Philadelphia County, PA
My name is Donna, and this is my opioid story.
I have six children and thirteen grandkids. For twenty years I’ve worked with addiction. From a tech, to a counselor, to eventually a nurse. I come from a long line of alcoholics, so addiction is something I’m familiar with. Not too long ago I remarried my first love from childhood. He told me he had been a heroin and pill addict, but it was years in the past. I believed him but started to become suspicious. My late mother passed away from lung cancer right before we got married, and I remember my husband’s eyes lighting up when I found my late mother’s Percocet. Then he started asking for them. I asked why he was so concerned about the Percocet and he replied that we could make money off them.
This was the first of several red flags. I noticed that he would disappear often, sometimes staying out until five in the morning. One day he woke me up, told me he had a problem, and that he was going to get help. That’s when I found out he was still using heroin and pills. While he did get help eventually, he didn’t seek it at this point.
We saved up money to lease a house. He wanted to move back to the city and I said okay. I didn’t find out until later that we were moving to the city to be close to his drug source so he could quickly pickup and get home without anyone noticing. To help with the move-in he hired some drug addicts and they got high in the bathroom. He was getting high in our home the day we moved in. I thought to myself “we just signed this lease together, what am I going to do?” That’s when I fully realized what I was involved in. Despite this, I stayed because I loved him, we had just married, and he was sick. I just didn’t know how sick. He was using all kinds of drugs, but his preferred substances were heroin and pills. He went to the bathroom all the time, and I soon realized this was when he was getting high.
This situation had my anxiety going through the roof. I started having panic attacks and began isolating myself from friends and family. My husband informed me at one point that he didn’t want any family over unless they were babies. This was because he didn’t want them to see him high. I didn’t tell my kids what was going on because I didn’t want them to worry about me. I felt ashamed because I had worked with addiction for so long but couldn’t realize I was involving myself in one. I would constantly beat myself up over it, and I soon became depressed. I cried all the time and just couldn’t be around people. I went to work, came home, and went straight to bed. As my husband’s use progressed, he’d stay up longer and wouldn’t let me sleep. I was forced to function on less and less rest.
“I hate that I may bury the person I love.”
My husband started to become paranoid and manipulative. He would listen in on calls and constantly check my phone to make sure I wasn’t saying anything incriminating. He made it seem like everything wrong was my fault, like when the rent wasn’t mailed on time. I’d come home and he’d immediately start yelling and cussing at me, often calling me names. He eventually wound up in treatment for a month, but was back to using two weeks later. The second time he went into treatment I fell apart. I started going to support meetings, but my husband was becoming so unpredictably erratic that I needed more help. I started seeing a counselor who suggested I tell somebody close to me what’s going on; so I opened up to my friend. My friend became concerned as I told her everything and gave me an ultimatum: either I tell my kids what was going on or she would.
After I told my kids about my husband, it seemed like the healing for me started. I had people who were aware of what was going on and this helped me handle things. My husband’s addiction was getting worse though, and I wasn’t engaging with him as much as I had in the past. The situation between us wasn’t improving. It was affecting my job negatively and I was hanging by a thread because I was so sleep deprived, anxious, depressed, and lonely.
“We need to be mindful of medications the same way we’re mindful of guns.”
One day, my husband left the house around four in the morning. Normally he’d be in and out throughout the day, but this time I didn’t see him at all. Something didn’t seem right and my anxiety started to flare up. I felt that I needed to call around to see if anyone had seen him, like the hospitals or police, but no one knew where he was. I was near hyperventilating when I called a helpline and explained my situation. I was told they had a bed available for me if I didn’t feel safe at home. As night came, my anxiety got worse, and I realized it would only get worse if I stayed.
That was the moment I decided I couldn’t stay with him anymore. My friend and some family helped me move out. The first two weeks after I moved out, I slept like I had never had. I felt at peace, a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time.
“I’ve watched coworkers handcuffed and taken away in front of patients.”
There are still days that I miss him. I hurt for him, and I pray every day that he gets better. He’s contacted me for money a few times. Not too long ago I saw him while waiting for the bus. He saw me, walked by me, looked right at me, and continued to walk without saying anything. When I realized it was him I called over to him. He stopped and then continued walking. To add insult to injury he came back, walked past me again and didn’t say a word. It hurts because I assumed he was the one who I would grow old with. His addiction has estranged him from his children, and he has no immediate family that he’s close with. He’ll probably end up alone. I hate that I may bury the person I love.
From this experience I’ve learned that awareness is incredibly important. We need to be mindful of medications the same way we’re mindful of guns. I’ve seen friends and family become addicted after being prescribed these pills. I’ve watched coworkers handcuffed and taken away in front of patients. This is why I am sharing my opioid story, because I’ve seen how prolific these pills have become in my community of family, friends, and coworkers. We need to have a larger discussion about these medications and how they’re prescribed. We need to get a handle on this, and I hope my story makes a difference.