Passion from pain: Finding strength for joy in recovery
INWOOD, W.Va. (AP) — Sitting in a solitary confinement cell inside Jessup Correctional Facility, Tiffany Koch found the strength to make a change.
Serving a prison sentence for crimes that stemmed from consistent drug use, Koch overhead correctional officers remark on how the solitary confinement wing inside the Maryland prison was filled with “drug addicts.”
“Something clicked when I heard that,” Koch said years later, reflecting and speaking to students at Musselman High School on how drug addiction impacted her life. “That’s all I was to anyone — a drug addict. I knew that if I wanted to keep getting high, I had to accept that this was my reality. Can I accept coming in and out of prison for the rest of my life?”
The short answer for Koch was “no.” But, by her own admission and her growing story, it wasn’t easy.
Koch, 26, found a way to rid her life of drugs, however, and now enjoys what she considers a life of happiness — she’s married, taking care of her three kids in a house she owns, driving vehicles she owns and working as an EMT for Berkeley County.
“I have a great support system,” she said. “I care about this community. That’s why I came back.”
There was a time in her life when she wondered if she would ever come back. There were other times that she wondered if she’d ever make it out alive.
Her drug of choice was heroin. It stemmed from a teenage lifestyle of acting out and smoking cigarettes. It later turned to weed. Then to pills. Then to snorting heroin. And finally shooting up.
None of it was ever part of her plan for her life, she said.
At 6, Koch was abused by her then-stepfather. It wasn’t until she decided to run away from home in her pre-teen years that anyone found out; her mother read a note Koch had tucked away in a drawer in her room, detailing the events of her abuse.
With the abuse now out in the open, Koch struggled even more to live what most could consider a normal life.
“I wish I could put into words how intense the abuse was, but it’s hard to get people to comprehend it,” she said. “I don’t even think I could comprehend it at the time.”
While she is up front about not making excuses for her drug addiction, Koch said that the abuse — along with the court proceedings — impacted her mental health.
“It was very drug out, and I had to go on the stand more than once. That’s a lot for anyone, especially a pre-teen, teenager,” she said. “I was trying to be a normal teenager, but I was also trying to make it to court on time.”
She was in and out of Brooke Lane, a short-term mental health facility, as a child. She considered herself a “super angry child” and “emotionally all over the place.” She was harming herself, and she spent a year away at House of Hope, a girls home.
Then, her stepfather was released early from his sentence that stemmed from the abuse case, and a combination of fear and bitterness came over Koch, triggering a “whirlwind of issues.”
“I just gave up,” she said. “I was tired of trying to be a good child. I just believed I wasn’t good. I think with what someone else’s actions did to me, I thought it was my fault.”
Next thing she knew, she was partying, drinking and smoking weed. She later wound up pregnant at age 16, and, for a little while, began to get things back on track and felt she was doing what she needed to do to be a young mother.
Then she graduated from smoking weed and found pills.
“That was like a whole new ballgame for me. I saw my friends doing it, and they were fine,” she said. “Something changed in my brain, and it became all I cared about. I just wanted to get high. It overpowered me very quickly.”
Then pills weren’t enough. So she moved to heroin under the same mentality — her friends were doing it and they were fine.
It was not fine, though.
The first time she tried it, she was with friends in the Food Lion parking lot in Inwood. By the time her friends drove next door to the gas station, it had hit her.
“I remember thinking to myself that I’m in so much trouble because I enjoyed it so much,” she said. “People wouldn’t do drugs if it didn’t make you feel good. But if I knew the consequences that came with getting high, I never would have given drugs a second thought.”
By her own admission, her life went from “fun for a short amount of time” to “the darkest mentality that I’ve ever been in.”
Three to five months later, she began shooting up. Despite being “terrified,” she kept doing it.
“I remember praying, saying, ‘Please don’t let me die.’ I just wanted to get high, but I didn’t want to die,” she said. “Then, instantly my life became a living hell. Once I started shooting heroin, I didn’t care about anything but heroin.”
The expanded drug use led to crimes — mostly stealing. She remembered getting caught stealing for the first time, “then it was like they knew me, and I got caught all the time.”
Her mother “didn’t play with her,” and kicked her out, and she bounced in and out of jail, while stealing food just to eat and sleeping in her car.
By this time, she’d overdosed twice — having to be brought back once by Narcan. Her lifestyle caused her mother to call the television show “Intervention” to come film her and ultimately offer her treatment.
“They followed me around and I was like, ‘Man, this feels like ‘Intervention.’ But then I convinced myself that I was high and paranoid. They told me it was a documentary for the town about drugs. I just cared that they told me they would pay me,” she said. “Then they offered treatment. It was the biggest relief I’d ever felt. I was so tired.”
Koch spent five months in Arizona before coming back with the plan of taking care of open warrants out for her arrest.
But that never happened either.
She returned to the area and then fled to North Carolina for two months and went on a binge before finally turning herself in.
“I was so exhausted that going to prison sounded better than living the way I was living,” she said. “So, I got belligerent on as many drugs as I could and hoped I could kill myself. Didn’t work, so I turned myself in.”
For the various charges pending against her, Koch was sentenced to 18 months in a Maryland prison, where one of her cellmates was a twice-convicted murderer.
She found drugs in prison, though, and it eventually landed her in solitary confinement, where the light ultimately clicked for her.
So, when she got out, she went back to Arizona for treatment and eventually wound up working at the rehab facility.
“I took it seriously this time. I was ready to enjoy life,” she said. “I did everything they told me to do.”
She met her now-husband at the facility and worked on her past traumas. After a few years, she returned to Berkeley County, “started from the bottom” and put the pieces of her life back together.
“Today, after ‘Intervention’ has aired six or seven years ago, I own my own house, we have multiple vehicles, I take care of my kids, I have a career, I have a good marriage, we have awesome animals,” she told the students at Musselman. “I say these things not to be boastful, but to show people that it is possible to come out of addiction and live a normal life.”
Koch has now spoken twice to students at Musselman High School, and she never shies away from telling her story.
She took a pair of posters with her to the school. One showed close friends or family of close friends that she knows who have died from drugs. Another poster showed the faces of those who had died in the past year. In total, the number is 102 people.
“I’m not different than the people in these pictures; I just somehow didn’t die,” she said. “There’s only three ends to drugs: prison, death, or somehow getting out of it.”
Koch urged the students at Musselman to not be as “hardheaded” as she was.
“A life of addiction is way more than you can bargain for. I say that because I care. If I can keep one person from going down that road, it’s worth it,” she said. “This is a small town and I see people I know all the time. Now, I know that I’ll never see some of them again.”
Today, Koch spends her time as an EMT, saving the lives of those who fall victim to drugs, among serving on other calls.
She once felt she needed drugs to feel a rush. Now, she gets that from the passion she feels with her work.
“I get very fixated on things. Today, I’m fixated on doing good. I like to do good, and I like to give back,” she said. “I lived a chaotic life, and I miss (the chaos) sometimes. So, I like the excitement of not knowing what I’m going into with a 911 call.”
Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/