Honoring her daughters and finding her calling
When she was in eighth grade, my younger daughter Taylor started taking cold pills to get high with her friends. She ended up in the emergency room several times. I got her into counseling with good results initially, but when she started high school, she began using other drugs.
In the meantime, my older daughter Brittany was living in Iowa and having troubles of her own. She was caught using drugs multiple times and was eventually sentenced to a rehab facility. It was a family rehab, so at least she could go with her son. But as a mom and grandma, it was heart-wrenching to leave them there.
Both my girls were struggling with addiction, and I was trying to help them across two states. At the time, I was laser-focused on Taylor, not worried about Brittany. Britt was always my go-getter, and very goal-oriented. I thought she would just stop.
After 30 days in the rehab facility, Britt failed a drug test. She was kicked out, and her son was put into foster care. I thought Brittany was at rock bottom. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t do what was being asked of her – to stop using. I grew up thinking that you just go to rehab and everything will be fine. I didn’t know enough about addiction, even though I had experienced it myself when I was younger.
Methamphetamine was my drug of choice. I used off and on for seven years, but I didn’t feel I ever developed an intense physical addiction. I never felt like the drug life was the life for me. Eventually, I was able to just stop. I moved to a new state and changed my lifestyle. I embraced my life in recovery, and I still do.
Brittany was addicted to heroin and seemed to get a rush out of the lifestyle, though. She became enmeshed in it. She was in and out of outpatient treatment, trying to do what they wanted her to do — and then failing. Eventually, a judge terminated her parental rights, and my husband and I adopted our grandson. I can’t imagine how that felt to Brittany, to lose that part of her identity. Being a mom was everything to her.
Meanwhile, Taylor was using meth and spiraling out of control. She was pulling out her hair, hallucinating, talking to herself, overdosing — she was in the ER 10 times in 2014. I felt like such a failure as a mother. I kept trying to get Taylor into an inpatient rehab but was always given an excuse. I was told I didn’t have the right kind of insurance, or there weren’t any beds available. I was so afraid she was going to die that I turned to the TV show The Extractors. In exchange for sharing our story, the intervention team would get my girl some help.
Taylor was 78 pounds when the Extractors showed up. They swooped in, took my child to rehab and she was gone for nine months. When they realized Brittany was also suffering from addiction, they offered her the chance to go to rehab as well. She was offered a 90-day stay at an inpatient facility.
That was the first time in years I’d been able to breathe, sleep, and think about what I wanted to do with my life. When we went to visit Taylor during rehab, we met her therapist — I thought, I want to do THAT. In the summer of 2016, I started working on my master’s degree in mental health counseling from the University of Northern Colorado.
In June 2015, the very day Brittany got home from rehab, she went out to see friends and started the cycle again. Taylor came back four months later and lasted three weeks before she started using again. I was heartbroken.
Things turned around for Taylor. She met her now-husband Jon. Both had drug use in common, but Jon was different. He had goals. He wanted a job, a house, a family. They found each other at the right time and fought to enter recovery together. Once Taylor had somebody to support and love her, life became a different story.
Brittany, on the other hand, started getting into more legal trouble. I let her stay at my house — I continued to think that my love would fix this. I couldn’t live with the thought of her being on the streets or dying somewhere alone. I was so ill-informed about opioids and heroin then. The times I thought she was high, when she wouldn’t get out of bed for days, she was actually withdrawing. When she was up and moving, it was because she had gotten “well” with heroin. She wasn’t using to get high. She was using to function.
In December 2016, after a 20-day stay in jail, trying to break her addiction and suffering through the worst withdrawal symptoms of her life, Brittany came home and overdosed — 28 hours after her release. My husband and I found her in the bathtub, dead. It was the most devastating moment of my life. Eventually we learned it was fentanyl that killed her. For six months, I floated through life, trying to be there for my grandson. I almost gave up on school and my dream to help others suffering from addiction.
I’ve learned so much in the past few years. Maybe some of the resources I know about now would have been an option for Brittany, like medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which helps people detox without going through so much sickness and pain like Britt did. I don’t think we should expect people to withdraw in an inhumane manner. I don’t think that’s too much to ask of our medical, rehabilitation or correctional facilities.
I graduated last year and got a job at the Boulder County Jail as an Opioid Behavioral Health Reentry Coordinator. Our team screens people upon arrival and provides those who need help with a resource list they can use when they leave. But it’s more than a list. It’s a face-to-face connection, a way of saying, “Hey, somebody cares.” I care. Our team cares. We provide support for those who remain in the jail. My goal during every interaction is to put a positive face on counseling. If clients have been intimidated by an experience in the past, maybe they’ll think, “That lady wasn’t so bad. I’m going to look into another counseling center.” Through it all, everything I do is to honor Brittany, in addition to Taylor, who currently has over 4 years in recovery.