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I was 13 when I first experimented with drugs. Fourteen when I was regularly getting high. Seventeen when I was kicked out of my father’s house.

When most kids were learning to drive, I was learning how to smoke and sniff.

While my friends were getting ready for prom, I was getting ready for my fifth Oxycontin that day.

When I finally got kicked out of my house, I moved in with my then-boyfriend and began selling drugs to support my addiction. My father, my family and close friends told me that I was an addict, but I couldn’t see for myself. When you’re dealing with a disease like addiction, you can’t move forward until you diagnose yourself. You need to realize, on your own terms, the next hit you take could be the reason you take your last breath.

In four short years, I had gone from your average teenage girl to selling drugs every day just to score my next hit. My life revolved around the next time I could feel the Oxycontin pulsing through my bloodstream. It was during this time I was arrested for selling and possession and faced the possibility of spending the next few years of my life behind bars.

In my darkest moment, I was given my second chance. A second chance at life, a second chance at happiness and a second chance at clarity around my disease when I was issued a court-order rehabilitation and detox treatment. My freedom depended on me getting clean. For once, the consequences weren’t whether I was going to be sleeping on the street but whether I would be sleeping in a prison cell. Being able to recognize this small act of mercy and opportunity changed my life forever.

These kinds of second chances are what I live for now. It’s what I have decided to dedicate my career to. From morning until night, every single day, I am fighting for breaks and scholarships for those who need them most — for that 17-year-old girl looking for the next hit or the 25-year-old father “trickin’” for a cap of fentanyl. Stories like mine happen a lot less than you think. I have met so many amazing people who haven’t received their second chance just as I have met amazing people who took their second chance and put it to waste.

My best friend, Kelly, is the most heartbreaking example. She was not just addicted to the drugs, but to the lifestyle. She was full of life, full of energy and always kept it real. It was Kelly who showed me true love and true heartbreak. The experience that I had trying to help Kelly truly embodies the journey that a drug addict has to endure. Kelly was about to enter a sober home after a two-week stay in a detox center when I got a devastating phone call.

Kelly was found dead, lifeless on the sidewalk from an overdose.

The road to redemption is far from easy. It takes you to alleys and corners that you would have never expected to be in. Parking lots behind supermarkets, abandoned homes or the local park become the homes of so many addicts nationwide. Think of the last time you saw an addict: What was the first thought that crossed your mind? Perhaps it wasn’t a positive one. Maybe you overlooked them, and didn’t anything at all. But it’s important to remember that these are ordinary people who have deep internal struggles that are often overlooked.

The fight against drugs surrounds you on a daily basis if you know where to look. One night, I was walking down a South Florida street and heard a “death rattle” — the respiratory sounds that can often occur right before death. It came from Chris: a father, an addict, a person who just needed a second chance.

Narcan, CPR, chest compressions, more CPR. This is what it took to save this man’s life. It’s why I roam the streets of Florida: to give men like Chris a second chance.

After reviving Chris and admitting him into a hospital, he checked out against medical advice and wound up back on the streets that same night. Eventually, Chris found a way out of the darkness.

He found a road to freedom that so many addicts have trouble traveling down. To take that road is not an easy choice to make. There are struggles like severe depression, relentless anxiety, homelessness, starvation, weather conditions and health, to name a few.

Education is a vital part of shifting the mindset around the opioid epidemic. And it’s through coming together, uniting and believing in second chances that we can make an impact that saves a life. These learnings are the focus of my new foundation called Kelly Anne’s Angels. Named and dedicated after my best friend, I will be raising money for recovering addicts and their care. The organization will offer classes on finding a job, free beauty care, education, and therapy to help deal with life after addiction.

There is nothing like having a chance at life. I hope my work around addiction resonates across the country and encourages people to be more compassionate, understanding and put love before judgement.

Allie Severino is featured on Viceland’s “Dopesick Nation.” Watch episodes here.

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