Five years ago Nicole Walmsley made a conscious decision to relapse, despite the fact that she had been sober for months and was under house arrest facing drug charges.
“I knew seven days before I was going to use,” Walmsley, now 32, recalled. “My mood changed, my music changed, all of it.”
Walmsley knew she should only do a small amount of heroin because it had been a month since she last injected the drug. She bought a $20 bag and split it into $5 lines, but when she injected the drug she immediately knew she was in trouble.
“Before the needle emptied into my arm I knew it wasn’t heroin,” Walmsley said. “It burned everything.”
Walmsley had become one of the thousands of drug users who overdose on fentanyl. After the paramedics revived her she knew she had to turn herself into her parole officer, despite the fact that she was facing up to 24 months behind bars.
“I was willing to do the two years in prison versus one more day addicted to heroin,” she said. “That’s how desperate I was.”
The desperation paid off and Walmsley was sentenced to a corrections rehabilitation program. This time, after nearly seven years of active addiction, rehab worked.
Today, Walmsley’s transformation is stunning. She’s been sober for nearly five years. As the outreach manager and law enforcement liaison for Recovery Unplugged she shares her story with national audiences in hopes of getting more people into treatment. She is also responsible for bringing the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative to Ohio and helping more than 500 people get into rehab. Walmsley recently bought a house with her boyfriend, who is a cop.
She says that her work is all about getting people access to lifesaving treatment, and helping them beat the odds. Thanks to Walmsley, the Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative, which allows drug users to turn themselves in and be connected with treatment rather than charged, is active in about 40 police departments in Ohio.
“If they’re going to one of our departments they don’t get caged, they get treatment,” she said. “Instead of getting to where I am with two felonies, you have the option to get help before it gets that far.”
Walmsley sees that Ohio is still gripped by drug use, with fentanyl now found in cocaine in addition to heroin. The reality on the streets is dire, she says, but each person who gets into recovery keeps her motivated to continue her work.
“There’s more failures than success stories, but the success stories branch out into the community and [seeing that is]more fulfilling than getting high,” she said.
In addition to working with people who need treatment, Walmsley volunteers to teach police officers about compassion fatigue and responding to drug users. She said that sharing her own story—who she used to be and who she is now—helps officers realize that there is hope for recovery in every situation.
“Law enforcement officers don’t see enough of the recovery side,” she said, noting that many people who get sober leave the area where they were using. “If they were to see the recovery side that would make a huge difference for all the first responders.”
Recently, Walmsley was hired by Recovery Unplugged, which offers music-based rehabilitation program, as outreach manager. She said that Recovery Unplugged’s method of using music to facilitate recovery and sobriety is something that clicked with her immediately.
“Music for me has kept me clean,” she said. “It’s a huge outlet and coping skill for me. When I wanted to use, instead of getting high I would listen to music until that feeling has passed.”
Part of her job at Recovery Unplugged is sharing her story, something that has become less daunting over the years.
“The first time I shared it on the news I was really really scared,” she said. “I was terrified the world is going to know.”
She hoped to reach people like herself, whose lives were ruled by addiction. Instead, she found that functioning addicts were reaching out to her for help. Now, she is there for anyone who needs inspiration.
“My whole goal had been to reach heroin addicts like I was, and I’ve reached a different demographic,” she said. “My hope is to keep bringing people out of the dark.”
Recovery Unplugged is a music-based rehabilitation and recovery center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Austin, Texas. Get more information at www.recoveryunplugged.com or connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube
Photo provided by Recovery Unplugged. Used with permission.