Three years ago I was high, hungry and pregnant. Now I’m three semesters from graduating from UNC

‘When I heard my son’s heartbeat for the first time, I was at a free clinic in Florida’

“Why is she always late?” I judged my habitually tardy classmate as she sat down next to me. That was the third week of school. Unlike most of us, she can’t lethargically wake up 20 minutes before class starts.

Her name is Kelie. She transferred from Sandhills Community College and now drives 50 miles to pursue a degree in philosophy at UNC. 100 miles. Every single day. Why does she do it? Why doesn’t she just live on campus?

Ask me. I am her.

I moved from Iowa to North Carolina in 2007, right before my freshman year of high school. Bullying, drugs and therapy characterized my high school experience. A creative writing class was one of few good things to come out of it. I discovered an outlet in writing and sanity in a girl named Erika. Being understood by her kept me from suicide. I’ve never told her that.

Despite consistently earning great grades, the escalation of social, mental health and disciplinary issues led my mom to permit my dropping out of school junior year, in 2010. I joined the U.S. Army at 17 years old. I finally did something that made my parents proud. I was an honor graduate in AIT and the youngest person to graduate Airborne school.

I was engaged to marry a man who loved me. I didn’t hate myself anymore. The job sent me to live in Germany. I traveled to Italy, Poland, England, France and Austria before turning 20. However, traveling and partying became priority over my contractual obligation to the government. I sought professional help with my addiction but was only punished. A respect for authority morphed into resentment of them for standing in my way. I wanted out.

After spending a month in jail for failed drug tests, several AWOL attempts and other “patterns of misconduct,” I was discharged. Coming back stateside with no money, no fiancé, no confidence and an escalated addiction in March 2013. By taking on this “Queen of the Damned” attitude, I thought I had beaten rock bottom by diving right into it. It was almost like, you can’t call me a degenerate if I embrace it first.

I moved to Pinellas County, Florida, and immediately got a job as a dancer. Honestly, it was a bucket list whim to walk into a strip club and ask for a job. I just did it and was hooked…it was a way to make money without changing my lifestyle. There, I met a guy and became involved with him fairly quickly. The abuse started even quicker.

That Kelie clawed her soul away from dilapidation and gave it back to me, the real Kelie. When I heard my son’s heart beat for the first time, I was at a Free Clinic in Florida, high and hungry. I specifically remember being overwhelmed by a feeling of inadequacy. I had never even held a child. I dreamed about him growing up with a more deserving woman. A woman nothing like me. I wasn’t good enough for how perfect I knew he was going to be.

It’s been three years since then. I left Florida in October 2013. My first day back in a school in 2014 hung in a balance between self-doubt and ambition. I was brand new to recovery, visibly pregnant and unmarried, and hadn’t been in school for four years. There have been more people in my corner throughout this journey than I ever thought myself worthy of.

Now, Jonah is two, perfect(ly) oblivious to how much influence he has had on my blossoming. I am three semesters away from earning a Bachelor’s Degree, humbled by the tides that push and pull us to the places we are supposed to be.

Jonah saved my life. I acknowledge the second chance he gave me by being the mother he deserves. We live with my parents and I commute to school because however exhausting it is for me, he is always surrounded by people who love him. Some days, I leave for school before he wakes up and don’t get home until after he is already in bed. On those days, I remind myself that I do it all for him. On other days, I remind myself that I don’t know the lives my peers lived before we all ended up at school here, chasing our own versions of the same dream.