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
- 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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I Love an Addict

When I first read the following piece, I was reminded of Libby Cataldi's Memoir Stay Close. Knowing when to stay close and when to set your boundaries can be extremely difficult. The above meme by Sandy Swenson is from her memoir The Joey Song. I highly recommend the book for anyone who is struggling with what to do with a loved one who is an addict. It isn't a redemption story; however, it gives valuable and insightful advice on recognizing how you are equally as powerless as the addict and how easy you can enable their addiction and how not to enable them, which is the first step in finding your own path to wholeness and peace. Once you find it, you are better equipped to help them.

I love an ADDICT

I wish it wasn’t me who was writing this. I really wish it wasn’t. I wish I wasn’t handpicked because I have one of the “best handles” on this subject. I wish I wasn’t “qualified” to speak on the heroin epidemic that is a growing problem nationwide. I wish I wasn’t a member of a community no one really wants to be a part of. No one ever says to themselves while reading stuff like mine, “I wish I could relate to this."

But I am. I am the non-addict who knows all too well what it’s like to have an addict in the family.
I know what it’s like to worry yourself sick. To cry yourself to sleep. To stare at baby pictures & reminisce. To check on them while they sleep to make sure they are still breathing.

I know to watch out for pinhole pupils and subtle changes in behavior. To listen to them talk and make excuses and pile on lie after lie. I know what it’s like to pretend to believe them because you are just too mentally exhausted for an argument when you know they are lying straight to your face.

I know what it’s like to be confused all of the damn time; to see their potential, to know what they are throwing away.

I know what it’s like to want their recovery more than they do. To be the one doing research on rehabs and other outlets for recovery.

I know what it’s like to miss someone who is still standing right in front of you.

I know what it’s like to wonder if each unexpected phone call is “the” phone call. I know what it’s like to be hurt so bad and be made so sick that part of you wishes you would just get “the” phone call if nothing is going to change. You want that finality. You need the cycle to end. I know what it’s like to hate yourself for even allowing yourself to find relief in that horrible thought.

I know what it’s like to get the worst news of your life, and still walk into the grocery store and run your errands and smile at the cashier.

I know what it’s like to become a part-time detective. To snoop through drawers and texts. You know you are going to find something, and you look until you do just so you feel less crazy. So you can say to yourself, “I am not paranoid. This is happening again.”

I know what it’s like to have your mind clouded; to turn into a functioning zombie. I know what it’s like to be physically present at board meetings and dinner dates, but mentally gone.

I know what it’s like to stop caring about your own personal and professional life. My relationship took a backseat, Christ not even the backseat – I kicked him out of the car. I would show up to work not showered and with huge bags under my eyes. I would cry at my desk. Everything the outside world expected of me seemed frivolous if I couldn’t keep one of my most important people in my life out of harm’s way.

I know what it’s like to be really pissed off. Like, REALLY pissed the hell off. Between the sadness there is a lot of anger. I know what it’s like to feel guilty for being so mad, even knowing all you know about addiction. You are allowed to be angry. This is not the life you signed up for.

I know what it’s like to scour a bookshelf and not find what you are looking for because this illness is still so hard to talk about, let alone write about.

I know what it’s like to hear someone argue that addiction is not an illness, that it is a choice. I know all too well that feeling of heat rising in your face as they go on and on about something they know nothing about.

I know what it’s like to stop becoming angry with these people. They do not understand. They are lucky to not understand. I know what it is like to catch yourself wishing that you didn't understand either.

I know the difference between enabling and empowering. I know there is a fine line between the two and the difference can mean life or death. I know what it’s like to the feel the weight of each day on your shoulders trying to balance the two.

I have been through enough to know that things don’t just change for the worse overnight; they can change in a millisecond. In a blink of an eye. As quick as it takes two people to make a $10 exchange.

I know what it’s like to feel stigmatized. To be the “sister of a drug addict,” a “friend of a drug addict,” "the cousin of a drug addict,” “the daughter of a drug addict.” I know what it feels like to be handled with kid-gloves because no one outside of your toxic bubble knows what to say to help.

I don’t know what the future holds for anyone who loves an addict today. One thing I know for sure is I am not alone.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Staying Sober: Stephanie's Story

Stephanie Lynntala Forrester is one of the strongest women I know. She has won some battles and lost others, but she keeps her head held high. Most of all, she is making a difference. She. Is. The. Change! She is fighting heroin addiction here in Rochester by fighting the stigma and making her voice heard. Stephanie lost her husband, Justin, a few months back from a heroin overdose. Her ability to keep her sobriety through one of the most difficult challenges in life,  the death of someone she loved so desperately, proves her strength.

On April 22, 2017, at 1:00 PM, there will be an Addiction Awareness Walk in Memory of Justin in Manhattan Square Park on Court Street. If you want to take up the sword with Stephanie and fight the addiction epidemic or if you want to help bring awareness to addiction in Rochester, let your voice be heard and join her in the park. We can’t bury our heads in the sand any longer. People are dying. EVERY DAY!  No one is listening, but if enough of our voices raise the cry for change, hopefully, we can make a difference.

If you want to view a touching video of Justin dancing with his daughter, click on the link below. I am sure it is one his daughter will remember on her wedding day.

Below is Stephanie’s story. Hear her beautiful heart, and absorb how much she has been through, yet she remains strong in her sobriety.

My name is. Stephanie (Neffy). I am 165 days sober today! My drug of choice is IV Heroin (but I'd do any and everything I could). I grew up with two amazing parents, Sharon & Leo Farnan, and an older sister, Erin Hoffman. I was adopted by them when I was 14 months old. I had my first daughter on December 10, 2002, and she passed away December 11, 2003. (Not from drug use).

I guess I'd say I was a functioning addict since I was in my mid-twenties. Cocaine, pills, and pot mainly back then, and I didn't need them, though I did abuse them. My Mom was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2007(still seems like yesterday). That's when I begin using pills more often.

I tried heroin for the first time in 2012; I remember getting into fights with my husband because he was shooting it, and I was only sniffing it. I was so mad he was shooting it. We ended up moving out to Fairport and living above his dad’s, and that's where I shot up heroin my first time. It was a downward spiral from that point. We ended up losing everything; our kids included because CPS got involved. We were sleeping in trap houses, abandoned houses, friend’s houses or wherever. Our world revolved around heroin and making moves to get that drug, etc. I tried going to Syracuse Behavioral Health for detox, but I left because it was in my city. It was too hard for me at that point being there to stay clean.

While waiting to get into Loyola, in Bath, NY, I started using again.  I went to Loyola twice. The first time I went, I was gone 18 days (not long enough because it takes a month to "break a habit"). I got out and stayed sober two weeks and relapsed with my husband. We got some crack and heroin on September 24th. We both shot up, and I remember"coming to" half on and half off the bed, same as Justin.  At that point, I knew we were going to end up dead. I reached out to a few people letting them know what was going on and that I relapsed again. For the next week,  I called every day to get into Loyola Recovery Foundation, and I got the call on October 7th that a bed was opening and I could go there October 9th.

My sister picked me up in the morning to take me to Loyola.   I told her we NEEDED to stop so I could get a suboxone so I wasn't sick on the way there and she bought what I was saying. Once we got to the city, we stopped, and I went and copped Heroin and Coke. I went into an alley and shot up. Walking through those doors this time was harder, but I wanted it so bad. I hated who I had become. I missed my kids. I missed my husband. I missed my friends. I  missed my family... I missed caring and feeling! It was hard, and I wanted to leave! I was going to miss Halloween with my kids, and thankfully I talked to my Dad and sister,  and they helped me look at it in a different way. I will never have to miss another one with them if I stuck with the program. So I stayed. I was there 36 days total including detox. I'm pretty sure if I had left when I wanted to, I wouldn't be here to share my story with you guys.

This is the quick version too! I didn't think I could get sober. I didn't think I was worth it, but released I am. When I got home, I moved in with my sister, and being sober I found out what it was like on the "other side" waiting for calls, worrying, etc... I received one I dreaded January 12, and I stayed sober through it... So like I said before I'm 165 days sober.  I fight for my sobriety every day. Things are finally falling into place. It's not easy, but anything worth doing never is. Is it?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

She's Not Just an Addict; She's My Mom

Recovery facilities often say, “Addiction is Not a Spectator Sport. Eventually, the Whole Family Gets to Play.” As a mom of an addict, I know first-hand the unimaginable pain, but when someone is a child of an addict, they find themselves loving a person who is incapable of building a healthy relationship because of their addiction. It is not that they don’t love the child; they simply don’t have the ability to love their drug of choice any less.
          Esther Mooney experienced the perils and pain of being a child of an addict. During my interview with her, I saw her capacity to look deep into her mother’s past to understand her addiction and to recognize the personal struggles plaguing her most of her own life because of her mother’s substance abuse.  
Unveiling the Past
          Imagine a parent abandoning her children in the jungles of Guam.  Esther’s mother experienced this horrific event, and her only source of protection was her older sister, who wasn’t much older than herself. A Mormon, missionary family with twelve children of their own, eventually saw these invisible children, adopted them, and brought them home to Washington state.  It’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief knowing they found safety within a loving, spiritual home. Unfortunately, they were not. Esther’s mother and sister experienced verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse while in the care of this supposedly upright and principled family.
          At the age of 15, her mother ran away to California. It was the beginning of her history of running. From Hawaii to New York, she moved from place to place trying to remain visible, yet as invisible as she was in the jungle.  It was also the start of her drug use and the long years of recovery and relapse.
The Elephant in the Room
          Esther’s mom used when she was pregnant. She used when she wasn’t. Eventually, they took her children away. During one of her longer times of recovery, she met and married Esther’s stepfather. Ironically, Esther’s mom began working as a secretary for drug and alcohol counseling at a local school. It’s ironic because she never quite had total control over her addiction.
          It is hard to ignore the elephant in the room when you have a parent with a substance abuse. It sits there staring at you in the face, and yet nobody wants to talk about it. In “Living with an Elephant: Growing up with Parental Substance Abuse,” Brynna Kroll developed the metaphor of the elephant in the room. She suggests the elephant becomes “a huge, significant, but secret presence which takes up a lot of space, uses considerable resources and requires a great deal of attention and the adjustment of those in its vicinity” (Kroll 132). When Esther was in tenth grade, her mother had rotator cuff surgery, and the doctor prescribed her Oxycontin for the pain. It started a six-month journey through the hell of addiction again. She left her husband. She chose to forget and walk away from her identity as a mother. She opted to nurture her addiction since she believed her children no longer needed nurturing. Kroll suggests that “the elephant can also obscure the child, rendering them ‘invisible’ to those whose job it is to care for them (132). It’s back to the idea of the invisible child. Addiction fights against normalcy and the child sits with the elephant waiting for the next shoe to drop, which is what happened with Esther. Even when her mother started recovery again, and they moved into an apartment, the appreciation of family did not last long. She left Esther alone at 14, not just for few hours; she left her to live alone so she could move in with her new boyfriend.
Esther's Struggle to Develop a Healthy Self
      After a six-month process, Esther was legally emancipated at 17 and graduated from high school.  Medaille College accepted her, and she thought everything was falling into place. She and her mother were starting to build a relationship again, but on Sept. 7, shortly after school started, her mother moved to Florida without even saying goodbye. While at Medaille, her mother’s abrupt departure along with a bad breakup with her boyfriend, sent Esther into a tailspin. She lived in the dorms but never went to class. The school wiped away her first semester from record due to her mental health, but she ended up messing up her second semester as well. Her coping mechanisms were never fully developed. She didn’t know how to live outside the confines of her mother's addiction.
          Esther became pregnant at 19 by a brother of a friend who lived in her house. They knew each other for four months and slept with each other only once. When pregnancy became the elephant in their apartment, he moved out. Esther shares with tears how she could no longer handle life and all its ups and downs, especially after developing a relationship with an abusive man she moved in with when her son was one month old. She felt like a stray dog who had been captured. She wasn’t crazy. She only acted like it. She attempted suicide and ended up with 18 stitches in her wrist.The visible scars remain today.
Powerless to Change the Addict
          Esther eventually worked on making her life better for her and her son. She met a man whom she has been with for six years now. She searched for her mom and eventually found her in jail. After her release, Esther bought her a ticket to New York and placed her in rehab. After receiving her eleven-month chip, she picked up where she left off with her drug of choice. Esther found her mom’s life consumed her own; she felt heavily involved in her mother’s sobriety and even did the 12-step program, while her mother chose to take her 12 steps backward. Esther believes she did not have the fundamentals to fight her battle. While Esther relied on her higher power, her mother didn’t even try. Esther didn’t have the heart to kick her out, but, admittedly, she hoped she would leave. She did.
          Her mother would take drugs to help her detox until her next fix. She put herself in a psyche ward at Strong for two and half weeks. She went to a domestic violence shelter for two and a half weeks. After she finished her programs, she simply left. Programs were like a band-aid for her, but she never truly healed.
Esther’s Hope
           Esther has overcome her fear of her mother’s substance abuse. She is numb to it after years of watching her mother’s descent into the abyss of addiction. It no longer consumes her. Esther recognizes how we only get one life. She prays when her mother leaves this earth someday, she will leave knowing she overcame her addiction, but for now, it is only a prayer.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Breaking the Silence and Changing the System

Breaking the Silence
I am breaking the silence because silence is my lie. I lie to myself. I lie to others. I don’t want to carry the mantle of shame, so I am breaking the stigma of heroin addiction one day at a time. I am breaking it because I have been in the trenches with my son. I keep hearing the lie that using heroin is a choice. Sure. Maybe the first time one decides to put the needle in their arm or to snort it is a choice. After the second or third high, it takes over the brain. It creates a hostage crisis. IT. IS. NOT. A. CHOICE. IT is a bondage. It is an incarceration, and there is no Get Out of Jail Free card.
          The only choice, and it is a hard one, is to get clean. But herein lies the problem and why so many addicts are dying on city streets, in suburban homes, and on college campuses. The system is failing the addict who may be trying to get clean. They often find themselves fighting a losing battle, one that may eventually cost them their life. Here are some of the issues:
-         Insurance companies won’t cover rehab if you start detoxing on your own. When I called United Health Care after my son’s relapse, their counselor told me my son had to tough it out, be strong.
-         Rehab facilities don’t answer phones during the holidays. I didn’t know drug addiction went on vacation. We called Syracuse Behavioral Health five times on New Year's Eve and New Year’s Day, and they never returned our calls. I wrote an email four days later, only to have them write back how they tried to call us. Not true! There is no evidence of their calls on our cell phones.
-         The first time my son wanted to get clean, I took him to Strong Memorial Hospital. They sent him home two hours later with a list of possible outpatient rehab facilities. It was Memorial Weekend, and I had to watch my son go through withdrawal for four days before I was able to get him into Conifer Outpatient Rehab. At Conifer, his drug counselor told him he should have bought Suboxone on the street. WHAT? I recently met a man whose son went to Highland Hospital because he wanted to get clean, and he was in the worst possible shape. They released him when he was out of danger and let him walk back out on the street with no one monitoring his well-being. Two hours later, he died of a heroin overdose with the Highland Hospital bracelet still on his wrist.
-         The Good Samaritan Law is not working. These policies supposedly protect overdose victims and the caller from being prosecuted for possession of paraphernalia, minor drug possession, and being under the influence. Unfortunately, people still fear and do not trust the legal system and for a good reason. I know someone who spent six months in jail for drug paraphernalia when her boyfriend overdosed in her bedroom. If people are afraid to call, addicts are going to continue to die.
Make the System Take Notice
In the Rochester area, several individuals are trying to make a change. They are taking up their sword and shield and fighting the stigma of addiction and spreading awareness through their actions. They are making addicts and their families realize they are not alone. Their actions may seem small, but they are getting noticed. They are making a difference. They are the change.
-         Rocco Stagnitto, with a group of 40 volunteers went to a place he calls “Holy Ground,” the very place where his son died of an overdose last Fall.  They cleaned up dirty needles and other drug paraphernalia. His story is going viral, and he has been on several local news channels. He is starting a revolution, which is exactly what we need to stop the heroin deaths in our city.
-         Cathy Warren stands on a street corner with a picture of her son who died of an overdose and talks to addicts and their loved ones. She has also been in the news.
-         Stephanie Lynntalya Forrester whose husband recently died of an overdose started the Facebook page “Justice Let's Rise and Fight.” She is having an awareness walk in April at Manhattan Square Park.
What You Can Do  
There are countless ways to make a change as individuals, but one problem that needs addressing is an evaluation of our treatment programs. They need to be beneficial not touchy-feely child’s play.  I don’t know how making a collage heals addiction. The day my son was asked to make one, he left the program. Going to college and taking drug counseling doesn’t make you an automatic authority on alcohol and substance abuse. You need to listen, pay attention, and observe an addict. Get into their shoes and walk around in them for a while. I am not saying to go out and use, but seek to understand their plight. It isn’t an easy road. I learned so much about addiction just by sitting with my son and listening to his stories, his anxieties, and his dreams.
          We need to increase funding for substance abuse treatment. The “Anthony’s Act” suggests the Affordable Health Care Act be amended to provide care for addicts for a minimum of 90 days, or if necessary, up to one year in a treatment facility. If you go to, there is a letter you can write to your state senator to request changes in funding.
          Close down the known drug houses and increase police presence in areas of the city where cars line up to buy their drugs. One Fairport police officer said there were too many dealers on the street to stop drug trafficking. One at a time, just one at a time and you may save a life.
          If you are a recovering addict, pull someone out of the miry clay of their addiction by sharing your story. Show them it is possible to get clean. Get them help. Loved ones, share your stories as well. When you have lost someone to drug addiction, it can be the hardest thing you have ever done. However, if you do, you may save a life.
          Finally, if you want to see a change, BE THE CHANGE! Let’s fight addiction one day at a time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction: A Promise to Justin Forrester and Plea to You

      It is time to break the stigma regarding addiction. Contrary to popular belief by those who do not understand addiction, addicts are not weak individuals. They are not evil and depraved human beings. An addict is no different than their neighbor, their church body, or their coworkers. An addict is no different from you or me. Addiction is no respecter of persons, and it doesn't care about race, gender, or social status. It doesn't care whether you live in the suburbs or the inner city. An addict is simply a human being. 

     Addiction is not a choice. Yes. The very first time an addict uses it is; however, once the addiction starts, they are no longer in control. It creates a permanent imprint on the brain. According to, "Addictive substances physically change the brain over time. When an addiction develops, changes in the brain cause users to prioritize drug use over all else." However, addicts can make the choice to get help, but it is tough journey to recovery. With the aid of professionals through inpatient or outpatient care, through the love and support of family and friends, and through connections with a strong support group and sponsor with Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, it is possible to find serenity and recovery. 

     The following piece is Stephanie Lynntala Forrester's raw and uncensored love letter and promise to her husband, Justin. It is also a plea to all of us. I am glad she allowed me to share this piece because it speaks of the misunderstanding many of us have when it comes to addiction. Read her story and see how she unveils the truth about being an addict. Stephanie knows the struggle of addiction first hand. As of today, she is 100 days clean. As of today, she is signing papers for her husband's funeral. Her strength amazes me, and her determination to break the stigma gives me hope that someday people will stop judging and begin to understand the horrible disease of addiction. It is not only taking lives, but it is breaking families, like Stephanie's, apart.  
       Stephanie's Promise to Justin and Her Plea to You

     I PROMISE you Justin, I will keep your memory alive with the help of our friends. We have lived addiction, walked it, and, most importantly,now I HAVE to survive it while some of you sit on the the other end of the computer content in your ignorance. It hear that it is bliss. I have always wanted the same thing we all want. "True Love." The heart racing, soul fu***** stuff that the roll of the eye inducing movies are made of. 

     Lucky for me, I found it and I cherished it. I protected it. I stood by it through thick and thin. It was mine, and I was never letting go no matter what the cost. I spent 14 years with this man. Unlucky for me, I lost the human form of the person it was attached to. It went defunct in a trashy drug house minutes from my dad's house in Fairport, N.Y., surrounded by people who did not give a sh** about that love. 

     I lost the most precious person to me other than my children without a "goodbye" or last "I love you." I lost the keeper of my secrets, my duet partner, the finisher of my sentences, and the other half of my heart. I lost my security blanket, my hope, my sanity, my will to live, my plus one, and my emergency contact...I get it; you think it was my or his "choice." You think he didn't love me or anyone else enough. You think he was selfish, stupid, and weak...If I told you how wrong you are, you probably will not be convinced. We are the faces of a million "junkies" to you. 

     You might not care that he poured ranch dressing all over his fries and ate them with a fork, or that he always gave money to the homeless. That he said "helmlet" instead of helmet. You wouldn't care what an AMAZING artist he was. Or that he'd give me butterfly kisses on my forehead daily. It wouldn't matter to you if you knew how bad of a dancer he was, but he tried anyway at home in our room just to make me laugh. You won't be moved to hear that he loved my feet, and put my coat on me on our first date. That he was the biggest Momma's boy in the world, and it was adorable. The unconditional love he had for his children and how he ended every text with "I love you Always All Ways," but all of these things mattered to ME. 

     You base his worth on an image you have in your head. We walked though hell on earth together. I can't list all of his amazing qualities or how much I love and will miss my best friend, my husband. It just feels so important to me that you know this; there are good and bad drug addicts, just like there are good and bad NONdrug addicts. He would never judge you for being such judgmental ass*****. Is my pain any less because the person I loved was an addict? I know I probably haven't changed some of your minds. All I can ask is you honor mine and my family and friend's pain, just like I would honor yours if your husband dropped dead because he ate a good too many cheeseburgers. I ask that you do because we are all humans and we are all in this together. We need to love each other, stop being ashamed of the disease, and stand up and do something about it. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mariah Noelle Freeman’s From Heroin to Heaven is a true redemption story. “Once I was lost, but now I am found” is the overarching theme of her collection of journal entries written for the addicted and the lost. If you know someone who is addicted to drugs or struggles with mental illness, her story will grip you and pull you in from start to finish. Having a son who is a recovering addict, it gave me hope. However, her story moves beyond just addiction. Anyone who grieves over the mistakes they made in the past and has experienced great loss due to their choices will benefit from her story. Freeman’s tender heart will encourage the reader to become more acquainted with Jesus and to love Him above all else in life and to forgive oneself as He has forgiven us.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What Heroin Did

Below is Danielle Pierleoni's story of her brother, Steven, and his death due to a heroin overdose. Her heart's desire is to spread awareness so other's do not have to experience a similar tragedy.  

My name is Danielle; I’m 24, and I've lived in Rochester, NY all my life. I love my hometown even though it can often be a constant reminder of the tragedy that Heroin caused my family and friends. I have seen the way alcohol, prescription pills, meth, opioids, and other drugs have affected those around me; but I have never seen anything worse than the damages of Heroin.

This drug does not discriminate against age, race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. Heroin continues to take the lives of people young and old, black and white, gay or straight; it does not matter.

My brother, Steven, mistakenly took his life by using Heroin after 18 months heroin-free at the age of 20, just a short two months away from his 21st birthday. Before drugs, my brother was the life of the party. He was someone everyone looked up to and idolized. He was very handsome, intelligent, and downright hilarious. He was constantly laughing and always surrounded by friends. Steven was very charismatic and probably would have made a successful comedian one day.

However, once Steven entered high school, drugs began to play a huge role in his life when he began hanging out with older kids and local drug dealers. Drugs were at every party, down the street, and even in school. Smoking weed, drinking booze, and snorting pills were almost inevitable. Soon pills, Molly, Cocaine, and eventually, Heroin, became the new party drugs.

Heroin stole my brother’s life and many of his friends who were using. Nothing mattered anymore, only getting the next fix. When rock-bottom hit, the struggle to get better seemed nearly impossible. The lack of will, resources, and support left my brother feeling helpless. He felt ashamed and too shy to socialize, which led him back down his dark path after countless rehabs and finally an 18-month sober living program before he passed.

As the sister of an addict, I wish I would have been more vocal about my brother's addiction. I wish that I, too, was not ashamed of what happened to our family. We lost thousands of dollars to stolen jewelry, electronics, forged checks, hospital visits, ambulances, detox, rehabs, and sober living facilities.

I think we all wanted nothing more than to be normal again. My brother felt such guilt and shame; it was almost easier to go back to Heroin than it was to face reality.

My advice to addicts and their loved ones is to know you are not alone and support exists. Parents, friends, and family members, please make an effort to educate yourself as much as you can through research. There is more helpful information readily available to the public now that Heroin use has reached epidemic proportions.

Tell your loved one who is hurting you are there for them when they are ready to get help. All you can do is let them know you will support their sobriety in any way you can but NOT their addiction.

Enabling is so easy to do when you love them and want to see them get better. It's also very easy to be angry with your addicted friend or loved one. You must remind yourself the person they have become is not who they truly are. When Heroin takes over, they no longer think or act the way they normally did.

Think twice before saying 'yes' when your child's doctor (or your own) recommends prescription medications, especially opioids. These types of medications are highly addictive and often lead addicts to their next drug of choice. A drug that is much cheaper and doesn't require a script. The drug is Heroin.

Beating addiction IS possible. Do not give up so easily. Humans have more willpower than we give ourselves credit. You CAN overcome Heroin's grasp.