As a nation, we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. It is vital to realize that addiction occurs at all stages of life, always accompanied by life-altering ramifications.
Suzanne traces her drug addiction to her surgery for diverticulitis; a disorder characterized by inflammation, severe stomach pain, and disturbed bowel function, when she was 40 years old. After surgery prescription pain medication became her ‘gateway drug.’ According to the Centers for Disease Control, taking opioids for more than three days, post-surgery, increases the risk of chronic use. The recommendation is over-the-counter pain medication instead of opiates, which minimizes the risk of developing dependence and addiction.
Suzanne is 60 years old and has been clean for two years. “What’s sad is me and my son were addicts together, but I was so far into it I didn’t even get what I was doing to him. I’d be deathly sick, so he’d ‘run’ on the streets to keep me alive,” says Suzanne. Her habit became overwhelmingly dark and all-consuming. It did not take long before her only son, Neil, started using himself; as a young addict he battled addiction and a sense of responsibility to feed her addiction.
Suzanne met a man and missed all the telltale signs of his heroin addiction. Blindly in love, the couple moved to Connecticut to start over and soon she was using heroin. “Me and my boyfriend, Tom, thought nothing of driving 45 minutes to New Haven to some of the deepest darkest heroine houses, rooms with people sitting on the floor in darkness; needles hanging out of their arms. My boyfriend’s advice was don’t look at anyone,” Suzanne adds.
Multiple attempts at rehabilitation were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Neil hit rock bottom and went into a methadone clinic, and reclaimed his life. He came home and saw his mother struggling and began’ running’ once again. “Neil told me my ship had sunk, and he wasn’t going to keep caring for another addict, especially not his mother, ” Suzanne says as she wipes tears from her eyes.
At 58 she entered a detoxification program fully determined to finally regain her life. She visibly recoils recounting withdrawal. “I cannot ever put myself through that again, fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and the only way to go through it is to tolerate all of it. I had gone from pills to heroin and back to pills, a constant roller coaster,” adds Suzanne.
The effects of Suzanne’s addiction impacted her ability to be a stable role model for her son, who internalized a lack of trust for his mother due to her parental inconsistency. “When I meet young addicts, I always tell them you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, don’t wait until you’re 60 like me and you’ve made as many mistakes as I have,” says Suzanne. Despite her many struggles she is a woman that refused to give up. Listening to Suzanne speak, I realize I cannot begin to comprehend the depth of her addiction or the full extent of her challenges; going from housed to homeless and back to housed. Looking into her deep-set eyes, I see remarkable courage, determination, resilience, and unmistakable strength.
Suzanne found a job and moved into an apartment with her limited belongings on August 1, 2019. We met at the Streets of Paradise climate-controlled warehouse, where she carefully selected the essential items that she needed for her new home. The following day we delivered beautiful, gently used furniture, which transformed her bare space into a warm, comfortable home. Suzanne is optimistic about this new chapter in her life and appreciates all of the support she received from Streets of Paradise.
“There are some things one can only achieve by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction.” – Frank Kafka
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Photos from Natasha Reisner.