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Allison Fogarty on Overcoming Inhalants

Interventionist and Registered addiction specialist Intern, Allison Fogarty, explains the dark side of Inhalants and how A&E’s show “Intervention” saved her life.

When people say it will get better, it really is only temporary. Things will get better, Your life will get better but you have to do the work and you have to make that initial jump start.

Highlights from the Podcast

Was A&E’s Intervention the Turning Point?

Yeah. Actually, I wasn’t even willing. It didn’t go down as happy as the Intervention show tied it up. They only had an hour I guess to wrap up my three weeks of antics. They followed me around for a couple of weeks and just filmed all my antics. I didn’t really know. I was very busy getting high. I didn’t have a lot of time for television. It was a full time job being an addict. I never even heard of the show, Intervention.

Yeah, I didn’t find out I was on the show until I got to rehab. Then this kid was like, “Oh, that is the new chic from Intervention.” I’m like, “What is Intervention?” They showed me an episode, and I almost dropped out. I was like, “Oh my God, no,” but yep, they called me and said that they were doing a show for people in medical school, that they wanted to do a show on addiction and what addiction does to a person. I was like, “Sure, I’ll totally do that” because I was once on this path to go to medical school myself.

When I first started at Boston University, I was going to be a thoracic surgeon. That was the plan, so that was the perfect excuse for me because I was like, “Yeah, I’d do anything to help someone that I used to be in the same situation.”

It turns out my mom had written a ten page letter to Intervention about what her daughter was going through, and out of all that they get … I can’t remember the statistics of how many letters they get a year, but it’s something asinine.

How Old Were You When You First Started Using Inhalant’s?

The first time I used inhalants I think I was 21. I was in college my junior year, and I suffered from major depressive disorder at the time, high anxiety, panic disorder, and then anorexia. I had anorexia going on since I was nine I think and a very traumatic childhood. That’s how I dealt with it.

Of course, I’m in college, everyone’s going out drinking, and smoking a bunch of weed. Why would I drink, because it has calories in it, and why would I smoke weed, because then you get the munchies, but I was so miserable with who I was and I was so jealous watching all of these people getting out of themselves by being intoxicated or high or whatever.

Then I met a guy. That’s always the story, right? I met a guy and he was like, “Well, you should try this.” It was the five minute high, and I used to be an intense control freak, still a little, but I used to be intense, so a five minute high to me was amazing. You just check out for five minutes, but five minutes later you’re back to you. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so in love. I found my substance.”

How Often Were You Using Inhalants?

It didn’t start off every day. It was a couple of times a week. Then it got … It was pretty quick that it was every day. That was in the summertime. When I went back to school in Boston, it was my senior year, so I was living off campus in an apartment so I could get away with doing it. Then eventually I was not going to class anymore. That’s why grad school, it was like a miracle that I got in because of my last year. My grades were so bad because … It became like an everyday thing, and I was doing it on public busses and just going to all these crazy lengths and doing all these things. It made total sense at the time to me.

Eventually I had to withdraw my last year, my last semester. I was three weeks shy of graduating, and I had to withdraw because my family knew something was up, but they couldn’t pinpoint it because you can’t do a drug test for that just like your everyday drug test. I was up to 12 cans a day. My whole day revolved around getting high. I started at 7:00 AM. I was up because that’s when the store opened, so I was the first person in there. They knew what I was up to, the way they would look at me and tease me. One kid actually would suggest different brands because he thought it was funny, so I would put them in my car and tuck them under the seat in my car.

Then I actually … I was working at the time. The store closed at 6:00-ish, so starting at 4:30 I would start to get intense anxiety because I knew that soon enough I could go out to my car and use those inhalants. I would run to my car, and pull them out from under my seat, and use them immediately. I literally lived a two minute drive to get home, but I could not wait those two minutes, and I would get high all night long. I wasn’t sleeping. I was just spending all my time getting high, and it’s like you enjoy the high for maybe like five minutes. Then you keep hitting a can over and over. Then you just black … It’s not glorious. You black out. Sometimes you vomit on yourself. It’s not pretty. I would basically wake up in the morning and have 12 empty cans and have no recollection of actually using them. I’d get a couple of hours of sleep here and there. It was basically I think my sleep period was just during my blackouts, but obviously I was busy because I would wake up with 12 empty cans around me, and it’s like the level of depression when you wake up and you see all these empty cans.

Eventually obviously, I lost my job, so my day became 100% just revolving around this activity. I would go … I literally … We all know Rhode Island’s the smallest state, but I lived on an island off of Rhode Island, so I would drive 20 minutes to the store, and it would take me 8 hours to drive back home because I couldn’t wait the 20 minutes or the 10 minutes, depends which store I went to. It would take me 8 hours to get back home. Cops sometimes were knocking on my … But they didn’t know. There was no knowledge about inhalant abuse really back then, so they would knock on my windows and then literally … I knew the drill. They’re like, “We’re going to call an ambulance.” I’m like, “Nope. Give me a waiver. I’ll sign it, and I’m waiving my rights to go to the hospital,” and they would hand me the cans back.

Did You Recognize You Had Problem?

I totally knew. I think I was the first to know. When my family told me, I wasn’t surprised that I had an issue. Sucking on a can of inhalants is like absolutely clear that I had an addiction. I was just in such a hole of despair, and depression, and PTSD, and all these things that I know now, but towards the end I had given up and I had just accepted I’m going to die. I was 90 pounds. My skin was gray. I looked nasty. I had just accepted I’m going to die. That’s like hell, the little I thought of my quality of life. My mom would show up and check in on me, and she would … I guess I would make phone calls, and they were always … I remember some of them, and I would be crying and saying, “I wish I would die.”

At that point, I had also been served with divorce papers from my husband, and that just really pushed me into a lull, so sometimes, yeah, I would wake up with some sense and check myself into the hospital. They would be on the psyche unit for a week, and then I would go back home and immediately I wouldn’t be able to handle my depression, my anxiety of being alone, and I would just do it all over again.

Heading off to Treatment

New Seasons provided a scholarship for me. Yeah, they allowed me to stay there for four months. I did my personal therapy with the clinical director, Tim Warden, who now has his own treatment facility in Florida for eating disorders. That one man changed my whole life, yeah. I don’t know, I don’t like the whole … He was just so scientific and spoke to me with that kind of level that is where my brain works, and it wasn’t like fluffy.

The only reason I would go to AA meetings is because we would stop at Starbucks. That was it. That was the only reason I went. Thank God they did because It got me more involved, and then I had actual friends there. I stayed in that area, and then eventually, four and a half months later, I went to a Sober Living for about six months, so I was in treatment for the good part of a year, which I really believe in. The longer you’re in treatment, the longer you’re connected, the better chance you have.

I’m of the thought that addiction is a kind of a cover up for core issues, so I really feel like in order to address addiction you need to address … Mine was very trauma based, and in order to work … We really had to work through that trauma and figure out what it was that those negative beliefs that I had and counteract those. I don’t think that if I did any of the work on my core issues that I would have been able to stay away from inhalants. I definitely think that. The minute I had something that initiated those negative core beliefs that I had about myself, I would have been right back to inhalants.

What Advice Do You Have for People in a Similar Situation?

I definitely didn’t think I ever would overcome my addiction. I just did this blog recently. I was asked to be addiction expert of the month on Addictionland.com, and I wrote a lot about that actually, is speaking to addicts and their families on especially inhalant awareness.

Inhalant-wise, National Inhalant Prevention Coalition offers so much support. The director, Harvey, is just incredibly such a passion for this.

Alliance for Consumer Education, they offer actual support for families and how to approach things and go about things. There are great support systems, but how I address things with people that are struggling currently is I never thought I would get better. I never thought that … I always thought I would be that depressed and life would be that awful. What I was able to thankfully eventually do is believe people when I started getting connected to those that were also struggling and also recovering is that those people believed me until I could believe in myself, and that was really instrumental.

Being with someone that has completely and utterly bottomed out and things, compared to my life today is that it’s really true. When people say that it will get better, it really is only temporary and things will get better and your life will get better, but you have to do the work, but you’ve got to make that initial jump start. It’s just the rewards are so much better, and it’s so much better on this side of life.

I can’t believe it personally. I’ll have six years inhalant free in May, May 7th. 2008 was my sobriety, and it’s just so shocking, but it can be done. If anyone watches my episode, I was a nightmare. Oh my God, I can’t believe it. I watch it myself, and I’m just stunned. I had to go through everything I did to get where I’m at today. That was another thing that I wrote about on the blog. It’s like I still feel like I could have fallen further, but why?

Everyone’s bottom is different. I have clients now that were like, “But you know, I’m not destitute, and I’m not homeless, and I still have a family,” but everyone has a different level of bottoming out. Just because I wasn’t homeless and I had financials doesn’t mean I didn’t bottom out. My life was no longer manageable. That is what’s key, so when your life, you feel like it’s no longer manageable, it’s time to reach out. I know that that takes so much courage and that phone weighs a million pounds.