SALT LAKE CITY — Maddy Cardon almost never made it to the peaceful place where she meditates by a waterfall.
"I was going to die a junkie," she said. "That was just the bottom line."
After using Oxycontin when she was 16, Cardon tried heroin. "That first time I used heroin it was like I had arrived," she said.
When she went away to college in California her addiction worsened.
"I just couldn't stop," Cardon said. "I would use when I was happy. I would use when I was sad. I would use if I had a relationship, if I was single."
At 18, Cardon overdosed.
"I was up in the sky and looking down at my body, and it was being rushed into a stretcher," she said. "I had like a moment where I could decide that I could do things differently. But that wasn't enough to keep me clean."
Cardon went through detox and to rehab, but left.
That's when she saw an early trailer for a film by independent documentary filmmaker Jenny Mackenzie, whose work is deeply personal.
MacKenzie, who lives in Salt Lake City, said, "When our middle daughter was in high school she got into prescription opiate abuse after she had had her third knee surgery. For me, it was one of the darkest times in our family's life."
The film, "Dying in Vein," profiles a family grieving the loss of their son and an ER doctor working to save patients. They didn't have anyone trying to get clean until Cardon came along.
"I've always had this strong desire to help other people, and that never went away even when I was using," Cardon said.
Cardon became a part of the film when she was 22. "We were selling drugs," she said. "I was doing sketchy things to make money to feed my addiction."
"We followed Maddy through a phase when she was in active addiction, in the throes of addiction, and then we followed her through detox," Mackenzie said.
Cardon has been clean for more than two years. What ultimately worked for her was a wilderness program.
"My heart is in it with her, as a director and as a mother and as a woman," Mackenzie said. "And seeing this really beautiful flower bloom in front of my eyes."
Cardon now tells her story through film screenings for high school students, and she works at Pinnacle Recovery, a residential treatment program.
She and Mackenzie hope their film sparks conversations that will lead to awareness and action that saves lives.