alcohol

Yana Khashper -Filling the Void

Photo by Luke LaPorta Photography, courtesy Yana Khashper

As a social worker, Yana Khashper knew how to connect people struggling with mental health and addiction issues with the resources they might need. But for many years, there was a disconnect when it came to helping herself. Now in long-term recovery, Yana and her partner run ROCovery Fitness in Rochester, New York.

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I came over from Russia with my family when I was 6 years old in 1992. I didn't speak the language. We were refugees so there was some hardship. And it took me a while to kind of adapt to American life.

We were living in New Jersey at first. And a couple years later we moved to Staten Island, New York. That was a challenge for me. I was about 10 years old. New school. I didn't dress like the other kids. There was some kind of bullying or I was made fun of. I just wasn't someone that really fit in. And I felt really awkward and kind of out of place. And just didn't know, you know --there's some nuances with language or humor that I didn't quite understand.

My parents didn't have much involvement in my kind of school life just because they didn't quite understand. They worked evenings. And so when I came home from school, I really was on my own, to do my homework, to, you know, do the right thing.

But it left me a lot of freedom. And I didn't do the right thing.

You know, I would go and hang out in the neighborhood when I wasn't supposed to leave the house. In my neighborhood there were folks that were older than me. And they saw this weirdo little kid, you know, kind of on her own walking around. So they sort of took me in. By twelve is when I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol with them, you know. And really from there my addiction kind of took off.

I did okay in school. I wasn’t a bad student. I sort of went under the radar, kind of unnoticed. I didn't get into trouble. I didn't excel. And I was able to really go through the motions, of going to school and continuing on to college, and then later grad school.

And there was a good period of my life where even though I wasn’t making great choices, I was really functioning, and I was doing well.

I went to school for social work. And I was really drawn to that field for a number of reasons. One of it was that I wanted to help people, and help people kind of find their voice, understand themselves, and, and heal. And the other part is I really wanted to understand human behavior and relations, and what makes people tick, how they function, how they adapt. And really it related to my experience in learning this new kind of the world and new culture.

In 2009, I got the opportunity to work for the New York City Fire Department in their Employee Assistance Program. And it was a program primarily working with World Trade Center survivors and those affected by the tragedy.

It was an amazing job. I felt purpose. I felt like I was really making a difference. And I, you know, met, you know, such incredible, courageous, strong individuals, men and women. You know, I’m left speechless by the folks that I met there.

You know, I didn't quite have the coping skills to deal with the things I was hearing on a daily basis. I was there for about 3 years, and it got harder. It got really hard to hear the stories and the experiences. And when I left work, and when I went home, I just didn't know what -- I don't know how to process it. And that's where alcohol and other drugs became really a huge part of my life.

You know, it was this double life. I went to work. And I do believe I was effective. But when I left work, I became this other person that needed to just numb what I was feeling, what I had heard.

There came a point where I couldn't contain it anymore. And I felt that I was no longer effective at my job.

I didn't know what to do. I didn't understand that addiction was taking over my life. You know, it’s something that I did in the professional world where I helped other people and I connected them with resources and helped them through their addiction. But it was such a huge disconnect, really a disconnect from reality of what was happening to me.

So really out of desperation, I decided to kind of start fresh, get away from my life – well, to get away from, from me.

So I decided to move. And in the process of one of the very first trips up to Western New York for a job interview, I got my first DWI.

And I remember the New York City Fire Department, they find out about these things. And I remember talking to my supervisor and then the supervisor for the clinic about it, and really trying to hide it, you know desperate to believe that it was a one-time experience.

I couldn't stop drinking. I couldn’t stop taking pills and using cocaine. I really became this really shell of a person, without coping skills.

So in the process of that move, I got another DWI, and I was facing legal consequences, you know, from the very first one. I was able to get out of it kind of unscathed. And so I relocated to Western New York in 2012.

I had gotten a job. I really thought I was going to be okay. Even right off the bat I really couldn't function. I wasn’t a functional human being really. I drank every day. And my alcoholism really kind of progressed because I wasn't using drugs but I was using alcohol in much, much larger quantities and much more frequent.

And within that first year I got another DWI. And with this 3rd DWI, I was facing really serious consequences. I was looking at prison time. And I was scared. I was really scared and I somewhere kind of understood that I wouldn't be able to drink anymore.

I didn't know how to live without alcohol. I didn't know how to even function. So that was such a scary thought for me. That took me to a place where I didn't want to live.

I attempted suicide. And I ended up in the emergency room in the hospital. And from there I-- really I advocated for rehab. It was 2013. I learned about recovery in a way that I could finally apply to myself.

I was able to abstain and I was able to start to have some hope. But there was still something missing, you know. I was in my late twenties, and I just couldn’t see my life being, you know, going to work, going home, going to a meeting, and that's it.

What do you do to fill that void? To fill the isolation? You know, when I got out of treatment, I looked at my phone and I had nothing but phone numbers of people that I drank and drugged with.

I didn't have hobbies. I didn't know how to socialize. Everything I knew revolved around alcohol.

So in recovery, I found exercise and fitness, and really the outdoors. And it really just changed my life. That was something I learned -- that when I was anxious or afraid or lonely, or I wanted to drink or I wanted to use, I could get outside. I could go for a run. I could go for a bike ride, and it would go away.

And then I met a person. I met my partner in recovery. An athlete through his whole life. A service member, he's coming up on 20 years in the service. And he really helped to introduce me to this world of health and wellness.

Right before I had about a year in recovery, he and I were -- it was a record-breaking cold winter up in Western New York, and he and I began to isolate. We weren't going outside. We weren't connecting with our recovery supports. And we were headed towards relapse. You know, we’d both been there before, and we just didn't want to go there again.

So we decided to go on a hike. And we posted this hike our personal Facebook page. And it was just a kind of open invite, you know – We’re going hiking on such-and-such date, at such-and-such time and Join us!
And people came. And we had a great time! We weren't thinking about our depression. We weren't thinking about using drugs or alcohol. We were just having, you know, pure fun.

And someone asked if we could do it again the following weekend. And we did!

It just, you know, blossomed from there-- from weekly hikes to park workouts to kayaking and bike rides, to peer-led retreats to the Adirondacks.

The possibilities felt endless.

And I knew we had something. You know, we tapped into something that had been missing in our lives, in the recovery community as a whole.

So we -- I did a little bit of research, and I came across an organization out of Colorado called The Phoenix. They are a peer-led, sober active community. And I reached out to their founder, Scott Strode. He's mentored us. He shared all his knowledge. They’ve developed an evidence-based and trauma-informed model for their program. And, and we mimic what they do.

We created ROCovery Fitness, here in Rochester, and we are a peer-led sober active community.

We now have a gym. We have a yoga studio. We do social gatherings for every holiday, times that can be really triggering for folks. And we've created this safe, supportive, nurturing community -- really a place where shame and stigma doesn't exist, where clean and sober is the norm.

You don't see folks relapsing when they're in an out patient group or when they're at church or when they're in a mutual aid meeting. It's that time in between.

So this is such an important place because it -- it gives people an outlet. It helps them build the confidence that they need to believe in themselves to obtain long-term sustained sobriety.

It's so important to have these outlets. And it's so important to not have shame, to not feel that they are somehow unworthy or fundamentally flawed.

You know, we’re, we’re incredible people. We’re mothers and fathers and friends and children. We’re productive members of society. We’re taxpayers. We hold government positions. We’re just everywhere.

We have a disease and our disease is substance use disorder. And recovery is our solution.

My name is Yana Khashper and this is my story.

Terry Brent -Music Therapy

Everyone's journey of recovery is different but finding the strength, courage and hope to share your feelings is integral to living life to the fullest without drugs and alcohol.  In South Florida, musician Terry Brent leads clients through a song-writing, recording and performing process that boosts them on their personal journey.  Featuring the song, Piece of My Heart, by S.

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I think you have no idea where expression can take you. And I think approaching music from an expressive standpoint rather than just impressive will take you a lot further because people can sense that you’re trying to impress them rather than just you have something to share or a message.

I’ve kind of taken that forward into my interactions with humans, hearing their story, and seeing their hidden talents, either they knew or didn’t know they had, or maybe drugs and alcohol took away from them.

I work at a treatment facility in South Florida. I came from a recording and touring background. I was in a couple of different bands, going all over the country doing festivals, show cases for different labels. We recorded a full-length record, a couple of EP’s, had a management team.

So that, I think, prepped me for where I’m at today. I had the privilege of being able to start a program within Transformations called Soundpath Recovery. We’ve been able to see great outcomes with clients that are either in the music industry and haven’t been able to find success remaining in the music industry and staying sober or clients that aren’t musicians but they want to try something different in their recovery and they were able to go from, “There’s no way I could perform or do karaoke or share clean and sober, I’ve always been messed up,” and then by the end of their experience here they look back and are like, “Wow! I actually did it a few times.”

The way we wrote the program was to speak and cater to a client that is coming off of drugs and alcohol usage and dependence to where their mind is racing. You know, they are starting to get a little bit of clean time and they are now thinking about like, “Oh my gosh, I have so many things I have to do. I ruined this relationship. I got into this trouble. I have court, I have work, I have money – like all these issues.”

One thing that we offer first is a Quieting the Mind group to where clients can go and learn breathing techniques and grounding methods. From there they are able to slow it down just enough to be able to give their brain a little bit of a rest.

And then the next group we encourage them to go to is a writing group, it’s a creative writing group. Everyone can write. So in a creative writing group we say, “Just write the first thing that comes to your brain. If you think it, it’s the right thing to write down.” It could be “I hate writing.” “This is the dumbest exercise ever.” “My brain is out of control again.” “Why am I here?” Whatever comes to their mind. And by the end of the stream of consciousness writing, they’ll have some very succinct, trackable writing where they will be “Oh my gosh, where did that come from?” And they’ll be able to pull certain things out of it that they want to develop or work on.

We offer a songwriting group that structures whatever comes out of their racing thoughts or whatever comes out of their stream of conscious, and then after well go through and allow them to work together as a team and collaborate and say, “Hey, I have an idea. I’m a little bit foggy but I kind of hear like you know a trumpet in the background and like a shaker, and I can sing but maybe you can sing what I wrote, and then I need a guitar player.” And the next thing you know, they’re all connecting and they’re on the same wavelength and they’re like “Wow, I didn’t know you felt the same way I did about the same experience or a similar experience.”

Clients get an opportunity to go into the recording studio -- we have a professional recording studio – and they’re able to kind of sit under their own weight of anxiety and they sweat, and they’re like nervous. “How am I going to do this? I’m not Christina Aguilera. I’m not like David Bowie.”

You know we say like “Look, your whole goal here is to be in this studio clean and sober for two hours. Can you do that? Everything else is on top of that. But can you be here?” And they’re like. “Yeah, I think I can.” “All right cool, then what’s going on? Let’s do this!”

And we coach them, and get them to relax and drop their shoulders, and teach them how to breathe. And at the end they walk out, and most of them, if not all of them, say, “Wow! I feel – can I say high? I don’t know if I can say that.” And I’m like, “Absolutely! You’re experiencing life. You just enjoyed life.”

And then the last part of the curriculum is to give them an opportunity to share their expression in front of people and then receive feedback. And it is one of the coolest experiences to have someone freaking out, sweating, feeling like they’re going to throw up, thinking about man, this would be so much easier if I were drunk or high. Getting up there, sharing and then having a standing ovation of 50 to 75 people just like losing their stuff because they saw how difficult it was but how strong that person was to share in front of all these people.

I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been on lots of stages, played for thousands of people and the feeling that I get from watching that compared to being on stage myself is – it’s un--describable. You can’t buy it. You just can’t buy it.

I never get emails of clients saying, “Man, thank you so much for letting me skate by and not forcing me to perform.” Like it’s always the emails like, “Thank you so much for, like, encouraging me to do something I didn’t want to do. That changed my life. I listen to my song and I’ll never be the same again.” And those are the emails that I always get.

I’m might even start to cry thinking about it but there is, there is this hope that comes from having new perspectives and new experiences. And at least saying, “I’m afraid,” but doing it anyway.

My name is Terry Brent and this is my story.

Karen McGinnis -What God Gave Me

Photo courtesy Karen McGinnis

At age 37, after 20 years of battling the disease of addiction, Karen McGinnis found a reason to make a change and make it work: the birth of her son.

 "I’m a single, independent, fully self-supporting woman today. And it’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever experienced because there was a time in my life where I took advantage of the system. And I have overcome all of that."

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You know they say that the disease of addiction is greater than the love that a mother has for her child. I intellectually understood that, but I didn’t feel it until it was happening to me.

But at the age of 35, God said to me, “I have carried you through some storms. I’ve put angels around you to protect you all those nights that you were driving in a blackout and you were walking the streets homeless. You’ve had one DUI, you’ve had two DUI’s, you’ve had three DUI’s. You’ve lost great jobs, you’ve lost your soul, you’ve lost your family. You’ve -- you are going to kill yourself. Or you’ve going to end up in prison. So I’m about to do something for you. It’s going to be very tangible. And it’s going to give you a reason to want to live.”

So I had my first child when I was 36 years old. By the time Owen was a couple months old, DCF stepped in – the Department of Children and Families. I was an unfit mother. So he was removed from my care. And I was left with an opportunity to go into the drug courts and work on Karen so I could get my son back.

I was headed down that spiral for 20 years. I started drinking alcohol at the age of 14. The alcohol led to street drugs. The street drugs led to opioids and doctor shopping and -- I had for 10 years already been in and out of treatment centers, and halfway houses, and structured living, and jail and .. you know, so what was so different this time? Because I was still addicted to drugs and alcohol and I still loved my alcohol and drugs more than I loved this beautiful little child that God had blessed me with.

I kicked and screamed and finally went into treatment for a good solid 6 months of inpatient and a couple months of outpatient. And I did everything I could to get Owen back. I fixed the outside. I went and got a great job. I got insurance. I got a nice, fancy Camaro. And it looked real pretty on the outside because I wanted my son back.

And I got him back. But what I failed to do is, I failed to work on Karen. I failed to take a look at what was really going on. What is causing me to continually and insanely – knowing that there is going to be significant consequences, whether it’s loss of marriage, loss of child, loss of job, arrest – still continue to pick up that substance and start the cycle all over again?

I did not do a lick of work on Karen. I did not work a 12-step program. I didn’t reach out to my higher power. I didn’t build a network. I -- I just fixed everything real pretty on the outside, got my son back, went back to work, and before you know it, life started showing up. I started getting stressed out at work. I was stressed out being a single mother, a lot of resentment still towards Owen’s father, a lot of anger. Before I knew it, I found myself at the liquor store.

One is too many, a thousand is never enough. When I put that substance of whatever it is in my system, it sets off a chemical reaction within me and I start the obsession and the compulsion and I want more. Trying to fill that void, trying to find that high.

You know within a couple of days I was a no-call no-show at work. My parents ended up coming to my apartment and found me, naked on the couch with empty bottles of Crown Royal. And my father called DCF again. And Owen was removed from me.

So now we are at Owen is not quite even two years old yet and DCF has already removed him from my care twice. That wasn’t enough to stop me. How did this happen? I was so guilty and shameful, I was off on a mission to really kill myself for the next three months, drinking and overdosing and driving drunk and…

Finally, my parents stepped in and here in the state of Florida we have what’s called a Marchman Act. If you have a loved one that is using substances and you know that they are a threat to themselves or the community, you can take it down to the courthouse and get the law involved. And the law did get involved.

Judge Espinoza who is our drug court judge here in Tampa, he ordered me to go back into treatment. I knew that was my saving grace. That, hey you know what? My parents do still care about me. They care enough about me that they were willing to go down to the courthouse to save my life. They might not be talking to me right now, and I might think that they hate me but they love me. And they saved my life by doing that.

This works if you work it. Recovery is possible. There is hope.

I wanted to start from a fresh clean slate at 37 years old because Owen was the only thing I’ve ever done perfect in my life. And I refuse to let the disease of addiction take that from me too.

And I went back into treatment and I started following suggestions. You know we learn from behaviors over, over time on how to get what we want as addicts. And someone had told me, “Karen, if you could just use those skill sets in a positive way, you will be amazing.”

A large part of recovering is being surrounded by people who are like-minded; people that have gone through what you’ve gone through. Yes, we come from all very diverse backgrounds, and some of us are tall and short and fat and skinny. And some of us are Hispanic and Caucasian and African-American and Chinese but we all have one common thread: the disease of addiction. You know, I think it’s so important for us to come together and, and build those relationships with other people that know what we’re going through so we can feel like hey, you’re not alone, you’re not different, you’re not unique.

And that is one of the reasons that I work in the field that I work in. Because I can empathize with what you, ma’am, are going through, sitting on my couch in my admissions office. I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there 15 times, sitting on that couch with my mom and dad or my husband sitting over there so I understand what you, husband and mother and father are going through.

I do this because life is rich. And life is a gift. And we have to stay in the present. This is a wonderful life.

I’m a single, independent, fully self-supporting woman today. And it’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever experienced because there was a time in my life where I took advantage of the system. I took advantage of Medicaid. I took advantage of food stamps. I took advantage of my mother and father. I took advantage of men. I took advantage of people to get what Karen wanted. And I have overcome all of that.

Never did I ever think at 12 years old, that I was going to be 40 years old, a single mom, and have lived the life that I live. And I’m so grateful, so grateful I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through to find what I found.

And I believe that God will allow us to go through that, to get to a point in our lives to where we have no other choice but to cry out for Him to help us.

And, and, I’ve – I’ve made a mess of my life and I believe that there is something greater than myself that can restore me back to sanity and give me the life that You always intended me to have.

And that is something to be grateful for.

My name is Karen McGinnis and this is my story.

Kim Manlove -Surviving the Worst Loss

Photo by Rocky Rothrock, courtesy Kim Manlove

Grief is an individual experience. When the Manloves' son David died from a drug-related event, Kim's feelings of guilt and shame overwhelmed him  -- but it did not divide him from his wife and together they have found acceptance.     

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You know, we first discovered that he had a problem in late 2000. He was 16 at the time.

It started with marijuana and then eventually alcohol. There were some pills. We didn’t know what they were -- pharmaceuticals of some sort.

We got our son into treatment, and while he was getting help, we were getting some education about the disease of addiction, that it was chronic, that there was also could be a genetic component. And that it could be deadly.

But we of course didn’t think anything about that. We just concentrated on supporting our son in every way that we could.

We began 2001 with a lot of hope. About five months into treatment, he had been doing well and we had been pleased with his progress, and so he came to us on one day and asked if he could go swimming at a friend’s house. We knew the kids he was going to be swimming with, and he’d been doing well, so we decided to kind of lessen the reins a little bit, and said sure.

They swam for a while, and then the girls decided to go in and have lunch. David then and his friend went to a nearby drug store, bought a can of computer duster. David had learned somehow that he could inhale the propellant, which would give him a very brief high, anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds, and it wouldn’t show up on the drug screens. I don’t think he knew is that in some cases computer duster can cause something called Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome, a disruption of the electrical activity of the heart, and can also bring on a heart attack.

They were passing the can back and forth, taking turns, going underneath the water. And then at one point, David didn’t come back up. He’d gone into Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome while he was underneath the water. His body’s first reaction, naturally, was to try and take a breath. He opened his mouth and took in all water.

The main cause of death was drowning. The secondary cause of death was Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.

While the EMTs were there, the parents had called my wife. So Marissa drove to the hospital, and by that time, he was already gone.

I was actually a couple of thousand miles away in Phoenix, Arizona. I got the call from her saying that he was – had died. I rushed to the airport. This is before 9/11. I basically told the ticket counter what had happened. And they -- they were great. They didn’t ask for any documen-tation or anything. I mean they could tell that I was distressed, and immediately put me on the first plane directly back to Indianapolis. And so --- but that, that was -- that flight was the worst. Just so much going on in my head.

The addiction gene ran on my side of the family. I had two uncles who had -- were alcoholic on my father’s side, and I was someone who overindulged on a regular basis. I had already pledged to my wife that I would know how to help him and get through this, and I failed at that. Between the grief and the guilt, you know, I began to spiral down myself, drinking more alcohol and then I began also abusing the anti-depressants that I was being prescribed for the grief and the guilt and the depression. To the point where I began shopping doctors for the medications. I had a tragic story. It was pretty easy for me to go to another physician and share the same story and immediately get a script for Xanax.

One day, my wife and my son, my other son, my older son, came home and found me in a blackout. And I can still remember coming out of that blackout seeing, you know, my wife screaming at me and saying, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

I said, “I’m in trouble. I’ve been abusing alcohol and drugs, and I think I need to get help.”

My situation was so serious that I ended up having to come in-patient at that point in time.

Part of the recovery regimen, too, was going to 90 meetings in 90 days, and I ended up doing 180 meetings in 180 days. And I’ve been in recovery now for 15 years and I still do 5 or 6 meetings a week. That’s the medicine that I continue to take for my disease of addiction. And the dollar that I put in the basket at each of those meetings is a lot cheaper than the prescription drugs I take.

I’m an academic by training. Spent 28 years as an administrator and dean at the largest university here in Indianapolis. But a couple of years after I got into recovery, I started kind of a new chapter. I went to the CEO of the treatment center and told her that I’d be interested in getting some profession experience in this field of addiction treatment and recovery.

And so we started a parent support group. There’s no question that the death of a child is the worst loss. What we found was, you know, we didn’t have to do counseling in that group. The counseling took place just by people sharing where they were, what they were struggling with, and then hearing others sharing exactly the same things in a same way, and found comfort there for the first time.

After David died, friends, family, and even people that we hadn’t been acquainted with, came to us and often started off by saying, “Well, what went wrong?” you know. And sometimes it would be a little more pointed, you know: “Were there some things that you didn’t do?”

Our children aren’t supposed to die before us. It’s like a violation of some sort of rule. What went wrong? What could we have done differently? All that kind of mental machination is part of what led to my serious depression, and frankly, trying to find relief from the shame, and the guilt – probably more the guilt. Again, because the addiction gene ran on my side of the family. He caught this from me.

We learn in recovery that acceptance is the release of all hope for a better past. That’s become our mantra. And that then has freed us up emotionally and psychologically, and brought us to the point where we can help others, at least try, to work down that path.

I describe our mutual recoveries as kind of what a strand of DNA looks like. DNA has two trunks. I’m one of the trunks and she’s the other trunk. They’re separate and distinct but there are branches periodically that connect those two trunks. And that’s what recovery has done for us. It’s connected us in some marvelous ways.

But at the same time, if you look under a microscope, DNA kind of spirals around. That’s what life continues to do to us is that it continues to spiral us around. And we continue to have challenges and things happen to us. But there is still that tightness and structure of us together.

The most important thing recovery has done for the two of us is that it has allowed us to -- to move on from the worst loss and celebrate our son’s life in a beautiful way.

My name is Kim Manlove and this is my story.

Mariel Hafnagel -Grace & Luck in Recovery

Mariel Hafnagel is the Executive Director of the Ammon Foundation. In longterm recovery since 2007, she knows the disease of addiction well. Grace and luck and a lot of compassionate support changed her life.

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I didn’t wake up when I was 17 and decide that I wanted to be a drug addict.

The trajectory of my life and how I began to manifest addiction was not a conscious decision. Was picking up alcohol and drugs a conscious decision? Absolutely – because I was in tremendous pain and I wanted to take that away.

My addiction progressed rapidly, leaving limited if not zero time for intervention, education, primary level care.

My name is Mariel Hufnagel. I’m a woman in long-term recovery which for me means that I’ve been alcohol and drug free since May 7, 2007, after an alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine addiction from the ages of 17 to 21.

There was nothing extraordinarily dysfunctional or out of order or catastrophic that happened in my childhood. From a very young age however, I always felt less than, different, and was constantly looking for a way to diminish those feelings.

I acted out. I stole. I was promiscuous. I threw temper tantrums. Anything I could do to get outside of me and to get some attention from you.

I do remember at a very young age experimenting with alcohol, alone, and I just think that is important because the reason why I used alcohol and drugs, the reason I acted out was because I was trying to self-medicate.

It’s very clear to me there was something off in my brain, and that there were mental health issues, underlying and untreated.

I didn’t start using anything regularly until I was about 17. And in literally a matter of months, if not weeks, I went from having a seemingly pretty normal life, you know, a beautiful house, a loving family, a decent GPA in school, friends, a boyfriend, etc. – to being homeless, a prostitute, living on the streets of Norwalk, Connecticut. I had a $1500 a day drug habit.

And what comes along with that lifestyle, as a 17, 18, 19 year old female, is a lot of trauma, a lot of sexual abuse, a lot of dangerous situations. All that does is it perpetuates the need and the desire to continue getting high. There was nothing I needed to do more than numb out so I could escape from all of that.

May 7, 2007, I was arrested and I was brought to jail. That was the beginning of my recovery story.

So often we talk about someone needing to have a willingness or a honest desire to enter and maintain their recovery. I was not willing or voluntarily brought to Volusia County Correctional Facility. But what that allowed is it allowed just enough time for me to get physically separated from alcohol and drugs that I could begin to have some clarity about my life. And it was through that clarity that I became willing to be an active participant in changing and addressing some things, so that I could be sober and live a life that was worth living.

Detoxing in jail, potentially in physical danger, unlike any other chronic disorder that would be medically addressed, addiction is not ,and was not, for me. And so I’m terrified and just kind of just left to fend for myself. Which is not loving and not medically appropriate for anybody.

So I ended up being in jail for about two months. And when I was released I needed to make a lot of changes and I needed to address a lot of things that I had been shoving down and unwilling to address for years at this point.

I got accepted into a halfway house and I was there for almost 9 months. It allowed me to have a safe place to live, get involved with peer-to-peer support. It allowed me time to look for employment, apply for Medicaid and food stamps, and social services. All of this was vital for that first year.

I also needed to get honest about how I was feeling, what I was thinking. And one of the most important things that I have found in my personal recovery is having people around me who hold me accountable and who I can be transparent with about what’s really going on. Recognizing that part of just the human condition is that we are broken and imperfect and that’s okay. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s okay to be who I am, in all its glory or in all its ugliness, and finding people who embrace me and love me and hold me up during those times. And had I not be able to kind of find that support, I don’t know if I would have been able to maintain my recovery.

I think it’s really important when we talk about recovery to talk about people being able to build meaningful, purposeful lives. Because without being crass – although I am crass -- if I can’t have a life worth living, why would I not want to be getting high?

Not saying that life needs to be perfect al of time. No one’s life is all of the time. However, when the bad times come, if there is purpose and meaning and love and connection in their life, it’s easier to weather those storms.

What happened when I was about five years in recovery is I realized there is a lot of discrimination against people like myself, and I became motivated to try to make a macro difference.

Oftentimes people ask me, what do I attribute my recovery to? And I say grace and luck.

Grace is defined as an unwarranted gift from God. And whatever you believe is your beliefs, but I believe that the universe is conspiring for our greatest good, all the time.

I believe that I’ve been put in the right place at the right time with the right people enough times to maintain my recovery and to become who I am today.

That’s also combined with luck. Luck for me is connected to privilege. It’s connected to the fact that I’m an upper middle class white female. Between the ages of 14 and 21, I was a repeat offender. I am now a convicted felon. I’m a sex-trafficking survivor, and I’m formerly homeless. Time after time, I was given second, third, fifth, a hundredth chances, by everybody – police, judges, by people who I just crossed paths with. I also experienced tremendous generosity because I was seemingly non-threatening. And, due to the socio-economic status of my family, I was able to access treatment, go back to school.

I was able to do all of these different things that are off-limits or much harder to attain than say my African-American female counterpart, my trans counterpart, my lower socio-economic counterpart.

My recovery should not be based on grace and luck. It should be based on the fact that I was given access to services, that barriers were removed, and that I was treated with compassion because I suffer from a brain disorder – and that’s why I should be able to have entered and maintained my recovery.

So since 2012 I have had the incredible ability to join what many people call the recovery advocacy movement. I have been able to work and live in a space where people are demanding what I like to consider the civil rights of people who suffer from a substance use disorder. And, you know, it started as a volunteer intern in 2012 and just six years later I have the distinct privilege of being the executive director of a foundation.

And that really is what recovery looks like, right. It looks like the fact that I got married. It looks like the fact that we rescued two dogs. We bought a house. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m an aunt. I’m a taxpayer. I’m an employer and an employee.

My story is not extraordinary. I just have been empowered to share it. There are thousands if not millions of others, just like me, living in recovery, a part of society who have overcome their own struggles with addiction. They have just not yet been empowered to share their story.

My name is Mariel Hufnagel and this is my story.

Lisa Curtin -My Mom Was Addicted

In the late 1990s, Lisa Curtin's mother read about a new drug called Oxycontin, and then nothing was ever the same for Lisa or her family.

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All through our years of growing up, my brother and myself, my mother struggled with alcohol before she got addicted to drugs.

My earliest memory is when I was about 6 years old, and my brother who’s eighteen months younger than me, was four and a half, you know, she was on a bender, just drinking like crazy, my father was traveling. She told my brother and I to pack our clothes. We were going to have to live in an orphanage because my brother and I were fighting with one another and she couldn’t handle it.

She literally made us go pack our clothes. A stranger came to the house to pick us up. She put us in a car with the stranger and the stranger took us to a grocery store parking lot. And in the grocery store parking lot, he just turned to us and said, “You know, you just have to start listening to your mom. She’s just sort of at her wits’ end, and if you don’t listen to your mom then you know, you’re not going to be able to live there anymore.” He brought us back to our house then.

And I don’t for one minute doubt that my mother loved myself and my brother. I don’t doubt that at all. But I realize that you can’t compete against a bottle of vodka. You cannot compete against whisky. And you can’t compete against prescription drugs. It just doesn’t happen.

When she was around 50, she diagnosed herself and convinced a couple of doctors at the time that she had fibromyalgia. This was her ticket to freedom. Very difficult to diagnose. She was smart enough to figure out ways to pretend that different pain points in her body when touched would be sensitive to that touch, and she then started to get prescription drugs.

It started with Vicodin, at first. Because sometimes she would not eat, physical things would actually happen, like she would actually trip.

One time she, you know, broke a toe on her foot. My mother, my daughter, Amber, and I were going on a trip together on a plane ride. She was on a crutch and her toe was casted and we get to Alabama, and my mother forgot her medication at home.

So, when we were in the hotel room, she unwrapped her toe, reinjured it which then caused us to spend a good portion of the time in the emergency room so that she could have another x-ray on her foot and get pain medication. Now she’s got you know, a supply at home and now she’s got a supply while we were on vacation so when she gets home she has a great party ahead of her because she’s got all this medicine.

The things that she did, the way she sort of manipulated situations to be able to get what she needed to get is no different that someone who is on a corner, you know, looking for a way to be able to get a quick fix.

All through my mother’s fifties, she struggled with some sort of illness, one way or another, that was causing her to get prescription medication. And then my father had his stroke. So the year would have late ‘96. My mother met a doctor – and I’m getting chills just thinking about it right now – who turned her on to Oxycontin and that’s when it really just started to go down.

At first, it seemed to be like good for her, in that she didn’t seem to be in pain and she had a better frame of mind, and she was gentler toward my dad and more sympathetic toward my father’s situation. But after awhile, she would just track when she would take her pills, and I have 3x5 cards of her handwriting of how she was like monitoring when she was taking the prescription medication, because I think she was trying to convince herself that she wasn’t actually taking more than she should. But she was. And it was an endless supply.

This also started a trend where she would overdose on a fairly regular basis. At least five times which usually was she took too much of her Oxycontin, she didn’t eat. Once in awhile she would mix it with alcohol. She’d go to the emergency room. I’d get a call and I’d get there, and I’d say to the doctor, or the emergency room physician, you know, “Test her blood alcohol count or test her for, you know, morphine or whatever. Just test her for something because I’m sure that she’s overdosed. It’s not that she just fell or that she’s disoriented.” And she would deny it, you know, she was always in denial about this. Constantly in denial.

Sure enough, you know, the next day they’d come back with test results and her blood alcohol count was really high or the presence of opioids in her system was really high. But still the doctor continued to prescribe them to her.

There was a time when my mother overdosed. I walk into the emergency room. I could hear my mother’s voice asking for morphine, that she was in pain, I want this, I want this, I want this drip. And they ended up giving her the drip. But then I went back to her apartment. I found thirty–seven prescription bottles of medication from four different doctors. Most of them had like one or two pills in them. But all either for Vicodin or Oxycontin.

And I brought all that medication to the hospital. And when I saw her doctor, I showed him. =I go, “This is what you’re dealing with. =She’s going between Illinois and Wisconsin. She’s going across the state borders to get medication.” And the doctor who I think was the worst influence in her life, you know, he just seemed to ignore it. He didn’t think it was like that big of a deal.

All I think about from the time I was 6 years old and I’m 58 years old now, that’s a long time, that’s 52 years of trying to figure out how the hell to take care of a woman who doesn’t know how to take care of herself, or anyone else, and refuses to get help.

The memory of all this stuff that went on with her still lives with me every single day. Every single day.

My mother passed away in 2006. It was actually my grandsons’ second birthday. I had gone to the doctor with her two weeks prior. And I told the doctor once again that my mother’s best day of her month is when she comes to see you, to get her prescription refilled. The doctor said to me, “Well, you know, your mom’s in pain. And she – you know, I don’t think this is an addiction. You know, this isn’t a drug that’s addicting.”

And I said, “She doesn’t even eat. She’s either falling in the bathroom or she’s falling, you know, in the living room or whatever. When they take her to the hospital you end up coming there, and she gets what she needs. So she’s figured out a way to get a fix until she can get the next prescription filled. This is a pattern and you’re not helping at all. I’m like powerless to do anything about it.”

The doctor still filled her prescription. And the twins’ second birthday was coming up. nd so she was going to come with us, and I was really excited that week because I thought, Ok, that would be great. You know, she’s going to come. This is going to be wonderful for her. And she called and said that she wasn’t able to make it. She wasn’t feeling very well.

I just had this weird feeling all day long. I tried calling her several times. I couldn’t reach her. She did end up calling me back, and she said, "I just want to lay around anyways, I don’t feel good." And I said, "Well, okay, we’ll talk on Monday."

So Monday came and Monday night came, and I still -- I hadn’t heard from her and I kept calling her. Finally, I called the apartment building that she was living in and I asked them to do a ‘check well-being’ on her.

She was gone. She was gone.

And I’m like Okay. I was at work and it didn’t really even sink in, you know. In a way it was sort of like, She’s gone so it’s like relief. But I know that sounds terrible.

But on the other hand it was like Oh my God, my mom’s gone and I never could fix her. I could never get her to understand herself. I couldn’t even get her to understand me. She didn’t even get that.

Nobody has ever once been on my sidelines except for my kids saying, You can do it! You can move forward. You know, we’ve got your back. And I wanted my mom to do that, and she couldn’t. And then I couldn’t save her either.

And so, you know, on the day when I’m having a good time with my twins’ birthday party, when they’re two, she’s laying in her bed, dying.

We got the autopsy results, and she died of morphine toxicity. The last year of her life was all about going to the doctor. You know, I took my pill this morning and so, I feel better and you know, I’ll take another one a little bit later today.

That’s all it was. Every single thing was about that particular pill which made her life so much better than everybody and everything else around her.

If I was able to sit in the front of the doctor today, I would like to say to him: If family members are involved in the patient’s life, and they’re telling you the best day in that patient’s life is the day they get to come and see you because they know they’re going to get their prescription refilled, and how this is destroying, actually, the entire person that’s sitting in front of you, that is your patient -- it would be really great if you could just listen.

*And I don’t know if the motivation for writing the prescription is related to great incentives for doctors. I don’t know if that’s the reason.

I don’t know if you really felt sympathetic to my mother because you thought that she really was in pain. However you really only saw her for like seven minutes a month, so you didn’t really know her.

And maybe it was just the time, late 90’s, early 2000’s. Maybe enough wasn’t known. I don’t know. Although I find that hard to believe because it’s highly addictive even though it was toted originally not to be.

It would just have been nice if you just would have listened.*

My name is Lisa Curtin and this is my story.