“You Are Worth It” is the message that Hanna, 32, of Waco, TX would want to share with anyone who is struggling with substance abuse or addiction. She knows. She’s been there. With an amazing two years of sobriety, Hanna can look back and say that there were times she didn’t believe her life was worth fighting for. But now, after extraordinary success in medication assisted treatment for a prescription pain medication addiction, she knows that’s a lie. A lie she told herself when she wasn’t strong enough to imagine not using.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
At the age of 19, Hanna underwent a gastric bypass surgery in search of a healthier, more active life. No one could have predicted, especially not Hanna, that this surgery would set in motion a chain of events that would change her life forever. There were life-threatening complications following the surgery that led to a month long stay in the ICU, and a tremendous amount of pain to overcome. Medicated during her stay, Hanna was sent home with opiate pain medication to ease the long recovery ahead. Soon the pain subsided and the medication was no longer needed during the day, but she took it at night to ensure full nights of pain free rest, a key in getting back on her feet.
As is often the case, Hanna realized that she felt great when she was taking the medication. Her thought was, “there are meds left in the bottle, why wouldn’t I take them”. It never occurred to her that this was not normal thinking. When asked by her doctors about pain, she said it was minimal but that she was still taking some medication at night and no one indicated to her that might be a problem. As the feelings of warmth and happiness and comfort grew, her attachment to the opiates grew along with it. She began to complain to doctors about pain returning, and in turn they prescribed more medication. They were just showing compassion. They were just trying to help. And she readily accepted that help.
At the age of 22, things really changed. Sure she’d smoked a little pot in high school, or maybe had a beer or two. But now, things were different. Now her body was addicted before her mind even knew what had happened. She certainly didn’t plan to get addicted, she just didn’t see it coming. “People think addicts are criminals” she says, “but they aren’t. It can happen to anyone…regular people, the person next door.”
A LIFE OUT OF CONTROL
The next decade of Hanna’s life illustrates a cycle that is so familiar to those who have experienced an issue with opiate addiction or dependency. The struggle to stay high is replaced by the struggle to simply not be sick. It’s not fun. You aren’t euphoric and happy and relaxed, you just have no choice in the matter. The doctors soon caught on to her, and she was unable to get more prescription medication.
Now in nursing school, and working in a medical facility, a temporary solution to the doctor problem presented itself. Hanna took Vicodin, a common opiate, off of her own medication cart. For a few days things were good, but as always, the other shoe dropped. She got caught. Subsequently, she lost her job, lost her place in nursing school, and now had a felony theft charge on her record. And, worst of all, she was back at square one. Once again, she had no way to get the opiates her body so desperately needed.
This turn of events really changed Hanna’s perspective, and sparked her reaching out for help for the very first time. But, in retrospect, she didn’t really want to stop using. She just wanted to look good in court, do and say all the right things, and try to minimize the consequences of her actions. After a short time, she was in a sober living and an even shorter time after that she was back to her old tricks. But the game was about to change yet again.
As is so often the case, prescription opiates can be difficult to obtain when the doctors have caught on, the funds run low and you’re out of options. And so, street drugs became her solution. Heroin to be exact. It’s accessible, it’s inexpensive and best of all you don’t have to be sick. But as comforting as that fact may have been, Hanna’s life spiraled out of control in less than a month. After another stint in rehab, she emerged free of heroin, and has stayed that way ever since. But, the pills were waiting to pick up where the heroin left off and once again as the cycle always does, she was caught up again.
Through the years of Hanna’s use, she participated in four different inpatient treatments utilizing an abstinence-based approach to recovery. Though she was given medication during detox, and anti-anxiety prescriptions during her various stays, inevitably the cravings overpowered and she continued to relapse at some point or another after each rehab facility. Without the aftercare support she needed, she just wasn’t able to overcome the intense physical withdrawals and stay sober. At this point, all hope was lost. She couldn’t see a way out, and so she went all in.
As her addiction deepened, and her hold on hope was lost, she began to find herself in dangerous situations. She found herself surrounded by people who were only too happy to provide her drugs of any and all kinds. Anything she needed to be “okay”. She was living day to day with friends, drug dealers, anywhere she could use in relative safety and anonymity. It wasn’t until she was held at gun point that she understood the gravity of her situation. After a narrow escape, she called her father for the first time in who knows how long, and she asked for help. “I had a real moment of clarity for the first time in 12 years. I realized I was worth it, that I didn’t have to live that life”, Hanna noted.
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL: MEDICATION ASSISTED TREATMENT
On a Thursday, just over two years ago, Hanna called MedMark Treatment Centers in Waco, TX. It was the first program she called. They provide medication assisted treatment with methadone for those suffering from an opiate addiction. She’s been there ever since. She was able to speak to other patients experiencing recovery through the program, and for the first time in more than 10 years, she had hope.
“I experience a quality of life now I never thought possible” says Hanna. As a part of the MedMark recovery program, she is not only able to control the physical symptoms associated with withdrawal symptoms through carefully monitored medication, but is able to participate in group and individual counseling. Counseling is an integral part of treatment, focusing on the behavioral aspects of addiction including the underlying causes as well as the consequences experienced. Hanna, like so many who suffer from opiate addiction, had no way to process emotion in a healthy way before. Now, she’s able to live a happier, healthy, productive life surrounded by people who understand her struggles. And, something she never expected, she’s found love again. She’s in a loving, supportive relationship with someone, which seemed like an impossible dream before.
When asked what advice Hanna has for the newcomer, she says she’d give the same advice that she was given. Don’t take advantage of the program and seek a larger dose than you need to feel well, and don’t walk in planning to stay on the medication for the rest of your life. Work the program the way it’s intended, taking advantage of every available resource. Counseling is not just a part of the program, it’s the most important part. “When you are ready to get clean, you’ll know”, is a phrase Hanna says she never understood, until she was ready. When the moment comes, you’ll know.