Los Angeles Times

Traveling the road to recovery

Growing up in Costa Mesa, Karli Kuhns was like any other kid.

She played soccer and loved hanging out with her younger brother. She attended Ensign Intermediate and Newport Harbor high schools.

However, as Kuhns approached adolescence, her attention veered. She talked back to teachers and her grades weren't something she bragged about.

In seventh grade, when offered alcohol and marijuana, she tried both. By her freshman year of high school, Kuhn was injecting speed.

"I started having seizures from it in my P.E. class," Kuhns said. "I feel like I didn't even think twice about it."

On Feb. 9, 2009, during an intervention by her family on "Dr. Phil," Kuhns faced her addiction to heroin and left for treatment.

On Wednesday, Kuhns will appear on "Dr. Phil" again — this time to update him on her sobriety.

"I never thought I could get sober. I tried so many times," said Kuhns, now 21. "It's so crazy how different my life is."

It was not an easy road. Although she had tons of friends, Kuhns never felt comfortable in her own skin and sought to medicate herself with drugs.

"Growing up, I always felt depressed. I never liked myself," she said. "I was always feeling less than — ugly or fat. I felt out of place."

Shortly after her seizure, she attended rehab for the first time. Afterward, she started dating a boy who introduced her to heroin. She didn't want to take speed because of the seizures.

From then on, she used heroin almost daily.

"I couldn't stop overdosing," she said. "Drugs weren't working for me anymore."

Kuhns had always known she was adopted and that her biological family had history of drug abuse.

"I never thought of it like (I was) ending up that way," she said.

But then she realized that she was indeed like the others.

Her adoptive mother wrote a letter to the show, asking for Dr. Phil's help. Two days later, she received a call. Kuhns was led to think her intervention taping was actually a show on adopted children, so she agreed to go.

Dr. Phil's staff sent Kuhns to La Hacienda in Kerrville, Texas, where she received treatment from December 2009 to March 2010.

Kuhns, who now speaks candidly about her former life as an addict, credits the show for her sobriety.

She knew that heroin wasn't an easy drug to kick. In the last four years, she's lost 10 friends to the drug.

"One of my friends that I used with … his little brother died last week," she said. "He was only 17."

Another good friend of hers died recently at age 29.

"I feel like I'm staying sober for him, too, because he can't be here," she said.

Today, she waits tables in Laguna Beach and hopes to attend nursing school someday.

In between shifts, Kuhns spends her days working the 12-step program and inspiring others to consider recovery.

"Pretty much everyone in this town knows that I'm sober, and that they can come to me," she said.

Kuhns has a few friends who are struggling with the 12 steps. She tells them to call her and offers to drive them to meetings. She regularly meets with her sponsor, other people in the program and high school friends trying to maintain sobriety.

"It's weird, because I was such a selfish person," she said. "I just cared about drugs and getting high, and now since rehab, I just care about helping others."

Kuhns isn't worried about seeing herself on TV again. She is simply appreciative of her new life.

"It was the best thing I've ever done," she said.

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