BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – “I’m Charlie. I’m a recovering addict, but I’m also a mom and an employee, a good employee, and a sister and a daughter and a friend, and I’m someone who is willing to help and able to because I’m sober.”
This is how Bakersfield native Charlie Stonebraker introduced herself, 20 months clean and sober from her opioid addiction.
The 36-year-old said getting on the road to recovery took many years and heartbreaks and surviving two overdoses.
Stonebraker said her introduction to substances was at age 12 through beer and vodka. She then took her first painkillers when she was 16, following a car accident.
But what she used to mitigate pain was eventually used to help her feel high. Painkillers eventually became fentanyl and crystal meth.
“For me, once I put any of substance in my body, the next most important thing is getting more,” Stonebraker said.
She told 17 News she’d always wanted to be a mother. At 21, she became one, having a son.
And while she stopped using while pregnant and during his childhood, Stonebraker fractured her neck and was reintroduced to painkillers at 27.
This is when her tolerance of — and addiction to — drugs grew.
“It was devastating really, and I had a really hard time at first coming to terms with the guilt and shame from almost leaving my son, almost leaving him without a mother,” Stonebraker said.
She called opioid addiction “a dark and powerful disease.”
“I was fired from a job that I loved very much and was good at until I wasn’t,” Stonebraker explained. “I asked my mom to take my son because I realized that was no longer the safest option for him […] I was no longer able to afford my home, and so I just felt defeated, I felt lost, I felt scared.”
Stonebraker eventually found herself homeless at 32 and distanced from a family she said had loved her dearly her whole life.
But she used for the entirety of the two years she lived on the streets and first got her hands on crystal meth during this time.
Stonebraker also overdosed twice on fentanyl, once at 33 and then at 34.
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, brought her back both times. This is a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose.
“At a point, you do realize I can’t stay awake, I can’t keep myself awake, I can’t function, I couldn’t articulate…” Stonebraker said, as she recalled how she felt during the overdoses.
“I don’t want to die. I want to live and I want to see my son again. I think that was the most prominent thing on my mind.”
Stonebraker said she realized her high tolerance and long-time use of opioids didn’t evade her of danger.
“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it or what amount you take,” she said. “You never know. Kids trying to experiment with something like that, the first time can be the last time.”
After her near-death experiences and witnessing many others on the streets endure the same dangers, Charlie decided to seek help.
“I’d been dealing with a lot of trauma [on the streets], especially there at the end,” Stonebraker said. “I saw many people overdose, I [administered Narcan to] many people, I had to give CPR to many people.”
She added: “I had wanted to get clean and sober for a very long time. I just didn’t know how… Some people you have to reach rock bottom, and for me, that was it.”
Stonebraker’s road to recovery started with detox, then inpatient rehabilitation and a 12-step program for addiction treatment, which she is still part of.
It’s all led to the smiling Charlie of today, who joins in on family holidays, watches her son’s high school football games and savors scrumptious sandwiches with her boyfriend, whom she met in recovery.
She told 17 News seeking help was the best thing she could’ve done.
“Stay connected to someone, ask someone for help,” Stonebraker encouraged. “There are a lot of resources out there, and if you are willing to get help and you can just get past the shame of asking…”
Stonebraker said she didn’t ask for help when she should have, because of that shame and guilt.
Now, she’s paying it forward, sponsoring other women through 12-step programs and talking at recovery homes.
And so is her boyfriend. He too is an advocate and interprets in sign language for others in recovery.
“It’s my obligation, it’s my honor to spread awareness, to help in recovery,” Stonebraker said.
Experts say because an overdose is a medical emergency, you must seek appropriate medical care, even after being revived via Narcan.
Because of California’s Good Samaritan Law, you can’t get in trouble for administering Narcan. So, experts say don’t hesitate to call for help, and save someone’s life.
According to Kern County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, opioids and fentanyl are accounting for most overdoses here in Kern.
In 2021, there were nearly 500 overdoses in the county, with half related to fentanyl.