Fate

January is for Homecomings & Anniversaries

Seven years ago, I was boarding a flight in Fort Lauderdale, Florida bound for Bradley Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Bound for home. I had been in Florida for five months, two weeks and four days. I was about three months sober after a one time use in Florida, and I was more than ready to come home. What I wasn’t ready for, was to be sober, at home.

I had a connection in Charlotte and I waited anxiously for my next flight to board. Of course, it was delayed. It wasn’t the first time I made this round trip, and I remember distinctly sitting in my seat, stretched out across the empty row, thinking to myself that this would be the last time I would make this flight for this reason.

So far, I’ve been right.

What I wasn’t right about was that I could stay sober on my own. I arrived in Hartford to snow on the ground, which I could not have been more thrilled about. I love the snow, and I had missed several good storms while I was in Delray. We stopped home briefly for me to switch out my bathing suits and tank tops for snow boots and hoodies, and left again for my new home.

I arrived at the sober house in New Haven, which was inside of an old, partially restored mansion. My room was on the third floor, of course, and I never quite got used to those old, creaky, narrow stairs. I made it a few days in the sober house before I realized how to get what I really wanted, which was to use. I had started taking the bus in Florida, but had never ridden it here at home.

The system was completely different, but it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I could ride the bus for an hour and wind up right in the center of my universe, which at that time was Brooklyn, deep in the sick cesspool that is Waterbury, CT.

I knocked on my drug dealer’s door and there she was, right where I left her. She had a new phone number which I didn’t have since I had been gone, and there was no way for her to contact me because my mother had changed my phone number while I was in rehab. Phone numbers aside, I happened to know where she lived, which I guess no one accounted for. I was back in business.

Even though I had suffered a near fatal overdose before I left for Florida, that didn’t stop me from jumping back in with both feet. I made an early habit in the sober house of using in the bathroom prior to taking a shower, so no one was likely to bother me or see me nodding out. It wasn’t long before I hit my first speed bump and got arrested for possession.

When I got kicked out of the sober house for all of my many indiscretions, I went back home. My mother didn’t know what to do. Another failed attempt at rehab, and I was back to actively using. It was as a last resort that I agreed to get on the methadone program and give recovery another try.

I didn’t want to live that way, and I didn’t want to die that way either.

I was court ordered into an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and I chose to complete it at the closest facility to home which was the APT Foundation on State Street. That’s where I became exposed to the methadone program and chose to get on board. It was the best decision I believe I have ever made in my entire life.

Within a few months, I had completed IOP and I started to give clean urines. Not everytime, mind you, but some of the time. I had made a friend, who turned out to become my best friend to this day. Years later, I would meet my partner and love of my life in those very same group rooms.

I kept coming, and let the methadone do it’s job, while the program supported me and gave me the time to get my head screwed on straight. They didn’t expect me to get sober overnight, and I didn’t. It would be two whole years from the day that plane touched down to the day I got truly sober. I’m not even sure what day that was, I just know it was sometime in mid January.

This month, I will celebrate four years in long term recovery from heroin.

I still work hard at it every single day. I still think about using all the time, but today I am strong enough to resist that urge. My addiction doesn’t run my life anymore, it inspires it.

It inspires me to speak to students and share my story to help them make better choices. It inspires me to sit on the Substance Abuse Action Council in my town and inform policy and procedure as it relates to substance abuse. It inspires me to work hard at my job and continue to take on new projects and responsibilities.

Today I am dependable, I am collected, and I am sober. I walk through the world as a woman who has faced her own death and come out the other side. I am strong, I am powerful, and I am capable. There is nothing I can’t do or figure out today.

If it wasn’t for my family, none of this would be possible. If someone you love is in active addiction, I implore you not to give up. I implore you to support them each and every attempt they make at sobriety, because you never know when it’s going to be the attempt that actually works. We don’t recover easily, but we do recover.

I am literal living proof.

©Copyright 2019 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

No Day But Today

Yesterday was March 3rd. 3/3. The anniversary of my first sober date.

It was quite a few years ago now that I checked into detox at Stonington Institute on the Connecticut/Rhode Island border. I was shuttled around in dirty vans from our old, dilapidated house that we stayed in, back and forth to the program facility where we spent the bulk of our days. It was on one of those vans that I learned from a friend who had just come into the program that my classmate and friend, Ryan, had overdosed and died while I had been in treatment. He was the first loss from my graduating class from an overdose. I was devastated.

That day I decided to take my treatment seriously. I did what I was told. I became the “house rep”, of course, and became a beacon of recovery overnight. I committed to getting the Vivitrol injection before returning home, even though I had not been properly detoxed from Suboxone yet, and suffered through the worst withdrawal of my life in a strange place with no medications, alligator rolling across the squeaky twin mattress in my recently earned private room.

3/3, or as I simplified it to simply 3 or III, became the sign of my life. It became my lucky number. I ordered a silver ring with the serenity prayer engraved on the inside, the number III engraved on the outside. A few years later, I would put that ring on my friend Taryn’s finger at another rehab in South Florida, as she clasped a silver elephant bracelet around my wrist. Symbols are big for many of us in recovery. 3 had become invalid long before I found myself in the beautiful garden housing at the Orchid Recovery Center for Women in Palm Springs, a very long way from Stonington Institute, and not just in terms of miles.

Letting go of that sober date, of the recovery time I had painstakingly earned, was a tremendous challenge for me. I felt that I had lost that time. That I had let it slip through my fingers because my hands were too busy juggling the life I fancied for myself as a “normal person”, letting my recovery fall into the past.

So last night I find myself somewhere that I never would have been when 3 was my sober date, which is an AA meeting. In the early days, I found meetings to be nothing but one giant trigger. I frequently left meetings and drove directly to my dealer in those early attempts at sobriety. I just couldn’t find serenity in those crowded basement rooms. But ten years later, here I am, in the most unlikely of places: The rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Though the vast majority of my current stretch of recovery has been spent keeping the rooms at an arm’s length, recovery can sometimes surprise us. Finding myself in a relationship with another addict was the biggest surprise of all, I thought. Until I agreed to come to her regular meetings and meet her network of women. I found a much more agreeable group, particularly the Saturday night meeting, where open-mindedness flourished and the “old timers” and their rhetoric were quiet, with a few notable exceptions.

As time wears on, I find that despite my unorthodox recovery program, my unique philosophies, my anti-AA attitude, I am not only welcomed but slowly came to be respected in these rooms. I am even asked to speak, despite my story having little to do with alcohol. Though AA knows many of our stories are intersected with substances other than alcohol, the group conscious often asks us that we keep our discussions focused on issues as they relate to alcoholism. Yet here I am, a heroin addict, who only identifies as an alcoholic out of respect for the rooms, being asked to share my story. I made Saturday night my home group that night, two seconds before the meeting opened.

My partner now chairs that meeting and I make the coffee. Last night, the anniversary of my first sober date, my partner wasn’t feeling well and I offered to chair in her place as we sometimes pick up the other’s commitments if one of us is not feeling well or can’t make the meeting for whatever reason. So here I am, chairing a meeting in Alcoholics Anonymous on the anniversary of my first sober date, and I welcome the speaker named S.

S had 16 years of sobriety before she relapsed. She went back out for ten long years before she finally found her way back in. With five years of new, good sobriety under her belt, she talked about the struggles of trying to present as a normal person in the world while being so very far from it.

I instantly identified with her story.

Being sober before your 21st birthday is an interesting phenomenon. It would’ve been quite the story, had it lasted it, however my story today has a few more chapters which I think makes for a better read anyway. But going back out after being truly in, is one of the hardest things for an addict and for those who love them.

Knowing that you had it, you were doing it, and now you are suddenly incapable of what you had done so well for so long, is very difficult to explain to your friends and family. They saw you do it. They know you can do it. But suddenly you can’t do it anymore.

The guilt and shame of that is part of what keeps us out for so long when we have a relapse like that. I was back out for longer than I had previously been in. The expression that it’s a lot easier to stay sober than it is to get sober is one of the truest that we have in recovery. Coming back was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Adding those chapters to a story I thought was already finished absolutely destroyed me.

I got sober the first time at 19. Relapsed at 22. I didn’t truly make it back in until I was 26. I am at the point now where I have slightly more recovery time than active time. It’s funny though, that depending on the day, it can feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime in active addiction and it feels like that is who I truly am on the inside. Yet on other days, that part of my life feels so far away that it almost feels like a scene from a movie I’ve watched way too many times. That one movie that feels like it’s your real life, that you know every word, every dramatic pause, every exchange of dialogue.

When I relapsed after those first three years, I was so devastated at the loss of time. I couldn’t stomach telling anyone that 3 was dead and gone, that I had thrown it all away, that the time had been lost. It kept me from coming clean about my relapse, which kept me from getting clean, for much longer than it needed to. It took me a long time to figure out that I didn’t actually lose that time. I still had three beautiful, amazing years of active recovery. I still had a meaningful impact on countless parents, other addicts, and millions of people who saw my features on Good Morning America and Nightline in 2007. I spoke to addicts as far away as Australia, encouraging them to keep fighting. I put down the roots of the advocacy career I’m still building today. If it hadn’t been for those first three years, there are so many lessons I would never have learned. I didn’t lose them. They are just as real, and just as valid today as they were back then.

Today I no longer fear losing time. I no longer worry about sober dates. Today I know that I came back in some time in January of 2015. I picked up a three year coin a few weeks ago, for the second time. I have reclaimed those three years, I have done what I thought I could never repeat, that I could never put those three years back together again. Counting days became something bigger than me, and time, the quantity of my sobriety, became more important than the quality of my sobriety. Today the time doesn’t matter. I finally understand what they mean when they say I only have today.

My favorite musical of all time, Rent, helps me to remember how important today is for my recovery. How important it is that I don’t let the fear of losing time prevent me from moving forward. How important it is that I never have to start counting days again.

“The heart may freeze, or it can burn… The pain will ease, if I can learn… There is no future, there is no past, I live each moment as my last. There’s only us, there’s only this. Forget regret, or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way… No day, but today.”

The Dressing Room & The Damage Done

It was late summer and I had a flight booked from Bradley Airport to Ft. Lauderdale. I was headed to treatment in Florida for the second time in as many years. A little more than a year prior, I had flown into the same airport and was picked up by a friendly Aussie from Sunrise Detox located in West Palm Beach. It is by far the best detox I have ever been to, and I could not possibly recommend it enough. When it was time to detox again, I knew I’d be back.

In a way, I was almost looking forward to it. A soft clean bed with freshly laundered white sheets, changed several times daily to keep up with the sweating and shedding of toxins the body goes through. Flat screen TV, vending machines full of candy and soda, and a chef on staff cooking three delicious meals a day. Unlimited peanut butter and jelly. What more could you ask for when you’re going through hell? They keep you more comfortable than anywhere else, and if you don’t know where your headed next they will find a place for you.

So I knew what to expect from detox, and I had spoken at length with Loren Seaman from the Orchid Recovery Center for Women and I had a decent idea of what treatment would be like. My main priorities for the coming week were to get as high as possible and not forget to pack my bathing suit.

My mother and I had been fighting over Naltrexone and I had been doing everything I could to dodge it and hide it and spit it out. Once I booked my flight and promised to go to treatment, she relented and I was free to finish using without having to use three times as much dope to overcome the pain in the ass opiate blocker she had been shoving down my throat.

I was trying to be smart, accounting for the effects of the Naltrexone wearing off, and taper down my use so that I wouldn’t overdose. I think if the dope hadn’t changed over to a new batch in the process of this taper, everything would’ve been fine. Except it wasn’t.

I’m in the last dressing room on the right hand side in the bathing suit section of the Macy’s in the Waterbury mall. I’ve got my spoon that I stole off the display in the housewares section, a belt that I borrowed from accessories, my bag of works and a six bags of dope that I counted off my bundle. In a miraculous departure from my normal habits, I left the remaining four bags in the car.

The previous day I had used eight bags, so I thought accounting for it being the third day off the Naltrexone that shaving two bags off the count would be perfect. I hadn’t gone on this trip to the city to pick up this batch, so I didn’t get to sample it in Harlem like I normally would have. I didn’t know how strong it was.

I stack my bags on top of each other and rip the tops off. I shake each one out into the spoon and draw up half a syringe of water from the water bottle I had purchased from the pretzel stand outside in the mall. I squirt it into the spoon and mix the dope up with the plunger from the syringe. Once I was satisfied, I draw it up into the barrel and begin the struggle of finding a vein. Since I had been using for awhile at this point, my already small and damaged veins were pretty much tapped out. I get lucky and I hit one. I remember flushing out the needle and capping it. I stood up. Everything after that is black.

I can faintly hear someone calling my name. Over and over again, I hear my name. I realize they are actually yelling. I am moving and there are bright lights over my head, I can see them through my closed eyelids that no matter how hard I try I cannot open. I cannot speak. I try to raise my hand to acknowledge that I am hearing them, because they are annoying me and I want them to stop yelling. I am paralyzed and I cannot move a single muscle, including those stubborn eyelids.

Finally I am able to make sounds from my mouth, but not words. I’m trying to say “I’m here” but whatever comes out is unintelligible. I continue to say it until the words eventually come together. I start to be able to open my eyes and I realize that I am in the hallway of a hospital and I am on a stretcher, and I am being pushed very, very fast.

Shit.

Once all the fun and games are over, I realize that I have been stripped of my clothing and possessions, and I am alone in the ER in a room behind a curtain. The doctor who eventually shows up to talk to me is very unpleasant. She immediately starts in with telling me that I cannot leave until she deems me sober enough and I gather that she intends to spend that entire time period trying to convince me to go to treatment.

I tell her that I am going to treatment in a few days, and that I even have a flight booked. She of course, does not believe me. I know all about treatment in Connecticut and there is no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to give up my Sundays on the beach and beautifully decorated apartment in Florida for a stripped down residential hell hole somewhere in the tri-state area. I tell her as much. She doesn’t give a shit, and she tells me as much.

We fight back and forth about this until I wear her out and she leaves me there to think it over. I beg her for my clothes. I eventually come to accept this woman is not going to let me leave until her shift ends and I pray that time is coming sooner rather than later.

During my time in the Emergency Room I am informed that I was dosed three times with Narcan before I came back to life. The rest of the story I put together myself during the time I spend trapped in the shitty hospital room. I must have fallen backwards into the locked dressing room door because I have a huge bump on the back of my head and it’s really painful. I wonder if I broke the door, or if I just made a lot of noise. Either way, some strange woman must have heard me fall and called 911. I don’t know who she was, she didn’t stick around to give her name or follow me to the hospital. I will never be able to thank her for what she did. I will never be able to thank her for not minding her business. My only hope is someday my story will be public enough that she will read it and recognize it and contact me.

It isn’t until I get to detox the following week and I am able to feel my body again that I realize I have a fractured rib from the CPR that was administered by the paramedics.

Eventually the evil doctor’s shift is over and she lets me go around midnight. Luckily, I am just a few blocks from the mall and I walk back to my car in the dark night through the dangerous streets of downtown Waterbury. My car is right where I left it, and my four bags of dope are still safely stashed inside. At that moment I’m glad for that because tomorrow I’ll be able to get high in the morning. At this moment I’m glad for that because if I had any drugs on me when I overdosed I might have gotten arrested for possession. Luckily all I had was paraphernalia and they must have decided to let that slide given the circumstances. Not everyone is so lucky. Imagine dying, and you come back to life only to find out that you’ve got a court date in the morning. Thanks for nothing.

I get home and I don’t tell my mother what has happened. I know that she will force me to fly out the very next day, and I still have a few days of using left to do. I still have a car left to total two days later when I fall asleep driving on the highway and drive straight into the guardrail on I691 at 80 miles per hour. I walk away from this too, alive and un-arrested.

Overdosing was one big ‘yet’ for me that I always thought I was too smart to ever have to deal with. I thought people that overdose were morons, unable to gauge their use properly or interpret the strength of their dope. I thought I had it all figured out. I was wrong. Very, dangerously, deadly wrong.

Because paramedics carry a drug called Narcan, generically known as naloxone, I am alive to tell this story. We keep a Narcan kit in our home just incase it’s ever needed. I carry one on me, just incase I ever happen to be the stranger in the dressing room who witnesses someone on their worst day. I only hope that I never get the chance to return the favor, and that I never need to use my Narcan kit. But if I do, I’m ready. If you overdose in my presence, you can rest assured that I will be there to try and save your life.

It is unfortunate that many fatal overdoses happen in the home. Because of the financial consequences of addiction, many addicts live at home with their parents. This can be a blessing in an overdose because it means someone is there to call for help. But often times, help doesn’t get there fast enough. When you are blue, not breathing, dead, there can be a matter of moments between you waking up again and getting buried under six feet of earth.

This is why it is not just important, but VITAL that we supply the families of addicts with Narcan for use in the home. It is VITAL that they are trained in CPR. It is VITAL that they know that Narcan is temporary, and that they must still call 911 to prevent the overdose from reoccurring when the medication wears off. We not only need to supply this medication, but we need to provide the training for it as well.

An addict’s doctor can write a prescription for Narcan and it can be picked up at your pharmacy. Your insurance may or may not cover it. Your doctor may or may not be willing to prescribe it in the first place. But that does not teach you how to use it or what to do during an overdose.

Because I owe my life to this medication, and I feel so strongly about it, my first priority with In Angel’s Arms is to hold an Overdose Workshop to teach anyone who is interested everything they need to know about Narcan. Our workshop will cover:

  • What Narcan is
  • How to access it
  • How to administer it
  • What will happen when it is administered
  • Calling 911
  • Preforming CPR

Admission to this event is only $20, so that we can cover our costs. If you cannot afford the $20, please come anyway. I will cover you. If you are living with or spend a lot of time with an addict, you should be there. If you are an addict, please feel free to attend as well. I encourage you to bring anyone who is close to you with you. Everyone is welcome.

Because of this medication, I am here to tell you this story. It is my job to make sure other addicts have the same opportunity to tell their own stories. If you would like to help us provide low cost Narcan kits to families who need them, please donate to our fundraiser. Because of the increased demand, these kits have become very expensive. With your donation, we can help families to afford kits at a reduced cost.

Please join us at the Knights of Columbus located at 22 Church Street in North Haven, CT from 6:30-8:30pm on Wednesday, February 1, 2017.

If you have any questions about the event please contact me at lauren@inangelsarms.com

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Fate and Faith

In Angel’s Arms may be a new venture, but addiction is not new to me. In 2006 I became addicted to prescription painkillers. A year later, I was a full blown needle using heroin addict. The learning curve is far from steep when you’re an addict, however for the families it is quite the opposite.

I was in my first stretch of recovery that I got introduced to a non-profit organization that helped parents of addicts deal with their child’s addiction. My mother had found them by catching a chance segment on a news channel she rarely watched, and the owner of the company helped to guide her as she learned the ins and outs of opioid addiction.

The woman who ran the organization learned everything she knew the hard way, by dealing with her own son. She started to develop plans and protocols for parents to put in place, and showed them how to leverage their child into making the choice to get help. As the years went on, and I continued to relapse, my mother started making her own rules and finding her own ways to deal with me. Eventually, we broke away from the organization which was in another county and started doing the work ourselves in our own town.

From these experiences I learned what parents needed to know to understand the beast that is addiction. I learned how to talk with them, to coach them, so that they could be the force necessary to save the life of their child. As an addict myself, I had something no one else in the previous organization had, which was the ability to work the problem from both sides. I could work with the parents and the addict themselves, because I was one of them.

Even after years in recovery, I still am one of them. I always will be one of them.

It has always been my dream to make a living coaching families, providing youth drug education, and by speaking publicly about living life as a mentally ill, drug addicted millennial. Instead of pursing that, I buried it. I started a handcrafted soap company, which was a creative outlet. I went to cosmetology school because I believed that I wanted to pursue a career in the field and expand my business. I got normal jobs that were just okay. But no matter where I went, I found someone who wanted to talk about addiction. My soap customers, my classmates, my coworkers, and even the strangers who sat in my chair. This disease has touched so many people, I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything that didn’t somehow bring me back to addiction.

Then in the fall, I noticed that I was becoming ill. I was vomiting daily, I was dizzy, and I was short of breath. Exhausted by the simple act of bathing and dressing myself. I had to take a leave of absence from school. I could no longer work, not even for myself making soap. I had nothing but time on my hands. None of my doctors could figure out what was wrong with me. The Saturday night before Thanksgiving I gave up and went to the Emergency Room. I spent the entire week in the hospital.

I became a human pin cushion, having blood drawn multiple times a day. Various tests including three ultrasounds, an MRI, and an endoscopy. Still no answers. They stop all my psychiatric medication. Still no improvement. Finally, they send me home with no answers. I follow up with the clinic and my liver enzymes continue to get worse. I am currently waiting to have a biopsy of my liver after the holidays. My body is broken, but my mind is right. I know what I’m supposed to be doing now.

None of the great doctors at Yale New Haven Hospital can tell me what has caused this liver damage. And I speculate that the biopsy won’t tell us either. Because I think fate is what caused it. Fate wanted me to slow down, way down, to a dead stop. It wanted my brain to keep working while my body sat still. Fate wanted me to remember what I truly love doing, and find a way to start doing it. As long as I am sick, I cannot work a regular job. But I can still do the job I love the most, which is helping to coach families whose children are dying from the deadly disease of addiction. I can still guide them, inspire them, support them and direct them. I can still teach kids about the science of drugs and the brain. I can still speak publicly to my peers who may feel as lost as I once did.

Some people call it God. The God of my understanding is simply the manifestation of fate. The hand of God to me is really just destiny moonlighting under a different name. And regardless of what you or I call it, it brought me right here. Right back into the work I’m meant to be doing. Right back where I belong. So as the new year approaches, I’ve got a new plan to get back into my old work.

And when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin