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As an RN i am asked by many people why i ever used heroin?! When i was 8 yrs old i knew i wanted to be a nurse, i KNEW throughout my soul i wanted to work with sick children, as a nurse. I was confident that i had what i took to sit and talk, laugh and help children that were sick and scared. I am asked repeatedly as a recovering addict where i made the choice to take the wrong path and begin using… It is my history that i became not only a pediatric RN specializing in oncology, but also a IV drug user specializing in heroin. I came to both of those life paths while trying to survive my past childhood trauma. I watched my mother and father getting high and drunk my entire childhood, myself and my siblings were in and out of hospitals, as our father turned his rage on us after beating our mother senseless many, many nights. We were victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse and mental abuse…everyday…i repeat, everyday of our lives! The nurses at the various hospitals were my lifeline, they were my heroes. They always knew their was more to our stories, to our bruises. They would bring us Popsicle’s for busted mouths, food to eat when we hadn’t had any for 3 or more days, they would hug us and cry from indignation and anger. I vowed to be a nurse and somehow repay their kindness and caring to other children in our situation.
My road to addiction did not begin until i was 24, i never had smoked pot, i had been drunk 1 time only, on my 21st birthday..i was a prude so to speak. Both of my parents had passed by then, and i had my daughter, happily married and living my dream. Then one night i’m working in the ER, and this little girl gets brought in, 9 years old..stomach pain. Hard rigid stomach, excruciating pain, low grade fever and her mother is standing there looking at her wringing her hands. Her mother had the same look i often saw in my own mothers face, it wasn’t a look that conveyed fear for her health, it wasn’t a look that was endearing. Immediately i turned and looked at the doctor, way overstepping my professional boundaries and ordered him to get a ultrasound, NOW! I had worked with this doctor for 3 years and had never overstepped my professional bound in any capacity. 4 mins later he confirmed what i already knew, this 50 lbs very slight little girl was in active labor. This woman wasn’t even phased, just kept shooting her baby “The Look”, 53 mins after she was admitted, this little girl gave birth to a stillborn son. In stumbles her drunken father, and i flipped my shit! I hit him in the face with a chair, i punched her mother in the face and i was suspended without pay until my union looked into the incident.
That was the first time i ever tried a drug in my entire life. You see i was that little girl, she was me. I couldn’t save her, i couldn’t keep my promise to children like her..like me. I went from being something i was so proud of to being my parents..why? Directly related to my childhood trauma! I became the same people i promised to protect innocent children from. I lost my license for 5 years, that daughter i was so proud of..my ex-husband took her from me, and rightly so. To this day she won’t forgive me. I have since reclaimed sobriety, i have my RN license back and i fight as a child advocate in court proceedings.
That very night that i used, the first time ever, ANY drug, sucked me into a 10 yr long ride to hell. It also gave me the unique ability to forgive my mother and father, yet hate them both for their legacy bestowed upon me. You see as i lay on that table when i was 8 yrs old giving birth to my father’s child, i vowed to be the nurse who beat the shit out of my father and then started in on my mother. I will never forget her screaming in the hallway, in handcuffs demanding my rights and speaking against my atrocities.
I have always been very shy, anxiety filled, and awkward so I always had a hard time making myself socialize, and therefore was often without friends. I was about 12 when two different family friends allowed me access to alcohol and marijuana, I honestly didn’t understand how to inhale it until much later, but the alcohol, well it was normally awful. But I had finally started making friends and they were from the “wrong side of the creek”, I enjoyed having something “cool” about myself, and when I was drinking I was so much more comfortable talking to people. It eventually became a weekend ritual to get drunk on Friday and Saturday nights. By 14 I was taking Xanax with my drinks. Around that time I also began occasionally receiving a very high dose of Vicodin from a family member when I would get my braces tightened, and once when I cracked my head open. I want to state, so you understand how easy it is to get dragged into this cycle, that I did not know what these drugs were and honestly, as it was the early 2000’s I don’t think most pain patients were even aware what they were getting themselves into. I had seen them in my home, and knew people took them to get high, I was not completely naive, but I had no idea of the link to heroin at that time. I did not ask for them or hint that I needed them, but the first time I took one, a whole one, despite the fact that I was dizzy and nauseated from taking way too much, I was floating. I went back every time it was offered, and found ways when it wasn’t. By high school I had access to an almost unlimited supply of opioids, Xanax and alcohol. No one was really monitoring how much I was using or how often, and a lot of the time I hid my use so no one really knew what I was mixing. It scares me to think of it now. But to my mind I wasn’t an addict, I just liked to party “carefully”, and later less carefully. I always stood firm and refused coke, which is the only “hard drug” I was ever offered. But I still fell into a 10 year cycle of using adderall, vicodin, percocet, and xanax basically daily (because you see, to my mind these were not hard drugs because they came from a pharmacy). By my 17th birthday I was drinking and using drugs daily, I didn’t use the same drug two days in a row to avoid chemical dependence, so obviously the dangers had begun to filter into my mind. But I didn’t stop. I had two children in the time I was caught up in my addiction, I would stay clean while I was pregnant, and walk out of the hospital with a prescription for percocet, it felt like a prize for staying clean. The longer I used the stronger my denial was, I would work 2 and 3 jobs to keep my bills paid and pay for my addiction. Even then I was seemingly content to go on as I was, but thankfully the more regulated and strict guidelines started rolling out for prescribing opioids. Suddenly I was having a harder and harder time finding my “drug of choice”, and then when I would, after days of being clean I would get too high, get a headache and fall asleep, and usually oversleep for work the next morning. I think my body was over me being in charge. The downside to the drug laws was for some reason I was constantly being offered harder drugs now that the percocet and vicodin were so difficult to get. I had only heard of Oxy once and never dilaudid until I started easing off the drugs, suddenly they were everywhere. I always turned them down, and I am so grateful to this day that I did. After my father died I really looked into myself and tried to take control of my life. I started digging into addiction research and educating myself about what was going into my body. And then I moved, I changed my job, my friends, everything. I somehow quit using all medications and alcohol. I am so thankful for every day I am here and clean to enjoy the life I have.
Losing a loved one to an overdose is devastating, losing your significant other to an overdose changes every single aspect in one’s life. This is the story of my fiance Ryan, a heroin addict. Ryan was an amazing, caring, funny, loving man. He had the most beautiful blue eyes, that sparkled like diamonds on the surface, a hidden deep sadness inside. If you were lucky enough to catch him in a smile and not his Macho gangster man face, LOL, it was the most beautiful smile you have ever seen. Ryan was very intelligent and full of information. I remember when we first met he and my son would have debates on topics and I just sat there, astounded at how smart the 2 boys were. Ryan’s personality was like no other, he was outgoing, funny, always the center of attention everywhere he went. As a little kid in school, he was class clown, gave his teachers and his mother a run for their money. His good looks and personality made him quite charming.
Ryan had a passion for cars, especially tailoring them to fit his style. Whether it was painting red pin strips down the side of his Envoy, installing a stereo system so loud it would blow your ears out or spending hours trying to find the perfect set of rims, you’d always find him in the garage.
But Ryan battled every day of his life for over 15 years with substance use disorder. Early on in his teen years Ryan started using drugs. Whether it was smoking weed, pills such as Xanax or OxyContin’s, Meth, or Heroin, he had eventually tried it all. Heroin being one of his main doc’s. His drug use lead to legal issues, drug possession charges that resulted in him spending more then 8 years of his life behind bars.
Meanwhile, as he was locked in solitary confinement, Ryan received a phone that would forever turn his world upside down, his best friend, his only brother Eric has died 10/27/13 from a heroin overdose. Ryan was brought to the funeral home in shackles and was given a time with his brother to say his goodbyes, but prison rules are No one allowed in the facility with him. He had to say good bye alone, with no one there for support. Then off back to prison where he was put back in solitary confinement alone. Heart breaking to say the least.
When Ryan came home after his brother died he stayed away from the drugs for awhile but had replaced them with alcohol. He was working full time, not missing a single day, while drinking a liter of whiskey and a 6 pack of Steele reserve every night after work. His depression got worse, as he struggled with the loss of his brother, not knowing how to even begin grieving. His drinking lasted long enough, until the night he crashed his Harley for the 2nd time and totaled it. Then he was back to occasionally using meth and heroin but tried to hide the heroin use as he knew I didn’t approve of it whatsoever as his brother died from it and the last thing we’d ever want to happen would be to lose him too. Life just wasnt the same at all for Ryan with Eric gone. He lied about little dumb things along with his heroin use but it was obvious when he was on it. I knew no matter how hard I tried to stop him, I wouldn’t succeed until he was ready to be done. But I never gave up trying, even if it meant I had to sneak and take his bags of heroin and flush them, he wasn’t going to die off that bag. That created arguments. Sorry, his life was more important then the $300 he had just spent on that bag.
Ryan and I were together for over 5 years, and in that 5 years, he had overdosed at home with me to find him, 6 times, one requiring him to be on life support for a week as he had aspirated vomit and immediately had pneumonia and was deathly ill. But he is a fighter and pulled through. He had suffered an anoxic brain injury from lack of oxygen, affecting a little bit of his memory, which got better over time.
Ryan spent 4 out of the last 5 months of his life in jail. We had such high hopes that things would be better when he came home, after all the tears, pain and struggle we had just dealt with for the 4 -5 months with him in jail because he got kicked out of treatment for using. But it was only a matter of days before he was using heroin with a guy he met while he was in jail. I told Ryan he couldn’t stay where we were living if he was going to be using heroin, we could not afford to get kicked out and I didn’t want him to die. My biggest fear was that I would come home and fine him dead. The countless sleepless nights spent worrying, laying there next to him with my head or hand on his chest making sure he was breathing. He used to always say it seemed like I was happy when he ended up in jail. No, I wasn’t happy, id rather him be out and home with me but when he was locked up, I knew he was safe and alive. I didn’t have to worry about finding him dead.
1:26 am on 11/28/17 Ryan called to tell me that he was on his way home. “I’m on my way home, I’ll see you soon, I love you” he said. I told him I loved him too and waited for him to get home. I had no clue those words we had just spoke, would be the last we’d speak to one another. My life was about to be forever changed.
Shortly after 2am I received a phone call from a friend of ours that was with Ryan, stating that they were home parked out front and that Ryan was passed out in the front seat and he needed my assistance in helping him get in the house. Passed out??? Immediately my stomach grew sick as I went outside, my eyes drawn immediately to Ryan’s face through the passenger window. I knew that very instant he wasn’t just “passed out”. He was overdosing and nearly dead. His eyes open, in a dead state, unable to move, barely a gurgle for a breath. I couldn’t find a pulse. This was not happening, he wasn’t dying, no not happening. I immediately began giving him CPR as I yelled and screamed to call 911. Frantic, a I grabbed my phone and also called 911, yelling for his buddy to get my Narcan kit from my purse. He couldn’t find it, I told him to take over CPR while I run to get it. He stated he didn’t know how to do CPR. This was not happening, I couldn’t let him die. I ran to get the Narcan kit and was back to do CPR within seconds. I administered the Narcan and nothing,
no response. Why is the narcan not working he isnt waking up I kept screaming into the phone at the 911 operator until paramedics arrived. They gave him a 2nd dose of Narcan and still nothing. He was rushed to the hospital where shortly after he arrived he went in to cardiac arrest and his heart stopped. They got it beating again but he had been without oxygen so he had to be placed on a ventilator to breath for him. His prognosis wasn’t good they told me, as I stood next to him in the ER, alone. How could this be happening? A family conference with the Drs was scheduled and 5 days later on 12/3/2017 I stood by his side, holding his hand so very tight, tears pouring down my face, my heart breaking into a million pieces as I watched the man I was to spend the rest of my life with, take his last breath, his heart one last beat. At 1:50 PM 12/3/2017 Ryan was gone. The substance he was sold, I believe was laced with fentanyl, killed him. The hospital didn’t test him for Fentanyl despite my numerous avid requests to have it done. Why didn’t they test him for it? My gut tells me it’s because they screwed up by giving him fentanyl when he was going through a induced hypothermia procedure. He was already overdosing on something, was that something fentanyl, and when the hospital gave him more it contributed to his prognosis turning more grim, resulting in death? After 4 months of waiting for police to call back, they finally did and I was able to give them the remaining baggie of substance and have it sent to the forensics lab and tested. Horrified, heartbroken, and just numb as I try to wrap my head around the question “is this really happening?” I live in denial, refusing to believe he’s really gone. We were supposed to spend the rest of our lives together, I may not get to spend forever with him, but he got to spend the rest of his forever with me.
Today, as I figure out how to even begin the grieving process, I am an advocate/ambassador for a non-profit called Shatterproof, a national organization fighting to reduce the devastation and stigma surrounding addiction, and bring awareness and education to our communities. I was recently awarded a scholarship from the addiction policy Forum to go to Washington DC and meet with Congress and share his story and discuss different roadblocks when it comes to getting somebody into treatment, medicated assistant programs and most importantly education and stigma. I share his story, our story in hopes one day someone struggling listens to it and something from our story is enough to save their life. His death has brought purpose to not only his life but to mine. I love him with all my heart and soul. May you rest in peace until it’s time to meet me at the heavens gate..
Please dont sit and be silent. Stand up and be their voice. Share your story in hopes, too, that yours will save a life.