Runa H., only 20 years old, has had more heartache, sickness, and near-tragedy than most of us will face in a lifetime. Born in the United States, she grew up in Kuwait in a loving family. But her family couldn't save her from a childhood of pain and risky behavior. Here is her story, in her own words.
I was so hurt inside; I felt no one could ever understand it. Some terrible things happened to me when I was a small child. I never told my family, because I was afraid they'd think I'd done something bad. I think that's why, when I was only 11, I started to get really depressed. My grades fell. I was cutting myself. I didn't know who to talk to. They kept switching me from one anti-depressant to another, but none of them worked for me.
By the age of 12, I was smoking cigarettes. And by 15, I was interested in heroin. The first time, I took too much. I went to the bathroom to put cold water on my face. I rolled on the ground to get the awful feeling out. And yet I wondered—what if I take a smaller dose? So I tried it again. And I remember looking out the window and thinking: "Wow, I am actually happy. I don't feel depressed—for the first time in as long as I can remember."
At first, it was once a week. Then twice a week. And soon, I had to have it all the time. There was a lot of Xanax and marijuana too. I tried to hide it from my dad—I'm his baby girl and he cares about me so much. But he figured it out. I was only 16 years old. Over the next four years, drugs messed up my whole entire life. My dad took me to a rehab center in London. It was the first of three different times. I hated them all. And after each one, I was back out there, using heroin again, within a couple of days.
I almost died from an overdose. My dad took me to the hospital, and they thought I wasn't going to make it. They put tubes down my throat, my oxygen level went down to zero, and they were pumping and pumping. My family came to the hospital, and they prayed desperately for me to live. Like a miracle, I survived. But the next day, I was back out there, using heroin again.
I began to have seizures. My brain had been affected by all the drugs. During one seizure, I dislocated my shoulder. A neurologist put me on anti-seizure medication. Another doctor gave me pain meds. I was curious about every single drug.
I took so many different kinds—Valium and painkillers; some prescribed by doctors, some not. One day, my dealer said: "Try this." And he got the pipe out. The first time I used crystal meth, I was sweating and my heart was beating so fast. I thought, I need to tell someone but I can't tell anyone...what do I do...am I going to die tonight?
I didn't die that night. So I thought, I'd try it one more time and see how it feels. Soon I was bingeing on meth for days and days, using it continuously—not even putting the pipe down. Everything was so bad. I went home one day and found my friend and my dad waiting for me. "We're sending you to rehab," they said. My dad told me it was either that or jail. And that's when I found myself at Hazelden Betty Ford in Plymouth, Minnesota.
The first week, I stayed in bed and just cried. I begged my mom to get me out of there. I felt I just couldn't do it. I kept thinking about my dealer's number, waiting on my phone. Then one of the caregivers said, "Let's go slow and just see what it's like." Staying there for the whole 28 days—finishing the complete program—was a huge accomplishment for me. The staff was so great—I really loved some of them. I'd wait for their shifts, and then I'd talk to them about what I was feeling. I made new friends, who were really encouraging. I liked the daily schedule, and the writing and exercises the counselors gave us.
When I left to go home, I was still craving the drugs—but I made up my mind that I was just not going to go through that again. And then, about four months after I left Plymouth, the cravings stopped. I realized I was enjoying life sober so much—laughing and everything! I haven't used drugs since I was at Plymouth—it's been nearly two years.
Now, at almost 21, I live in Denver. I'm in college, studying criminal justice. I want to be a judge one day. I love it here. And even though marijuana is legal here, I don't go there. I don't need it.
A few months ago, I went back to Plymouth to give a speech for all the girls. I told them about my experience. I explained, "You may really want to get out now, but stick it out—at the end, it's worth it." The girls were all so inspired that Dr. Joseph Lee [medical director for the Youth Continuum at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation] told me he wished I could come back every month to speak with them!"
Like Runa, there are thousands of other teenagers, who might not make it to their next birthday without your help. With your generosity, you can make it possible for a desperate young person to receive the treatment she couldn't otherwise afford—and regain the future she could so easily lose.