Drug addiction affects people of all races, ages and walks of life. A Toms River woman who spent a large portion of her twenties and thirties on-and-off addicted to drugs was able to exorcise her demons and has turned her life around.

Holly Santore will be turning 40 years old later this year but before she does, she takes a look back at the route she took to get there including all the peaks and valleys as she approaches a milestone.

Holly dealt with a lot of growing pains as an only child and a teenager in Toms River which included being bullied.

"I was bullied a lot when I was in school," Santore said. "I couldn't mentally handle being made fun of."

At home, she watched love break apart when her parents divorced.

"I had often used drugs recreationally through my late teens and my early 20's whether it was smoking pot or drinking on and off and doing Ecstasy. I always tried something," Santore said. "When I was 27-years old, my parents got divorced and my father got remarried and moved up to Nutley."

What made things tougher was Santore's dad battled with alcoholism, drug addiction and a mental illness that brought on multiple suicide attempts...until his final attempt where he overdosed on Vicodin.

"It was at that moment that I felt like I had died along with him," Santore said.

It was shortly after his death that Holly was at the dentist who prescribed her Vicodin following a wisdom teeth extraction.

Holly became hooked, using it to numb the pain in her life she had been bottling up for years.

"When I took the first pill I felt this feeling come over me that not only made the physical pain go away but the emotional and mental pain I had felt as well," Santore said.

It was her dentist who made the discovery that she was calling in her own prescriptions and that's when she went to rehab...but not for long.

"During that time I went to one rehabilitation center but I knew what to say to get out of there and I was out in 9-days," Santore said.

There was a period of sobriety however when she found out there was a life inside of her.

"A few months later I found myself pregnant with my son (Nicholas) and for the next year I remained clean," Santore said.

Four months after giving birth though, she fell off the wagon.

"My then husband was very abusive, he would call me names...it was just a horrible relationship," Santore said. "I had heard about people talking about the 'cocaine diet' and I wanted to lose the (baby weight) weight and I sought out certain people to find that and I ended up getting addicted to cocaine at that point."

Her cocaine use led to an addiction of MDMA and heroin.

"When I moved into my apartment I had a house warming party and my cocaine had run out and somebody said they had something that would 'take the edge off' and that was the first time that I had used heroin," Santore said.

That's when her story took a turn.

"Within a matter of four months I had lost everything," Santore said. "I had to move back in with my mother and for the next two years I was 'ripping and running'."

The Division of Child Protection and Permanency took away her son during that time and restricting her to only supervised visits, "but his father let me have him during the week and he would go with him on the weekends."

She then cut communication with her son and her mother all together.

"In June of 2014, he had asked me to go the beach and I said 'ok, we'll go just let mommy go to the doctor and I'll be back' and I remember backing out of my mothers driveway and he was standing in the door with this huge smile on his face and he was waving. I stopped the car, looked over and I saw him and said there's no way I could keep doing this to him," Santore said. "I knew at that point I was going to either end up dead or in jail and to be quite honest I didn't care at that point."

Suddenly she was alone.

"When I got down to the corner of my mother's street I called her and I told her I wasn't coming back," Santore said. "For the next four months I lived out of my car."

She would park her car at the Bay Head Train Station and go to an Exxon station across the street and get changed or brush her teeth before heading up north to find her next fix.

While this was all going on and unbeknownst to her, was that her mother was working on a plan to have Holly arrested...for her own good.

"She was working with a detective in Ocean County and was trying to have a warrant put out for me because she knew that was the only way I was going to be stopped," Santore said. "She said she would rather get a phone call that was in jail rather than the morgue."

Holly was arrested in October of 2014 and brought to the Ocean County Jail.

Holly Santore of Toms River mugshot taken on October 5, 2014. (Rebecca Smith/Holly Santore)
Holly Santore of Toms River mugshot taken on October 5, 2014. (Rebecca Smith/Holly Santore)

"There was a judge there, Judge (James) Blaney, and he saw that I had only been three weeks clean by the time I had seen him and he kept me in the jail and ordered a task evaluation," Santore said.

It was the intervention of her mother that got her arrested and the efforts of Judge Blaney that helped her get clean, but it was the Christmas wish of a 5-year old that made her give up drugs.

"When I called my son on Christmas Eve I said 'Hi Honey, how are you? Are you excited that Santa is coming?' and I asked him what he asked Santa for for presents and he said to me 'Mommy, instead of presents can Santa just bring you home for Christmas morning?'...and it was at that moment that I knew I had to change, that something had to change."

Nicholas had saved his mom's life.

"I heard that voice and...instead of presents all he wants is me home for Christmas morning," Santore said. "I didn't know how or what I was going to do, I just knew that somehow I had to find a way to deal with everything that I had gone through and get myself better because there was a little person that was depending on me."

Children are very impressionable and see or hear some things they don't quite understand when they're just a few years old, Nicholas was one of those children curious about what was going on.

"He was told about two-years ago over his summer break," Santore said. "We had always told him that I was in the hospital, he did not know up until two years ago that I was in jail and that I was an addict but my mother and I had decided to sit down and talk to him because we wanted him to hear it from me."

She said he was very curious as to what her experience in jail was like and if the food was good but overall he seemed relieved he heard the truth.

"I teach him that 'no matter what you be honest' and he is very honest," Santore said.

On January 12, 2015 the Judge sent Holly to Turning Point in Paterson where she completed a 28-day program that she found challenging in a lot of ways because she had to figure out how to deal with the pain she'd been numbing for years with drugs and find peace while sober.

"I gave it my all because I was ready and I wanted it," Santore said.

While sober now she realized the temptation to do drugs again doesn't go away.

"Recovery is a life long thing, you don't just recover and then you're done," Santore said. "Addiction is a beast and it lies dormant in you and if you don't take care of yourself it's going to resurface."

Holly remains clean, is now engaged, has two daughters (2-year old Aliyah and 9-month old Samantha) and is also helping others as a peer recovery specialist for NJ Connect For Recovery, that provides a safe, nonjudgmental place for individuals and family members to get immediate support, counseling and assistance from trained peer counselors on substance use issues.

NJ Connect For Recovery can be reached at 855-652-3737.

NJCR is a service of the Mental Health Association of New Jersey and connects people in need across the state to addiction and recovery resources including for family members looking for help and information on how to navigate insurance coverage for putting someone in a rehabilitation program, as well as the recovery support groups offered at MHANJ Ocean County, where Holly Santore now works as a recovery specialist.

You can listen to Holly Santore share her story on Townsquare Media's Jersey Shore Journal on Sunday March 24 at 5:00 am on 92.7-WOBM FM and Beach Radio 1160/1310 AM as well as at 5:30 am on 94.3ThePoint and 105.7TheHawk.

More From 105.7 The Hawk