s playground. I was being hospitalized for suicidal ideations, and I suddenly realized my life wasn’t going to look like other people’s."
Rose: "That’s me and my ex-boyfriend, 5 months after I was last hospitalized. He sold weed and my parents ( white, aging hipsters living in an upper middle-class neighborhood in Brooklyn) were a little more ok with this than his own were, so he would often take care of “business” when he was at my house. He was the first guy I had ever dated, and I think we were really in love. We lived an hour away from each other by train so he slept over at my house a lot; we spent that summer smoking weed and getting fucked up in my little red room."
Rose: "I was a total nutcase at this point, having been sent away twice that year for wanting to kill myself and subsequently developing an addiction to painkillers. I would call him whenever I got the chance while in the psych ward, and he would tell me stories and make me laugh. My whole world was falling apart but he made me feel like it wasn’t so bad, like I was just a normal high school girl on the phone with her boyfriend, like there weren’t bars on the windows and orderlies every five feet."
Rose: "This is when I was going to outpatient rehab, since I started taking my dad’s Oxy and when that ran out, my mom’s Xanax. He had hurt his back and gotten a bunch of pain pills after his surgery, but he didn’t like how they made him feel so he didn’t really take them. I, on the other hand, fell in love immediately. I initially started taking them orally, but I would have to take 4 to feel anything so I figured crushing them up and snorting them would be a stronger high. That’s probably when my addiction got really bad, I would bring crushed up pills to school to snort during my classes just to get by. When my dad’s prescription ran out, I turned to the Xanax my mom was prescribed for anxiety. It’s pretty standard amongst addicts to not prioritize cleanliness, so my room was always kind of a mess.This picture is kind of embarassing but hey, I was sexually active, obviously, and protection is important! Thanks to my mom, who works with LGBTQ youth of color who are HIV positive or at risk I’ve always been very informed on the dangers of unprotected sex and the necessity of sexual health. When I began my sophomore year, she gave me a bag of condoms as a first day of school present, just in case. "
Rose; "Eventually, since I was being drug tested at my outpatient facility and coming up positive, I was sent to an inpatient rehab in Pennsylvania called White Deer Run for a month. Anton (my ex) came over to say goodbye; you can see my little red suitcase in the bottom left. I wasn’t as upset as you might think; I’d never been to summer camp and was imagining it as something kind of like that, except for teenage delinquents with bad habits."
Rose: "This is the last picture of me for about a year. When I came back from rehab, I stayed off drugs for about 8 months but eventually relapsed into painkillers, my drug of choice this time being Percocet. I went to the same rehab again, about a year later, but didn’t have the same success upon getting out. I began doing heroin, and about 2 months later, in December of 2014, I got sent away to a Wilderness program in Oregon. For me, that meant getting woken up by two strangers at 2 am telling me I had 5 minutes to get ready because I was getting on a plane in 45 minutes. I had just copped a bundle (ten bags of heroin) and was on my third bag, so after the initial shock wore off I was very compliant (read: I was nodding off and couldn’t be bothered to resist, plus they bribed me with cigarettes if I got in the car). 24 hours later I was lying on the ground next to a campfire, withdrawing in the snowy Oregon desert in the middle of December 10 days shy of my 17th birthday. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off."
I was a little worried that I might have withdrawals, but I was young and naive and didn’t think they could be that bad. They weren’t, that time around, but I now attribute it to being young and incredibly lucky, since I’ve experienced them since and it is literally hell. My biggest worry was lack of cigarettes, but I shouldn’t have worried. Even though it’s technically illegal for minors to smoke at these places, cigarettes could often be pilfered from an unsuspecting adult or a sympathetic staff member, and a blow dryer served as our lighter. It’s truly amazing what people will do for nicotine, especially when they’re coming off drugs.
Rose: "Wilderness was insane. You are literally living in the wild, with 5 other “troubled girls” and 4 staff. You make your own fire, cook your own food, you are totally self sufficient. We would stay at a campsite for about a week, doing stuff during the day like tending the fire, working on schoolwork (they had their own program with assignments that counted as school credit), doing therapeutic groups, etc. The dreaded day would eventually come where we packed everything we owned onto a backpack, which usually weighed around 80 pounds by the end of this process, and hike through the snow all day until we reached our unknown destination. They didn’t believe in telling us things like the time, what day it was, where we were going, how many miles we were hiking because we might “future trip”, or become too preoccupied with silly things like a sense of direction for fear that we would forget to live in the moment. I learned alot, like how to survive in an apocalypse where the only food is dried beans, condensed milk and pasta, as well as how to just keep taking the next step even when the wind is howling all around you and snow is biting into your face and your can’t even feel your toes but if you stop you might very well freeze to death so you just keep going. The wild broke me down but I built myself back up again and if I’m being honest, the experience probably saved my life."
Rose; "After Wilderness, I was deemed unfit to go home so I was sent to a residential treatment center called New Haven in Utah. A hot shower was a luxury to me at this point in my life, so I was only slightly heartbroken about not being able to go home. After 3 months of sleeping on the ground, I couldn’t believe how soft the beds were at my new school. We were even allowed to wear makeup! The novelty wore off after about 2 weeks, and now that I wasn’t focusing on my immediate physical health and safety all the time as I was in Wilderness, I had time to think about what had gotten me here, and I fucking hated it. Time was my enemy in those days, moving so slowly it almost seemed to go backwards. Eventually I built up enough trust and was allowed to go on a homepass, which I promptly fucked up by relapsing and running away on the day I was supposed to get on my flight to go back."
Rose: "I made a typical and often deadly mistake amongst heroin users, which was doing as much dope as I used to do when I was using daily, except now that my body didn’t have that tolerance, it was way too much. I spent that whole day nodding out and puking, but luckily I didn’t OD."
Rose: "This is the moment I told my ex I had relapsed. I asked to see him that day, because even though he had a girlfriend and I was heartbroken I still loved him and I was high so the time for making healthy decisions was long gone. I think I just wanted him to care about me again, which is sad. After this photo was taken, he walked me home and told me that no matter how badly we want things to be different, no matter how much he wanted to go back and change the past and no matter how much I would have given in that moment to just go back in time and fix everything, these are our lives now. Separate, and probably better for it. I ended up running away to my best friend’s house 15 minutes before I was supposed to leave for the airport for my flight back to Utah. The cops picked me up that night, since my mom knew her address and reported me as a runaway, and I got on another flight the next morning, still pretty high."
Rose:"During my latest stint with opiates, my relationship with Anton fell apart. He cheated on me, I did some stuff I’m not proud of, and it culminated in a pretty nasty break up. When I got out of wilderness, however, he was someone who I really wanted to stay in contact with, and we began writing each other letters as it was the only means of communication I had while at my boarding school. When I came home, I found out he had a girlfriend and I lost it. There’s no official plan of action for total and complete heartbreak, but most recovering addicts have a set of “coping skills” that they can turn to instead of drugs when something “triggers” them. I’ve always thought it was total bullshit, like ok well I’m literally having a flashback to my childhood trauma...and you want me to what? Go for a walk? Write 5 positive things about myself? Anyways, one my coping skills was Sudoku. As I was looking for my book of puzzles, a couple bags of heroin fell out from behind a book I moved; I must have hidden them there and forgotten about it. Us sneaky addicts always have a back up stash! I perceived this as a divine sign, and proceeded to get seriously fucked up. I had been clean for nine months to the day, August 27th."
Rose: "When I got back to my school, I didn’t leave my room for 3 days. I couldn’t stop crying; I felt like I had lost everything and let everyone down. Sobriety was a big deal to me before that; I went to weekly AA meetings, got my chips, made plans for what to do if I had cravings, had numbers to call, coping skills to use. My identity was a recovering drug addict, and my recovery was all I felt I had to be proud of. When I lost that, I lost hope. My identity wasn’t sobriety, nor was it my relationships with guys; I had no fucking idea who I was, or what I wanted to live for. One thing I did have was anger, and I had a lot of it. I was furious at everything; myself for being a fuck up, my boarding school for making me wear bras and soften my edges, my parents (because we can always blame something on our parents). I hated the world, for hurting me and my sisters so bad that all we wanted to do was leave it. I hated the way newcomers did nothing but flinch and cry because in their weakness was my own, was all of ours, how my friends and I tried to play it tough in there but really we were just fucking kids who cried for their parents at night, softly into our pillows but just as the moon exposed our pale pink underbellies, the sun’s morning rays cast a spotlight on telltale tear streaks of loneliness’ latest victims. I ended up leaving in a slightly unorthodox manner; I went home for thanksgiving and ended up refusing to go back, since I was turning 18 in a month and that place literally made me want to kill myself. My parents allowed me to do this on the condition that I move back to Utah and enroll in college, as well as participating in an aftercare program. My new psychiatrist in this program prescribed me the highest doses of Xanax and Vyvanse (an ADHD medication) that one can legally give, and I ended up spiraling out of control and into the seemingly never ending black hole of drug abuse once again. I ended up dropping out of college, but got my shit together when I quit taking drugs cold turkey and had a seizure due to withdrawals. It was one of the most terrifying things that has ever happened to me, and I swore I would never let myself get that bad again."
Rose: "This is me and my best friend this most recent August. We met in ninth grade and bonded over our mutual dislike of many things, as well as our particularly strong desire to escape through drugs. She became one of my best friends; she used to make me lunch and bring it to school when I was going through a particularly bad patch, and I’ve never forgotten that. We spent pretty much every weekend together up until I left, and I considered her closer than family, a sister. We did a lot of painkillers together and unfortunately, she also developed an addiction, although not to the extent that I did, and I’ve always blamed myself for it."
Rose: "I’m not sober currently, in the sense that I smoke weed a fair amount. However, I’ve stayed off hard drugs and my mental state is so much better than it’s ever been, so I don’t consider weed detrimental. I got my first job ever as a preschool teacher, so I don’t smoke before work because I wouldn’t want to look after kids while high, but a nice bowl after work is really all I need in life right now. And it might not sound like a lot, but I’ve never really been a productive member of society before and the fact that weed, this totally demonized “drug” is facilitating that, is actually very notable."
Rose: "She goes to college in California now, and she brought back some rainbow candy edibles for me and a mutual friend one time. Here we are on her treehouse eating them, and I remember feeling so happy in this moment. Finally, a normal experience! Just hanging out and getting high with my girlfriends, no monkey on my back clamoring for the next fix, no inevitable end to the happiness when I was forced to leave the respite of normalcy and go back to that awful fucking school."
Rose: "A lot of things have changed in our relationship throughout this entire process. She betrayed me in a pretty major way when I left, regarding a boy, although I won’t go into specifics; I will say that I’ve never been hurt more by a friend, and by the time I got sent away she was one of the only people I considered a real friend, so that loss was even more apparent, because then I basically had no one. I wrote her letter after letter in Wilderness (never sent) and when things got a little too real out there I pretended she was there with me, bemoaning the lack of cute boys and cigarettes. When I found out what she’d done, I cut off all contact with her for 6 months, but ultimately forgave her, because boys aren’t worth it and I needed my best friend back. The importance of female relationships is so underrated, but the only way I survived the ordeals of Wilderness, boarding school, drug addiction, etc., is through the friendships and bonds I made with girls and women along the way. People suck, and they hurt you but that’s life and sometimes you just need to forgive and move the fuck on because some things are worth it, and she was, is, for me."
In 2015, Rose wrote this essay for her college application:
When I was 14, on Thanksgiving day, I watched my city disappear into the gray
waters of the Hudson, the skyline fusing with the waterfront as an ambulance drove me
upstate. The once imposing skyline became a tableau of miniatures, a child’s playground.
I was being hospitalized for suicidal ideations, and I suddenly realized my life wasn’t
going to look like other people’s.
I’ve struggled with depression since I was 13, and eventually developed a
problem with drugs and alcohol. I attended multiple rehabs and hospitals, saw countless
therapists and psychiatrists all throughout high school, desperately searching for “the
cure”, something that could make me normal, could stop the endless cycle of treatment,
optimism, and eventual relapse. After exhausting every possible option, I entered Second
Nature on December 9th, 2014. Second Nature is a wilderness program, in which I lived
in the Oregon desert for eleven weeks with four other girls and staff. My time there was
extraordinary; I became so much stronger, mentally and physically. I hiked ten miles into
the night with a fifty pound bag on my back, closing my eyes through howling winds and
forcing myself to just keep taking one more step. I ventured out on my own, away from
my group and campsite for three days on a solo with nothing but my fire starting kit and
my pack to keep me company. I celebrated my 17th birthday and mourned the death of a
beloved grandmother in the same hour. I learned how to feel again; I learned how to love,
to cry, laugh and to trust. I learned how to live with myself, how to forgive. I began to
heal. Currently I’m living in Utah in a residential program, and I’m getting ready to move
out on my own; before, all I was doing was surviving, going from one day to the next
without any plans but the next twenty four hours. Now I’m thriving, and I’m looking
months, years into my future.
This prompt asks for the discussion of a single event or accomplishment that marks my
transition from childhood to adulthood. I can’t sum up the evolution of my maturity,
because life isn’t like that. It’s such a monumental shift in mindset, it’s impossible to
happen so concisely. The way I lived before, in adolescence, was hiding from reality,
pushing away the thought that one day I would have to be responsible for myself. Now
I’m doing things I never thought I could; applying for college, getting ready to move out,
getting a job. Preparing to face the world on my own, stepping out into the unknown
while knowing that anything could happen yet still pushing through it is my definition of
adulthood. Growing up is about thinking ahead. You don’t have the structure of
childhood, but it requires the maturity to think in the long term. For me, waking up every
day and not only not having the desire to not use drugs, but to experience life to its
fullest, to engage in reality instead of opting out and numbing myself, marks that
transition. So I guess my answer to the question introduced in the beginning of the
paragraph, that one moment where I crossed over from girlhood, would be every morning
when I wake up and decide that I’m going to make it through the next twenty four hours,
that I can and will push through whatever life throws at me without engaging in whatever
destructive behaviors I used to resort to. I make that transition when I know that I have
the option to deviate, to push away the inevitable and numb myself out, but I choose to
progress, to move one step closer to everything I want to achieve, all my goals and
dreams and aspirations. Making that decision to go forwards instead of backwards,
acknowledging at least that you have that option, is, to me, adulthood.