as told to Melinda Hornback
No one wakes up and says, “Today I think I will be an addict.” I didn’t choose to be an addict. Sometimes, it feels like it chose me. I have been around people who use pills my whole life. I’ve lived all the fears that come with growing up in that type of world. Probably the hardest for me was never learning how to cope with pain, suffering, loss and just life without the use of pills.
I have been married three times. My marriages gave me good memories, bad memories and nightmares. My best memories are the birth of five beautiful children, three daughters and two sons. I would give my life for my children. My story of addiction and recovery is not the story of a junkie. It is the story of a mother with an addiction to pills. I never chose to hurt my children. I chose to use pills. Unfortunately, that choice devastated what was most precious to me.
I physically hurt, and my husband came home one day with magic in a bag. Those pills took away my pain, and I liked the feeling. I found they took away more than my physical pain; they numbed the emotional pain as well. Thoughts of childhood abuse no longer haunted me. I used the pills off and on as the ache in my body, and my heart, demanded.
Then my fourth child, a precious baby boy, was born. He was 1 month and 27 days old when he died of SIDS. My husband found him. I started screaming. I wanted him to do something, CPR, call an ambulance, anything. Make this go away. One of my daughters was screaming and crying. When the EMT pronounced him dead, I think I died too. Not a part of me, but all of me.
People say the dumbest things when you are grieving. “He is in a better place.” No, his place was in my arms. “God must have needed another angel.” No, God has plenty of angels. “This is God’s will.” No, God wants us all to be perfect and whole. Sin entered the world and caused death. “You have four other children who need you.”
Like I didn’t know this. “God allows these things for a reason.” It is the last two that made me go home, reach for a bag, and swallow a solution. My children needed me, and this was the only way I knew to put one foot in front of the other. Then there was God. While He did not suffocate my baby, I knew He had the power to stop it, and He didn’t. An anger began to settle into my soul, one that years in Sunday school had taught me was a sin.
No one taught me how to deal with stress or loss. I felt alone in a world full of people. I went to a counselor, who called my doctor and asked him to prescribe me something. Smart move. Eventually, the doctor realized I had a problem and he stopped feeding my addiction. I had to seek the pills off the street, lots of them. I began doing whatever it took to get the relief I needed. I thought I was being a good mom. The front part of my brain was so numb, I couldn’t see the truth. My children were falling apart, and it was my fault. My girls left me. They went to live with their father. It broke my heart, but they were right. I tried to get into rehab, several of them. I was crying out for help. I was placed on several waiting lists, with no date of admission in sight.
One year after my baby died, a neighbor called social services and my son was taken from me. If I were thinking clearly, this would have rocked me into sobriety. This is what people expect to happen when your child is ripped from your home. In reality, you feel more powerless and more like a failure, which makes you take more pills. It is impossible to make good decisions when your brain is not working.
A judge placed my case in drug court. I failed a few drug screens and my levels were getting so high that the judge knew I was going to die, and at this point, I was okay with that. The judge locked me up to detox. I thought I was going to die in that cell. I was so sick. However, when I came home I knew what I needed to do. I hated my social worker. She was hard on me. When I completed A, B, C to get my son back, she presented me with D, E, F. It made me so mad. The expectations kept changing. Today, I realize how fortunate I was to have her and the judge who cared enough to stay on me. I was also blessed that my son was placed in a foster home of a woman I knew. She was great with my son, and he was safe.
Following my jail detox experience, I never used pills again. I have been clean for six years. However, I traded one addiction for another and began drinking. Three years ago, I met someone who reminded me of who I am in Christ. They reminded me that God, my daddy, is a king and I am His princess. I don’t understand God and the decisions He makes, but I knew I needed Him. I forgave God for not giving me what I wanted and accepted the grace he was offering. God’s grace overwhelms me. I have been sober for three years. I envision God sitting with me and telling me He loves me and is proud of me.
If you are a Christian or someone who loves someone with an addiction, love them, pray for them, wait for them to be ready. Your love will make a greater impact than your anger, disappointment or judgment. These drive us further toward destruction. Don’t give up on us.
I wish my transformation had magically healed my family, but it has been hard work to restore my relationship with my children. I hurt them and I can’t take that away. My son had to transition back into our house. He is doing great now. I think my girls have forgiven me. Their dad and I co-parent and this is working well. The girls and I have built a special relationship. Sometimes, I wish I could go back and have a “normal” life with my girls, but I’ve learned that different can be good too. My children had to learn who I was clean and sober, and they had to learn to trust that I would stay that way. That takes time, but it is so worth the wait.
Life isn’t perfect, but now I know I have an inner strength that did not exist before, and it feels great.
This story originally appeared in Facing Addiction in Knox County, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky.