To those who love someone struggling with addiction, please don’t abandon them.

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I am a 26-year-old female. I graduated from one of Boston’s best universities, received my Master’s Degree one year early, grew up with a wonderful family, had great friends and a boyfriend I loved. Is this your idea of someone who would become addicted to heroin? Do I fit with your description of heroin addict?

Before the age of 24 drugs were not on my radar. It would never have occurred to me – or anyone who knew me – that I would one day become a heroin addict. The past few years have taught me that heroin does not discriminate. I did a lot of things while using heroin that I would not dream of doing today. I destroyed relationships with family members and friends. I lost jobs and stole from people I loved. For a long time, I didn’t care about anything except how to find and buy heroin. Those actions were done by someone who was sick and addicted to something more powerful than you could imagine. Stigma implies I should feel shame…. but I do not. I am grateful and proud I made it out alive.

I am sober right now and in recovery. For the first time in three years I feel like myself again.

At the beginning of my recovery, my counselor suggested I make a list every day of simple things I would like to accomplish.

At first my list was incredibly short:

  1. Wake up and get out of bed.
  2. Brush teeth and wash face.
  3. Shower (maybe).
  4. Eat

I struggled to do the things most people do automatically.  I had to teach myself how to be a functional adult all over again. As my mind had become consumed by opiates I had forgotten how to simply live.

Before touching an opiate, I never thought about what made me happy. I went to class, I hung out with my friends, I went out — I didn’t have to search for ‘happy’. Now, as I am in recovery, I find myself thinking a lot about happiness. I see people walking down the street and I ask myself, “How are they just happy?”. I am not sad or depressed– but for the first time in my life, I must think hard about the meaning of joy and what I want out of this life. I fight the urge to use on a daily basis. I constantly remind myself that if I stay sober, eventually I’ll feel like ‘me’ again and be like those people I watch living life “normally” and feeling happiness naturally.

Had I known how powerful opiates were, I would have never tried that first Percocet. Had I known that small little pill would lead me to sniffing heroin so that I could function normally without being sick, my life would be completely different today.  I had no idea the power and control opiates would wield over my life. The life that I once loved became a living hell. Every part of my existence was completely controlled by the heroin. Even when I had it, I would obsess over how I’d get more. My life revolved around this insidious drug and trying to find ways to get it so I could go to work and not be sick – wondering how to stop without my parents knowing I didn’t ‘have the flu’ when I was withdrawing.

No matter how badly I wanted to stop, my mind was a prisoner to this drug. It was an obsession I could not control. Even when I fought the mental obsession, the physical effects were so awful I would give in and use to end the withdrawals– the runny nose, the sweating, the chills, the restless legs, the inability to sleep for weeks, the headaches, the lack of energy, hope and motivation. No matter how badly I wanted to end the addiction, the mental and physical obsession won every time.

I recently read an article, I stood by my brother while he battled heroin, that stood out from other articles flooding the internet about heroin and addiction. The author of the article had a brother who she knew was addicted to heroin, and yet she never gave up on him.  As an addict, I can say first-hand, people typically want nothing to do with you. You have no support. You have no one left to call who make you feel like someone still cares about you. Reading her article made me jealous of the support she gave her brother. I am in recovery and I still hear my mom talk to others about the shame and the embarrassment my addiction caused her. If I had someone in my life during my addiction who didn’t abandon and judge me, but who actually supported me, perhaps my recovery would have been easier ….  it very likely would have happened sooner…

I went through hell while battling addiction and I will never look down on those who are still struggling. A few weeks ago, I visited a friend in the ICU who had overdosed. I went straight home from the hospital and hugged my parents. I told them how sorry I was to have made them worry and wait for the phone call they feared – their daughter in the ICU or dead.  A few days ago I found out my friend had recovered and was released from the hospital…. and he was asking everyone he knew if they could help him get heroin. If being that close to death doesn’t make a person stop, I hope it makes people understand the power this drug has over those struggling with addiction.

Addicts need love and emotional support from their family and friends – this can be done with boundaries intact. Hope, motivation and encouragement can be offered without enabling. ‘I won’t help you kill yourself but I will help you save yourself’ is a sentence filled with love and support. Your loved one may not want to hear it when they are angry you are not giving them what they are asking for, but they will remember you said it. Please keep the door open, you never know when they will walk through it. Abandoning addicts doesn’t help like people assume it will. The awful feeling of being all alone and abandoned made me use even more…

Opiates have a power over people that is difficult to explain if you haven’t lived it. The drug controls every aspect of daily life. I was no longer ‘me’. My only focus was The Drug. We need to erase the stigma surrounding addiction. If more people supported those battling addiction, I have no doubt there would be more people in recovery. Those fighting for their lives need to feel support, love and the hope that they can escape their living hell.

I wish people would look at addiction with a different perspective. Most addicts, myself included, don’t want to be under the control of opiates. They are not choosing the life they are living-  a life with no ability to feel any happiness and the only time they don’t feel like they are living an everyday hell is that short amount of time they are completely numb from opiates.

During my addiction, my family felt that distancing themselves from me would help me. Some of my cousins who I used to see daily won’t let me back into their lives.  Even though I am finally feeling good, I overhear my mother on the phone talking about how much shame and embarrassment I have caused her. I struggle with this still. I thank God that I am strong enough to not let this be an excuse for me to use. Would you abandon a sick relative and tell them that you would speak to them again only when they felt completely better? Addicts need to feel like there is hope. We need to feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We need people to understand that we need them more than we want to admit and probably more than we even comprehend. Feeling abandoned and alone is very hard. Using, as an addict, and numbing that feeling of abandonment and loneliness sometimes feels like it is the only solution. If we can help take away that sense of loneliness, that urge to use may not be as strong.

To those who love someone struggling with addiction, please don’t abandon them. Tell them you still love them. Emotional support and love is not enabling. You may feel disappointment or shame, you may feel like they are choosing to use and because of their choice you shouldn’t help them. As much as you may want to distance yourself from someone you know is using, please don’t give up on them. Even one person’s support, love and kindness can be what someone needs to find their way out of the hell that is addiction. May your love light their way home.

 

 

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Nicole Price has been in recovery for a year. She graduated from Boston University with a Master’s in Occupational Therapy. She lives and works in Boston and is starting to love life again.

 

 

 

Adventures in Recovery: Equine Therapy

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I snapped my helmet and put one foot in the stirrup.

I froze for a moment wondering how my legs were going to pull this one off.

After a quick breath, I gripped the saddle and threw my other leg around the horse.

I propped and shifted until I was semi-comfortable.

I had done it.

For the first time ever, I was on the back of a horse and about to ride.

But how did I get here?

[not literally, but figuratively]

How did I get here?

The adventures in recovery far outweigh the adventures in active addiction for me.

Though both tell a tale of wild rides, I find that the adventures in recovery have various ends…or as I like to think, various beginnings as one comes to an end.

New interests; self discovery.

Wholeness when you already felt just that.

A feeling quite hard to describe; but wonderful to experience.

Learning to love so many things; it’s just that easy.

I never knew how easy.

My active addiction adventures were far different.

Guilt, fear, terror, shame, loneliness, darkness, pain.

There was nothing unique about each time.

Different details, yes, but the ending was the same and all consuming.

Now I find myself at Equine Therapy.

Something I knew nothing about.

In fact, if I had been introduced prior, I would have told you that you were nuts.

There was nothing therapeutic about a smelly horse who could take me out with a swift kick.

[addicts + swift kicks? Maybe we’re on to something!]

Yet I find myself in a barn with other addicts.

Some of us are new to recovery; some not.

Some are listening to learn while others now train.

That’s how recovery typically goes.

I hear the stories of each horse.

Once broken, abandoned, abused, used, neglected; angry, irritable, hurt, withdrawn; loners.

My people in animal form.

I find myself nervous as I go into the process.

Large animals scare me; intimidated by the unknown, I guess.

But isn’t there beauty in the pushing of oneself? Leaving that comfort zone and experiencing the new?

Well, shit then, here I go….

As I follow the lead of the trainer, I can’t help but notice how calm and patient the horse is with me.

It is suggested that I get comfortable with Sailor; to put my hands on him and to balance, relax and take it all in.

He’s so attentive; his ears perk as I talk.

I look at his eyes and I start to think of how similar our journeys have been.

From darkness to light.

Tragedy to triumph.

I then connect.

When broken, we experience life in one way, but when rescued, live vastly different; determined to help the next one suffering.

Sailor is patient and aware of where I’m at each moment; pushing me a little bit at a time.

He pulls back just a little, as if to comfort, when the unknown gets the best of me.

He’s a strong leader who loves to heal.

At this point I see clearly how this experience mirrors recovery from drugs and alcohol for me.

One in recovery guiding another desiring just that.

Using their past to heal others by just being attentive, patient and willing to navigate.

Relating to the pain, even when the details aren’t the same.

Pushing to heal; comforting just enough when uneasy.

I’m confident that this recovery business isn’t just human to human.

Recovery is soul to soul.

It’s spiritual, deep and unbelievably healing.

And even with a smelly horse, it’s therapeutic as f**k!

About Jenn Stottlemire:

Hi from Columbus, Ohio! I’m Jenn and, along with my son Jackson and my husband David, we are quite the trio!

I am passionate about passing on my experience; to give hope to the ones suffering and rally behind the broken.

Heroin took me on a wild ride straight to hell, but it wasn’t my only demon.

Through recovery, I have found the tools to tackle my hurts; build character and integrity.
Through God, I have found peace, forgiveness, serenity and strength; a foundation of faith unshakable at times.
And through both, I’m able to love the life I live.

“What if your child becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol?”

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Oh no! – The question.

Silence – The answer.

“Not MY kid!”

“I won’t let this happen to MY kid!”

“MY kid is too well behaved for drugs!”

“MY kid won’t hang out with THOSE kids!”

“OUR family is different than THOSE families.”

“MY kid goes to a great school…he gets good grades.”

Though those answers weren’t on my list of responses when asked the dreaded “what if” question, I had my own naive thoughts.

I sat silent for a while.

Ok, a long while.

Ok, I still haven’t shared my thoughts.

That is, until now.

Those thoughts went something like this…..

“Nooooo! He will play with Legos, get excited over finding nickels in the couch, eat yogurt tubes, suck juice boxes dry, sleep with “wolfie” at night and laugh at Sponge Bob for the rest of his life!!!”

That folks, is what I came up with.

Naive mom brain, if you will.

Reality check.

My 8 yr old will grow up and, in today’s society, fast!

Addiction is real. I know all too well.

So, what is my answer. “What if…”  Hello? Are you there? Jenn?

**deep breath**

Reality is harder than projecting on the ‘what if’s’, but through my own addiction, here are my thoughts……here it goes…

If my child is an addict….

I will love him no less.

Worry more.

Pray harder.

Reach out farther.

Talk to others.

Talk to him.

Not miss an opportunity to hold his hand.

Give him hope. Encourage him.

Plant the seed.

Hug him tight.

Answer his calls.

Say “no” a lot….a whole lot.

Tell him my story.

Tell him many stories.

Be strong in front of him.

Fall to pieces behind him.

Kiss his forehead.

Count his freckles.

Daydream of better days.

Cry  for him.

Cry for me.

Cry for my heart.

Cry for his heart.

Hate addiction all over again.

And one thing is for sure, without a doubt, I will have faith. As hard as it is to trust anyone with my child, my faith will have to be strong. As an addict, one thing I know for sure is addiction is too big for any parent…mom or dad; sibling; spouse; best friend; child. You can love them with all you are…all your being…but you can’t love them sober. If so, ALL addicts would be just that: sober.

I was asked the dreaded question: “What if my child is an addict?”

So in response, all I can do today is this.

Love him with all my being.

Hold him.

Count his freckles, watch him sleep, lay out his clothes.

Cut the crust off his sandwich and play the part of Santa, the tooth fairy and Easter bunny.

Today I can giggle with him. Help him cope with a bad day in 2nd grade.

Make memories.

Beautiful, innocent memories.

Today is all I have….the only time I have to teach him what I know about life, which isn’t really anything more than you. I’m just a mom who wonders what other parents wonder: how to protect my child.

Yet in the world of addiction, I wonder a bit more. Will he be?

Then again….maybe he won’t…

Originally posted on the Jake Koenigsdorf Foundation’s Facebook page.

Jake Koenigsdorf Foundation is a non-profit foundation that helps addicts, alcoholics and their families find support and treatment.

About Jenn Stottlemire:

Hi from Columbus, Ohio! I’m Jenn and, along with my son Jackson and my husband David, we are quite the trio!

I am passionate about passing on my experience; to give hope to the ones suffering and rally behind the broken.

Heroin took me on a wild ride straight to hell, but it wasn’t my only demon.

Through recovery, I have found the tools to tackle my hurts; build character and integrity.
Through God, I have found peace, forgiveness, serenity and strength; a foundation of faith unshakable at times.
And through both, I’m able to love the life I live.

 

The Winding Path to Heroin Part II: Emily

IMG_2802Editor’s note:   This is the second installment of The Winding Path to Heroin. The first installment can be found at this link: The Winding Path to Heroin: Part I

The recent viral shares on social media with videos and photos of people overdosing  have fueled an onslaught of judgment and ugliness.  The comments accompanying these posts speak to the herculean task we still face trying to educate people about this epidemic. Many post threads devolve into name calling and arguments of  about disease vs choice. I have read recently many posts, some by those in recovery, that we need to stop making those with Substance Use Disorder victims. They have accountability in all of this, and we need to take away the ‘excuse’ that this is a disease as it allows them to remain victims. Yes, we are all accountable for our actions. SUD is not an ‘excuse’, it is a fact. It explains why some people can drink socially and can ‘dabble’ with substances and others become addicted. Beware with the opioids, however, because even those who never had a problem can become physically dependent on these powerful chemicals. As the medical community is taking steps to limit how they use these meds, I hope they begin to put into practice a concrete weaning schedule for those who have been taking opioids regularly for even a few weeks after a surgery.  This is the practice with so many other medications, why not opioids? Continue reading “The Winding Path to Heroin Part II: Emily”

My Dear Child, I Forgive You…

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My Dear Child,
 I forgive you.

There is something you need to know that perhaps I haven’t said. I forgive you; and you need to forgive yourself.

 

In the beginning, I think we both felt the incredible weight of this disease, and the more angry and frustrated I got, the sicker you became. It took me a long time to understand the truth of why this was happening. I thought perhaps my yelling and screaming and fighting would cure you. I was battling for your life. I knew no other way.Even my sobbing couldn’t move you. Please, know that whatever I did, I did because I thought it might help. Continue reading “My Dear Child, I Forgive You…”

Lost in Plain Sight

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The need, the compulsion that overcame any self respect, principles, and morals; that could never be me. I have too much to lose, I am only doing this for him, I am not addicted – I don’t even like the feeling. At 16 years old I believed I was the greatest power in the world. Nothing could ever gain control of my entire life. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how wrong I was. If only I were born with a warning for my parents, that I came with this mental disease called addiction. Not that anyone in the world could have saved me from what I had to go through to be where I am today.

I’m not even sure why I drank the first time, I wasn’t really sure what alcohol was at that age. I was 12 years old and found a bottle of gin at my grandparents. My friend and I thought it would be cool, after all – adults drink! Well, a half a bottle of gin and two shots of orange juice later; my friend didn’t like the taste. So without any warning I felt the need to not waste any of it and drank both glasses. I only remember the very beginning of that night. I woke up in the middle of the living room floor with my father sitting next to me crying. I had alcohol poisoning. My parents were afraid to get me in trouble for drinking, so my Dad sat up all night taking care of me and saved my life. I had no control over how much I consumed, I couldn’t stop. I waited years before I picked up my next drink sometime in early high school. Everyone was drinking, I didn’t think I was any different from all of my friends. I was an honor roll student, started working in a daycare and I was in control. Continue reading “Lost in Plain Sight”

Forward March: Recovery, Change and Faith

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Last month my husband, daughter and I loaded our three dogs and a few months’ necessities into two cars. We left Colorado behind with a ‘for sale’ sign on our lawn and headed to St. Petersburg, Florida with no clue where we would be living. We had rented an Airbnb little cottage in Gulfport for the rest of the summer and hoped that would be enough time to figure out where we wanted to live.

Leaving Colorado behind was hard. We had made friends there. We fell in love with the Rocky Mountains, the park, Vail, Pagosa Hot Springs, Hanging Lake…. All of it……..

More difficult was leaving our son Kurt behind. He had gotten a job as an electrical apprentice and it was going well. For the past six months he was handing most of his paycheck over to his landlady to pay off back rent from when he had been out of work. He was SO close to caught up when he lost his job. His story involves another, it is not mine to tell so I’ll simply say that he told me he learned you cannot save people – they have to save themselves – and you cannot forgo a paycheck even if you want to be there for others, sometimes you have to think of yourself first and go to work no matter what is happening. Addicts in recovery can be co-dependents too…… Continue reading “Forward March: Recovery, Change and Faith”

Dear Mom, It’s not your fault.

Dear Mom

 

Dear Mom,

Breathe. The anxiety is better when you take in deep breaths and hold them. Count in 1-2-3-4, hold 1-2-3-4, out 1-2-3-4.

You didn’t do this. It’s on the corner, in his school, at that party where you first met the parents. It’s an evil little devil, that drug. Doesn’t matter its name. That sneaky chemical masqueraded as temporary escape, tricking your boy into trying something he had no idea would imprison him.

Hold you head up, Mom. You didn’t do this. I saw you bake those cupcakes, cheer him on at his games, go to his parent teacher conferences. I saw you meet parents before he stayed over, heard you talk to him on his cell phone when he was out, saw you checking his messages and even making him clean his room; yes, he should clean his room.

You did it right, Mom, and I salute you. But the fact is, there is someone more addictive than your love, more dangerous than your wrath when he misbehaves, more loving when he’s sad and confused. Continue reading “Dear Mom, It’s not your fault.”

The Winding Path to Heroin: Part I

IMG_2802Recently on our Facebook page I asked people to tell me about that day they switched from pills to heroin. I had heard enough stories to know that almost nobody began with heroin, and even when they switch most have zero intention to ever touch a syringe. So what happens. How do they get there?

Often after an article about the drug epidemic is posted online, and more specifically when Narcan is mentioned, there will be the comments of ‘just let them die’, ‘Darwinism at its best’, ’thinning the herd’ ‘they chose this life, so the get what they deserve’.

Every addict is someone’s child, sister, brother, mother, father, loved one. The scathing attitudes and opinions others wield so safely at home on their computer are like gut punches to those in addiction as well as those who love them. They are especially painful to those who have lost a loved one to overdose. More importantly, they perpetuate the stigma that people in addiction don’t deserve compassion or treatment — simply ‘let ’em all die’….. 

Let he without sin cast the first stone:

  • Those who never broke any rules in adolescence, who never thought they knew better and didn’t take risks – including (but not limited to): driving too fast, underage drinking, sneaking out of the house, underage sex, binge drinking, smoking pot, taking any drug not prescribed to you, shoplifting, vandalism….
  • Those who as adults have never drank to get drunk/buzzed, driven while drunk, driven while stoned, blown through a red light, driven above the speed limit…..

Many of us made poor decisions and broke rules as adolescents, sometimes even into college and beyond.

My question to all of the baby boomers out there. Where would your parent’s prescription pills have fallen on the above list? Pills were being passed around high schools in the past few decades like joints in our day. If you would have smoked a joint in high school or college, would you have tried some Oxy, smoked or snorted it? ‘It’s just the stuff your mom takes for her back pain you know.’ Continue reading “The Winding Path to Heroin: Part I”

Dopeless Hope Fiend: A Recovering Addict’s Manifesto

hope dealerYou never had a problem with buying weed from me in junior high. You seemed to appreciate my proclivity for procuring high quality acid in high school. But when I started smoking meth during my senior year, you called me “a worthless tweeker.” When I missed the SATs because I partied too hard the night before the test, you pointed out how I failed more times than most have tried. When I sunk into a deep depression because my friends were walking out of my life, you said it was because I wasn’t “ever going to amount to anything.” It still hurts that you wrote me off because you thought I’d never get clean. I internalized your beliefs about me. I could never shoot, snort, or smoke enough dope to silence the memories of being shunned for having a disease. You looked down upon me from your socially acceptable, stable perch. You went away to a four-year university, and I set my sights on becoming a big fish in the drug dealing pond. You turned a blind eye as I sunk lower and lower into the grips of addiction. Strung out and suicidal, my disease had progressed to mainlining a mixture of heroin and cocaine. I had hoped that you would give me a call, or maybe even stop by my house to let me know that you still gave a crap about me, but you didn’t. After all, I am just a lowly drug addict. Continue reading “Dopeless Hope Fiend: A Recovering Addict’s Manifesto”