Friday, October 13, 2017

Tess' Journey from Addiction to Being A Part of Her Higher Power


Tess is an incredible young woman who sat down with me recently and shared her journey through the hell of addiction and recovery. Her story is incredible. Please share it with others who may be struggling with drug addiction. It is part of spreading awareness. 

Tess started the descent into her personal hell of addiction at the age of fourteen. Smoking weed with her cousins made her feel cool, a “bad ass.” The underlying reason for her addiction may have been genetics since her biological father was an alcoholic, but something lurked beneath the surface of a young woman who wanted to be a part of something.  Instead of experiencing bullying at school, which frequently happened, she needed to be a part of a circle of friends. She wanted desperately to be a part of her family by carrying her stepdad’s last name. Tess’s need drove her to a community of people she could be a part of, but it put her on the road to heroin, a broad path to destruction. 

Tess snorted heroin for the first time at age 16. She also found herself expelled from high school for not only possession of weed, but smoking it as well. Tess spent two weeks in jail for her offense. Since she was a minor, they placed her in solitary confinement. Imagine the fear of four walls closing in without anyone to be a part of. Her greatest fear when she went to jail was becoming “dope sick.”Her only recourse? Do something unthinkable, something she won’t even mention. 

Tess distinctly remembers the first time she mainlined heroin. It is the main reason why addicts are always searching for their first high.  Her new pack of friends, the people she felt a part of made her lie on the bed with her arms extended. When they injected the heroin into her veins, she felt a rush of warmth that completely enveloped her. She honestly believes she experienced heaven, something she refers to as “an exotic, gorgeous feeling.” She fell in love with heroin that day, and it was the beginning of a downward spiral into addiction and all that goes along with it to keep her one goal in mind, the bliss of her first love, her first encounter with heroin. 

In some ways, especially after her experience in jail, Tess wanted to make a change. She moved to Illinois to live with her grandfather and his wife. She worked in a flower shop and was doing well. Eventually, she gravitated toward the wrong crowd again, the constant gravitational pull toward the center of Heroin’s universe. At this point, she had a profound revelation, and it changed her view of her addiction. She wasn’t just a heroin addict; she was a drug addict. The reason her new friends set her on a different path? She did a line with them, and it burned because it wasn’t cocaine, another drug she grew to love; it was methamphetamine (Meth).  Her addiction to Meth, dramatically altered her appearance. Tess went down to a mere 85 pounds. She had brittle nails. Dehydration and malnutrition took over her body and sought to destroy it. She didn’t sleep and couldn’t get out of bed without smoking Meth. In other words, she was a messed up Meth head. 

Tess learned about divine protection after her experience in Illinois. She eventually moved out of her grandparents home and moved in with a man twice her age. Klonopin became her secondary drug after doing a line of Meth. Big chunks of memory are lost from this time, but what she does remember is disheartening to her. Tess used her body to manipulate men into giving her money for drugs. Realizing she would do anything for her high, she once again made a choice to get out of the situation she found herself in. She called her mom and begged her to pick her up. She did. Tess slept for two weeks. She stopped using Meth but also had to withdraw from Klonopin. Once again, she went back to her drug of choice.  Heroin helped her withdraw from the Klonopin. The vicious cycle never stopped. It whirled around in her body and brain. Tess was under siege, and the battle to take her down took a violent turn toward further destruction. 

When she looks back on it now, she knows God was watching over her. Police arrested the man she lived with for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine. Investigators had pictures of her picking up Sudafed, a key ingredient in making Crystal Meth. If she had stayed in Illinois, she would be in prison right now. Her live-in boyfriend received a 12-year sentence. Fate saved her. It saved her not once, but twice.  One night she shot up two bundles of heroin. She did it all at once because she couldn’t see herself every changing or getting better. The only thing she saw was garbage. Tess had a seizure and woke up on the floor 48 hours later to a feeling of isolation; no one knew what happened. No one was there to get her help. No one to be a part of if she died, alone.  Tess did feel a sense of relief when she realized she didn’t die; in fact, she thought it was a sign: Divine protection. 

After her near-death experience, Tess, yet again, went to detox. She met a guy who brought her into his home as a homeless junkie, something she referred to herself as at the time. She stayed sober for nine months, but she eventually relapsed, and the new guy in her life followed suit. Unfortunately, she taught him to shoot up, and his life spiraled out of control as well. Drug court caught up with him for using, and he went to jail for a few months. 

Although someone introduced Tess to a twelve-step program several years ago; she thought it was a cult, a joke. She just didn’t understand or respect the organization. She feels differently now. Her obsession changed because of God, and she now believes in AA and considers it a design for living. Working the twelve-steps to recovery has been hard, especially since she had to do a moral inventory of her life. She now recognizes how manipulative she can be, and she isn’t a decent friend. Tess also sponsors people within AA, and she lives in a supportive living program where five other recovering addicts live as well. Simple things like doing laundry and hiking mean she is beginning to live a healthy life, a normal life. 

Tess believes everything she has been through is for a purpose, a divine design. She doesn’t need to know God’s will; she just needs to know everything happens for a reason. She may not always see it, but eventually, she does. Tess is attending MCC and is interested in becoming a parole officer. It is part of her giving back after everything she has been through. Although she has learned some difficult things, there are positives as well. “You have to step over bodies to be successful in AA,” Tess said, “but there is also the power of choice. It really is power.” Stepping over bodies is because of the many people who die from overdoses, sometimes even good friends.


Although addiction is not a choice and more of a disease, the decision to get clean is not always easy. However, there is power in making a choice. You may not ever feel free, but please know where to turn when the road home gets rocky and full of twists and turns. Look upward, for your redemption is close at hand.  As far as feeling a part of,  Tess now knows God is the answer. He is your answer as well. 


Saturday, September 2, 2017

What to Do When You Encounter an Overdose


As I sat on the front steps of my son’s house holding my six-month-old granddaughter, I watched a car pass and then pull into a driveway two doors down. I laughed to myself when I saw the guy’s head go down as if he was looking at something in his lap. Apparently, he couldn’t wait to start texting. I brought Giada in the house, gave her bottle, and settled her down for a nap. When she woke up, we followed our usual routine of walking through the kitchen into the dining area and eventually looking out the windows at the trees and sky.  I felt drawn to the front steps again, so I brought Giada outside so she could gaze up into the heavens. We sat on the steps again, and as I looked down the street, I observed the young man still sitting in his car, but he looked more hunched over than an hour before. He didn’t move. A sense of panic pushed me into motion. I knew in my heart something was horribly wrong. I put Giada in her stroller and ran down the street. He never turned off his engine. With every ounce of courage I had, I shook him. Nothing. I shook him again while repeatedly saying, “Are you okay?” Nothing. It took five times before he looked up at me and passed right out again. I knew he overdosed.

      I ran down the street to get my son’s mother-in-law, Kimmie. They lived next door to him.  Kimmie said his mother and sister’s car were both in the driveway, so she called them. They didn’t answer. We both ran down to the house again, and I pounded on the door. I felt a sense of urgency with every fist punch against the door. She finally answered. “Something is wrong with your son.”

She ran out of the house yelling, “Do I need to give you Narcan? Turn off that car.” 

He barely responded, only grunts. 

“Are you high? Do I need to call 911.” She turned to her daughter and told her to call 911.

“What am I supposed to say, “ she yelled back at her mother.

I offered to call, but she refused. Kimmie and I left and went back to her house. A few minutes later, two police cars arrived. When the ambulance came they removed the handcuffs and transported him. I thought they gave him Narcan, but they did not. There is a chance he was using and drinking. Earlier in the day, he crashed his car. 

The incident shook me to the core. I kept thinking of my own son. The what-ifs. I also wondered what would have happened if I didn’t see him. What if I didn’t check to see if he was okay or they never called 911? 

I realize now since heroin addiction is at our churches, on the street, in our schools, and even in our homes, it is time to learn how to recognize a heroin overdose and what steps an individual should take when encountering one. 

1) Make sure you know the signs. The following is not an exhaustive list, but it should help:
- Pale skin
- Blue tint to lips
- Shallow breaths or gasping for breath
- Extreme drowsiness
- Disoriented
- Seizures
- Weak pulse
- Vomiting while not quite conscious

2) If you see any of these signs, call 911. I shouldn’t have waited. Fear took over, and I ran for help instead. 

3) According to Desert Hope Treatment Center, after calling 911, do the following:

- Check to make sure the person is breathing.
- If the person is not breathing, CPR can be administered by someone trained in CPR.
- Turn the person on his/her side into the rescue position. In vomiting occurs, this ensures the person will not choke.
- Loosen articles of clothing that may be binding while trying to keep the person warm.
- Stay calm and try to keep the individual calm.
- Do not try to make the person vomit or eat without professional advice to do so.

4) If you are using and someone has overdosed, don’t wait to call 911 to get rid of paraphernalia. You don’t want an addict to die as a result of your fear. Justin Forrester died because someone called a local drug store inquiring about Narcan and then proceeded to clean up before calling 911. There are Good Samaritan Laws to protect individuals who call for help. 

5) Become CPR certified. Many ambulance services in your local community offer CPR training. 

6) Become Naloxone (Narcan) certified.
- Strong Recovery is offering the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program every first Tuesday of the month from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.  The program is held at Strong Recovery, 300 Crittenden Boulevard, on the University of Rochester campus. Free or low-cost parking is available nearby.  Each session is limited to 30 participants, and prior registration is required. To sign up, contact Michele Herrmann at (585) 275-1829 or Michele_Herrmann@urmc.rochester.edu
- If you don’t live in the Rochester area, you can check online for Naloxone certification in your community. 

Please BE AWARE and as Stephanie Lynntalya Forrester always reminds us: BE THE CHANGE! You may just save a life. 






Thursday, August 31, 2017

Please Stop the Blame Game


“We’re not trash. We’re not poor. We didn’t spoil our children. We didn’t give them everything they wanted or give them all the money they needed for everything. It happened.” Joe Mullin’s statement in Patti Singer’s article “Obituaries Reflect Devastating Toll,” hit home for me. Parents are often blamed for their son or daughter’s addiction, and the blame game is a serious matter. It hurts families. It divides friends. Ultimately, it doesn’t help the addict.

I don’t need the whispers or the accusatory glances I often encounter. I already blame myself enough for my son’s addiction, but I would also like to believe we did our best while raising our children. They faced obstacles seldom encountered by other kids their age.  I went through the perils of ovarian cancer, and my recovering addict was seven at the time.  His struggles with my cancer diagnosis changed him. Fear anchored him in perilous waters.

When I was seven, my mom got cancer. I thought it was going to be that way forever. My grandmother came to stay with us. All I can remember is what the adults around me said while I listened in on their conversations. The doctor said he doesn’t know if she will live or die. I can remember the smell of the hospital and the tubes coming out her everywhere. She looked lifeless, and I thought it was the end. I felt anxiety for the first time. I loved my mother. If she died, who would take care of me when I was sick? Or bring me to school? All the things a mother does.

Not only did he struggle with my illness but his brother’s as well. He watched Brandon nearly die from a burst appendix and perforated bowel. The resident doctor at Rochester General Hospital told us if he went to bed that fateful night, he would have died in his sleep. My son saw death closing in on his family, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. When his brother contracted meningitis shortly after his first illness, my son’s anxiety became his arch nemesis.

My brother was already quite the athlete and destined for greatness. Once again, I saw one of my family members staring death in the face. I hated it all. I was confused, anxious, and scared. I asked the God I did not know to save him. I felt alone again, not in a selfish way but rather asking why does this keep happening to everyone I love in my life. Loneliness was my biggest fear.

I wondered if our brush with death changed the chemical makeup of my son’s brain? Did it open the door to a world where seeking relief from his anxieties made it possible to fall into the trap of addiction? Dr. Gabor Mate claimed, “A great deal of research supports the link between childhood trauma and substance abuse.” He suggests the impact of fearful childhood experiences can cause a person to seek an escape route from the psychological trauma. In this case, escaping from a parent’s or sibling’s illness. Does that mean we should take the blame for something beyond our control? Of course not. My son’s addiction is a disease just as much as my cancer or Brandon’s appendicitis and meningitis, and unfortunately beyond our control.

  But the blame game goes much further.  Oh, the mother worked outside the home, or the father traveled out of town too often. I chose a career that would afford me the opportunity to be home when my children came home from school. I was present. We went to our children’s dance recitals, plays, wrestling matches, and football games. My husband walked up and down the field encouraging my boys to do their best during their football games. I sat in the stands shaking my milk jug with pennies. We ate our meals around the kitchen table sharing stories about our day. We took our children to church. We did the best that we could do, but it still happened. IT STILL HAPPENED!

We never turned our back on our son; in fact, both times he went through recovery, we were his rehab. We loved him unconditionally without enabling him. I have heard of parents who slam the door on their children. I understand it gets tiring, but the greatest gift you can give is your love and your patience. Giving up forces them to abandon their hopes of getting sober. Loving them gives them the solid ground they need to stand on as they fight the battle of addiction.

Parents do not listen to the lies said about you or your children. Believe the truth. I have heard terrible things said about my son, even by parents who are going through the very same problem with their own heroin addicted child. I want to yell, “Look at the trash in your own backyard before you look in mine.” The fact of the matter is, it isn’t their fault either. They did not cause their child’s addiction. It is so easy to get caught up in the blame game, but it also very dangerous. It destroys friendships. It destroys peace of mind. IT HURTS!

So when you hear of someone who has a son or daughter who is fighting the battle of addiction, and it is a fight, support them. Don’t judge! Stand alongside them. Offer them helpful advice, and don’t be critical. Take them to a support meeting. The former head of my department took me to an Al-anon meeting when I shared my story with her. It had a powerful impact on my outlook.

We are all in this together. Addiction is killing an entire generation. Be a listening ear and supporter rather than throwing stones of blame on the families who are suffering. They need your support. I know I did.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017




A former student of mine from a private Christian school, Reilly, Anne, wrote the following poem about her sister. Once again, it proves Heroin addiction does not care where you come from. I pray we can save our kids before more families suffer from the loss of a loved one. Sometimes the loss isn't death. Sometimes the loss happens while they are still alive. 

Dear Heroin,

You have come into my life so unexpectedly
Forcibly, carving a destructive path to my inner being 
Each and every step taking someone from me.
You have changed my whole family’s life, forever
My love for your Captivator is gone 
The person I called my best friend, my very own sister is gone
You own her now
She's different now
I look into her eyes and see nothing
Just a lifeless body of a girl
The joy and delight she once had has vanished
She happily gave that to you the first time she paid you attention, gave you her life and all
The sick part is you were always there when she would fall
You give her a high she describes as "out of this world"
She would do all for you, steal, kill, throw everything away
She puts you before friends, family and herself
She loves you more than anything else
You always know how to make her feel numb
Now I don't know her 
I can't recognize the girl with the tracks 
Bobbing in and out of consciousness, scratching until she has a bloody back
She will try to leave your grip, but you will punish her, vomiting, chills, labeling her dope sick.
After a while she fights and leaves you, really believing she's done
She'll tell everyone the fight against you is won
Until you pull her back and she starts again
Except this time you take her further to the end

-A sisterhood less sister

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Aaron Hakizimana wrote the following “hate poem.” We talked about the seeming paradox of individuals both loving and hating their addiction. On the one hand, they love the feeling the drug gives them, but they loathe everything it takes away from them. While they are chasing the high, they can feel both the love and the hate to an extreme. It controls them and strips everything away from them. It is a vicious cycle. Enjoy his powerful poem and let his words sink deep into your resolve to stay clean. 


I hate you.
I hate your alluring and seductive nature.
I hate your subtle whispers, both distracting and misleading.
Your voice, offensive to the ears, yet very tempting.
A mirage is all you are, we have given you meaning; 
where in reality you have none.
Never getting enough of you, we beg and beg for more.
Chasing your promises, convinced you will deliver.
So we idolized you.
Desperately seeking comfort in your soothing melody
Saying: “Surely it is you who satisfies my grief’’
And ‘’How could I ever abandon you.”
But oh! If only we knew.
Rather we are not certain.
But certainly, you do control us. Both enticing and manipulating us as you wish.
Hindering us from our very purpose, stripping us of our ambitions;
Flicking and swaying us left and right as you please
We have willingly become your flimsy instrument of choice.
Blindly submitting to your subtle objectives, an evil objective indeed.
Self-deprived and naive, what can one do but yield.
But not me.
No! Not anymore.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Opiate Orphan




Jemel has lived the life of an opiate orphan. Both his mother and father surrendered to the downward spiral of addiction in his formative years. His montage of memory includes endless attempts to talk to them, to make himself known, but they would rarely listen. Instead, their heads bobbed up and down as they watched the television screen. Invisibility became his superpower, but he wanted them to see him. He also remembers the embarrassment he felt when they came down the stairs naked. What parent does something like that? Remembering the days when they dragged him to the store so they could steal clothes and sell them on Jefferson Avenue still haunts him. Many memories still haunt him.  

Most his life, his parents served jail time for stealing. His father’s lies plagued Jemel. At the time of his father’s arrest, no one could tell him his dad was bad. After all, fathers are supposed to be heroes in the eyes of their children. It was something he had to learn as he became older and wiser about the lifestyle of an addict. Since finding money for the next fix is always on the mind of someone with a substance abuse, Jemel never carries cash when he is going to see his father. In fact, he rarely even answers the phone when his father calls these days. 

His mother’s addiction story carries a deep sadness for Jemel. She died when he turned 18. Although she was on the methadone program before her death, her years of drug abuse destroyed her body. Hepatitis C. was her demise. The doctors told his mom she would need a new liver, and they put her on the transplant list.  She had died before her name hit the top of the list. 

The day his mother died, she asked Jemel for a ride. He refused. “Something was different that fateful day,” Jemel says as he wipes the tears away with his sleeve. Her cough progressed into something horrific sounding.  Before long, she started talking to herself. Was she on drugs again? Jemel rushed to his grandmother’s room and told her they needed to call the hospital. Once her breathing became labored, they finally called the ambulance. When the EMTs carried her down the stairs, her frail body crushed Jemel’s heart. Her veins collapsed when they tried to run an IV, so they had to put the needle in her neck, a gruesome sight for a son to watch. Her look of madness crept into Jemel’s memory. To this day, his heart still doesn’t want to remember. 

After a short time in the ER, they wheeled his mother to the ICU. Pneumonia created the crazed monster he saw talking to herself. When the pneumonia was under control, in her last lucid moments, she wanted to see Jemel, but he refused. He didn’t want to see his mother attached to machines. He didn’t want to add to the countless memories plaguing him for years. Fear kept him locked within a protective shell he created for survival. Unfortunately, the next day she died. 

Her death hurt Jemel, and yet it didn’t. In some ways, she had died a long time ago. He eventually got over it. Now, he feels as if he has forgotten her. He has visited her grave twice, but it is without genuine emotion. All he feels when he looks at her stone is abandonment, his status of opioid orphan. Jemel admits that at times he feels a sense of responsibility. Maybe if he called the ambulance sooner, she would have lived. Even though it is hard for him to fathom why he feels this way, he feels a sense of relief. 

Jemel’s grandmother became a safe harbor for him. She raised him because of his parent’s jail time and addiction. She kept him on the straight and narrow. Drugs have never been a temptation for him. Jemel believes he is extremely independent because of his parental neglect. Addiction ruled his parent's world. It forced him to grow up fast, and now he is a man with goals and ambition. After he leaves Monroe Community College, he will attend Rochester Institute of Technology for a degree in Visual Communications. 

Sometimes, opiate orphans learn from their neglective parents the value of giving of yourself to another human being. Jemel’s goal is to be someone who truly cares for others, which is why he coaches wrestling for East Henrietta School District. Coaching changed him, and it has given him a sense of freedom after being locked under the shell of his own fears most of his life. Currently, he is training an autistic your man who is overweight. They work out together every weekend, and he encourages him to live a healthy lifestyle. The principal asked him if he would sit with him on the bus every day due to behavior issues. As a result, the young man started doing much better. Even though he never had his own, Jemel knows how to be a role model. 

Jemel has also experienced personal trials in life. He has Crohn’s disease, which has been debilitating at times. In December of 2015 into January of 2016, he spent three and a half weeks in the hospital. He went from 160 pounds to 96 pounds due to a flare-up of his disease. Now he helps kids in the hospital who are facing similar battles. He sits with those who are going through transfusions, and he also plays video games with them. 

Jemel comes from a family with the disease of addiction. His mom’s siblings were heroin addicts, and his mom’s brother owned a bar where he sold drugs. What is amazing about Jemel is his perseverance in spite of the obstacles on his journey to the man he is today. I always tell him he is the strongest man I know. He has weathered so many personal storms and is still willing to be a light shining in the darkness of our world. He has taken his orphan status and given back to others. I admire his tenacity, his integrity, and his beautiful soul.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I came to know Sharon Gingerich Stoltzfus‎ through Anthony’s Act, a Facebook group spreading addiction awareness. It has been a real eye-opener for me. Every day I read about the loss of a loved one or someone who is struggling to get clean. When I read Sharon’s story, I immediately understood her heart. We need to love our children unconditionally because we have been loved by our Heavenly Father the same way. I know when my son asked why we didn’t give up on him, we told him of our unconditional love. As I said it to him, it struck me to the core of my being as well. I am loved; therefore, I love in return.

Something else hit home when I read her piece. It is the constant worries about the what-ifs and the regrets we often feel. We wonder if we made too many mistakes while raising them or if the things we couldn’t control made them unmeaning sacrifice. 

Please read her words and share with people who are struggling with a loved one's addiction or their own. 

Dear Son,

I came to the prison today. They won't let me in of course. And there is no way over these high fortress walls. But they can't stop me from sitting outside. From watering the dandelions along the drive with my tears. For being as close to you as I'm allowed to get.

This prison may look like a castle from the outside. But how well I know that the lives of those within are far from a fairytale. I know you never thought you'd end up here. Never once believed that a succession of poor choices would lead to the situation you find yourself in.

You'll never know the agony I felt yesterday when you didn't come home, didn't return my many texts and calls. I was certain that you lay cold and stiff on a floor somewhere. I feared your addiction had played its final toll. Nearly 24 hours after you said goodbye and I finally learned that you were locked up in a cell, I wept tears of relief and gratefulness to know that you were alive and safe.

I stopped by your mother's grave on the way in today. The one who bore you with great labor pains. The one who loved you and never wanted to leave. I wasn't in your life then, when your world fell apart because of cancer when you were only nine. But I've seen your labor pains as you've struggled through the years to cope with your loss, to find joy and peace from the shards of your life. Too often you have turned to mind altering substances. And they change you into someone I don't recognize.
Your father's countenance is fallen, and his step is heavy. We struggle not to let the what-ifs consume our days. Yet the gnaw of regrets wakes us at night.

Our hearts may be heavy, heavy with the weight of your uncertain future. Your difficult journey that lies ahead. The consequences you face are not light. But our hearts are heavy with hope as well, hope that this time you will be brought to the foot of the cross. That you will in your desperation and despondency turn to your Savior, who waits with open and scarred arms. And our hearts are heavy with love for you, my son. Nothing you have done or ever could do can rip that away. We will continue to be here for you, to extend mercy and grace that mirrors our Heavenly Father to the best of our heartbroken ability.

Your life is like as spring time. This detour need not define you. You can find your dreams again and live them. We believe in you. We love you.