Addiction: The Mindset of a Former Addict

As someone who has been indirectly affected by the opioid crisis, but deeply and wholeheartedly affected nonetheless, the last thing I would ever want to do is speak for those directly affected by drug use.  The road to and from addiction is long and winding; it is so deeply ingrained into the specific life of the addict that there is not even a way to sum it up for those who have never been affected. 

What we can do, though, is to take bits and pieces from past addicts who continue their walk in recovery and self-awareness, but through this process, have removed themselves from the emotional turmoil that a struggling addict endures.  So that is the intent of this work, with photojournalism as a medium.

The drug epidemic is one of the most pressing humanitarian tragedies that has plagued our country, and its history of terrorism is just as pressing as the present nightmare.  Many minorities and poorer urban communities have suffered for decades from the influx of drugs, and for many of them, it has been harder to get the immense support required to fight such an epidemic.  

But the common notion that drug abuse is just a problem for a particular race or station in life has now been thrown out the window. The opioid crisis has reached the top of the latter, affecting mainly white suburbia and beyond; politicians and their kids, the wealthy, the “stable.”

Despite differences in who or how addiction grabs ahold of people, the commonality remains.  Drug addiction claims almost 200 lives every day in the US. (  That’s considered a National Crisis.

Although I have really only just begun documenting this topic, the objective stands strong: 

What do those who have fought addiction have to say about recovery?  What is truly important in this challenging process?  How can we learn from each other to better understand this phenomenon and hopefully change how this country deals with it?  

I hope people will simply start talking about this so that we can make societal changes from the ground up.  The U.S. government cannot solve this; it isn’t just another policy. This is the fragility of the human life at hand, and we must be the ones to find out what will save us.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can find an abundance of information and resources on OK Rehab aims to help individuals break free from the shackles of addiction and find a treatment that’s ideally suited to their needs.


Mother • Master’s student in social work • Treasurer of ACES (Addictions counseling education students)

I have always wanted to write or create something about my sister, Nicole.  Her journey has been a rough one, and I have been there beside her for the ride.  The memories from when she was at rock bottom remain a striking image in my mind.  Not because of the gory details, but because of the Nicole that broke through from that place of brokenness.  

Today, she is truly herself and strives to be her best self more and more.  When I think about who she was then, and now, I’m in awe.  Her story is significant to me because it shows that humans are malleable and transformable; we can learn, we can change, and we are never beholden to a self that we don’t like.  That is such a powerful life lesson, and that’s what Nicole strives to teach others as a Drug Addictions Counselor.

Nicole tried to heal throughout her entire addiction.  She was in and out of recovery centers several times a year and often stuck in an in-between grey area, where it was unclear whether she was going backward or forwards.  Sometimes it was both.  

Recovering from addiction is never a cut-and-dry tactic. It is never a clean swoop through a detox center, and then voila!—you’re healed.  Nicole experienced real trauma that continually held her back, and she strives to understand that trauma.  Her personal understanding of that struggle will forever be her aid while counseling others.

This purpose of helping others came about once Nicole was already in a place of healing and stability.  As far as getting out of the cycle of heroin use, her daughter Addyson actually saved her. Upon realizing that a little bean was developing in her tummy, that was her newfound purpose.  Her healing has only progressed since.

“First, Addy gave me this purpose.  She saved my life.”

These photographs were taken in spots where Nicole used to roam, abuse drugs, and sleep when homeless.

“This feeling of purpose didn’t happen right away.  When I found out I was pregnant, I was devastated, looking around at everyone who had nothing but concern and disgust in their eyes.”

“I knew I had to break away from everyone.  I went to a Lifeline treatment center where I was left only with myself and my higher power, praying for God to work within me.  Here is where I had my mental switch/psychic change/spiritual awakening ‒ whatever you want to call it. I could feel this fire that had been cold for so many years ignite within me, and I finally had purpose and meaning in my life again.  First, Addy gave me this purpose. She saved my life.”

“Becoming an Addictions Counselor and getting my Master’s in Social Work has brought me even more fulfillment.  I know who I am today, and I love myself.”

“For once in my life, I do not regret the past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it.  It has defined my strength and shaped who I am."

“There will always be another relapse waiting in those weak moments.  But for me, finding new purpose and fulfillment in my life keeps me motivated to keep fighting for my better self, and it is so important for me to have a strong foundation of support as I continue to do so.”


Creator/Founder of Dave’s Killer Bread • Musician • Podcast host of Felony, Inc.

My first time meeting Dave Dahl, I was surprised by the softness that he emanated.  After reading about his rough and challenging life, I expected what just about everyone does: a hard-ass.  To my delight, our conversation took an honest and heartfelt direction as I learned about his past of addiction and crime.  Plus, we could talk about mental health and self-care and be entirely on the same page.

Dave has willingly shown the world his deep understanding of the human psyche, with his own unbearable lows being the catalyst by which his career was launched.  His story is long and complex, with about 15 years of it chocked full of substance abuse and prison sentences.

 Low self-esteem, lack of belief in anything, chronic worrying about what others thought of him, and suicidal thoughts were typical for most of his life.  His mental turnaround came to him in his last and longest stretch of jail time.  

“It was 2001, I was 38, and right in the middle of a long prison sentence.  And guess what? For the very first time in my life, I was free!  I began to see that I could let go of resentment and anger, that I had a choice in my thoughts and actions.”  Portland Interview Magazine, 62

For the first time, something other than illegal drugs could make Dave feel better about himself and his circumstances.  With the help of psych services within the jail, and medicine such as Paxil restoring serotonin in his brain, he finally felt that he had the choice to design his present and future.  

In a way, by surrendering, he gained his true power.  And we see this today in his sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and lack of desire to carry the tough-guy persona.  Now, he touts a strength that lies within.

After his success with Dave’s Killer Bread, Dave has moved on to reaching out to the community in a multitude of ways.  One of which is simply telling his story. He also shares other stories that are similar to his with his podcast Felonies, Inc. 

Additionally, Dave devotes his time to the board of Central City Concern in an effort to figure out what is working with the homeless rehabilitation system and what and what’s not. Through his podcast and community outreach, he’s on a mission to find out what people truly need to recover and transition from addiction.

“Surrendering taught me the power of acceptance and humility.  Accepting myself as I was – no more, no less – was the beginning for me.  From that point on, I understood that I had the choice in my life, and I owned that.”

“Creative empowerment was important to my recovery – finally thinking, I can do things.”

“Not to mention, I want to stay well for my family and grandkids.  They mean everything.”

“I exercise as faithfully as my banged-up body will let me.  And yet, I’m miles from perfect. But the biggest difference today is that I refuse to beat myself up over my failings.  I’m compassionate towards myself and others. I forgive and avoid resentments.”

“I thought I was unhappy because the world sucked.  But, the world sucked because I was ill.”


Co-Founder of MSeed Outreach • Yoga Teacher • Owner of Pardon Lifestyle

When I first met Chelsae, I was struck by her passion and drive.  She radiated this conscious decision to make the most out of every day, every opportunity, and continuously take action to make her dreams come true.  It roused my soul; I can’t say that this photo project would have happened without her.

Her story includes the fight for inner peace, as do many stories of addiction.  Chelsae took every possible step to assess her mental state after hitting an all-time low in 2012.  She checked herself into the Dream Center recovery program in L.A. for heroin and crystal and began carving her path toward peace and healing.

“Eyes piercing with an extended gaze towards the future–the first three months of my recovery were ferocious. I was battling mind monsters at every angle.”

Chelsae’s recovery happened from the inside out.  She has spoken to me often about the importance of her time in recovery, which she used to recover from trauma.  “Recovery” is not just a term that can be used for a place where struggling addicts go to break free; it needs to be used as a verb, an action, that can only be done by the addict themselves.  

Chelsae gave herself time. She was blessed with support and the opportunity to take time away from everyday activities to be with herself and her mind in order to heal herself from sickness.

Soon after finishing the Dream Center program, Chelsae pursued her yoga education and got licensed to teach. Shortly after that, all the hard work she put into recovering her mind and soul re-established itself into Pardon, her small yoga and essential oils business centered around health, wholeness, and release for the struggling soul.

Pardon - “let your shit go.”

Opioids: the suburban killer.

“The bondage that binds you today doesn’t have to bind you tomorrow.  I would look up at the clouds and stars above and always knew my struggles wouldn’t last forever.”

“To me, addiction was bondage.”

“Oftentimes, horrific memories of trauma would flood my mind.  I knew I could hold onto it tightly; I could blame that man; I could hold anger and resentment in my heart. Or, I could let it go.  As I allowed the memories to pass through, I found myself constantly accompanied by my tears. Tears of healing.”

“Putting feeling into my body and exploring my inner self, I ground my energy.  I feel the things of the past, but my heart is open to them. I find myself pressing forward day by day, letting go of former events that molded a former self.”