ara lives out her passion to help people every day. She is a mother, has completed a master’s degree in social impact work, and built a meaningful career after years of dealing with a substance use disorder. All of that seemed unlikely when she found herself battling bulimia and addiction to meth and other substances. A high-achiever throughout school who came from a loving family, substance use disorder almost ended her life. Deep, spiritual experiences of love and a rediscovery of faith through seeking help brought incredible transformation into her life.
The Simple Things Bring Life
It’s crazy to me to know that it’s really simple things that I get the most inspired by. I love sitting with my daughter and watching her laugh at a piece of string. She finds joy in the simplest things, and that inspires me because it’s how I want to live. I want to be able to find joy in hard circumstances and remember simple reasons for gratitude. Because let’s face it, life’s not easy.
Searching for Value through Success
I’m Kara Pate and I’m 11 years recovered from methamphetamine addiction, from alcoholism, and from bulimia. Probably the biggest issue for me, at the core of the addictions, was self-hate.
I grew up in Orange County, California. I have an older sister and a younger brother, and incredible parents who were very supportive. Growing up, I was very active, and had a passion for soccer. I the route of over-achieving and doing more, in school and in sports. I graduated from high school as ASB — student government — vice president with a 4.0 GPA. But I still felt empty. it was always this search. How do I fit in this world? What is going to make me somebody of value? What is going to give me that thing that will make me feel whole?
I think that’s inevitably what I searched for in everything. I searched for it in relationships. I searched for it in drugs and alcohol. I searched for it in performance. I searched for it in the way I looked. I developed an eating disorder as a teenager because I believed that my value and worth were tied to my physical appearance.
Substances became a tool to try to feel these gaps. Alcohol helped me feel like I could fit in. Meth helped me get skinny, although it was to an incredibly unhealthy extent. I turned to a substance instead of purging. I told myself when I started meth that I was only gonna use that every now and then. It’s this idea of, “Oh no, not me, I’ll never get addicted.” But that’s not true. When it grabs you, it just holds you. The substances promise you the world and then they take everything, really quickly.
Spiralling into Addiction
After high school, I ended up pursuing college and I eventually transferred to UC Riverside after challenges at another program. I was doing a lot of drugs while I was there and I wasn’t doing well in any of my classes. It was hard to show up half the time. I was paranoid and consumed by what people were thinking about me. Shame and guilt just kept me stuck because I was spending so much time partying, trying to numb my pain. After doing so well in school growing up, I wasn’t even passing anymore. I had below a 2.0. GPA.
It was an identity crisis. I was going out to a lot of bars and I was doing a lot of drinking all over LA. Lots of cocaine, or whatever else was around. During that time, if I went to a bar and somebody gave me attention or did something nice like buying me a drink, I felt like I owed them something. I would go home with whoever would take me home, because I didn’t have enough self-worth to know that I didn't owe them. I remember sitting in my shower, scrubbing myself for days, sitting with razor blades, wanting all the pain to end. And that was the cycle for me. I would sober up just enough to go out and do it all again.
The years from 22 to 27 were pretty much blacked out. In that time, there was chaos, and violent relationships, and so many times when things could have gotten so much worse, though things were already bad. I spent a lot of time in dark rooms without windows. And people with their meth pipes, just passing them around. There was not a lot of hope; everybody was there just for the drug.
The Gift of Desperation
When I was 27, things started to turn around for me. But leading up to that point, I actually feared that I was losing my mind. I would go days without sleeping and feel paranoia and fear completely overtaking me. Lying in a bed in a vegetative state, I would have visions of the world going on around me; but I wouldn’t be able to be a part of it in any way. The fact that things were slipping away really, really scared me. That was the beginning of the wakeup call. Desperation can be a really powerful gift.
I’d reached out to my family a couple of times in my process, but I wasn’t able to change before. But at that time, something felt different. I went to my dad and I said, “Daddy, I need help.” My family called a friend who had gotten sober a few years earlier. He took me to some twelve step meetings and then at the end of the week he sent me to a treatment center in Minnesota. The programs started the process of helping me get sober. And one thing that I remember thinking while I was there was that I liked this spirituality thing, which was new to me.
The Ups and Downs of My Early Journey
Before that time, I didn’t have any relationship with God at that point or have any belief in God. We went to church because that’s what you do on Sundays, especially in Orange County. Any thought I’d had of God throughout my addiction was, “If He’s real, I’ve really messed up. And so I’m sure He’s up there, ready to just hit me with a pitchfork... because I’ve messed up really, really badly here.”
My process had its ups and downs. After treatment, I had times where I started drinking and using again. And it took me to deeper depths, particularly in my mental health. I had been using so long that I had no tools to live without substances. Without substances, the noise in my head was unbearable. I had no idea how to stay sober.
Where I lived, there was a women’s detox center where women, if they were overcoming any kind of addiction could just go and sit all day. It was free. I would go there because I didn’t know what else to do; the pain was so intense. In early sobriety, it was as if someone had turned up the volume in my head and I had no relief from the vile thoughts and images and shame for things I had done. It felt overwhelming.
A Turning Point: Encountering Love
I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t do sobriety anymore. On that particular day, there was a woman who sat with me. She had gotten sober about a year and a half before I did. She was so kind, and she embraced me. On a little yellow piece of paper, she wrote, “Be still and know that I am God and I will heal you.” I didn’t understand. The note didn’t make sense to me. I was in so much pain, I didn’t feel that I could actually stay sober. I felt that I would rather die in my addiction than try again. The woman looked at me and said, “You only have to feel like this once, if you can just make it through.
You just have to make through one day a time." And I looked at her and said, “I can’t, I want to go get high. I just can’t do this, I don’t know what else to tell you.” She said that she would be praying for me, to which I answered, "okay, great", and left.
I went to where I knew I could score some meth. After I handed some money to someone, the person had to go get stuff from someone else. While waiting, I saw another friend who had been using, and was still using. I realized how different we looked, even though I had only 40 days of sobriety. She seemed so sad and hopeless. The experience made me realize that there was something in me that had held on for those days of sobriety, and that I could thus hold on to another day.
While I was standing there, the girl looked at me and said, “You got out. Why did you come back here?”
I told her that I didn’t know why, but that I was in so much pain that I didn’t know how to live with it.
But she wouldn’t let it go. “Yeah, but you got out,” she replied.
It was shocking to her that I would want to come back to the life of using after leaving it, even if only for a few days. Her comments made me realize that all I was going to get if I used again was another five minutes of relief. My other friend came back with the drugs for me to take. And there was this incredible tension; I didn’t know what to do.
In that moment, I literally felt the presence of Something or Someone stand between me and this man with the drugs and I had a thought in my head that just said, “This isn’t the life I have for you, baby girl. I have so much more.” And in that thought, there was so much love and so much compassion. It was the purest love I had ever experienced... The fact that I could hear that in the midst of thinking that I was the most deplorable, horrible person on the face of the earth was what really changed my life. And I looked at the guy and said, “I can’t.” And I left.
Pursuing Deeper Love and Connection
When that happened, I went outside and said, “I don’t who you are, I don’t know what you are. But I’m gonna look and I’m gonna find You. And I’m gonna look everywhere.” And that’s what I did. For the next couple of years, I went on this journey of looking for God in all types of spirituality. And I had experiences in different contexts and places, and I felt connection. In the process, I found that same voice of love and connection in Jesus. He became my Higher Power, and in relationship with Him I became new.
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Experiencing this level of unconditional love, when I had done everything I could think of in the world to destroy my life, and in the process damaged others’ lives, gave me the capacity to love myself and love others at a deeper level than I had before. I became able to forgive others. Knowing my value and worth made it easier to live and not get offended when things didn’t go my way, or how I expected.
There were still hard days in recovery. But there is so much beauty in overcoming something and walking forward even when it feels like your world is crashing down. Something that helped me in recovery was learning about the science behind addiction. Understanding the disease model for addiction — how your brain gets rewired and it turns into a medical condition — took a lot of the shame out of where my life went. It changed my viewpoint in recovery from “I’m a bad person” to “I’m a sick person needing to get well.” This new belief helped me reach out and ask for help throughout my recovery. A range of organizations and resources helped provide community in my early recovery process, often right when I needed them most.
Experiencing Dreams Redeemed
Through recovery, I’ve gotten to do things that I never, ever thought I would do. I never thought education would be in my future after my experiences, but I ended up going back to school and finishing my degree. I started working in recovery. In 2010, I got a seemingly random email from Pepperdine University about a new Master’s Degree program focused on social entrepreneurship and change. My heart just came alive when I saw it. I somehow got into the program and even got a small scholarship that helped me attend. Through that program, I worked on a project called the Global Treatment Alliance, where resources from the United States focused on mental health got to help those struggling with those challenges in developing nations. That experience really fueled my fire to look for opportunities to make greater change and impact.
As I now get to help people rediscover life and health through recovery, I am grateful for all of the recovery models that are in the world because everybody’s at a different place. What helped me ten years ago, early in my recovery, is not what helps me today. Connecting with different resources and types of help have enabled me to move to a place where using alcohol and drugs isn't a thought for me anymore. I went through a LONG healing process -- but the process is not the end of the story.
Healing in the Family Context
Family is another aspect of life that makes me come alive. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure about being a mom. The white dress and all that kind of stuff wasn't what I grew up thinking about. I had to go through a lot of healing from past relationships and choices. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to react when I had a baby. But, when she first came out and I held her on my chest and I saw that she was OK, it was a really beautiful understanding of God's love. He actually doesn’t want anything from us except to lay on His chest and just to be close. And it’s never about our performance or what we can do for Him. It’s about a relationship and a closeness.
Today, I know that I am loved. It took me a lot of years to get to the place of believing that. I think that’s the core of my identity. I think that’s why I’m here on earth: to be loved. Everybody has value and is deserving of love.
If I could look back on my 18-year-old self, I would tell her how beautiful she is and that she doesn’t need permission from anybody else to take up her space in this world. There’s nothing that she needs to change about herself. She doesn’t need to be thinner, she doesn’t need to be taller, she doesn’t need different-colored hair. I would tell her that she’s loved and that no matter what she does or doesn’t do, her worth and her value as a human being will never change.