At the methadone clinic where she works, Sicily Owings hears from clients about the relationship between trauma and addiction in their lives. She also knows about it firsthand.
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In a child’s brain, they don’t know how to make sense, we don’t know how to make sense of certain things so it is imprinted in our brains as trauma.
Addiction is so based in trauma. Addiction is so -- like the goal of drug use, when you originally go into it, is literally it just makes you feel better. It makes you forget it. It makes you numb. And a lot of people who come from trauma backgrounds who have experienced horrendous things, really just have a lot of pain that they don't know what to do with.
And so we use drugs. We use drugs to cope. We use drugs to numb. We use drugs to escape.
If you’re coming from a trauma background, and you reach adolescence when the chemicals in your brain and your brain chemistry are kind of all over the place, your hormones all over the place, you're experiencing new things, and you just don't know how to deal with them -- it's kind of like a, a recipe for disaster.
When I was around three or four, my biological father went to prison. He was charged with the possession and sales of illegal firearms, and also the possession and sales of large quantities of cocaine. I think when he got caught he got caught with two kilos on him which is over 4 lbs. And pretty much spent my entire adolescence in prison in Canyon City, in here in Colorado.
So I think it was around '88,1988. I was born in 1985. I'm 33 now.
I remember knowing who we was, knowing what he did, not having a relationship with him because he went to prison when I was so young, and always saying to myself like, I'm never going to do that. Like his entire life was ruined. I'm never going to do hard drugs. Even when I started smoking marijuana and stuff, I’m like,Oh I'll never go there.
But eventually that happened. And I eventually started using cocaine, and eventually started using methamphetamines. And it was just kind of downhill from there.
I was using drugs, and I was using drugs pretty heavily in high school, and I remember coming home, and all of my stuff was in the driveway,and my mom just told me, she's like, “If this is the way that you're going to live, you can't live here.”
What was interesting about that is they kicked me out and so I left. And I ended up living with a friend in Littleton. That's when I ended up dropping out of high school. That’s when things really got worse because I didn't, I didn't really have any structure, I didn't really have any family. I was finally free. I can do whatever I want.
But I ended up getting pulled over. In essence, I was with a friend and we were parked, and a cop pulled up and I was in the car and they ran my name. And had basically told me that I had to go with them because my parents had called me in as a runaway.
And I was so confused. I'm like, They kicked me out! Why are they calling me in as a runaway?
But when they tried to get a hold of my parents, they had actually left town to go camping. And it's illegal if you call your child in as a runaway to leave the state. And so my parents temporarily lost custody of me, and I had to go to this like youth home for like 2 weeks. And I remember that as being super traumatic -- to go from like living at home and having this family to getting kicked out and then like being stuck in this home. It was -- it was really crazy.
Things took a while to change. I mean it did. I started using when I was 14 and I quit when I was around 21. I was almost married at the time that I quit. And I was with my ex-husband at the time, and him and I used together. And that's when I started using methamphetamines really heavily, was like 2002 2003, and used for about 3 years. And he ended up doing some jail time.
His dad was a pastor, and I, for whatever reason, just like really wanted to connect with his dad and his step mom. And so I remember calling them. And I went over to their house for dinner and I remember having soup. And feeling really safe there. And feeling that it was really different. And they had invited me to church and then when Josh got out of jail, I told him I was like, “I would really like to go to your dad's church. I want to check it out.”
And ended up going to church and felt like my entire life had changed. I just remember crying a lot and I just remember … I always want to cry at this part … I just remember feeling like very hopeful because I had spent so many years feeling so shameful, and feeling alone. And feeling like I could never get out of that.
You know like, I don't know how to get out of this. This is so much bigger than me. And I've burned all of my bridges. And I have no one.
But in that moment, like I finally felt like there was this glimmer of hope --that potentially I could do it.
I remember telling my ex-husband, "I want to quit. And I’m serious about it." And so we moved north pretty far north, to the suburbs, changed our phone number, and started, you know, pouring my life into going to church and decided I wanted to be a drug and alcohol counselor.
I knew how alone I felt. I knew how isolated I felt. I knew how shameful and ugly -- and all of these things that I felt and I was like I don't, I don't want people to feel that. I want them to know that like somebody sees them, and somebody cares about them, and somebody believes in them. That's all I wanted -- to like be with people in that struggle. Watch them get out of that.
I started working at a methadone clinic about a year-and-a-half ago. I love it. I love working in medication assisted treatment. I believe in it because I see it work.
Typically, recovery has focused on abstinence. And harm reduction kind of came on the scene when they realized that abstinence doesn't work for everybody.
The biggest thing with addiction is struggling with ambivalence that I know I want to feel better. I know I want something different but I don't know what I want. And the great thing about methadone is it really keeps you alive while you're struggling with ambivalence.
People are dying. People are dying waiting to get abstinent so they had to figure out another way.
I would rather have a child on methadone on medication helping them get clean then have a dead child.
And I know that there is stigma around medication-assisted treatment. I know that when you hear the word "methadone," it doesn't sound great, or it sounds scary, or it sounds like they're just replacing it with another drug -- or like, what whatever comes up for you when you hear the word "methadone" -- but I'm telling you that this medication saves lives every single day. Every single day.
And I just hope that we as a community, as a nation are willing to really put that stigma aside for the sake of saving lives.
My name is Sicily Owings and this is my story.