“I feel better. I look better. I live better.”  — Heather’s Story of Hope

Heather’s kids didn’t ask for much — maybe an outing to the pool or the occasional trip to a carnival or the beach. But Heather, consumed by heroin addiction, always said no.

“I’d tell them, ‘We can’t afford it’ or ‘It’s too far away.’”

Even visits to the park were cut short if Heather’s dealer called and she had to meet up right away.

“We’d go to some parking lot or back road, and I’d say, ‘Just wait in the car. Mommy has to talk to a friend,’” recalls Heather, now 39, with 12 years in recovery.

“I felt so terrible. I’m meeting a drug dealer with my kids in the back seat, thinking, What if I get busted?”

For years, lying was a way of life for Heather. She’d lie to her kids, her mom, her bosses, herself.

In truth, she’d been addicted to substances since she was a teenager — first pot, then pain pills. “It started out recreational, then became an every-day thing,” she says.

At age 22, while on the job at FedEx, she injured her spine when a heavy box landed on her head. Eventually, she lost access to prescription pills and a friend introduced her to heroin. “That was all she wrote,” Heather says.

First, she sniffed. Then she shot up. When she’d run out of drugs, she’d panic and fly into a rage. Diarrhea, vomiting, sweating, muscle aches, restless arm — withdrawal made her so sick that she often couldn’t work and lost her waitressing job.

At times, desperation led her to the emergency room. “I’d tell them my stomach was hurting, and sometimes they’d give me Percoset, but it would only last for a day or two.”

She couldn’t pay her bills and often lost power, water, or phone service.

“We didn’t have a TV because I couldn’t afford that, either,” she says.

During these years, she isolated herself from loved ones, avoiding birthday parties, get-togethers, and family dinners. ‘I’d say I wasn’t feeling well or one of the kids wasn’t feeling well.”

She was sick so often that her mom suggested she get screened for cancer. “Something’s wrong with your immune system,” her mom said.

Heather had always enjoyed cooking, especially chicken and pasta, but in the throes of her addiction, she felt too ill to eat and became painfully thin. “I literally couldn’t even swallow food,” she recalls. “It would make me gag.”

She bounced around jobs, then lost her home and car. For three months, she and the kids lived in a homeless shelter. At night, she’d sneak out to meet dealers.

Heather’s low point was her eviction from the shelter after getting “caught red-handed” with drugs.

“I’d make it 3 days, but then I’d start having seizures. I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t even feed the kids.”

Overcome by stress and exhaustion, Heather finally sought treatment. Once she was stable in recovery, she returned to waitressing, this time maintaining a good, steady job.

“I got a new apartment, and my kids even had their own rooms,” Heather says. “It was the best feeling in the world – being able to provide a roof over their heads, knowing the bills would be paid, not worrying about where the next meal would come from. It was amazing.”

Life got better from there. Heather’s appetite came back. Her acne disappeared. She came clean to her mom and her kids.

“I needed to get help for myself before I could tell anyone the truth,” she says. “When I finally did, the kids said they were proud of me. They appreciated that I was being honest.”

On Facebook, Heather reconnected with a guy she’d dated in high school. He, too, had a history of opioid addiction, and he was ready to seek treatment. He moved from Texas to Maryland to live with Heather, and they married a few months later.

It was Heather who introduced her husband to Ideal Option. He now has a year in recovery. “I’m a great support system for him,” Heather says. “If he gets a craving, he lets me know, and we talk through it.”

She’s now considering going back to school to become an addiction counselor. Motivated by her husband’s recovery and her own, as well as the overdose death of her brother, Heather has a passion to help others struggling with addiction.

“If I can keep one more person from dying, I’ve done my job,” she says.

These days, Heather and her husband go to motocross races, ride go-karts, and spend weekends camping. Every Friday is date night at their favorite seafood restaurant.

“I love shrimp and crab legs and lobster,” Heather says. “At this one restaurant, the seafood is cooked perfect — it’s steamed just right so you can get it right out of the shell. That’s something I never could have enjoyed before.”

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