Today, I am hosting a very special episode of “Other Bad Mothers.” Please welcome my sister, Brett, who is celebrating two things today: the day she was born and the day she came back to life– her third year of sobriety! She spent 15 years locked away in an addiction to pain killers. We can all learn something from her journey down to the bottom and back up to the peak. So take it away, Birthday Girl…
I lay on the cold concrete floor. No mattress. No blanket. No pillow. Just me and the concrete. Lights had been on 24 hrs a day for a couple days now. My teeth felt like they were covered in fur. My room stunk and my only companion was a stark, white toilet. The door would unlock and open just long enough for someone to push a cold meal into the room with a foot. I was a dog in a cage.
This, my friends, is jail. And not just any ordinary jail…it was the very jail where I had been a Police Officer. I was the one that had held the key to those doors. Now, I was the disgraced ex-cop, drug-addicted, repeat offender that many of the officers peeked in to stare at. I overheard a lot of remarks as I sat silently in my cell. But one of those comments devastated me and still resides in me somewhere.
A Deputy peeked in and said to another Deputy “Well, what do you think about her?”
He looked up at me through the glass and said “I think she’s disgusting.”
My first thought was “Well, duh! I don’t have make-up on. Just wait until you see me fixed up.” But I was wrong. I was a disgusting 42 year old wife and mother of three wonderful boys who had a prescription drug problem that had landed me in trouble on more than this occasion. I had a disgusting problem that no amount of Mary Kay was going to cover.
So, as I lay on that cold floor I began to wonder how things ever would change for me. Why had I gotten so off track and how on earth would I ever make necessary changes? I went through the stages of grief: anger, humiliation, feeling sorry for myself, self-loathing, and every other deprecating emotion I could conjure up. I tried to pray. I had no idea how to pray and felt like I was reaching out to a person I had never met. How do you ask a stranger for help? I had only asked God for things that had brought on this demise, so how NOW do I have the right to ask for ANYTHING?
But I did it anyway. I chose to ask for Acceptance. Acceptance of this situation, right here, right now. I was completely out of control. No amount of arguing, manipulation, batting eye-lashes, begging or pleading would unlock that door. It was in those hours, in those days that my mind began to change. I finally could wrap my ahead around the amount of damage and destruction that I had brought into my life and the lives of those around me. I was from a middle class family, private school, college, flight school, commercial pilot, police officer/crime scene investigator. Opportunity after opportunity—I slowly destroyed them all.
And I was disgusting.
This was it. This was as far as I was willing to go for the love of a Pain Pill. I was no longer getting out of it what I was putting into it. The product was no longer worth what I was paying for it. Saying MERCY is hard. Giving up. Looking at strangers and saying, “I’m a complete idiot. I have made a complete mess out of my life. Can you please tell me how to put it back together?”
“I don’t know how to go to bed without using drugs. How do I work without it? Or do dishes, or vacuum? I can’t get up in the morning without it. I can’t possibly go on vacation. GOD knows I can’t get through a family function. I am surrounded by extremely accomplished people and I am a liar and a thief.”
Luckily I found a place (oops, I mean a Judge found a place) that I could go and relearn all of the things I should have already known. And I could do it with 48 other women who were as disgusting as I was. Now, don’t get me wrong. I did NOT go skipping down to rehab singing “Zippadee Doo Dah.” Not. At. All.
I arrived on my 42nd birthday. Madder than Hell.
I didn’t sleep for 14 days. Because of the anxiety, I had to bite the skin on the back of my hand so hard that I thought it would leave scars. The pain in my hand was the only thing that relieved me. I had to sneak into the showers in the middle of the night (huge rule-breaker, but hey…that’s how I got there) and stand under hot water until my muscles would relax. I threw up, I stomped around mad, I cursed, had panic attacks and missed my children so badly my heart actually hurt. I hated myself and every minute of my situation. Three months passed before I cracked a smile—and eased up on myself just a little. And then a little more.
And then I met some wonderful girls. Girls just like me who were mothers, sisters, wives, daughters. I realized the stories we could share, because WE understood each other. WE could relate. WE could rely on the strength of each other to unburden ourselves of the grief and guilt that WE had used to tear our lives apart. When I shared my experiences with others and waited to be judged, it was met with “Oh my GOD.. that’s exactly what I did…”
I emptied every bit of my trash with those women. Nobody judged, because they had been there and hell, even done worse! I had always heard the corny saying “The truth shall set you free.” Well, not in my experience, until now. I happen to prefer Gloria Steinem’s version: “The truth shall set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Damn straight, it did.
Nothing has been more FREEING than letting my truths out. I was my own prisoner and kept myself in my own prison. It took a long time to slowly creep out of that cage into the real world. It took a lot of people. It took a lot of listening. I was in treatment for 7 months. It took what it took. And that’s what it took for me.
It’s been three years now that I have been drug FREE. Believe it or not, I can get up and go to work drug FREE. I can take my kids to school, drug FREE. I can vacuum and do laundry drug FREE. I can sleep at night and get up in the morning. I am FREE. Free from the self-imposed chains that bound me.
There is no gift in life more valuable to me than my personal and emotional freedom. And I will do anything to protect it.
I would encourage anyone with a drug/alcohol addiction to engage in long-term residential treatment. I returned to my treatment center on my 1st year clean and spoke to a room full of strangers. I told my story with no guilt or shame. Afterwards, someone approached me and asked “Do you really think a leopard can change its spots?” I replied, “Probably not. Good thing I’m not a leopard.”
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you tell a story! Happy Birthday, Brett. I’m so glad you’re here. I love you and I’m proud of you.