Profiles in Recovery

Crystal Oertle

She shared a stage with President Obama and put a human face on the nation’s dire opioid crisis. Crystal Oertle, an Ohio single mother of two, recalled her soul-crushing journey from pain pills to heroin addiction as she spoke at this year’s National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.

Joining the President on a panel to address the epidemic, Oertle cited her success using Suboxone, a medication that reduces opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. She’s still working toward long-term recovery and recounts her blessings when she’s feeling vulnerable.

“I play the tape all the way through,” Oertle says. “I think about how far I have come and how happy I am and how many people I would be letting down if I started using again. I think about all the negative things that could happen, including death. And, today, I want to live.” 

What I lost to addiction:
I lost myself and my self worth. Not to mention, cars, jobs, money, personal belongings that I sold. And I lost respect from my family.

At my worst, I was:
Working unsavory jobs to make money. I was in an incredibly emotionally and mentally abusive relationship, and I was so depressed that I welcomed death each time I shot up. I didn’t care if I lived or died.

What worked for me:
Medicated assisted treatment, group and individual counseling, 12 step meetings, reading as much as I can about addiction.

Rules I live by:
Don’t take life too seriously. It’s ok to say “No.” Love yourself and choose to be happy and find something to be grateful for every day.

Favorite recovery quote:
It’s a pretty common one, but “Take one day at a time.” I’ve learned that it does not serve me to live in the past.

Rock bottom moment:
I was using heroin and bath salts, wasn’t going home for weeks on end and my family and kids were mad and scared for my life every day.

What I value most in my recovery:
My new attitude on life. I thought I liked or loved myself before, and there have been moments that I thought I was happy. But nothing compares to my life in recovery! I am truly happy each day that I get to help others.

Stigma I faced:
I live in a small town so everyone knows everyone. There was a pawn shop that put a handwritten sign on the door which read “No Junkies” with a circle around it and a line through it. And the funny thing is, most of their customers were these “junkies” coming there to pawn their belongings.

What I learned about myself:
I learned that I’m a people pleaser and I needed to work on my self-esteem. I learned that in order to change my life and be happy, I had to change and make my life happy. Nobody else can make me happy.

I get inspired by:
Others in recovery, especially when they are struggling and they want to use but don’t. Instead, they come into group and tell on themselves and ask for advice. That really shows growth and that they want recovery so bad. That’s very inspiring to me and it keeps me on my path as well.

What saves me from myself:
My kids and my family. I don’t want to let them down for the world.

Proudest moment:
This would have to be sharing a stage with President Obama, and getting a hug and kiss on the cheek after sharing some of my story with him at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.

Thoughts on relapse:
Not everyone makes it back into recovery if they relapse, but when they do, I believe they have learned something. It’s a series of mistakes and learning what your triggers are and then finally, hopefully everything clicks and you want recovery and will do whatever it takes to acheive it.
I had almost a year clean and I relapsed and used for a few days back in February of 2016, and it was the biggest eye opener I’ve ever had. I’m not condoning relapsing, but I think we need to be more understanding and not so all-or-nothing when it comes to recovery.

Follow Oertle:; on Twitter @crystal_oertle

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