When Christine Walton, now 24, was in high school, she played sports, graduated among the top six of her class -- and was headed to Hunter College on a full, four-year academic scholarship.
Walton's future was bright. Until she tried heroin. And lost everything.
Her drug use, Walton said, began when she was 16, and started "drinking and smoking weed."
After she graduated, Walton, who now receives counseling at the Maryhaven Center of Hope in Riverhead, said she started dating a young man who sold marijuana and other drugs.
Walton, who lives in Center Moriches and graduated from high school there, said her drug use escalated. "It progressed to me trying other drugs and partying all the time -- then I was involved in the selling, too. It just escalated and I was meeting more people and into that whole scene."
Soon, Walton was arrested, the first time, charged with possession of marijuana, a violation-- a "slap on the wrist," she said. In 2008 , she was charged with misdemeanor assualt after an altercation with another girl.
"By October, 2008, my drug use escalated to doing heroin -- that was the worst decision I could have made. It literally sucks you in and just becomes your life," she said.
Before heroin, Walton said she had "messed around" with cocaine, ecstacy, Molly. "I never went overboard. At parties, I was always drinking and smoking. But once I tried heroin, that's all I did. My daily life just revolved around it."
Trying to balance her worsening addiction and juggle commuting to college classes in New York after partying proved too challenging; Walton ended up failing due to lack of attendance.
She enrolled in Suffolk County Community College for a semester. "I was a month away from finishing the semester; I had been doing well in all my classes, but I withdrew, because the addiction took over," she said.
Trying to go to school and work and manage her addiction just "became too much," Walton said.
Living with her mother and sister, Walton said her mom became suspicious. Eventually, her father found the heroin bags in her room and she confessed to snorting and injecting heroin intravenously.
Her family told Walton she was headed to rehab. "Right away, I said, 'I don't need it,'" she said. "My initial reaction was that I could do it on my own."
In February, 2009, Walton, who was still on probation from her earlier arrest, failed a drug test after her probation officer found drugs in her room. She was mandated to attend outpatient rehab.
"It was the best thing that could have have happened because on my own, I wasn't ready. At least that pushed me into it," she said.
The years since have been a spinning carousel of rehabs -- as Walton fell on and off the proverbial wagon and tried inpatient, outpatient and rehab at Phoenix House, a rehabilitation organization.
Walton violated her probation before leaving Phoenix House and was sentenced to six months at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside, where she served four months.
She was 19 years old.
Of incarceration, she said, "It was definitely an intense experience." Walton said she passed the time by drawing, reading, and playing cards.
Once released, with a "clean slate," and no probation, Walton said within a month, she was using again. "I stayed clean for a little bit but I didn't get into a recovery program and soon I was talking to old friends who were still doing the same things. It was just a matter of time before I ended up in trouble with the law."
Walton was arrested and charged with petty larceny after she stole a case of beer from the supermarket. "I was so stupid," she said.
Next, she was driving a friend's car without a license, she said, and "accidentally blew a red light." Pulled over by police, she was found to have heroin in her possession; she alleged her friend put crack in her bag. In addition, she was charged with criminal impersonation for "lying about her name," because she had no license.
She was also charged with possession of a controlled subtance in the seventh degree and possession of a hypodermic needle.
After spending 30 days in jail, Walton was once again offered probation. After missing a court date, a warrant was issued and she was arrested and spent nine days in jail before being sent to inpatient rehab at the Long Island Center for Recovery in Hampton Bays.
"When I got out, I ended up using," she said. "I was faking my urine tests for probation so they'd be clean."
Her life, Walton said, became stressful, hiding from probation officers who she was afraid would come to her house and find her in violation.
By January of 2012, when probation officers came to her home, "I wasn't expecting it," Walton said. "I ended up admitting everything -- that I'd been using. I told them I really needed help. I was at the point where my lifestyle was so stressful it was a relief to tell them the truth."
Walton was sent back to rehab. "They gave me the chance, which was awesome," she said.
Looking back on the grim whirlwind, Walton said she has regrets. "I turned 21 when I was in jail," she said. "It's those little things -- I was missing things that you look forward to celebrating, if you were living a normal lifestyle."
She recalled another arrest, which occurred afer living in a sober house in Brentwood. A warrant was out for her arrest because she'd been "kicked out" of rehab.
Someone alerted the police to her location, she said, and Walton said she was arrested for violating probation and served 90 days.
In 2012, once released, she was released and by June, "I was selling heroin," she said. "At that point the habit had escalated to the worst I ever was. I was doing two bundles a day -- 20 bags." If she had been buying the drugs from a dealer, that amount would have cost $200 per day, Walton said.
"It's insane how much much money I've wasted in the past four years -- just thrown away. And I have nothing to show for it except for a horrible addiction," Walton said.
Reaching the end of what she could bear, Walton called the East End Methadone Clinic in Riverhead and was waiting for her scheduled appointment.
One week before her appoinment, she was home at 2 a.m. when a friend called. "He asked, 'Can you hook me up?' I should have listened to my gut and gone to bed," she said.
But Walton went to meet him and was in his car for seconds when the car was pulled over. She was found to be in possession of 14 bags of heroin, as well as marijuana and suboxone, used to treat opiate addiction.
Walton was arrested again. "One week before my appointment, when I was ready to start a new chapter. It was devastating."
The judge offered Walton the chance to participate in the East End Regional Interventional Court, informally called the "drug court," and she said her life has been transformed.
"It's amazing. I'm surprised at how well I'm doing," she said. Since October, she said, all her urine samples have been clean, and she has been attending therapy at the Maryhaven Center for Hope. Methadone, she added, has helped, too. "I went from a two bundle a day habit to doing nothing."
John Corbett, Walton's counselor at Maryhaven, said she is a "good patient" who has responded well to treatment and is a success story.
Now working in retail, she is thriving in her position and making her sales goals.
Today, Walton also attends meetings and has a home group and a sponsor.
"I couldn't be happier about the way things are going," she said.
Her voice filled with tears, she continued. "For a while, it got to the point where I didn't even believe in myself, that I could do it. That's why I'm so happy right now -- because I am doing it."
Reconnected with her high school best friend, Walton said she revels in doing "normal things," like shopping for clothes.
"It's awesome," she said. "It's such a good feeling to finally be on this path."
Dreams of college have once again become something Walton can grasp. "I would love to go back to school," she said.
Walton realized just how close she came to losing everything that matters. "Many people end up losing their lives to this. I knew that I was not far, if I continued down that path. It's inevitable -- there are three things that can happen. Jail, institutions -- and death."
Drugs, she said, stole her spirit. "They took away my relationships. Drugs took away my dreams."
Although the high was initally thrilling, "It was just temporary and synthetic," she said. "Fake. I was just a zombie, living life for this drug, and nothing else mattered. The worst part is I hurt so many people."
Today, Walton is back at home with her mother and sisters and their relationships are strong.
The holidays this year, Walton said, had an added lustre. "In the past, I was either not around or in jail. And if I was there, my family got me gifts, even though I felt I didn't deserve them. I felt awful because I had no money to buy them gifts -- or I had spent the money on drugs."
This year, Walton said, was different. "I went out and did my Christmas shopping and got them gifts. It felt so awesome to say, 'This one's from me.'"
To young teens thinking about trying heroin, Walton has advice. "It's not worth it. I tell people I know who want to try heroin, 'Don't do it.' It will change your whole life. It's a life ruiner."
Her personal "bottom" was hit, Walton said, when she found it impossible to live a normal life and support her habit. "The two just couldn't meet," she said. "I got to a point where I said, 'This is enough. I can't keep doing this. I wanted to live again."
Next, Patch will examine how heroin has changed the landscape of drug use for teens in Riverhead -- and on Long Island. Stay tuned for the next article in this series.