After heroin - clean, sober, and frank

Millville's Stacy Brandt has written a book about recovering from heroin addiction. "Brandt" is an alias.
Millville's Stacy Brandt has written a book about recovering from heroin addiction. "Brandt" is an alias.
Posted: June 06, 2014

Amid the chaos of Stacy Brandt's childhood, books were her only friends.

"Harry Potter saved my life," the author, 23, says. "I read those first two Harry Potter books over and over. It's how I learned to write."

Her self-published memoir, Things I Learned (available through stacybrandt.com) is about a different magical 'friend' of the most sinister sort: Heroin.

"It turned me into a person I never thought I would be," Brandt says from Millville, N.J., where she has been clean and sober since Feb. 20, 2013, after an overdose. "When I woke up from my overdose, I realized it wasn't a game. . . . I was terrified but determined."

("Brandt" is a pseudonym. She uses it to maintain her anonymity in recovery.)

Brandt had only been using heroin for a few months.

"When I started heroin, at 21, I was a straight-A student at Cumberland County College, I was working, I was responsible, I was respectable," she says. "Once I crossed the line into heroin, it was all gone."

Brandt's slender volume is a frank and often funny account of a 2013 stay at Maryville. It was her third visit to the rehab center in Williamstown, Gloucester County, where she got off junk.

Vivid vignettes with titles such as "The Hooker and the Game of Kickball" and "Vomit, Agony and Attitude" are drawn from notes she scribbled on any available piece of paper while a patient.

These quick sketches are gritty, sometimes startling, and occasionally hopeful. Think Orange Is the New Black without guards or glamour; all sorts of women end up in rehab, bringing with them all sorts of stories.

"She told me she snored when she was awake because she overdosed and was in a coma for two weeks," Brandt writes of one pal. "She said she shouldn't be alive anymore. She talked about how she was running out of chances and how I still had so much potential."

That potential was evident during Brandt's childhood, some of it spent with a mother who struggled with her own demons.

Stacy "was always curled up with a book," recalls Michelle DeBellis, 43, who knew Brandt as a child and is Maryville's director of outpatient services. "She had a natural ability to make the best of things."

Brandt nevertheless was deeply scarred by a succession of alcoholic, addicted, or abusive adults. She was shunted among various households in South Jersey and at one point, Tennessee.

Back home in Millville at 16, the quiet, studious girl rebelled.

"I went from never drinking to drinking every day," she recalls. "I told myself that if I drank every day, I'd never have to cry again.

Brandt managed to get her diploma from Millville High School, by then having also graduated from booze to pills - a chemical cocktail of Ecstasy and prescription opiates. Two stays in rehab were not enough to get her clean; heroin was her final step.

"I had no idea what I was getting myself into," she says. "It was 10 times worse than anything anybody told me."

One friend told Brandt that she had to be hooked for at least 10 years before heroin would be through with her; others claimed that no one ever gets off the stuff.

But she's close to 16 months clean, is involved in 12-Step recovery programs, and speaks to young people about the destructive power of a drug.

"There was an itty-bitty five-sentence paragraph about heroin in my high school health book," she says. "Kids know it's bad, but they don't know why. They don't have any real knowledge. I want to do for them what nobody did for me."

DeBellis, who has been in recovery for 13 years from heroin addiction, says Brandt has credibility with youthful audiences. At her May 18 appearance at Maryville, the author gave away copies of her book.

"I wanted to be a writer my whole life," she says. "A friend of mine told me it wasn't realistic.

"Now that I'm clean and sober," Brandt adds, "I don't think any dream is unrealistic."


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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