If you met her and engaged in a conversation, you would quickly learn she wants to leave the world a little better than she found it. She fondly remembers volunteering at the Loaves and Fishes organization in California — an organization that helps people find shelter. If the conversation is long enough, she may tell you that, years ago, she was on the board of a local charity. She may even mention that she was named Volunteer of the Year. She’ll tell you she was born with nothing, worked hard and made a good life for herself, until she lost it all.
Undoubtedly, though, because of her honesty, the conversation will return to the here and now, and she will tell you about her struggle with addiction, a disorder she has battled for years. And, even as she takes full responsibility for the choices she made while in active addiction and admits she hurt people on her road to recovery — a road filled with ups and downs, not uncommon for those who battle the disorder.
Hopefully, though, she would tell you one more thing — that she found a way to live sober, rebuild, and regain her life, in the most difficult of years, 2020.
Early Signs of Addiction
Her addiction surfaced, almost a decade ago, when she began misusing pain pills. She admitted herself into rehab to address the physical craving.
“[But] it’s not just a physical thing. It is the whole aspect — your emotions — it’s a mental addiction. I went into recovery in 2012, my first time, for pain pills. I’ll go in and detox quietly, I thought, no one will know, cause I was still working. I was on a charity board, I was a functional addict. I didn’t miss work. I didn’t have any issues with the law. So I thought I just need to detox physically,” she said. “But what they taught me in there is — it’s a lifetime of recovery if you want to stay sober. It’s mental. It’s social. It’s breaking away from people, places and things and finding a safe environment. They say it’s a simple, but complicated program. They say you have to only change one thing: everything. Back then I thought all I had to do was detox physically. It’s not true.”
A few years later, her addiction resurfaced with a new drug: alcohol. And, that’s when she learned a saying from her previous rehab stint was true — ‘every time [with addiction] the basement drops a little bit lower.’ And, it did. She was airlifted by helicopter because, with a blood alcohol level of 0.3 percent, she stopped breathing.
By her alcohol sober date on March 2, 2017, she had entered the court system with some minor misdemeanors. But, she wasn’t in the basement, yet.
Her cycle of recovery, and substance abuse, would continue. A little more than a year after her alcohol sober date, she headed down a darker path where she would see more suffering. She would be at the side of an overdose victim waiting for paramedics.
This path began with Adderall — a legally prescribed medicine that can help a person focus, lose weight and give them energy. In time, she transitioned to meth, a drug that is chemically similar to Adderall, and over the course of the next 18 months, her life would grow increasingly erratic. The former Volunteer of the Year would face additional court charges, shoot up for the first time (meth), and struggle with suicide ideation. Just a few years earlier, none of this seemed possible to her. She didn’t fit the stereotypical mold of an addict
Then, she would overdose.
Pull Me Up From My Wreckage
She doesn’t remember much about her Dec. 1, 2019 overdose. A police officer on the scene would later tell her: “I can’t believe you are alive. We went in there and I thought you were going to die. The fact you are standing here is a miracle.”
The meth she consumed was, unknown to her, laced with fentanyl, and paramedics would administer two doses of Naloxone to revive her. She would be transported first, to a hospital, then to a county jail on a probation violation. In jail, she would reconnect with God and on the inside cover of her daily devotional she wrote this prayer:
“God, I will trust in You this time — You & You alone have pulled me up from my wreckage. I will stay sober as long as I do this.”
While in jail, she worked with her probation officer to secure a spot in a rehab center so she could continue her recovery. But, she admits, God had other plans.
When she was released on Feb. 1, 2020, she learned that since she was not an active user or currently suicidal, the rehab center would not admit her. Disappointed and a bit unnerved, she returned to Preble County where family members paid for a motel stay. Here, she was about to discover the benefit of Preble County’s wraparound services — and the people behind them — as she regained her footing.
Within a week, she was living in the Preble County Homeless Shelter. A typical day there began with an offsite recovery meeting before she headed to work at a local pizza place. By early March, she signed a rental agreement but, on the same day, a bed opened up in a sober-living house and she faced her truth: She was not ready for independent living and so, after asking to be released from the lease, she moved into the sober-living house.
For someone in recovery, and in a year of drastically increasing overdose deaths and relapse rates, the timing couldn’t have been better. Just days after entering the sober-living house, the coronavirus shut down Ohio, including those much-needed AA and Recovery meetings.
This meant homeless shelters throughout Ohio were quarantining guests — and had she remained in the shelter, attending recovery meetings would not have been an option. Living in a sober-living house, though, she could attend, and when the meetings were moved to the leader’s home, his daughter drove her there.
God was making sure she was able to stay in recovery.
“I will forever be grateful to the recovery leader, and his wife, for opening up their home. It’s a big reason why I am sober,” she admits.
In less than four months after being transported to jail in a paper hospital scrub, she was now housed, working, and regularly attending recovery meetings. She was building connections.
He Heard Me
When she looks back over 2020, she undoubtedly views it differently than others. As Americans across the country discussed, and debated, masks, social distancing and vaccines, She was focused on recovery, working, building connections and rebuilding her life. She was learning the difference between humiliation and humility and needed to speak out.
“I’m doing this with four goals in mind. No. 1: To give all the glory and credit to God; No. 2: In the hopes of helping someone who may read my story — that is caught up in addiction/alcoholism and just can’t find any hope or path out. Because there is hope, don’t give up; and No. 3: to help our society as a whole understand that substance use disorder can affect and attack anyone regardless of age or social status. We are all susceptible to this disease in some way. No. 4: To sincerely thank all who helped me find a way back. My family, my church, the HIT Foundation and those, in recovery, who also helped me. Anyone who stayed by me through the past 18 months.
“Recovery is one day at a time and I’m fully aware that my recovery is ongoing, but because of God and, so many others, I’ve managed to find healthy, loving and supportive connections,” she said. “Last year I often said, ‘Covid may kill me — but addiction will kill me— if I relapse.’ That theory was put to the test last December when I tested positive for Covid. By the grace of God, I survived Covid and remained sober too.”
Today, more than a year and a half after she overdosed in a Dayton motel, she knows God answered another prayer of hers. Shortly after writing her prayer in her devotional — she added: I want to go home.
Being denied a spot in the rehab — a move that initially frightened her, but brought her home— caused her to add one more line to her prayer.
“He heard me.”
Help Is Available
The story you just read is of a Preble County resident and she will tell you recovery is possible, but it takes a community and wraparound services.
In her case, she received support services from multiple organizations, and individuals that greatly contributed to her sobriety. The first was the HIT Foundation. This organization provided her with a safe place to stay at the homeless shelter where she was treated as a guest, she said. As her recovery progressed, she chose to move into the Foundation’s sober living home. She stayed there until she was ready for the next stage in recovery.
This woman also found help in multiple recovery programs, and the participants in those programs. During her recovery, she reconnected with her church — attending on the first Sunday she lived in the Shelter and, continuing to attend, to this day.
And, lastly, but certainly not least, her family was a significant source of strength. “My family gave me my initial job — I had no IDs or documents needed for employment — and my family loved, and supported, me throughout my recovery.”
Every person, and every program, she admits, played an important role in her recovery, giving her much-needed moral support, especially in a year of isolation created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you, or a family member, struggle with substance use disorder, help is available. Call the Preble County Mental Health & Recovery Board at 456-6827 to be directed to local resources. If you are in need of housing, contact the HIT Foundation at 472-0500.
If you are in need of Naloxone, contact Harm Reduction Ohio, on Facebook.