The first time she tried it, she didn’t even think about it.
“There wasn’t much thought about it. I was over at a friend’s house and the friend offered Oxycontin and without hesitation, I wanted it.”
Karli Schmitz was 15-years-old.
“I grew up in a good middle-class home,” the Sun Prairie native said.
Her parents divorced when she was 14-years-old, and her father is an alcoholic.
“I showed those alcoholic traits long before I put something inside of me.”
Schmitz says she felt uncomfortable in her own skin.
“I didn’t really like myself as a person. I didn’t feel OK inside.”
She watched her father struggle with those same feelings by drinking.
Schmitz says it was also tough to be a teenager while her parents were going through their divorce.
“My parents didn’t speak. It was difficult being a teenager in the middle of that. I didn’t want to feel anymore, I was tired of it and I looked at it as an escape.”
Schmitz says after that first time of trying opiates her life went downhill for a very long time.
She enjoyed that first high so much she says she remembers thinking she would use for the rest of her life.
“I had never felt anything like that. My head was quiet. I felt comfortable in my own skin.”
The first year of her drug use, Schmitz says she didn’t have a care in the world.
“I didn’t have any consequences. I managed for a while, but things started to get out of hand I started overdosing and my parents started to figure out what I was doing.”
She relied on her parents for the money to support her habit.
Pretty quickly after becoming addicted to opiates Schmitz made the switch to heroin.
“It was cheaper, and it was more easily accessible. Not long after that I was an everyday IV heroin user by the time I was 16-and-a-half.”
Her use escalated quickly. She needed the drug to function. Schmitz struggled with her addiction for 11 years.
The first time she went to treatment she was 18-years-old. It was a 30-day program, she says she didn’t get much out of.
“I didn’t want to go to treatment,” she said. “When I was in treatment that was before the epidemic started. I was on Suboxone. The drugs they were giving me were still getting me high. That obsession to use never went away. When I got out I stayed sober for maybe three weeks and after those three weeks I went right back out.”
It was never difficult for her to get heroin.
“I always knew somebody who could get it or knew somebody who did.”
Toward the end of her use she was using about a gram a day or more, which would cost her $100-$200 a day.
After treatment Schmitz got into a relationship with someone she met in treatment and spent time in Illinois.
“After I got out of treatment I put myself in an even worse situation. I was dependent not only on the heroin, but the relationship to make me OK.”
After the relationship fizzled out, Schmitz came back to Wisconsin and started to sell drugs.
“I became like a middle man to support my habit. I had no income and that was the only way I could get well and get my fix.”
She says she was miserable pretty quickly after getting out of treatment.
“Once you get that first taste of sobriety, no matter how little it is you hit that internal bottom so much quicker.”
She continued to sell drugs for over a year before calling her old drug and alcohol counselor from after her parent’s divorce to ask for help. She went to Rogers in Oconomowoc for detox and a 30-day inpatient program.
“I wanted to be sober. I really did, I just wasn’t willing to do anything they told me I needed to do in order to obtain and keep that sobriety. I just wanted it to happen.”
After the program she went to live at a sober living house in Madison.
“I started to get into a routine with life, but the thought of drugs and wanting to use never went away.”
She says it was easy to make the decision to get high again.
“I didn’t think sobriety would ever happen for me. I saw people who were sober, and I thought it looked so easy.”
After she was kicked out of the sober living home Schmitz moved in with her mom and step-dad Kathy and Jason Forest in Lake Mills.
“Within months I was put on a plane and sent to Arizona to a treatment facility out there.”
The treatment was a 6-month sober living where Schmitz was expected to get a job, attend meetings, get a sponsor and work the steps.
“I made it two months there. I wasn’t capable of being honest with people. As a drug addict and an alcoholic, it is extremely hard to be honest. We get so used to lying about every detail of our lives.”
She wasn’t willing to follow the basic rules.
“I left the house and found somebody 2,000 miles away from home to buy drugs. That’s how easy it is to get it.”
After that it got even worse.
“I proved to myself I could dig so much deeper.”
Schmitz said because of Arizona’s proximity to Mexico many different types of drugs were available for cheap.
“I don’t recollect much from those eight months. It’s hard for me to remember anything at all. I was consistently high on heroin for eight months.”
After eight months someone who was also in recovery helped Schmitz get back into treatment. She was clean for another eight months.
“I was only willing to do certain things,” she said of her time being sober. “There are things that are asked of you; get a sponsor and go through the steps and once you get to that 12th step to be of service and to start sponsoring other women and give away what was so freely given to you. I didn’t want to do that.”
She found herself using again and she got pregnant.
“Even when I found out I was pregnant with my son I couldn’t stop using. It wasn’t enough to get me sober. I didn’t know how to quit.”
She used heroin for six months of her pregnancy.
“The only reason I stopped using was because her and her baby’s father moved to Green Bay.”
She didn’t make the effort to go out and find anyone to buy drugs from after the move.
Her pregnancy was high-risk, and Schmitz said she was very honest with her doctors about her drug use and alcoholism.
“He was born healthy on Jan. 4, 2016,” she said of her son.
After her son, Carter, was born Schmitz suffered with postpartum depression.
“I started harming myself and I started drinking very heavily.”
She gave up on herself and the relationship with her son’s father and moved back to Lake Mills to be near her family thinking it might make things easier.
“As soon as I moved back near Madison I picked up heroin on the drive to my mother’s house.”
Her life picked up where it left off before she stopped using.
“I was bringing my son with me to go pick up drugs. I was bringing my son around dangerous people. I was stealing money to afford my drug habit and working ridiculous hours to afford my drug habit.”
After she became a mother using drugs with her son around changed the experience for Schmitz.
“Using drugs when you have a child it emotionally breaks you down so quickly. You look at your child and know he didn’t deserve that. He didn’t deserve to be put in those situations or have a mother who is dependent on drugs.”
Having her son around made it more difficult to get high.
“He was getting in the way of what I wanted to do and what I needed to do to be OK and that was get high.”
In January 2018 Schmitz reached out to her mom and step-dad asking for help. They started to help Schmitz manage her money and they would drug test her, but she says she found ways around it.
“I found different ways of stealing money and it got to a point where I didn’t care anymore.”
In February 2018, current Lake Mills Police Chief Mick Selck dropped Schmitz off at treatment
“He took me in, so I could get cleared, because my mother and step-dad were out of town.”
Selck, who is friends with the Forest family, knew first-hand the situation. She was sent to Beacon House in Fond du Lac.
Schmitz has been sober since March 1, 2018.
“There was a time while I was there they told me I was on thin ice and I was on the verge of being kicked out. That’s when things got real. I realized if I get kicked out of here I have nowhere to go, my family is done with me. My son wasn’t taken from me, but he was taken by my parents to stay with his dad’s family. I realized if I don’t give this everything I’ve got I know what’s waiting for me.”
She says she wasn’t willing to live a life without her child.
After graduating from the program at Beacon House she went to a 6-month sober living program in Oshkosh.
“Like any person I have my good days and my bad days, and I struggle.”
Schmitz says addicts have no life skills. At 26-years-old she’s had to learn how to get a job and show up. She had to learn to make commitments and keep them, pay her bills and other basic life skills.
“I had no clue how to live without drugs or alcohol in my life.”
She now has her own apartment and full-time job working as a certified nursing assistant and is involved on the steering committee at the recovery club she attends.
“I am coming up on two years sober and I have my son back in my life.”
Schmitz has started school to study substance abuse counseling and transition to a social work or professional counseling program.
“I want to help other woman like me,” she said. “I’m very passionate about AA and what it does for people’s lives. This program and God have given me a life I never felt was possible.”
She is still working on rebuilding the relationships with her family.
“I have a very loving mom and dad and no matter how bad I was they were always there for me in some sense, but this time around all those personal relationships were destroyed. They were so done with me.”
It took over a year for her to gain their trust back.
“You can only watch someone kill themselves for so long.”
Now that she is in recovery her self image, the thing that started her down the road of drugs and alcohol all those years ago, has improved.
“Two years ago, I hated myself,” she said. “Today I’ve learned what self-love is. I’m able to look in the mirror and be OK with who I am. For the first time in my life I’m independent and I’m OK being by myself.”
Schmitz son is now 4-years-old, and he lives with her part of the time.
“I don’t want to put him back in a bad situation, but the plan is to have him back full time in the next couple months.
She is taking the time to really work on herself now, so she can be the best mom to her son.
“If I’m not OK I won’t be a good mother for him.”
Her son is her biggest motivation in her recovery.
“I grew up in an alcoholic home. My dad was drinking for the majority of my life and I love my dad, but I don’t want to raise my child in that environment.”
Helping other women with their sobriety is very important to Schmitz.
“I’m very involved in the recovery community here in Oshkosh.”
The most important thing to take away from her story Schmitz says is addicts can come from any background.
“It’s not talked about enough,” she said. “Hearing real stories from people who have been through hell and back and who have found recovery, I think it’s important to hear their story and their side.”
Schmitz shares her story to help others because it’s hard for a lot of people to understand addiction is a disease. Drugs and alcohol were the solution to her problems, she said.
“I did grow up in a good family with parents who encouraged me to do my best. I wish people could see past that I was a junkie. I didn’t grow up saying I’m going to be a heroin addict. I never thought that’s how my life was going to turn out. Unfortunately, I have a disease that is misunderstood by so many people. I’m not just some horrible person. I’m just like everybody else.”