Jennifer has a vivid memory of the day she got arrested, at the school where she worked as a 6th-grade teacher.
The vice principal came to her classroom and said, “Grab your stuff. They need you in the office.” Jennifer thought maybe a relative had died.
Instead, a police officer was waiting for her. An arrest warrant had been issued after she’d failed a drug test, violating a court order to stay drug-free after a DUI.
“It was mortifying,” recalls Jennifer, an Ideal Option patient, now 49 and a decade into recovery. “We live in a small town, and by the end of the day, my daughters had heard about it. They were in 3rd and 6th grade. People were asking them, ‘What did your mom do?’”
In truth, Jennifer had done a lot — a lot of drugs, a lot of lying, a lot of living in denial. On her lunch breaks at school, she’d leave campus to shoot heroin. At times she’d nod off in class, and a student would help her snap back.
She had completed a 30-day inpatient treatment program for addiction to prescription painkillers. But after her husband filed for divorce and won custody of their two girls, she had drifted back to opioids.
In retrospect, she says, “I didn’t have a grasp on how to cope with life.”
A Late Start, A Downward Spiral
Jennifer, who remembers her childhood fondly, didn’t begin using drugs until age 33. “I was a late bloomer,” she jokes.
At the time, she was struggling with restless leg syndrome, a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your limbs. A doctor prescribed her methadone pills. “I noticed that narcotic pain medication really helped me feel better,” she says.
She was prescribed additional painkillers after shattering her leg in a car accident, and she continued to score pills, from multiple doctors, after the pain stopped. “I’d say, ‘Some of my pills fell down the sink.’ And I was really good at doctor shopping.”
When physicians finally cut her off, she’d steal painkillers from relatives’ medicine cabinets. For a while, she was able to function reasonably well as a teacher, popping pills “here and there, just to feel normal.”
But by the time of her DUI arrest, she was deep into opioid addiction, in debt from buying drugs, and several years into an abusive marriage. To avoid jail, she agreed to inpatient treatment. But then her husband filed for divorce, and she lost custody of her girls.
“After that, it all went downhill,” Jennifer recalls. “I was devastated.”
After a difficult 6 months in recovery, with no medication and little support from friends, she relapsed. Among her fellow teachers at school, she felt like an outsider. “Nobody bothered to ask me, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ Everyone just kind of looked the other way.”
Again, she enrolled in a 30-day inpatient program. That’s where she met the guy who introduced her to heroin. Upon their release, they began dating.
Jennifer liked heroin right away. “It was the best thing ever. I was like: Why didn’t I know about it sooner? It’s so much cheaper than pills.”
By this time, her life revolved around maintaining her drug supply. “I’d have to miss work to wait for drugs I ordered online. Or, I’d tell a neighbor, ‘I have a really important package coming. Would you get it for me?’”
To avoid jail, she was attending outpatient treatment. She mastered the art of faking a drug test, with urine purchased at a gas station.
But eventually she got caught. That’s when the police officer showed up at her school. Jennifer had no choice: more inpatient treatment or jail.
She enrolled in another 30-day program — at yet another center that did not believe in medication-assisted treatment.
After completing the program, she lost her teaching job and her friends, too. She went to 12-step meetings but, she says, “I just couldn’t get it together. I wasn’t being honest with myself.”
Soon, a connection she’d met in treatment introduced her to Percoset. She tried to get off the painkiller with Tramadol, another painkiller, only to become addicted to that. Whenever she’d try to stop using, the withdrawal symptoms — sweating, chills, diarrhea, extreme restless-leg syndrome — would drive her back.
Another failed urine test landed her back in court. This time, she persuaded the judge to let her try Suboxone and outpatient treatment.
“I said, ‘I need a change. I need to go somewhere else. Rehab just isn’t working.”
“Suboxone changed everything”
By this point, Jennifer was serious about recovery. She was tired of feeling sick, of lying, and of the stress of finding drugs every day.
“I wanted to have good people in my life and form positive relationships,” she says.
Around this time, she’d started dating a man who proved to be a supportive, empathetic partner. From the get-go, she was totally honest with him about her addiction history.
“I felt like I was in a Lifetime movie, like I was one of these wives who was brainwashed by her abusive husband and then I finally meet a nice guy who really listens to me.”
She was also highly motivated by the prospect of regaining shared custody of her girls.
“I had a new outpatient clinic and a new relationship,” Jennifer recalls. “It was this combination that clicked for me. I had been through so much counseling. I knew what I needed to know.”
Jennifer blocked all her drug-using acquaintances. She became a certified nursing assistant, a job she finds rewarding.
Suboxone, she says, made all this possible. She no longer craves drugs or even feels restless-leg symptoms. She regained shared custody of her children when they were 11 and 14. Both have now graduated high school.
“The best thing about being in recovery has been my relationship with my daughters,” she says. “I know if I was still using, I wouldn’t have that.”
Jennifer remarried in 2017. “I found a partner who’s my best friend,” she says.
She has owned up to her mistakes and feels wiser for all she’s been through.
“What I’ve learned in my sobriety is: everyone has problems. You can’t solve them by running to use.”