I grew up with an amazing family in Ireland
My mom and dad had been together since they were sixteen years old. It was a very loving home, and I was the golden child. I didn’t do drugs in high school or college. I wanted to be present in my life, I had all these big dreams. I wanted to run a PR firm and I didn’t want anything to mess that up.
I was very happy but then I made a mistake. I married my college party buddy. 9/11 happened when we were seniors. My husband joined the military, and he was away a lot. My marriage turned toxic and I was constantly drinking, not wanting to be present. I’d just had twins, a boy and a girl. I had my dream job in marketing at the National Football League. I love football, I grew up with it. I didn’t drink as much during the season, but when it ended, I drank all day long.
My cycle of going in and out of treatment centers
Over the next six years I was in and out of different treatment centers. I’ve been to more than twenty. In the first two years of trying to get sober, I had two back injuries. I had a herniated disc and had to get a spinal fusion. They prescribed me painkillers which made me feel so much better than drinking alcohol. Taking pills was easier to hide, and I felt energized, like super mom!
I had two-year-old twins and all the free medication I could ever want. I didn’t think it was a problem because I loved the way it made me feel. But the amount I was taking was creeping up to every two hours rather than the prescribed every four hours. This was around the time they were cutting down on doctors overprescribing medications, so I had to jump through hoops to get my last prescription.
In theory it sounds like a good idea to stop doctors prescribing these medications – to lock doctors up – but sometimes with this opioid crisis we put a plaster on an area, and it leaks out somewhere else. They didn’t think about all the people turning to the streets to get drugs illegally.
I ended up drinking again and then my husband and I had an altercation one day. He called the police and told them I was an alcoholic. They took my children away and sent them to live with my parents in Ireland and I ended up in yet another treatment center. My husband and I separated after that happened.
In my mind, I had nothing to live for. Every time I relapsed, I lost more friends. I’d had so many friends in high school. I was the one everyone turned to when they needed help. I went from that to the lowest point of my life, and no one would really talk to me anymore. Everyone was mad me and I just didn’t have the energy to care. My parents were devastated and kept telling me I’d had such a good upbringing, but it was nothing to do with that, I wasn’t doing it on purpose. It’s a massive misconception that people can just stop.
I didn’t want to be present in my life: I found heroin
I asked the dealer how it would make me feel and he said it’d be exactly the same as the pain pills, so I asked him to show me how to take it. I sniffed it in a car park. After that, I took anything. I was like, “what’s that? What will it do? Ok, give it to me”. I didn’t want to be sober at any point in any day. It brought me to my lowest, worst place ever.
I was lucky enough to go to a listed treatment center where they focused on organic eating and sports. I ended up staying in this sober living environment for four years and because I was so much older than everybody, I was really observant of the treatment process. All these girls were so much younger than me, they had no self-esteem, and they’d often relapse. It really got to me. I knew I wanted to do something to help people struggling with addiction like me. I’d been passionate about this since my fourth treatment center.
One day someone told my daughter her mom was a drug addict
During our separation, my husband took me off our insurance plan and I had no insurance for almost six months. I relapsed and realized if I didn’t take my health into my own hands I would die because no one was coming to save me. It would take weeks to get a bed in a state-run facility and I knew the level of care would be below par. I took myself off to ER and told them I was passing out. They stabilized my blood sugars, rehydrated me, and gave me potassium. After a few days they sent me home and I took it a day at a time, trying to find natural ways to increase my dopamine levels. I’ve been studying addiction ever since and it’s helped me to make sense of everything.
This path wasn’t easy but the more I studied my disease the more I realized we weren’t treating substance use disorder correctly. For years I thought I was broken but I was just a product of a broken system, and I knew I had to try and fix it. I made the decision that I was going to leave marketing and start working for non-profits.
My twins were always told Mommy had to leave to go make her back feel better. They were starting to realize that people don’t go away when they have problems with their back.
Lots of the parents knew about it and one of the boys at her camp had an older brother who told my daughter that I’d gone away because I was a drug addict. She came home crying about it. I couldn’t believe that someone’s parent had told their kid about it, and this was how my daughter had found out. But it was a blessing in disguise because I explained to them both what a substance use disorder is.
Fentanyl is in everything now
The drug supply is really bad. Fentanyl is in everything and it’s killing so many people. I’ve seen how the supply has changed in the last four years. I ended up getting stuff that would make me pass out. My dealer didn’t even know when he’d given me something different. I didn’t like it, but sleeping is better than feeling, right?
When someone overdoses and I was only speaking to them yesterday about how much they wanted to be clean and now they’re dead… I can’t take that anymore. As a society we’re blaming people for self-medicating when we have a failed mental health system in place. This is the only disease where we punish people, we take their children away. If it was different and we brought love and compassion into the mix, we could make a difference. At every level, things need to change.
My daughter Avery is just like me, she wants to make a difference too
We set up a website together and she was very thoughtful in how she designed it. We sell glow-in-the-dark wristbands because she wants people to know that even in their darkest moments, they are Worth Saving. Avery’s been working so hard to spread this message and even met the US President, Joe Biden.
Now I work for a bunch of non-profits, doing everything I can to make a difference to this crisis. An amazing human being that has a family and friends and is loved is dying every five minutes.1
If you know someone with an addiction, don’t give up hope on them
You have to have love with boundaries. Don’t cut them out of your life because they’ll give up on themselves. There’s no point telling them that life’s going to get better because in their head it’s not going to. People are just trying to escape the hurt that’s inside them. We need to be kind and compassionate if we want to help. A big misconception is that people relapse to hurt those around them. They don’t.
For anyone in treatment, I’d say start building a life you want to be present in. Find your purpose and your passion to help you break out of the world of delusions and numbness that comes with addition. And don’t be afraid to speak up for the type of healthcare you want. You don’t have to do everything that you’re being told to do in treatment if it doesn’t sit right with you.
You are worth saving. Don’t give up on yourself.
(1) CDC. U.S. Overdose Deaths In 2021 Increased Half as Much as in 2020 – But Are Still Up 15%. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2022/202205.htm. Last updated: May 11, 2022. Last accessed: May 4, 2023.
Elissa and Avery’s website, Worth Saving, https://worthsaving.co/. Accessed May 8, 2023.
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