Amy spent half her childhood faking injuries at emergency rooms — not to score pain pills for herself but to keep her parents supplied.
“My mom would make me say I fell off my skateboard and bruised my tailbone,” says Amy, now 36 and an Ideal Option patient.
“It started when I was 11. I would get really nervous. It was so humiliating, and I’m not a good liar.”
Once, when Amy was about 14, she refused to go along with the scheme.
“My mom took a 2-by-4 and smashed me in the knee,” Amy recalls. “Since I didn’t want to fake an injury, she gave me one.”
After that, Amy complied. She also took over the driving duties.
Because of her mom’s poor eyesight, Amy qualified for a hardship driver’s license at age 14. On her mom’s orders, she’d drive from their home in Arkansas to hospitals all over — Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri — in search of ERs that hadn’t caught on to their con.
Meanwhile, she had to keep up in school, so as not to raise suspicion among her teachers.
“My mom would say, ‘If you don’t show up at school, they’re going to arrest me,’” Amy says. “I worked my butt off, but I fell asleep in class a lot.”
Amy would feel drowsy, too, on the long drives to random hospitals. Her parents’ solution: methamphetamine.
“My mom and dad started giving me meth so I could stay awake to drive,” Amy says. “The meth made it to where I didn’t really have to sleep or eat.”
What little did she eat she was forced to steal.
“My mom would take me and my brother to the fruit aisle in the grocery store and have us eat strawberries and grapes inconspicuously,” she recalls.
Other times, they’d pull up at fast-food drive-throughs and demand free food, claiming the restaurant had messed up their orders a few days earlier.
Amy not only scammed drugs and food for her parents, but she also was coerced into stealing batteries, cigarettes, and other items that she could return for cash or that her parents could trade for drugs.
Sometimes, Amy was used as collateral on her parents’ drug deals.
“I would have to stay at the drug dealer’s houses until my parents came back with the money,” she says. “I was always around shady people. I lived in a constant state of panic.”
Amy felt she had to heed her mom’s commands to keep her from lashing out.
“The only thing my mom cared about was getting her next fix,” Amy says. “It consumed her every thought.”
Eventually, despite her best intentions, drugs ended up consuming Amy’s every thought, too. First came the meth. Then the opioids.
“Whenever I’d come down off meth, my body would ache, so my mom would give me pain pills,” Amy recalls.
After graduating high school, Amy worked restaurant jobs, turning over her earnings to her parents. “They depended on me for everything,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to be myself or have any kind of life.”
When Amy got pregnant at age 20, she quit meth but used valium and methadone. She didn’t seek prenatal care for fear she’d be drug tested.
A month before giving birth, she weaned off the pain pills, but after an emergency c-section, she was sent home with opioids. Her mom swiped them.
“She’d give me methadone, so she could take the heavier stuff,” Amy says. “Then I was hooked on methadone.”
By that point, Amy was taking care of her newborn baby and her strung-out parents, who’d regularly fall asleep while smoking. “I lived in a state of fear that they’d set the house on fire,” she says.
Amy’s anxiety was so severe that at age 21, she was prescribed high doses of Xanax.
Eventually both of her parents died of drug overdoses, and Amy lost custody of her son, who went to live with an aunt and uncle.
“I had this sense of freedom I’d never had before,” Amy recalls. “Finally, I was able to hang out with friends. I went wild, like I almost became a teenager again.”
Addicted to meth and heroin, Amy began racking up drug-related charges and ignoring her court dates. She fled a series of court-ordered inpatient treatment programs and spent 24 months in prison for selling drugs.
She stayed drug-free in prison, and upon her release had plans for a different kind of life. “I wanted to get my son back and get a job and have friends and be a regular person,” she says.
But those plans went awry the very day she left prison. She moved in with her brother, who was addicted to fentanyl, heroin, and meth.
“As soon as I saw those needles, I went right back to it,” she says.
Three days later, she overdosed on fentanyl and was revived when EMTs administered Narcan.
“You would think that would have scared me,” Amy recounts, “but the next thing I know, I’m letting my brother shoot heroin in my neck because my other veins were shot. I didn’t care whether I died or not. I wasn’t suicidal. I just didn’t care.”
From there, Amy spent two months on the streets. That’s when she hit rock bottom.
“I was on my knees in the middle of the night, looking up at the stars, saying, ‘Just give me a chance. I’ll hang it up. Next time they catch me, I’ll really try.’ Before, I had always faked it.”
A few days later, high on heroin and fentanyl, Amy passed out at a Subway while eating a sandwich. Police arrested her on a parole violation, and she landed in rehab for 90 days.
This time, she had a new attitude.
“Something changed, and I started thinking: I’m a capable and intelligent person. What if I really did try? What would it take for me to be sober?“
Released to a halfway house, Amy was overwhelmed by the rules and called her brother to come get her. But before he arrived, she had a chance encounter with a guy who was also in recovery.
“We immediately clicked, in a way that had never happened to me before,” Amy says of the man who is now her husband. “He said, ‘You’re so far above this.’ He truly believed I could get my act together, that I was worth it.”
Amy adds: “No one had ever said, ‘You can do this.’”
When Amy’s brother showed up, drunk, she waved him off.
“I decided enough was enough, and I had somebody on my team. Once I started to try, everything fell into place. When I felt weak, I would reach out rather than take off.”
Amy became pregnant and remained drug-free while pregnant. Still, she was consumed by thoughts of using opioids.
She had one close call: After delivering her baby boy via c-section, Amy was sent home with oxycodone, despite telling the nurses she was in recovery.
Fearful she’d take the pills, she searched online for a treatment center and called Ideal Option.
She still had staples in from the c-section when arrived for her first appointment. Immediately, the staff eased her apprehension.
“A lot of times, treatment places are judgy, but the receptionist was so kind,” Amy remembers. “She said, ‘I’m so proud of you for coming in here.’ It could have gone a totally different direction.”
Amy started on Suboxone, and right away her cravings vanished. “It totally blows my mind,” she says. “For half my life, drugs were the only thing I ever thought about.”
She’s baffled that no treatment program ever offered her medication.
“I struggled for so many years with withdrawal, depression, homelessness. I was in drug court and all these programs. They could have told me about Suboxone. My life could have been so different.”
But Amy doesn’t dwell on what could have been. Instead, she marvels at all she has today: a steady job as a restaurant server, a baby boy, a husband who believes in her.
“We’re both sober and have this beautiful life,” she says. “It is blissfully ordinary. I cook dinner. I watch documentaries. I can actually read a book without nodding off. It’s lovely. I’ve never experienced peace before.”
Amy has regained custody of her son, who’s now 15. But she didn’t want to uproot him from the only life he’s known, in another city. Instead, she visits him twice a month and chats with him every day via FaceTime.
“He’s so proud of me,” Amy says. “When I was in prison, he didn’t talk to me at all. It made him too sad. In his mind, I was going to stay like that forever. Now he has me back, and we have this silly relationship. We text all day long, and he’s doing better in school.”
Amy’s brother and his wife are in recovery, too, thanks to Suboxone.
“Everyone’s sober now,” she says. “For years, our entire lives revolved around drugs. Suboxone changed everything so drastically and immediately.”
For the first time, Amy feels like she’s living, not just existing.
“I have a life,” she says, “and this time it’s mine.”