Born Into Hepatitis C: Change Your Environment, Change Your Life


Sheryl Johnson

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Sheryl Johnson

After battling with drug addiction, Sheryl was diagnosed with hepatitis C.

I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My dad passed away when I was three months old. My mom and stepdad took care of me and my 10 siblings. My mother thought she was just being a strict disciplinarian, but she was abusive—verbally, emotionally and physically. We didn’t know it right away, but she was dealing and using drugs. In the end, she managed to get clean and sober and turned out to be the best mom ever. But it was a rough start.

On top of this, by the time I turned 12, a close friend of our family started giving me a lot of attention. This man was supposed to be my guardian and he molested and raped me. I was too young to realize it wasn’t right or normal. It wasn’t until I heard something on TV about sexual abuse I knew any better.

I was always trying to be a good kid, go to church and do my best in school. But as a young girl, it was truly difficult to escape from my abusive, dysfunctional home environment. In an effort to cope, I quickly followed my mom down the path to drugs.

By my early teenage years, I’d moved from marijuana to pills to intravenous drugs. It seemed like my only option early on. I couldn’t physically escape from my environment, but with drugs, at least I could escape mentally.

Leaving a Lifestyle of Drugs

I was an intravenous drug user for the next 10 to 15 years—not every day though; there were periods of time when I was clean, but I continued to fall back into the habit.  I had two daughters of my own and because of them, I tried to keep my addiction under wraps. I was a functional junkie.

Of course, I didn’t want to be doing drugs in the first place. But it wasn’t until I was 27 years old that I was finally able to leave that lifestyle behind for good.

I wanted things in life. I wanted things to be better for my daughters. I wanted to get myself together so I could help others who were struggling with drugs.

I went to treatment centers, I participated in AA and had a sponsor. But as it turned out, helping other people really helped me get myself together.

I started out as a VISTA volunteer, which stands for Volunteers in Service to America—a national service program that aims to bring people out of poverty. Later I also got involved in an HIV outreach program. The trick for me was surrounding myself with positive people who offered encouragement. For years, I had cravings, but it’s your actions that determine whether you’ll use or not. And your actions are determined by your environment and the people around you. Getting involved in the community helps keep you occupied. It’s helped me stay clean and sober since 1992.

Sheryl emphasizes the importance of seeking out help when battling hepatitis C.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 16, 2015

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