Opioid Use Disorder and Power of Peer Support
FRONTLINES, launched in January 2020, sends peer support specialists into 42 Houston-area hospitals to meet patients at bedside after they were transported by EMS for an opioid overdose. Raelyne is a FRONTLINES client.
Before: Raelyne tried hard to beat her family’s odds with alcohol. Her put-together life as a wife/mom of three beautiful kids/PTA president turned south in 2016 when she turned to alcohol use and later “the needle.” This led to multiple stints in rehab, jail, prison, and living in different hotels. Her life was unmanageable. She lost everything, or as she puts it, she gave it all away.
After: Raelyne is now 100 days sober. She works with a sponsor, completed the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, is taking college classes, and lives in sober living housing. She got a job and has her daughters back in her life. She has peace, serenity, self-worth and is surrounded by people who love and support her.
I have my life back. I could not have done that if it weren’t for the intervention of FRONTLINES and Kristina. Quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t have even tried.
Raelyne wrote a compelling essay that takes you into the inner workings of addiction and the specific moment with her recovery coach when the possibility of recovery became real.
FULL ESSAY WRITTEN BY RAELYNE:
On May 11, 2020, my life as I knew it was over. Metaphorically, figuratively and literally.
To understand the present, let’s go back to the beginning. I didn’t have a tragic childhood or upbringing, but I also didn’t live a fairytale. As an adult I drank very infrequently because I knew the fate I was tiptoeing with by drinking or using drugs. I grew up surrounded by alcoholics. Diagnosed and undiagnosed. Recovering and still actively drinking.
I lived as a normie for a very long time. I got married, I had three beautiful children. I took college classes while my children were young. I worked off and on when our budget dictated such. I also cared for my mom on a part time basis. She had been disabled since I was 11 years old. I was her sole caregiver from that time and having my own family did not take away that responsibility. When my kids started going to school I volunteered at their school. I became room mother, PTA secretary and eventually PTA president. I started working in a management position at the post office. To say I lived an upstanding existence is an understatement.
From 2016 I’d been struggling with addiction and alcoholism. In the beginning I was “only an alcoholic” and then I met the needle. From day 1 to the end, I was an intravenous user. I preferred meth to begin with and then I “graduated” to heroin. THEN I discovered the speedball. I became a slave to it. Although I had my preferences. I’d pretty much do anything put before me to change how I felt.
Why? I’m glad you asked. Because I’m an addict. The Big Book answers “the why” question most emphatically. “Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol.” I drank, and later shot dope because I liked the effects produced by the substances. I liked not being me. I liked losing my inhibitions. I liked being the life of the party. But I used mostly for the feeling of NOT feeling. Hence the love for heroin. It’s called numb for a reason.
During the years my addiction took hold, my life changed dramatically and in so many ways. I went to rehab (MANY times). I half-heartedly tried 12-step programs. I lived in sober living situations. Intensive outpatient. Counseling. Then I went to jail. I tried treatment a couple more times. Back to jail. Then prison. Surely that straightened me out, right? No. I came home, stayed sober about six weeks and was right back at it. Dope and the lifestyle attached to it. Living in hotels. I went back to my “hustle” to earn my dope and more. To say my life was out of control is putting it mildly. I had indeed become powerless over substances, and my life was most assuredly unmanageable.
I considered trying treatment again, but even that seemed unlikely to work. My thoughts began to drift toward suicide. A lot. My family was done with me. Who could blame them? I’d given away everything. Material possessions, morality, my dignity, self-worth, my peace, my life. Most people claim to have “lost” things due to their addiction. I didn’t lose ANYTHING. I gave it all away. Losing implies I was holding on and the only thing I held onto was the needle and the hope that the next high would be good enough to end it all for me.
May 11 started out like every other day in the preceding months. I had gotten a really nice room in the galleria area. 9th floor with a beautiful view. I was there with someone significant to me. All was well with my world. As I’ve done hundreds of times I gathered what I needed to get high. During this relapse, after getting out of prison, I had been doing meth but not regularly doing heroin. My significant other was doing heroin. I had made “jokes” in the 2 days prior about wanting to do heroin with him but each time he would talk me out of it.
This particular morning there was no discussion. I wanted heroin. We came to a compromise and agreed to do speedballs. A speedball originated as a mixture of cocaine and heroin administered intravenously. In recent years it’s more commonly done by mixing meth and heroin. As you may remember the speedball was my favorite. Because I didn’t want to worry or scare him with doing too much heroin, I made myself a really small shot. I was also thinking that he would be more prone to sharing the H from then on if I didn’t use much at a time. Wow. Grand manipulation at work.
Essentially I was saying, to him and myself, “here I’m going to kill myself a little at a time and hopefully you won’t mind because it’s a tiny bit!” Win/win, right? Not so much. I handed him my shot, laid on the bed and positioned myself to let him ‘hit’ me in the neck. You may be seeing a theme here. I go big or go home. You’re reading correctly, I was asking him to administer the shot to my neck. As he was about to do it I said “this is not going to end well” because in my mind it was such a miniscule amount I wasn’t even going to get high. This is not going to end well. And it didn’t. I don’t remember anything from the next 12-15 minutes. Why? Because I died. Clinically dead.
My friend called 911, gathered our stuff and left. All the things I had accomplished in my life would have culminated in an instant. I nearly ended up as a statistic in a hotel room. Another junkie, dead of an overdose. Was it intentional? Who knows. I can’t say for sure. At that point my addiction was so out of control that my mind regularly gave me the idea of ending my life. And how I should end it. I had told a friend that if I ever got the courage to commit suicide I would do it with heroin, so it would be misconstrued as accidental. Was that day an accident? I’ll never truly know. I wasn’t encompassed by suicidal thoughts that instant and wasn’t actively pursuing death, but I damn sure wasn’t actively pursuing life either.
I woke up to a sea of emergency personnel and law enforcement officers. They informed me they had administered NARCAN twice and that didn’t work. So they performed CPR and were finally able to bring me back. The decision was made to take me to the hospital simply because they couldn’t ascertain whether it was an accidental or intentional overdose, and I certainly wasn’t cooperating toward getting them a clear answer in the matter.
I was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital, Memorial City. After I’d been seen by medical personnel I begged them to just let me sleep. They had blown my high, the least they could do was let me rest, right? Nope. That wasn’t happening. And then in walks this lady. A beautiful, bubbly, little ray of sunshine. She introduced herself as Kristina and informed me she was there on behalf of FRONTLINES. An opiate task force of sorts designed to respond to people who overdosed just like I had. She asked a few demographic questions and then asked how I was. Not only did she ASK how I was, she LISTENED to my answer. She informed me that she was there to get me help with my substance use problem. PROBLEM? What problem? I get high, leave a trail of chaos and disappointment everywhere I go, but I DO NOT have a problem. Right. Sure I don’t. Because MOST normal people wake up on a beautiful summer weekday and decide to overdose, right? Sure they do.
I was not very responsive or even very nice to her. At all. When she accepted that I wasn’t going to take her help, she asked if she could just sit there with me like a friend. I declined this offer as well. On this note she wasn’t taking no for an answer. I drifted off and woke up to her still sitting there. She sat patiently and politely with me for a couple of hours. We didn’t talk much. She tried to ask me about help again and I still wasn’t having it. She told me she understood, she shared some of her background with me and told me she would keep in touch with me to see if I may want treatment down the road. I told her she could call all she wanted to but I didn’t see myself going to treatment or getting sober.
In that moment I was trying to figure out the quickest way out of that hospital and back to my “lifestyle.” She asked if she could leave me a bag which contained some information, 2 doses of NARCAN and her business card. I accepted in hopes she would leave the bag and get the hell out of my room. After all, I had to convince these people I was fine and ready to leave. I had drugs to do… didn’t they GET it? I’m saying this in jest, obviously, but it is also glaringly rooted in truth. All that mattered was getting high again. Finally, she left and I was eventually discharged a few hours later.
About two weeks later my phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t answer it. It wasn’t the dopeman or the boyfriend so why should I?!? I messaged asking who it was, and she said Kristina from FRONTLINES. I thought oh my God this woman is relentless. And she was. And thank God she was.
Over the course of the next three weeks she called and texted me regularly to ask if I was thinking about treatment. Of course my answer was no the first several times. To which she would always answer with “Ok, this is your journey and I’ll be here waiting whenever you’re ready to take it.” She would message me inspirational things. Affirmations. Encouragement. At some point her approach won me over. Eventually I told her I was finally thinking about treatment. We started to set things up and I recoiled a couple of times. Still, she just patiently waited.
On June 20, 2020, I messaged her and told her I had left the environment and “lifestyle” behind and was finally interested in living my life as God intended me to live it. From that moment on she literally and figuratively took my hand and hasn’t let go. Kristina is the first of many angels God put in my path of recovery. She was kind and considerate and never judgmental. She talked TO me and not AT me. She never made me feel less than. She always asked about my well-being, physical and mental. She was patient and informative and helpful. I don’t think there were any lengths she wouldn’t go to in terms of guiding me into sobriety.
I am now over 100 days sober and have finally invested in my own life. I left behind the people, places and things that aided me in addiction and decided to give treatment one more attempt. I went to the sobering center at Houston Recovery Center. I then went to a women’s treatment facility and completely followed the suggestions put before me. While there I definitely handed my will over to God. I found a sponsor. I began working the 12-steps of alcoholics anonymous. I completed treatment and moved into a sober living home. I became employable and employed. With the guidance and love of my sponsor I finished my steps.
My daughters came back into my life. I am now a daily part of their lives and my dad and grandson’s lives. I have things money can’t pay for. I have serenity. I have peace. I have worth. And it’s not dependent on who I am to someone else. I am enough. I have people around me who love me when I didn’t love myself. I have women I consider sisters who prop me up when life gets lifey. I have material possessions, a purpose, and I found something I’ve been missing for a very long time. Me.
I have my life back. I could not have done that if it weren’t for the intervention of FRONTLINES and Kristina. Quite frankly I probably wouldn’t have even tried.