Whenever Katie Kukuk tells someone she used to be addicted to drugs, the typical responses are disbelief and shock.
Kukuk shared her story Wednesday with recovering addicts, their families and local advocates at the fourth annual Rock for Recovery event at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds.
She was one of three recovering addicts who shared their stories.
“It really can hit anyone,” Kukuk said. “The best of people can fall to addiction.”
Kukuk remembers crying in the bathtub with her mother years ago, pledging to change her life. She’s now the manager of a sales company, living a life she never thought she could have after battling addiction.
“We get so caught up. We do bad things and we get in trouble. It could be with our families, our friends or even the law. This causes people to believe that they can’t and will never amount to anything,” she said.
Kukuk said she proved herself wrong and that she hopes others struggling with addiction get help.
Micheal Coleman knows the struggle well.
The Janesville resident has a physical disability that required medication. He struggled with an addiction to painkillers for a decade before changing his life, he told The Gazette in an interview.
Wednesday’s event reminded him how far he has come.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve suffered from depression,” he said. “Suicide has been attempted quite a few times in my life.”
Coleman sought treatment and tried to separate himself from bad influences in his life, deleting them from his Facebook and phone. He relapsed an estimated 20 times before finding the right balance, but his four kids provided the motivation he needed.
“I battled all of that and addiction for a long time up until a couple years ago, and then I put that aside. My kids really saved my life.”
Coleman said he hopes to educate others and someday become a public speaker on addiction. He remembers feeling alone, but he wants others to keep fighting and get help.
“If I could do it, you can do it. … Find a new hobby, stick to it and live your dreams.”
Erin Davis with Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change helped organize Rock for Recovery, which also featured a memorial walk and information and resources on addiction. A candlelight vigil was held for people who have died from addiction and for those still fighting.
Davis hopes community members educate themselves about addiction.
“What surprises me most is still the number of people who don’t understand that addiction is a disease, and it’s not something that somebody could control. Because if they could, they would,” she said.
Tara Johnson, who also spoke Wednesday, has been sober for 24 years. She began using at 13 and was a “functioning addict” by 18.
Recovery isn’t easy, Johnson said, and addicts need their families and friends.
“For family members, when you think that you’re just going to wipe your hands and you have to walk away, try one more time.”