When Rehab Interrupts Your Senior Year | KUOW News and Information

When Rehab Interrupts Your Senior Year

Sep 9, 2015

Anna Konsmo and best friend Payton Curtis are talking and laughing. They laugh together a lot.

Konsmo and Curtis, both 18, treasure that relationship even more now: Curtis spent part of her senior high school year in rehab for alcohol and drug abuse.

The two met at their sixth-grade orientation at Seattle Girls' School, and they hit it off right away. They giggled their way through middle school, trying their hands at makeup and talking to boys.

Their first experiment with alcohol was in eighth grade. They stole two beers from Curtis' dad's fridge. "We thought we were so cool, and we started drinking them," Konsmo remembered. "And we got caught at school because I guess we were talking about it and they overheard."

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That didn't stop them. As they moved on to Garfield High School, the pair started partying more and drinking hard alcohol – especially Curtis. Konsmo was usually the designated driver.

Senior year, things started to get much more serious. Curtis was skipping class to drink and do cocaine.

"The weekend would start on Thursday or Friday," explained Curtis. "I wouldn't really go to school. I'd start my day off by drinking and then blow through a bag of coke or something."

Curtis became more and more distant, and hid what was going on from her family. "They just thought I was really, really depressed," she remembered. "I was very secretive with them, and with everyone."

Even Konsmo didn't know about it. All she'd noticed was what she called "typical teenager partying," like breaking curfew or playing beer pong.  "So it wasn't like I was really deeply concerned. I knew that things were starting to get a little rocky, but I never really knew it was as bad as it was."

Then halfway through her senior year, when most of her friends were committing to colleges, Curtis just stopped going to school altogether.

I just remember I didn't see a purpose in my life anymore.

"I just remember I really didn't see a purpose in my life anymore," she said. "I only applied to one school, and it was the one that was easiest to get into." It was also a school where Curtis knew she'd be able to keep partying.

She'd been seeing a therapist for some time. After a couple of weeks of not going to school, she finally decided to confide in him the extent of her substance use. Her therapist said that it wasn't something he suggested often, but he thought Curtis should go to rehab immediately.

"I was like, holy sh-t, I probably should," Curtis recalled.

She came home from therapy and told her dad everything. He called her mom and sister over to the house. Many frantic calls and emails later, Curtis had a plane ticket booked for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Minnesota.

The only person she told outside of her family was her best friend. Konsmo remembers getting that call. "I was really shocked," she said. "I was like, wow, that's really impressive and brave of her to be able to make that change in her life."

Curtis stayed at rehab for over three months. It was the longest she'd ever been away from home. At first she felt like she didn't belong there, but then she began to realize how serious her situation had actually gotten.

"I kind of do the thing where it's like, I'm fine, everything's fine," Curtis said. "And then it's like, 'You're in rehab right now. You're not fine, nothing's fine.'"

Back in Seattle, Konsmo felt alone without her best friend. "No one's the same as Payton," she said. 

"It was always so fun when we'd talk on the phone," Konsmo went on, "and we'd always gossip and I'd tell her about everything that's been going on in Seattle, and she'd tell me about her rehab ..."

"... And all the drama happening!" Curtis finished.

I'm doing so much more for myself than if I stayed in high school. I don't know where I'd be if I didn't get sober.

The year went on, and Konsmo stopped going to as many parties. She shopped for her prom dress and committed to the University of Oregon.

Curtis was still halfway across the country. She was watching what her life could have been like from afar.

"I definitely feel like I missed out on some stuff," Curtis said. "But it's like, I'm doing so much more for myself than if I stayed in high school. I don't know where I'd be if I didn't get sober."

Curtis was cleared to leave rehab in May. She saw Konsmo before she saw her own mother.

"And then we just embraced," Konsmo said. "For so long. It was a glorious moment."

After returning from rehab, Payton Curtis (left) was able to graduate with best friend Anna Konsmo.
Credit Credit Courtesy of Payton Curtis

Curtis had finished her high school classes in rehab. She was able to graduate with Konsmo.

"It was like saying goodbye to this huge chapter in my life," said Curtis of their graduation, "and that includes high school and also just, like, me and my drinking and who I used to be."

Curtis regularly attends meetings to stay sober and is now studying at the Art Institute of Seattle. She said that she'll remember 2015 as the year she stopped caring so much about what other people think about her and really started doing something for herself.

Now when Curtis and Konsmo hang out, they just talk and listen to music, with no drugs or alcohol. Curtis said they laugh harder than they used to.

Konsmo is headed off to Oregon soon. When asked if they thought they'd stay friends, the two answered together.

"I hope that we're always this close," said Curtis. "Anna's been through all my highs and all my lows ... I don't know what I would've done without her."

"Yeah," added Konsmo. "I'm sure we'll stay friends."

RadioActive Youth Media is KUOW's program for youth age 16-20ish. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.