May 15, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Janice''s story begins as do too many others -- with marijuana. At age 15, a little pot, the "gateway drug," seemed harmless enough. The fleeting highs and clandestine thrill gave no clanging warning of the demons that would eventually swarm through the door that had been opened.
During the three difficult decades that followed, a series of spiraling dependencies on alcohol, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and painkillers took her precariously close to a cold grave. By New Year''s Day 2009, the Columbus resident was injecting up to 400 milligrams of the painkiller OxyContin a day, 60 to 80 milligrams at a time. Janice had reached a catastrophic low. It was now, or never.
Through a grace she would soon come to depend on, the mother of two tenuously grasped the end of a life rope that led her to Columbus'' Cady Hill Chemical Dependency Center for females. Now three weeks out of an intensive rehabilitation program, the bright and articulate college graduate candidly shared her experience, hoping it helps even one person struggling with addiction.
"It''s hard to even describe how debilitating and desolate the dependencies make you feel in the end," said the 50-year-old, who moved to Columbus from Texas seven years ago to get away from "people, places and things" enabling her drug use. "When I came to Cady Hill, I was spiritually, emotionally and financially bankrupt. I was hopeless; my life was black."
At the local facility in the Community Counseling complex on Main Street, she found a professional and caring team of professionals ready to help her down the long road of assessment, evaluation, primary and secondary care and aftercare.
Cady Hill''s 24-hour residential treatment facility and program is directed by Dr. Risa Bruner, an energetic and vocal cheerleader. "This job is the most rewarding thing I''ve ever done," she stated. "These women are really strong just to be here. They''re bright; some have degrees, but in their minds, they''re worthless, have made bad decisions and gotten themselves in hot water."
Bruner previously worked with adolescent males. "First, you have to realize that with women, you have a whole different set of focus; women feel the need to nurture, whether it''s a dying potted plant or people." For women, societal and relationship issues often lead to unrest. "Some have become dependent on any warm body for fulfillment, and that can be the cause of a majority of their problems."
Cady Hill counselor Patricia Thornton observed, "Especially in the South, you see more women who are passive/aggressive; we stuff the real emotions away." As internal tension builds, anger can take root. Janice concurs. "We turn to drugs as a coping skill, and addiction is our disease."
For this trim, blonde mother of two, an introduction to crack cocaine and meth in Texas escalated drug use to a frightening level. The destruction to her family left her heartbroken.
"I saw what it was doing to my kids," she confessed, looking inward at painful memories. "We destroy the people we love with our addiction."
The relocation to Mississippi, though well-intentioned, wasn''t the immediate solution. Within months, she had relapsed.
"I tried over and over again in my life, but I never had the tools to be sober. It was probably about 2004 I started having problems with my teeth, probably the result of meth, and then other health issues. And that led to problems with pain medications. I wanted to stop; I knew I needed to stop. But we can''t fix it by ourselves."
In the Golden Triangle, as in Texas, there was no shortage of supply.
"Locally, crack is probably the easiest to get, that and marijuana, hydrocodone, painkillers. That doesn''t mean there isn''t everything out there," Janice said. "The sad thing is, most of my sources were kids 18 to 25; but there are plenty of sources of every age.
"Crack cocaine is one of the drugs that will kill emotional pain. Until, of course, the high wears off; then all your problems are magnified," she recounted. "Not just because you''ve done something to make your situation worse, but after the high you come to a depressive stage. Physiologically and psychologically, you have this crash; there''s always a crash."
Janice described affects of the withering meth. "It makes you sick. I was physically unable to eat; your whole sleep patterns are gone. We don''t really go to sleep; we pass out. It affects your teeth, too, and ages you unattractively and very quickly. And then there are the things you can''t see from substance abuse -- like how it affects your liver and kidney function. Your body just breaks down."
By the time she got to Cady Hill, broken and desperate, Janice had reached "the bottom of the barrel."
"I was begging for help," she admitted. "I knew my life was a mess."
Bruner explained, "The brain is a mixture of chemicals and firing impulses. The cruelty of drugs is that when you use, your dopamine level zooms up and you feel great. The brain is a fascinating organism; it actually makes more receptors to handle all these dopamines. But when the drug wears off and the dopamines go away, your brain still searches for more. This is what makes the craving."
Through comprehensive counseling and therapy in coping skills, relapse prevention, processing and gender issues -- as well as powerful help from spiritually-based 12-step programs -- Cady Hill, and like programs, strive to provide a new beginning.
Primary Care is a 24/7 in-depth approach, with on-site residency, therapy and a daily routine focused on understanding root causes and consequences and building new skills crucial to moving forward. Funded in part by a grant from the State Department of Mental Health, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the program is based on the client''s ability to pay.
Thornton likens the team effort to assembling a puzzle. "There are pieces I fill in; there are issues that maybe Risa relates to better, then others like Jim Jordan, the Aftercare counselor, fills his piece of the puzzle in."
Bruner noted, "It''s also imperative to ''retrain'' the brain on the little pleasures life holds for us, such as a really good cup of coffee, a walk in the woods, a hot bath or watching a ball game."
A higher power
"In recovery, the thing that works 100 percent of the time for those who are successful is developing a spiritual relationship with the God of your understanding," said Janice. "We can''t do it; we have to invest in a power higher than ourselves. We''ve done nothing but screw up. By turning to God every day for guidance, slowly we begin to build our lives back."
What only four months ago seemed impossible for Janice has now entered the realm of reality. On April 14, she celebrated her 50th birthday -- a milestone in more ways than one. "This was my first sober birthday in 35 years," she said, with quiet gratitude and determined hope.
Her relationship with her two daughters, now 20 and 22 and living in the Golden Triangle, has improved "100 percent, even since I''ve been out. My daughter entrusted me with the responsibility for her wedding last weekend, and she wouldn''t have done that if I hadn''t gone through recovery. I know they''re going be watching Mom for a long time, but I don''t intend to let them down."
Those at Cady Hill who have been with Janice each step of recovery are proud members of her ongoing support team.
"I don''t like to look too far ahead," said a straightforward Janice. "I have to take it one day at a time, continuing in the Aftercare program, improving my spiritual relationship and never giving up. The thing to remember is, if I do make a mistake, not to let it beat me down.
"This is not something you ''finish.'' I''ll always be an addict. But I don''t have to die from addiction."
Editor''s Note: To learn more about the Cady Hill Comprehensive Adult Female Chemical Dependency Center, contact the staff at 662-327-7916.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.