Throughout Ritamaria Espinoza’s pregnancy, she literally counted the days until she could shoot morphine again.
“I had my due date marked in my phone’s calendar app with a little party emoji,” she recalls.
Addicted to opioids since age 12, she had stopped using at four months pregnant, for fear of losing custody of her baby. But she planned to buy morphine in town after her delivery.
Then she met her baby boy.
“I didn’t see myself as a mom until I saw his little face,” says Ritamaria, now 33 and an Ideal Option patient. “I know it’s corny, but at that moment, everything changed.”
Though she blew through the painkillers the hospital gave her — “they got me stinkin’ high” — she was immediately regretful and vowed: no more.
“I come from a long, long, long line of addicts,” she says. “I wanted to break this cycle. I didn’t ever want my son to see me shooting up, like I did with members of my family.”
Remaining drug-free proved difficult, though, and three months after her baby was born, Ritamaria found herself jonesing to use. She even planned a specific day to get high. “I was imagining the rush I’d feel,” she says. “I was just obsessing about it.”
But she didn’t follow through. Instead, on the advice of a friend in recovery from heroin and meth addiction, she called Ideal Option.
“It was a now-or-never moment,” Ritamaria recalls. “Like, if I don’t do this now, I’m always going to find an excuse.”
At that crossroads, Ritamaria thought about her son as well as her husband. Since they’d met, and through the early months of her pregnancy, she had lied to him often and carried a heavy burden of guilt.
“I felt like I had to carry my phone with me at all times,” she says. “Even when I was sleeping, I’d keep it in my bra. I was afraid he’d see a dealer texting me.”
She’d managed to stay drug free since early in her pregnancy, with the exception of that day at the hospital, and she didn’t want to go back to deceiving her husband.
“He’s my rock,” she says.
Growing up, Ritamaria didn’t have anyone like that — someone who looked out for her. Early on, her mom split town, leaving Ritamaria and her young sister to live with their absent father.
When Ritamaria was 12, she and her sister visited their mom, who had fallen ill and had stockpiled bottles of morphine. The girls were sent home with bottles of pills and instructions from Mom to sell them and pocket the money.
“She felt like she had abandoned us and was trying to make up for it,” says Ritamaria. “At that point, I didn’t know what pain pills really were.”
She found out soon enough and became addicted to morphine herself. “I’d bring a little baggie of crushed-up pills to school and snort in the bathroom,” she said.
Outside of school, she preferred to shoot up, having learned the technique from an older boyfriend. “He’d look at my arms and say, ‘I’d kill for veins like that. I wouldn’t have to dig around so much.’”
Though she attended four years of high school, Ritamaria missed too much school to earn a diploma. She earned her GED in prison, while serving a 3-year term for selling marijuana.
She didn’t use drugs in prison or for months afterward, but after reconnecting with old friends, she slipped back into selling weed and using morphine.
Eventually, Ritamaria began to tire of the lifestyle and found new friends “who weren’t so drug based.” One day, at a card tournament, she met the man who would become her husband. He didn’t drink or use drugs and had a steady job as a store manager.
“He was everything I wished I could be,” she says.
After a few months, she admitted to him that she was using. He said, “Well, don’t you want to stop?” I said, “Not really.”
Ritamaria liked being high; using helped her escape feelings of insecurity about her 6-foot-2 stature. “I’ve always been really tall, a bigger gal. When I was high, I’d just chill about it.”
Besides, she didn’t think recovery was even possible. She had tried to quit many times, but withdrawal symptoms — nausea, profuse sweating, “jellowy legs” — always drove her back.
Some days she considered seeking treatment, but then she’d convince herself that her addiction wasn’t so serious. “I’d think: Well, I only do morphine. It’s not like I’m garbage-canning it and doing everything I can find.”
She worked hard to hide her use from her partner. If a dealer was waiting for her, she’d say, “I’m going to run outside and smoke a cigarette with a friend.” The dealer would slip the drugs into her pocket, and then, when her partner was occupied, Ritamaria would lock herself in the bathroom and get high.
But as their relationship got more serious, she couldn’t bear the deception.
“I had never loved anyone more than I loved getting high. But here was this amazing man who’s willing to change the way I see the world, and I’m lying to him all the time. I felt like the room was closing in on me.”
Three months after giving birth, Ritamaria felt ready to seek treatment. Family members had lost custody of their children due to drug use, and she was determined to avoid that fate.
Even so, making the call wasn’t easy. She knew she was never going back. “It’s almost like saying goodbye to a best friend,” she recalls.
At Ideal Option, Ritamaria started on Suboxone and marveled at how well the medication worked. In fact, she soon forgot what cravings and withdrawal felt like, and after a year, she quit taking the medication.
A few weeks later, she had run out of Suboxone and found herself “minutes away” from using. She asked her husband to take her phone away, fearful she might call a dealer.
Instead, she contacted Ideal Option and resumed taking Suboxone. She hasn’t missed a dose since.
“I’ve accepted that I might need this medication the rest of my life, and so what? I take a thyroid pill that helps me stay alive and feeling healthy. If I need Suboxone to maintain my quality of life, so be it.”
Ritamaria calls Suboxone “magic.” The medication has stifled that voice that always told her: Hey, you’ll feel better if you’re high. Suboxone also has quashed the dreams that used to haunt her.
“In my dreams, I’d have the pills and the needle but couldn’t find a quiet place to use. Then, right when I’d find a place, I’d wake up. Or, I can’t find a vein, and then I finally do, but at that moment, I’d wake up — in a really bad mood.”
Once in a blue moon, Ritamaria has a small craving, but she’s never truly tempted to use.
“My brain shuts it down instantly and throws it away. That’s how I visualize a craving in my head — like a crumpled piece of paper.”
Ritamaria has cut ties with “toxic family members” and drug-using friends. What she loves most about recovery, she says, is “the weightlessness of it all.”
“I feel lighter. I have no secrets. I don’t have to worry about sickness or coming up with large amounts of money. I know my son will never see me spun out and messed up.”
Ritamaria now has an honest relationship with her husband, who drives her to her Ideal Option appointments.
“He used to tell me I was uptight, and he couldn’t understand why. But it was because I was trying so hard not to act high.”
Now, she has nothing to hide from her husband, not even her phone. “His fingerprint is programmed into my iPhone,” she says.
A stay-at-home mom, Ritamaria loves taking her energetic son, now 3 ½, to the park. She’s thrilled she could afford to buy him a superhero costume and take him on vacation. “You’d be surprised at the extra income you have when you’re not spending all your money on drugs,” she says. “This is exactly the life I want for my son: normal. That makes me feel proud.”
Ritamaria spent much of her life dealing weed and getting in trouble with the law. She was well-known — not in a good way — by the police in her small town.
“Before, every time a cop would see me driving a vehicle, they’d turn around and see what I was up to. Now, they just wave to me and keep going. It’s a pretty great feeling.”