Turnaround profiles: AriAnn Overson

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Returning to her roots, AriAnn discovered how to make her weaknesses into strengths.

Each discovery was followed by another detour. In hindsight the detours reveal real internal progress. But to an outsider looking on in real time, her path would have looked like sheer futility and chaos.
DEPRESSED AND ANXIOUS as a child, AriAnn began cutting herself at around 13 in silent a cry for help that didn’t come. Eventually she turned to meth, then heroin. Multiple arrests and jail sentences followed, before she rebuilt her life by rediscovering her faith.

HER OLDER SISTER had an eating disorder and addictions, but AriAnn wasn’t doing so great herself. She had anxiety disorder and depression, needing to talk but unable to make herself heard. On her own path to addiction, her sister was consuming the parental bandwidth, and AriAnn’s troubles went unnoticed. She began cutting herself — a silent cry for help and a way to feel something.

THE CUTTING FREAKED OUT her friends. One time her mom noticed and asked if she had done it to herself. AriAnn said yes. “She had no way to deal with it,” she says. “I don’t think she said much to me about it.” Her sister was a wreck and her parents were focused on her sister’s problems. “They were looking the other way. They didn’t know how to help.”

A FEW YEARS LATER she launched into an eating disorder, which became a nine year struggle with bulimia. “You can use it similar to a drug,” she says. “When you are eating, you can numb out, phase out, detach from life.” Her mom, still focused on her older sister, “was just bewildered.”

AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, she moved in with her sister in Salt Lake City. There, she discovered that meth filled the hole that had haunted her youth. “This is what I’m here for,” she said to herself. She had energy, lost her fears, was no longer shy and became “the life of the party.”

BUT SHE COULDN’T HOLD A JOB. Her sister paid the rent with a settlement from a car accident. Mostly, they partied. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t. Her sister imploded, fleeing the state to escape the law. AriAnn returned to her still-naïve parents’ basement where she continued the same lifestyle — now with free rent and groceries.

AFTER A TOKEN suicide attempt, she knew she needed to end the frantic pace of meth. Her “friends” suggested heroin, and she replaced the electric jolt of meth with the warm hug of narcotics. But that, too, couldn’t last. After her boyfriend narrowly survived an overdose in her parents’ basement apartment, she ended up in drug court, where she began her long and circuitous path to recovery.

MULTIPLE FAILURES and jail stints followed. She got pregnant and gave the child up for adoption, knowing she could not care for him. The pain of giving up her child sent her into another tailspin. She ended up in jail, on suicide watch. Wrapped in protective Velcro pajamas, she surrendered herself to the “higher power” that is the hallmark of recovery programs. What happened next is best heard from her own voice, in the video here titled “Epiphany.”

THERE WERE MORE detours, including a decision to have another child with her addicted and abusive boyfriend, driven by the the deep need to be part of a family and the desperate hope that they could make it work. The pieces of AriAnn’s recovery came at jagged intervals: a key insight from a counselor, the antidepressant effect of running for exercise, a spiritual epiphany while on suicide watch, a religious community of charitable people her age. Each discovery was followed by another detour. In hindsight the detours reveal real internal progress. But to an outsider looking on in real time, her path would have looked like sheer futility and chaos.

ARIANN MARKS HER full recovery, her clean date on all fronts, as the summer of 2010. In 2013, she married her husband, who she met at church. They have since legally adopted her son, and they now have a beautiful baby daughter together. In addition to her religious epiphanies, she says that learning to take care of herself, eating right and running were keys to her recovery. But her anxiety persists, and she is considering medication for it. She is also giving back, serving as a facilitator for recovery groups, where she sees “lots of people who remind me of me.”

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1. Heroin & baby (1:59)

Meth gets crazy, so she tries heroin. Pregnancy and adoption. Giving up & back to jail in despair.

2. Epiphany (4:22)

On suicide watch in jail, she hits rock bottom, prays, and has a transformative experience.

3. Diet & exercise (3:31)

Her keys to her recovery include healthy food and exercise plus spiritual grounding.