Sometimes something as simple as a few kind words makes the difference.
BY LIZ BRODY
Because it’s so rare to kick an opioid addiction in one try, there are many opportunities to help. Almost every former user I spoke with told me that, at the lowest of the lows, when quitting seemed impossible, it was someone rooting for them that made the difference. Sara Kaiser, the nurse who shot up with beer, says a handwritten letter from her childhood friend, Beth Salonia, stayed with her. They both remember it reading like this: “You grew up across the street from me. You have amazing parents. It’s time you wake up and stop acting like this is OK. I’ll always be your friend, and when you’re ready, I’ll be there for you.” When Sara read it, she says, “I felt so shitty. But it also meant she cared about me.”
Chayce, the young woman I’ve been following for four months now, has that kind of support on her side. Her mom, Tracie, Tracie’s boyfriend, Kirk, Chayce’s dad, Chris, and her stepmom, Monique, all understand she’s struggling with a disease and have tried to form a safety net for her as best they can. But she’s not in any kind of recovery program, or on medication, or going to meetings, nor has she surrounded herself with others trying to stay sober. So her loved ones have no illusions. “When I saw her in rehab, she sounded like my baby girl again,” says Chris, “but she’s not following the program. I just hope she can stay strong and pull this off.”
When I checked in with Chayce last, she still had cravings. It’s a place most recovering addicts know well. “After rehab,” she says, “I was in such a different mind-set. I was so amazed with how happy I was from not being on drugs, and I felt so loved. Now reality has set in. The pink cloud’s gone, and the anxiety is back: Uh, hello. I don’t know—I think I can stay sober. I just have to try a little harder.” I tally up the unsober things she’s shared with me over the past three months—the prescription cough syrup she drank with Sprite, the Xanax, the Norcos, methadone, and a fentanyl pill. And weed. And vodka. “I could have said I’ve been sober this whole time, but I haven’t been,” she says, with a nervous laugh. We talk about honesty being a good step toward recovery. She also points out it took guts to survive heroin, and that same spirit will help put it behind her. “I do think I’m smarter and stronger from going through all this,” she says.
The stakes are high, but I want to believe Chayce will end up beating this. After that conversation, she texts me a Tumblr post she’d found. It reads: “You see a dope fiend. I see a future success story.” What I see is a fighter.
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