One day, while high on painkillers, Aria pulled into a parking lot to use a store restroom, leaving her baby asleep in the car.
She’d intended to come back in a minute but instead nodded off in the restroom. A half hour later, she returned to the car and was arrested by a cop who had witnessed, and recorded, the incident.
Stunned, Aria didn’t believe she’d been gone that long or even realize she was high. After all, she rationalized, the pills had been prescribed by a doctor.
It was only much later — after she’d lost custody of her daughter and acknowledged her opioid addiction — that Aria was able to see the incident for what it really was.
“When I watched the body cam footage, I was shaking and crying,” recalls Aria, an Ideal Option patient with three years in recovery. “I could not believe it. I was like, holy crap. The cops weren’t lying. I’ve had a lot of therapy for my guilt with that.”
But therapy, and treatment, came later. After losing custody of her daughter, Aria spiraled further into addiction, retreating from sober friends and family and doing all she could to avoid the nausea and pain of withdrawal.
“Heroin numbed me from the pain and guilt and shame I felt from losing custody of my daughter,” Aria says.
She hid her drug use from her baby’s father and from the authorities who monitored her weekly visits with her daughter. But an overdose on fentanyl-laced heroin propelled her out of denial.
Revived by Narcan, Aria was terrified. “When I woke up, I was in tears. All I could think about was my daughter.”
Later that week, a judge, unaware of Aria’s drug use and overdose, awarded Aria half custody of her daughter. But Aria was so rattled from the overdose that she asked her baby’s father to retain full custody while she attended inpatient reatment.
“I thought: I don’t want my daughter to have a life like I had,” says Aria, whose parents died from addiction and who was raised by her grandmother.
Aria’s drug use began in high school, with weed, coke, ecstasy, and acid. Later, she got a pill prescription by playing up an anxiety diagnosis.
“I was pretty good at keeping myself together and not looking like the stereotypical drug addict,” she says. “Drugs started taking over my life, but I didn’t see it yet.”
Aria worked part-time as a restaurant server and attended community college for a while. “I’d go to the school and sit in a lesson and the next day not remember any of it,” she recalls.
But she didn’t connect her academic difficulties with her drug use. “I thought it was just that I had no time for school and it wasn’t a priority.”
Aria stopped using drugs during her pregnancy, at age 24, but picked up afterward. It wasn’t until her overdose that she felt compelled to turn her life around.
Even then, she struggled at first during treatment.
“I missed my daughter, and I’d get overwhelmed and stressed out. I didn’t feel like it was working.” More than once, Aria packed her bags, only to change her mind after staff told her: “If you want to give up on your daughter, OK, walk out the door.”
In group sessions, Aria confronted her traumatic childhood and her guilt over losing custody of her daughter. She stopped blaming herself for events she couldn’t control and learned healthy ways to cope with stress, such as deep breathing and spending time in nature.
Subutex, a medication for opioid use disorder, suppressed her cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
“I thought about the future I want versus what future I’ll have if I choose to use,” she says. “I rewired my thinking.”
When she left treatment after 90 days, Aria was sure she wouldn’t use again. But a day later, she ran into the friend who’d introduced her to heroin. When he started using in front of her, Aria thought, “One time won’t hurt me.”
Looking back, she says, “I don’t know what I was thinking in that moment, after everything I’d learned.”
Immediately regretful, Aria left and went to a 12-step meeting. “I gave myself grace. I kept going back to that meeting every day, and I made a commitment that if I want to be the best mom I can, I can’t ever do that again.”
For three years, Aria battled to regain custody of her daughter, a struggle that sometimes left her with thoughts of using. Instead, stayed sober, cutting ties with her drug-using acquaintances and pouring her time and energy into her artwork. She painted, drew, and made jewelry she sold at markets and online.
“I needed an outlet for the pain, anger and shame,” Aria remembers.
Aria would take her art supplies to NA meetings and stay after to let others use her supplies and keep what they made.
“Art kept me balanced and gave me a small purpose outside of the purpose I thought I had failed at: being a mom,” says Aria. “I used my artistic gifts to heal myself and help others heal.”
Eventually, Aria returned to school, and landed a rewarding job as a paralegal. Today, she’s on track to earn her B.A. and plans to enroll in law school. She’s excelling in college, where she recently earned an excellence award.
Aria cut ties with her drug-using acquaintances, returned to school, and landed a rewarding job as a paralegal. She’s on track to earn her B.A. and plans to enroll in law school. She’s excelling in college, where she recently earned an excellence award.
In addition, she has volunteered at a recovery center, cleaning and helping groups set up. “I’d just hang out, and if someone was in a hard place and needed to talk, I would be there, as a person who’s relatable.”
“Volunteering keeps you humble and boosts your own self-worth,” she says.
Aria feels proud of how far she has come. Before, she says, she could barely handle working part-time and paying for her food. “Now, I pay for my entire apartment, part of my daughter’s school, and for my cat’s care. I have extra money left over, and I’m not spending it on stupid stuff.”
Aria’s daughter is now 4 ½. The two of them read together and go to the zoo, the park, and the pool. Aria has become an expert at calming herself. Instead of raising her voice, she whispers.
“If I get triggered, I can say: Why did I feel that way? How can I deal with this so it doesn’t keep happening? I’m really big on not reacting. I don’t yell, and my relationship with my daughter is better for it. I’ve learned a lot of patience and self-control.”