Jessica Montoya is only 28-years-old but she’s lived half her life battling an addiction to food, heroin and ice. She talks to SBS about how she’s trying to break free of addiction, a few months into treatment from a rehabilitation clinic hidden among the mountains of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I’m here for a drug addiction and eating disorder. I was using ice and heroin, and I had bulimia. I’ve been struggling with bulimia since I was 15 years old.
From a very young age, I felt that food and eating made me feel better, so I just continued to eat. I’ve never been able to control how much I eat, and I’ve never been able to eat in moderation.
But at one point, as a teenager, I developed an eating disorder to deal with my overeating. I grew up in a Hispanic family in the USA where food was a big part of our lives. I don’t want to blame my family but they were always really health-conscious, eating healthily and working out. I just didn’t want to do that, so I did what was easy for me to do [to be slim].
My mum didn’t find out I was bulimic until I was 17. My last year of high school was full of doctor’s appointments and meetings with nutritionists, therapists and psychiatrists. I went along with all the appointments but I didn’t want to change, as I was afraid of gaining weight.
I also realise there was no way that I could’ve just ‘stopped’ being bulimic. I was addicted to food, so no matter how much I’d tell myself to just stop eating, I’d keep going. Eventually I thought, ‘this is just who I am’.
Drugs relieved me from my eating disorder
My drug addiction started when I was 18/19 years old with pot and alcohol, before I progressed into harder drugs.
I was always curious about drug use so when I started dating a guy who was smoking heroin and he finally asked me if I wanted a try, there was no hesitation.
I was physically addicted to the heroin but meth was what I’d always liked.
Heroin makes you feel tired and out of it. Ice makes you feel up and awake.
Heroin is more of a relaxing deep breath out. But the meth or ice is like a deep breath in.
A food addiction is almost more exhausting than the drug addiction
The meth used also helped a lot with my eating disorder as it made me lose my appetite. If I didn’t eat, I didn’t have to throw up. So using drugs, for me, was almost like a relief because my food addiction was driving me crazy.
A food addiction is almost more exhausting than the drug addiction – you can put the drugs and alcohol down but you can never put down food. You always have to eat.
When I hit rock bottom
The first time I got treatment it was for heroin and meth (which I was smoking) at age 23.
In my mind, I was there to get off the drugs. I didn’t want to deal with my eating disorder, as it was only thing I had control over and the last thing I could do that people knew about. So I completely glossed over it.
I got off drugs, stayed clean for four years and got my Bachelors degree in economics in Texas. Once I had achieved that goal, I didn’t know what to do next. I moved back to my parents in Albuquerque and fell back into the same environment with old friends who were using drugs. But this time, I was using both heroin and meth intravenously.
Everything I did I wanted to be the best at it, so when I was a drug addict I wanted to be the best drug addict. If you saw me on the street, I definitely looked like a junkie
It’s really sick to think about it and say it out loud but I wanted to be the perfect drug addict. I am a big perfectionist. In college, I graduated with honours because I always wanted to be the best student. Everything I did I wanted to be the best at it, so when I was a drug addict I wanted to be the best drug addict. If you saw me on the street, I definitely looked like a junkie.
It came to the point where I stopped hiding [the drug addiction]. I was in and out of my parent’s house, having really bad psychosis – hearing voices and having hallucinations. I felt a lot of fear and thought there was always someone out to get me.
I would shoot up in my car and then go to the casino because that was the only place where I felt safe. The gambling kept me preoccupied enough to forget about the voices. It was this weird cross-addiction. Now I see that I can be addicted to anything that makes me feel better. I’m addicted to anything you can be addicted to.
I had to want to change
My life was horrible and chaotic – it wasn’t fun [anymore]. Life involved constant visits to emergency rooms. Deep down, I knew I needed to change something. I firmly believed that I had one last shot at getting clean and if I relapsed again, I wouldn’t make it.
So I started looking around at treatment centres and found this one, in Thailand, Chiang Mai. There have been so many times I’ve been to rehab at home and once I arrived, I’d jump in my car and drive off. I can’t do that in Thailand because it’s so far from home.
Their treatment program here at The Cabin is different too – it’s cognitive behaviour therapy where I focus on recognising and changing my thinking. I am putting in the work I need to get better.
I now realise that if I’m not using drugs I have to use something else to make myself feel better, and I always turn to food.
There was a time when I was using where I thought I wouldn’t make it. But I also didn’t even really care. This time around, I know that if I do go back to my old ways, I won’t make it out again
But today marks 60 days I have not acted out on the bulimia. It’s the longest time I’ve ever had without drugs or the eating disorder. I also think this treatment has been helpful for me to find out about who I am as a person. I now know that I’m Jessica: I am an addict but I’m also free from my addictions. I’m able to talk to my parents again. I am a daughter and a friend.
There once was a time when I was using where I thought I wouldn’t make it. But I also didn’t even really care. This time around, I know that if I do go back to my old ways, I won’t make it out again.
I’ve seen so many people die, so many lives ruined and so many kids lose their mothers. I now know there’s help out there for everybody. You just have to be willing to take it.
If this story raises issues for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.