Before her addiction to pain pills — “before I burned my life to the ground” — Shannon was an attentive, involved mom of three.
“I was a Brownie leader, I cooked, my house was orderly, my kids were happy, and I was active in their schooling,” Shannon, now 51, remembers. “I held a job as a certified nursing assistant. Life was good.”
Then, an unthinkable tragedy struck: Shannon’s fourth child, a boy, died in utero when Shannon was 9 months pregnant. The hospital sent her home with a bottle of Percoset.
“Right off the bat, the pills stopped the tears,” Shannon recalls. “I was self-medicating. I never dealt with the trauma.”
Soon, Shannon was using a month’s supply in a week, telling herself: I’m doing the best I can. Anyone would take pills if they were in my position.
When her doctor cut her off, Shannon began buying pills on the street. She became consumed with maintaining her supply, even if it meant driving out of state and leaving her kids home alone.
“Drugs were all I thought about,” she says. “I did things I never in a million years thought I would do.’
Once, one of Shannon’s girls called her at night, fearful of being home without her. “I told her I’d be home soon, even though I was 4 hours away,” Shannon remembers.
When she’d run out of pills, she’d suffer unbearable withdrawal: vomiting, diarrhea, chills, muscle aches, restless legs. She’d tell her kids to make themselves mac and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“The kids would cry, and one of them asked me, ‘Mommy, are you dying?’ I told them, no, Mommy is just really sick. Don’t come in and bother me.”
At one point, Shannon’s dad and aunt staged an intervention with the help of the police.
“They all walked into my house and formed an open circle and gave me a spiel. The cop said: ‘We think your kids are in danger. We’ve heard you’re buying drugs. If you don’t go to rehab, you’re going to jail.’ I was angry and in complete denial.”
To keep custody of her kids, Shannon agreed to enter inpatient treatment, but she didn’t take recovery seriously and was never prescribed medication such as Suboxone.
“I put on this façade that I was doing well,” she says.
Two days after returning home, she started using again.
Shannon spiraled quickly. She got fired from her nursing-assistant job for stealing pills. Her girls dropped out of the school band because Shannon couldn’t pay the saxophone and clarinet rental fees. The girls quit Brownies, too, because she couldn’t drive them to meetings. They missed the school Christmas concert because Shannon was in bed shaking.
“The girls were so proud of their singing, and they cried,” she remembers.
One night when Shannon was high, the neighbors called Child Protective Services. Shannon prepped the kids for the home visit: “Be on your best behavior. Don’t say that mom sleeps all the time.”
To avoid losing her kids, Shannon went to inpatient rehab again and this time put forth more effort. But upon returning home, she became overwhelmed with life.
“The kids were taking care of themselves,” she says. “I was just taking care of myself and nobody else. There were times we didn’t have money for food, the kids would eat at friends’ houses or go to the neighbors.”
The shame Shannon felt only fueled her addiction. “It was a vicious cycle,” she says.
Eventually, the kids went to live with relatives, and Shannon ended up in a homeless shelter. “That was the breaking point for me,” she says. “I was in a very dark place. I didn’t want to live that way anymore.”
Around this time, Shannon ran into a friend who had become a patient at Ideal Option.
“She looked healthy and pretty and had a big smile on her face,” Shannon remembers. “She looked like a totally different person. She was telling me about how she got her life back, and I wanted that, too. I wanted to live again.”
At age 48, Shannon called Ideal Option. “I remember going to my first appointment crying, ‘Please help me. I want to stop.”
Within hours of taking her first dose of Suboxone, she felt like her old self.
“Normal is the only word I can use to describe the feeling,” she says. “I didn’t have that craving. It was totally a miracle.”
Today, three years into recovery, Shannon is married to a man she met at a 12-step meeting. She works as a home health provider, and her kids, father, and brother are back in her life.
“We’re on the mend,” she says. “My family is proud of me, and I’m proud of myself. I can look in the mirror without feeling guilt anymore.”
Shannon can handle stress without feeling she needs pills, and when the occasional craving surfaces, she says, “I’m able to arrest those thoughts before obsessing over them.”
Her life is full of activity and joy. She and her husband go camping and fishing. She tends to a big garden. She taught herself to can beets, peaches, and cherries.
“I can learn things I never would have been able to absorb when my mind was elsewhere,” she says. “And I can see the beauty in the little things. Before, my life was in black and white. Now it’s full of color.”
Best of all, Shannon says, she can laugh.
“With my husband, we do a lot of laughing. I remember how good it felt to feel a hearty laugh again, to feel that lightness and the joy of being alive.”