What are the chances of surviving ten drug overdoses? An interview with my niece.

My niece, Kayla*, was born to a single mom, my only sister, Nicole*. That was in 1996.

Kayla was around eight months old when I took care of her for a week, while my sister went to the Bahamas with a man and a girlfriend of hers. Our mom took her for the second week. Kayla was an easy baby to take care of, sweet, beautiful, and placid. Growing up, Kayla was very quiet. We kept waiting for her to talk and I think she was four before she really said much. She has been the most quiet person ever since.

Our parents took care of my niece a lot; they were having a hard time with my sister who couldn’t hold down a job. Nicole had struggled with depression, outbursts of anger, and much rebellion throughout her teens and beyond. Nicole loved Kayla; she was her whole world but Nicole had addictions. Kayla would have occasional visits with her father and his parents.

Kayla was molested by a neighbor as a young girl. This was only one of other childhood traumas, which are even more difficult for her to discuss. She pushed the painful memories back and didn’t think of them much while growing up.

In 2000, Nicole joined an Apostolic Pentecostal Church. By then she had given birth to another daughter, Jessica*, Kayla’s half sister. Kayla was about ready to turn four years old at that time. Although there were some theological discrepancies of the church itself, it provided a much needed consistency in Nicole and her girl’s lives. There were true believers there who did help the girls. Being a part of the church provided stability and a focus on God. Kayla said she liked being in the church, it felt like a big family. They were together all the time. It was fun going to different states to go to different churches. Nicole homeschooled the girls for a few years and they were in a private Christian school for a year or two. Then they went to public school. They were wearing long sleeves, long skirts, and growing their hair without cutting it. Kayla was very shy at first but got used to it.

That all changed when Nicole and the elders of the church started arguing about some of the choices Nicole was making in her life. Nicole left the church at that time and went back to the other extreme in her life, opposite the church. It was a sudden change and Kayla, now sixteen, felt things went downhill from there. She said she would have stayed in the church if her mom did and believes her life wouldn’t have turned out like it did, if she had. Nicole was very protective of her girls but her corrupt lifestyle choices added extra stress to both girls. Within the next year, Nicole lost custody of Jessica who was fourteen. Kayla was of age so she wasn’t taken. By this time Kayla had started using drugs and the DFS didn’t want the girls together anyway. Jessica didn’t always want to be around Kayla either because of her drug use. Kayla felt bad she wasn’t there for her younger sister and felt guilty for leaving the church, like she was doing wrong. Her grandparents were extremely stressed because of her mom’s return to detrimental, out of control behavior. Kayla and Jessica didn’t have a close relationship during that time. Everything and everyone in her life was changing, leaving her depressed.

Kayla was a few weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday when she was with a group of friends and got high on meth for the first time. Shortly after this, she started dating a guy. One night he wanted her to do cocaine with him but he was actually giving her meth. He wanted her to stay with him and he believed if he got her hooked on meth, she would. She did get high off meth a lot. Her boyfriend was very abusive but they had a child together when she was nineteen. She stayed with him for three years until he went to jail.

Kayla used meth, heroin, and fentanyl. She would shoot it up and occasionally would mix drugs.

After being addicted, it compounded her depression. She felt guilty that she couldn’t stop. She prayed at night that she would be able to stop.

Her first overdose was on heroin, she woke up in the hospital. It scared her and she stopped using heroin for a long time but kept using meth. Then she didn’t like what meth was doing to her so she started back on the heroin and fentanyl.

After the first overdose, it didn’t bother her to OD but she would go through withdrawals and want to get high again. She was taken to the hospital eight times for overdose.  Twice she could tell she was going to OD because her face and chest felt very hot. She would black out and wouldn’t feel anything or remember anything about it. Two times friends gave her naloxone at her home and she slept it off.

The last time she overdosed, she was taken to the hospital; they had to perform CPR on her and she remembers them pushing very hard on her chest while doing the chest compressions. They had to give her naloxone twice that time.

She said her drug use wasn’t an attempt at suicide and she didn’t want to die, but didn’t care if she did.

Increased substance abuse, risky behavior, childhood trauma, not caring if you die, feelings of guilt, shame, depression, and that you’re a burden, to name a few, are all signs of suicide

According to: https://dualdiagnosis.org/bipolar-disorder-and-addiction/bipolar-disorder-suicidal-ideation/

Substance abuse medications and addiction always increase the risk factors and time length of depression and suicide ideation, no matter the temporary relief they may seem to offer – this, in turn, increases the probability of suicide ideation. This is increased by the fact that drug addiction mostly destroys relationships – further making the risk of suicide ideation higher. To add to that, most substances greatly affect judgment, causing suicidal thoughts. 

From: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/messages/2019/suicide-deaths-are-a-major-component-of-the-opioid-crisis-that-must-be-addressed

A 2017 study using national survey data showed that people who misused prescription opioids were 40-60% more likely to have thoughts of suicide, even after controlling for other health and psychiatric conditions. People with a prescription opioid use disorder were also twice as likely to attempt suicide as individuals who did not misuse prescription opioids. 

In a study last year of current and past overdose experiences among patients seeking treatment in a Flint, Michigan emergency department, 39% of those whose worst overdose had involved an opioid or sedative reported wanting to die or not caring about the risks

Part of the reason Kayla did drugs was to feel numb and not think about everything that made her depressed. After the last overdose, she wanted to stop; she didn’t want to keep doing that to herself and knew if she kept going she wasn’t going to make it. She didn’t want to die but in the end, she felt like she was a burden and letting everyone down.

At the end of her time using, she felt like a bad mom and did lose custody of her two girls. Her depression worsened. Instead of staying stuck in that depressive state, Kayla isn’t blaming anyone and has chosen to get help.

Getting clean.

She had no energy to get up, towards the end. She went to rehab four times. During her second stay at one rehab center, she was baptized but she wasn’t over her addiction yet and overdosed a last time. The program that helped her the most was her last stay at CSC. CSC is Community Supervision Center in Fulton, MO. Kayla described it as between rehab and prison and that they base their program on getting through trauma. She had to write about her trauma and talk about it. When she went there, she wanted to get clean so it was easy, after she went through withdrawal. CSC is run by probation officers from the prison. She is very close to her probation officer, who she can call day or night.

She goes to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings twice a week, part of her drug court protocol. Drug courts help participants recover from use disorder with the aim of reducing future criminal activity. Drug court has a high success rate with participants. She believes God is her higher power. She also participates in group therapy and sees a counselor.

Blessed with a new chance at life.

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord isn’t slow to do what he promised, as some people think. Rather, he is patient for your sake. He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act.

Kayla spends time with her girls everyday. Wanting custody back is what has pushed her to get well. She has been clean for 22 months now and working for over a year and a half. She is grateful she has been given so many chances to start over. She believes God helped her a lot. She’s proud of how far she has come compared to how she used to be and that she finally got clean. She wants to get better for herself, her girls, and family. She says she is still on the road to recovery and taking it, “One day at a time.”

My (and Nicole’s) dad was a molestation victim as a young person. His first born, a son, with his first wife, was stillborn. Dad had his demons and he drank too much. Mom was a follower and she drank too much also. She was also goofy, mild mannered, and aloof, but, she has been the one to try and keep the peace in the family. It was just the four of us and growing up was a blend of anger and yelling, fun, chaos, tears, stability with our grandparents, and dysfunction at home. It was confusing. Our parents didn’t go to church but ladies from the community would take me. Nicole went often as a youngster but not as much as she grew.

As the famous quote goes:

“Hurt people hurt people”

Family dysfunction is handed down. Different personalities take it different. It’s impossible to predict how a kid will react to a dysfunctional raising. Looking back, depression and mental health issues in my family (and myself) stemmed from trauma early in life. Chemicals (alcohol and drugs) didn’t help one bit. The core issues weren’t dealt with in a rational, helpful way. Anger took over. Emotions were out of control. Tempers were flaring; we were easily agitated. We took our frustrations out on each other. Dad wasn’t the Spiritual leader of the family. In Nicole’s case, there was no husband as the head of the household. When the family unit is broken, there are many problems stemming from that. As a single mom with no financial help from a husband, Nicole found out she was better off to live off of welfare than to work a minimum wage job. Once in that cycle, it can be extremely hard to break out of. To be blunt, there’s no shame or blame, I just believe this is one problem: Welfare was meant to help people in a truly desperate time, not for All the time, as a way of life. Sometimes people on welfare can have a lot of free time and an idle mind has a lot of room to get into trouble and make poor choices. 

Through all of this, it’s not a child’s fault.

I don’t know why it takes painful consequences to stop us from bad habits instead of just wanting a good life in the first place. But, for each of us, suffering the terrible consequences of our behavior has been the catalyst of our turnaround.

Looking back, Kayla says drugs didn’t help her. She wishes she never got high but there’s nothing she can do to change it.

Kayla gives credit to her grandparents for helping her through all that time. (She started to cry) She felt like she let them down. Her grandpa was like her dad. Her mom raised her but she always wanted to be with her grandparents when she was little. Kayla also felt like a bad daughter for putting her mom through things and making everyone worry so much. Nicole lived with our parents for a while and she told Kayla that dad would cry, worrying if it would be the night they got the call that she didn’t make it.

We all have things from our childhood that hurt us. There is always someone with a more traumatic experience than us and always someone with a lesser tragic experience than us. As a child and growing up in a stressful environment, it can be very difficult to make positive choices when you didn’t see that example modeled for you. I’m convinced one way negative brain patterns are formed is by growing up in a dysfunctional atmosphere. For those children, it has to be difficult, maybe near impossible, to choose the positive, healthy, and logically sound path. The forward motion of their life is to just follow in the path laid out for them by their parent(s). Even so, as we grow older, gain our freedom, and are heading out to make it on our own, we still have a choice.

Choice #1:

Learn from my parents mistakes; take note of how I don’t want to be. Start fresh; find a better way. Face my problems and work through them. Make all efforts to heal and take care of myself.

Choice #2:

Run away from my past; don’t think, just “go with the flow.” Enjoy my freedom and have fun, like my friends. Ignore my hurts, go wild, and get high.

Choice #2 seems easier, at first, but, it soon wears off. If you don’t let go of your internal, mental problems, they will never go away.

Kayla’s mom has been on parole and in drug abuse recovery for two years now. They are all picking up the pieces of their lives; thankful to be moving forward into the new life God has given them.

2 Corinthians 5:17

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Who will break the chain of addiction, dysfunction, and abuse? At some point you can’t blame what your parents did or didn’t do. There’s no moving forward in that. When you choose the route of blame, you stay stuck. Kayla isn’t blaming anyone and has chosen to get help.

Kayla personally knows 5 people who have died by drug overdose.

 

*Names have been changed.