“I’m the strongest person I know” — Sarah’s Story of Hope

During the depths of her opioid addiction, Sarah watched her share of TV medical dramas like “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” With each episode, she found herself consumed with envy.

“I would be jealous of the person who got hurt,” Sarah recalls, “because they could get pain pills.”

Sarah was no stranger to emergency rooms herself, often using her considerable acting skills to score opioids from real-life ER doctors. Once, to bruise her back, she threw herself into the corner of a wall. Dozens of times, she conjured up fake symptoms and Social Security numbers.

“I have a very sweet demeanor, and I knew how to manipulate,” recalls Sarah, now 44 and an Ideal Option patient. “Sometimes I went to three emergency rooms in one day.”

Eventually, all the deception caught up with her.

At age 34, when her children were 4, 6, and 9, Sarah was arrested for forging an ER prescription. She spent 4 days in jail before her shocked parents bailed her out.

“I’d never been in trouble my whole life,” says Sarah, who was sentenced to 2 years’ probation.

Raised in a strict Christian household — both her grandfathers were ministers — Sarah didn’t use drugs or alcohol, and the concept of addiction wasn’t on her radar.

All that changed when she was 27 and underwent a hysterectomy due to a painful gynecological condition.

“After the surgery, my doctor gave me Percoset pills like they were nothing,” Sarah recalls. “That started me on a 10-year ride that took everything from me.”

It wasn’t long before the pursuit of opioids ruled her life.

She was taking 10 to 20 pills a day, buying them off the street, sometimes from people she met in the ER. She’d panic when her supply would run low, and even when she was well stocked, she’d panic about how to get more.

“You’re always chasing that first high,” she recalls.

Sarah never did experience that initial euphoria. Instead, she found despair and withdrawal: diarrhea, insomnia, and severe back pain. Too sick to shower, comb her hair, or eat, she’d become dehydrated, dizzy, and unable to care for her children.

“The kids would eat junk, like chips or whatever was there,” says Sarah. “They were late to school all the time. They’d come check on me, and say, ’Mama, Mama, wake up!’”

Sarah says her husband, whom she later divorced, was too preoccupied with work to notice her addiction and spent his evenings in his recliner drinking beer. He didn’t question the reasons she invented for having spent money.

“I’d tell him I needed money for diapers, or one of the kids needed new shoes, or I had to buy trash bags,” she says.

Sarah knew she was addicted to the pills but convinced herself she needed them to survive.

After her short jail stint, Sarah checked into a faith-based inpatient rehab center at her parents’ insistence. Housed on a working ranch, the program involved manual labor and Bible study four times a day.

“If you didn’t do your work or memorize a scripture and you got three strikes, you had to dig a 5-foot-by-5-foot ditch,” Sarah says. “Man, I was in good shape.”

During her stay, Sarah manipulated her father into driving her to a doctor’s appointment and snuck pain pills back to the farm in her shoes and under clothing.

“Then the whole cycle started over again,” she says.

A few months later, Sarah’s parents sent her back to the program, and this time, she graduated. But when a judge awarded full custody of her children to her ex-husband, Sarah was crushed and fell back into using.

Eventually, feeling lost and exhausted, she stopped taking pills and began rebuilding her life, finding fulfilling work at a call center.

“I was trying to earn back my kids’ trust and respect,” she says. “I really wanted to be done.”

But, she adds, “what we want and what we do are two different things.”

She began dating a weed farmer who also used meth, and she descended back into daily drug use. “I thought I could handle it,” she recalls. “I said, ‘What happened before will never happen to me again.”

But it did — only worse.

This time Sarah landed in the ER with a genuine emergency: severe liver toxicity, precipitated by massive opioid use. Her kidneys started to fail, and she fell in and out of consciousness.

“At the hospital, they asked if I was trying to kill myself,” Sarah recalls.

Suicide hadn’t been her intention, but after the episode, when she began to examine her life, she realized she was on a self-destructive path.

When a long-time friend asked her, “Why are you doing this? Do you hate yourself that much?” Sarah replied, “Yes. Look at what I’ve done to my kids, to my life. Of course, I hate myself.”

It was this friend, herself in recovery from opioid addiction, who guided Sarah toward Ideal Option and medication-assisted treatment and away from self-loathing.

“She told me, ‘I’m on Suboxone, and it’s saving my life.’ She picked me up, and the next day I started the program.”

This time, Sarah wasn’t trying to please her parents or her kids or society. She wanted recovery for herself.

Though some members of her family viewed her as “nothing but a drug addict,” she didn’t feel judged by the Ideal Option staff.

“When I walked in, they were so kind to me,” she says.

Sarah, like her long-time friend, considers Suboxone a life-saver. “I have no cravings, none at all. It shocks me that I can function like a normal human being today.”

She’s not just functioning but thriving.

She moved out of state to start fresh and now works for a medical answering service. Although she remains estranged from her daughters, she maintains a close relationship with her son, who’s now 24 and has forgiven her.

“I have an amazing job, and my son is still by my side,” she says.

Though she doesn’t let her addiction define her, she says, “it’s part of me and always will be. It helped mold me.”

Today, when she looks in the mirror, Sarah sees a person who has overcome more than most. “I’m the strongest person I know,” she says.

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