September 27, 2006

To Hell and Back A Local Teen's Harrowing Journey

When she was only 12 years old, Kelly,* a Hampton Bays resident, got drunk for the first time at a high school party she attended with her older brother. During her first-ever bout of binge drinking, she drank so much she was rushed to the hospital with alcohol poisoning — but even the dire consequences she suffered didn't stop her from craving her next drink.

"After I got over that hangover, I began drinking daily," she said.

Once in seventh grade, Kelly said, "I gravitated toward a group of girls who partied as hard as I did. I was a big pothead." She began cutting classes and became violent and verbally abusive.

In order to get the alcohol and drugs she craved, Kelly was desperate. "I began selling my body by the time I was 12."

Kelly's downward spiral escalated once she turned 14. "I was getting arrested and disappearing from home for days at a time."

Sent off to live with her grandmother in New Jersey, Kelly felt alone and intimidated by the thought of a new school. "The only thing that kept me going was alcohol . . . I lasted about eight months there. I was physically and verbally abusive toward both my grandmother and my aunt, who smoked crack and whose kids were living with my grandmother. I got the kids into drugs."

Once back home in Hampton Bays, Kelly started smoking crack. "It was the same thing, over and over again." She was also raped.

Kelly vacillated between disappearing from home and run-ins with the law. At age 15, she was hanging out exclusively with an older crowd. "My best friend, who had never done drugs in her life, had to walk away from me."

That summer, she overdosed on a lethal combination of booze, cocaine and morphine. "They found me on the side of the road."

After her first hospital stay, Kelly signed out and set off to get high. Sent straight back, she was "strapped down, because I was so out of control."

During the next two years, Kelly's life was peppered with attempts at detoxification and rehab interspersed with relapses and, ultimately, an incident with her mother during which an assault charge was filed against her.

"I was very angry. I blamed everything on my parents. No one could tell me that I couldn't use."

After the charges were dropped, Kelly was classified as a candidate for the PINS, or Person in Need of Assistance, program.

"I couldn't stop. I was selling my body and I got arrested again; I was put on drug court probation." When that didn't work, Kelly was sent to Phoenix House, a therapeutic community in East Hampton. "When they took the drugs and alcohol away, I started cutting myself."

Kicked out of the program after six months, Kelly spent time in a children's psychiatric ward before a stint in a group home and has been in and out of programs since, including time spent in the Seafield Center in Westhampton Beach. "About eight months ago was my last really bad run. I started using heroin."

Today, Kelly is 17 and she has been sober for three months.

Teen drinking and partying on the East End, she said, "is very normal. This is all very accepted. Once you hit ninth grade, high school and drinking go hand in hand."

Kelly admits she still feels anger when she feels like having a drink, fury she directs at her mother. "My mom saved my life and I hated her for it."

And although she's doing well now, back home and in recovery, Kelly, on her way to an AA meeting after the interview, concedes it isn't easy. "It's definitely a struggle every day, because I'm so young; I feel like I'm still missing out."

The tides, though, are turning. Just last week, Kelly brought three of her friends to a meeting.

If there is one message Kelly would like to impart to other kids who are tempted by peer pressure to take their first drink, it is simple: "Don't do it. Just say no. I used to hear that and think it was so corny, but it's not. I lost all my dreams. I lost everything."

*Name changed to protect the privacy of a minor.

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