Allison’s Story

Allison Kernan’s mother and stepfather were “incredible.” They raised her well.

She had a tougher time with her biological father. Still, life growing up in Fairfield was good.

A dozen years ago, Allison began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. Her brother — 3 years older —  was getting into it, and she hung out with his older crowd.

Plenty of kids her own age tried those substances too. She found them.

She was still in middle school.

“I knew it was wrong. But instantly, I felt good,” Allison says. Her self-esteem issues receded.

Crack cocaine

Crack cocaine

Her brother got into crack cocaine. When she was in 8th grade, he was sent to rehab. That day, Allison vowed never to smoke weed again.

In a family education program, she learned about addiction. She realized that by not telling her parents what her brother was doing, she’d enabled his usage.

As a freshman at Fairfield Warde High School in 2006, her brother’s former substance abuse counselor urged Allison to join a support group for children and siblings of alcoholics and drug addicts. She realized she was not alone.

She became an advocate, talking to middle schoolers about the many ways her family had been affected by addiction.

“I didn’t know that in 2 short years I’d be in my brother’s shoes,” she says. “But 10 times worse.”

Self-esteem issues led Allison into an abusive relationship. At 16, she hung out with a party crowd. Drugs made her feel better than a previous method: self-harm. She pushed her brother, and his struggles, out of her thoughts.

marijuanaShe was drinking shots and smoking weed. Her boyfriend used prescription pills: Xanax, Percocet, Oxycontin.  He said it was just like marijuana, without the smell. When he popped pills, he did not hit her.

Soon, he coerced Allison into trying pills too.

“I’d paid attention in health class, but just to pass the tests,” she says. “I never thought I’d be addicted.”

But she “fell in love” with the feelings pills produced. She was calm and relaxed; all her problems were numbed.

Drugs turned on a switch in her brain. She spiraled out of control. She was using pills on weekends, and after school. Still, her grades remained fine.

“I thought pills were like pot — I could do it every day,” she recalls. “I was a teenager. I didn’t go out and research the effects!”

She found opioids everywhere: on the street, in medicine cabinets, at her high school.

She graduated with her class, and entered Sacred Heart University. She got a job and lived on campus.

opioidsAt first, Allison says, she could not imagine anyone doing pills there. But she soon realized a lot of students did. She became a “low-key” dealer — which meant her drugs were free.

One morning she ran out of pills. She had cold sweats and diarrhea. She vomited and shook. She thought she had the flu.

She found a pill. Five minutes later, her symptoms disappeared. A friend told Allison: “You’re addicted.”

She tried to stop, cold turkey. She failed. During 2nd semester Allison missed lots of classes. She left Sacred Heart.

“That was a sign I had a problem,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘I’m a college dropout.”

Allison Kernan, after dropping out of college.

Allison Kernan, after dropping out of college.

She started dating her dealer, and moved into his Black Rock house. She did cocaine and PCP — anything she could get her hands on. Every day.

People told Allison it was only a matter of time until she used heroin. She thought that would never happen.

At 19, she tried heroin for the first time. Instantly, she was hooked.

“It was cheaper, stronger and more effective than pills,” she says. It was also more accessible.

Allison went from sniffing to shooting. Her life spiraled even more downhill.

Within a year, she’d sold all her belongings. Without furniture, lights or heat, she fell into a deep depression.

Allison was homeless, on the streets of Bridgeport. She broke into cars and hotel rooms, and stole candy bars to eat.

She was 21, 5-1, 75 pounds, with dark circles under her eyes and track marks all over her arms.

Allison Kernan, a year later.

Allison Kernan, a year later.

Allison was arrested, carrying 15 bags of heroin. The charge was a felony — “intent to sell” — but she got a slap on the wrist: 15 drug education classes, and community service. She had a year to complete her sentence.

She was arrested again, selling to an undercover officer. On April 1, 2014 — just after her 22nd birthday — Allison was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Behind bars, she had “a huge spiritual awakening.” Released after 9 months, she got a job, got her life together.

She also got cocky. “I got this!” she thought. “I’m good. I don’t need anyone — not even God!”

She went with an old friend, to an old bar. She had one drink.

Two hours later, she did heroin again.

This time, she did not become homeless. She lived in her mother’s house, and kept her job. But she was a full-blown addict.

Then Allison got pregnant. She was excited, but realized she was not ready to have a baby. Against her best judgment, she had an abortion.

“I’d rather be homeless than go through that pain again,” she says.

After months of using heroin — around Thanksgiving 2015 — Allison told her mother she was addicted. She asked for help.

On December 2, Allison checked into a detox clinic. She’s been sober ever since.

Ally Kernan today.

Ally Kernan today.

Today, she has 2 jobs. She’s a program coordinator at Shana’s House in Westport — an 8-bed home that’s the only women’s sober living halfway facility in Fairfield County. A certified recovery coach, she also works as a communication specialist at the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board in Norwalk.

“I’m good at my jobs,” she says. “When a girl says ‘You have no idea what I’m talking about,’ I roll up my sleeve.”

Allison Kernan wants her story — and her name — to be known.

People say they’re surprised that she is so open about her life.

She has a strong response: “Someone has to be.”

She pauses.

“I was right next door. I sold to kids in Westport.

“Now I’m here. I can’t be anonymous anymore. People need to know that all that is real.

“But they also need to know: There is hope.”

(To read Ally’s blog about her life, and living in recovery, click here. Hat tip: Giovanna Pisani)

20 responses to “Allison’s Story

  1. I would like to “Give a Little Love” chocolate heart to Allison for being such a strong woman….. we all are human and make mistakes but it takes a lot of courage to own up to them and immense more to change to become a force of change

  2. Allison, your story is harrowing and breath-taking, and I thank you for your courage in sharing it with us. Unfortunately is virtually the same story as ~10% of our population. This is a HUGE problem, often started with and exacerbated by prescription drugs. It is wonderful that you found a job in the sober community, helping others. KUDOS

  3. Love seeing Ally’s smile and healthy sparkle in her eyes in the “today” photo – back from the brink of death. Keep it up Ally, ODAAT – you are a miracle. Thanks for sharing your story and reminding us in the 06880 that serious drug abuse (well beyond recreational) is right here among us.

  4. Excellent story. Now imagine some poor kid going through all that with none of the love and resources that abound in Fairfield County. Devastating. How lucky this young person is.

  5. Allison,

    Thank you for telling your story. By telling your story you give others to do the same.

    You are a huge asset to the recovery community!

    Robert

  6. Thank you for sharing Allison’s story. I cheer her strength and bravery. Why characterize Allison’s decision to end her pregnancy as “against her best judgment?” It does not sound as though she was prepared to carry out a healthy pregnancy or to parent well. It sounds like a reasonable judgment given the circumstances and like the author is indulging in some judgments of his own.

  7. White privileged, or ghetto the slavery of drugs is well known. When my father explained the dangers of drinking and drugs I believed him. One only had to look around at the burnouts in our working class neighborhood in Yonkers. Throughout my teenage and college years drugs were abundantly available of every sort and description. Temptation or experimentation claimed classmates and friends.

    The easiest way to avoid heartache and pain to family and oneself is not to start. Cancer is a disease, drug addiction is a terrible lifestyle choice. I have known every aspect of drugs in the United States. An ounce of prevention is worth a KILO of cure.

    May she continue clean and sober.

    • “Cancer is a disease, drug addiction is a lifestyle choice”. Not true, at all. Drug use may be a choice, in the beginning, but addiction is not a choice. Hence the reason is it classified as such in the DSM.

    • To echo Emily Kristy’s point, drug addiction is most definitely a disease. It’s important to remember that there are cognitive/neurological factors outside of an individual’s control that predispose him or her to be vulnerable to addiction (and EVEN at play when making the choice to experiment with drugs). This is not even to mention the influences of environment that may be beyond of a sufferer’s control. Claiming that a simple lifestyle choice sets the spiral in motion is counterproductive and unscientific.

  8. Congratulations to you, Allison ! Be proud of your accomplishments. And your job at the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board (SWRMHB) is perfect for you. For others reading this, particularly young adults, check out turningpointct.org a website created by and targeted to young adults.

  9. Allison thanks for sharing your inspiring story!

  10. Truly a couragous young woman ! Congratulations Allison !

  11. Dear Emily, DSM once described homosexuality as a disease. Hardly an impeccable or scientific journal. Psychology is different than physiology, one may have the potential to be a heroin addict, if one doesn’t sample it, one is safe. Not so with cancer. Notice psychology likes to use terms used by Medical Doctors and uses medical terminology or made up terms to describe “diseases” or conditions on which practitioners might or don’t agree upon, nor can treat patients consistently with the same patter. And none can cure drug addiction consistently.

    Sorry, physics is a science, astronomy, electronics, psychology is at best an art. If it worked insurance companies would cover it, pharmaceuticals work a lot better. Psychology doesn’t stand up to scientific inquiry. Allison may be undergoing a ” maturing out” of drug use. It happens, no one knows why, it happens to some and not others. Peace be with you.

    • Dave Feliciano-

      I respectfully, although completely, disagree with you, and so does the medical community (not limited to psychological medicine). Your reasons for posting your wildly archaic views here, in connection with Ally’s story of recovery and service, are unknown to me, but I suspect they are personal.

      I can only ask if you truly believe that addiction to a drug such as heroin is purely psychological – that you deny that the human body can become physically addicted to a drug, and cause extreme physical discomfort if that drug is withheld. If so, you are willfully ignoring undisputed and long accepted science.

      I do agree with your father’s advice about the dangers of drinking and trying drugs; the fact is, it doesn’t take too much “trying” of opioids like heroin and oxy to develop an addiction.

      • My dear Mr. Whittle please forgive me if I gave the impression that physical addiction does not exist. Trust me I have worked in many aspects of narcotics and illicit drugs, at many different levels. Additionally I have lectured at university and law enforcement seminars. Unlike many so called experts I have seen this from State, Federal, Educational entities as well as street level dealers etc. I pray for Allison’s recovery and that she may help herself and others. Like Sisyphus it is a day by day process. I have buried any number of addicts, mourned with their families. I am long retired and have seen the scourge of heroin rise like a Phoenix from the ashes. I hoped for better for humanity.

    • Dave, respectfully, Addiction medicine is an established field with scores of MDs and PhDs working together to deliver treatment to help people get their lives back. Notice that your position, ironically, can be refuted with science. Notice also that psychology uses medical terminology because it IS a medical field with empirical research driving cutting edge treatment. The challenge of providing uniform treatment stems from the fact that we are talking about the mind and the brain, systems that evolved to be vulnerable to addiction. You wouldn’t claim that oncology is an art because strains of cancer are notoriously hard to treat and not well understood? Admittedly I am biased because I study psychology. But The reason for my comment is that the attitude that psychology is not a science actually just perpetuates stigma and prevents people from accessing the help they need.

  12. Geez what a story. I am very new in my recovery from alcohol and reading success stories like this inspires me to keep going one day st a time. My first blog post is my story of alcoholism. I love when people are open and honest about their addiction and give back to those who are still active in using. Thank you so much for sharing
    N

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