Today Sally Johnson, an Ashwood Recovery Alumni, shares with us her spiral into addiction. Sally talks with us about her childhood through to the point of finding recovery after many signs and interventions. Join us in a later episode to hear Sally's rise to recovery.
"The dead drug leaves a ghost behind. At certain hours, it haunts the house."
Jean Cocteau French poet, film director and painter
"When I say there were times I was sober, that just means I wasn't doing meth then."
Sally, in her own words
In the 4th episode of our podcast series on No Way But North Radio, we hear from a young woman about her troubled childhood and early womanhood, both tarnished by the addictions of her family and others around her she cared for, and then, by her own seemingly unstoppable addiction.
The first part of Sally Johnson's emotional and inspiring addiction story focuses on her spiralling descent into the many-headed, brutal insanity of addiction itself, of growing up in an addicted family and of a childhood that no young person should have to live.
For a young woman who is so desperate to overcome what has gone before, and to overcome the drastic and nearly deadly effects upon her own life, Sally's battle towards recovery is a long, painful and endlessly emotional one. You can hear the second part of Sally's story in episode 12 of our podcast series.
Sally Johnson is an Ashwood Recovery alumni, and was helped to achieve and maintain her sobriety with the Ashwood outpatient treatment center. She is highly active in not only the alumni community there, but also in the wider recovery community in and around Boise, Idaho.
As she says herself, "I appreciate the opportunity to be of service as well. It's such an important part of my recovery to be able to show up this way. I was given the message, and if I can't share the message, I am not doing my due diligence."
How Alcohol & Drug Addiction Affects The Whole Family Sally is not the first child to grow up in a family where the ones she loves and her role models - mother, father, even uncles - are all either alcoholics or addicts or both, and she certainly won't be the last. Her childhood, as she says herself, was nothing but a procession of state prison visits and overdoses that she was witness to:
"Addiction has been in my family for a very long time. It was normal for me to see things. My Dad was an alcoholic and an addict, and my Mom was an alcoholic as well. She is not using now, which is great, but as far as the program, she does get program through Ashwood, and she shows up as a supporter in my family as well.
On my Dad's side, he had 6 brothers and they were all addicts and alcoholics as well. None of them lived to be passed 60. All of them died either incarcerated or in drug-related car accidents or medical conditions based upon drugs, as well. So, that's pretty tough.
I grew up, I mean, the majority of my weekends were spent out at the Idaho state penitentiary, because my Dad, I couldn't understand as a kid. I thought he was choosing alcohol and drugs over me. I was like "Why can't he just stop using? I mean, he has his family here."
Later in life, I totally met that stage in my life and in my addiction as well. At that moment, it wasn't a choice. I couldn't stop using as well."
Sally grew up in a codependent household, and the theme of codependency would extend, just like her addiction, into every single relationship she was to have during her adolescent years of actively using and abusing both alcohol and drugs.
Healthy relationships, either family, friendship or romantic ones, offer understanding, love and support. It's an unconditional interdependency and it's how successful relationships work and stand the test of time. However, when you add substance use disorders to the equation, things stop being balanced and relatively harmonious, and relationships become ones existing through a codependence that, in reality, has little to do with the elements of real understanding, love and support.
So what exactly is codependency? Simply put, a codependent person allows the needs, wants and even the responsibilities of the addict to become more important than their own. Everything required for their own identity, happiness and security becomes secondary in nature. They become people who just "need to be needed," unaware, in part, to the consequences for themselves.
Whether it is through the alcoholism, the illegal drug use, or the abuse of prescription medications of the addicted family member, friend or partner, their misguided response is a spiral which, at worst, will mirror the spiral of addiction itself. In other words, you go down with them.
"It's amazing how many people still don't understand codependency, even when it is consuming them and those they love. The need to fix others is always easier than accepting we are codependent and need help."
- Jeanette E. Menter, Christian Lay Counselor and author
Many addiction treatment professionals actually liken and regard codependency as an addiction in itself, in that the codependent will suffer as the addict suffers. Everything outside of the codependent relationship becomes not only secondary, but suffers through neglect, including the person who is acting as the caregiver. Such a warped relationship will eventually lead to resentment, and codependency may well result in:
Let's not forget the addicted one here. What is the effect of such a codependency on them? The alcoholics and drug addicts in these codependent relationships are being enabled (given permission, if you like) to continue their addicted behavior without fear of reprisal or meaningful consequence. Their actions are covered for, their financial needs are met, and they know "it's ok" to continue as they are doing.
The surest sign of a codependent relationship is when the non-addict submits totally to the behavior of the addict, and allows the situation to reach the point of virtual obsession - to attempt to control an uncontrollable person's behavior, a hard-fought, constant battle with always no happy resolution in sight.
"It wasn't the best thing that I did, but I did the best that I could."
- Sally's Mom
To return to Sally's story, the evidence is clear - the entire household was a web of codependent relationships, and Sally herself had no choice but endure that environment as a child. There was no family therapy for addiction on the horizon, and no drug addiction help for those family members affected by the blatant drug abuse that went on regularly, even to the point of overdose, within the four walls of Sally's house. As she says herself:
"I got used to tending to myself, and, at that age, I didn't really know how to ask. I had food, I had a house, a roof over my head, but emotionally, I found it hard digesting things or transferring them onto self. I didn't know what it really meant. At 6, 7, 8 years old, you're not coming up with the best solutions, and how to deal with these things emotionally."
What follows is a list of simple statements, and anyone who is even remotely concerned that they may be in a codependent relationship themselves with an addicted family member, a friend or partner should read them honestly to see if any ring true.
The more of these statements that can be applied to you, the more likely you are no longer in a caring and supportive interdependent relationship, but rather one that is centred on codependency. As Sally describes:
"In some situations, she [Mom] may look at it and think, "It wasn't the best thing that I did, but I did the best that I could." And my Dad, he did the best that he could too. We're only as capable as we're capable."
Now, just imagine if you are a child like Sally, growing up in such a challenging and confusing environment, with weekends spent either visiting the state prison to see incarcerated loved ones, or visiting the local hospital because a loved one has overdosed again. Sadly, for a mere child, the proactive measures listed below to escape codependency within the family would simply be impossible.
Make no mistake - the addict within a family is not the only one suffering. Any otherwise normal family that counts an alcoholic or drug addict among its number presents several risk factors in itself for possible addiction in the future, especially for its younger family members. As Sally explains:
"My Dad was a binge user, so you kind of knew when we were going into that relapse... I couldn't identify it, but I started feeling this anticipation of something about to happen. There were more fights going on. The next thing I knew, he's leaving and it would be anywhere from 3 days to a week, sometimes longer.
I remember doing things with my Mom like searching the bars. These behaviors - you will see how they tie into my life later. The same behaviors started showing up in my life. He came home when he came home. A lot of times, it ended in an overdose. My Dad liked pills and alcohol for one, and he was incarcerated over and over for drinking and driving.
It was, it definitely was lonely. My brother and I were typical kids, and we fought non-stop, but when it came down to it, nobody else messed with us. We could mess with each other, but nobody else, you know. So, it was very lonely, and I would say that I had depression and that feeling of not fitting in. That was something I have had my entire life."
Simply put, a risk factor is something which increases the likelihood of developing a condition or disease. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to whether or not a person will become affected by substance use disorder during their lives, the following are all professionally recognized as addiction risk factors, increasing a person's susceptibility to the disease:
Sally's family dynamic, and the environment created by the prevalence of addiction within that, led her to fundamentally doubt her true self, and, sadly, at such a young age:
"It's about hiding who we really are. If they really knew who I was, they wouldn't like me, they wouldn't accept me or they'd think less of me. All these different distorted ways of thinking that we've adopted from a very early age and then just implemented that for the next 30, 40 years. That's a long time to feel inadequate or unworthy or unsafe, which are all things that led me into using. Sure, it started out as fun for me. Clearly, it did not end that way.
It was a whole false belief system that I was brought up on growing up, and it was one that I adopted myself. Things like I wasn't capable, like if my Dad wouldn't let me help with things, then "Oh God, I'm not capable." I was resentful about that type of stuff. Or my brother got a pair of shoes and I didn't, I was resentful about that. It led to passive-aggressiveness, poutiness. You know, I shut down all these different things other than advocating for myself. I was not capable of advocating for myself, and speaking for myself about what I needed."
The correlation between the development of substance use disorders and those who experienced some form of trauma during their childhood becomes ever clearer as addiction research continues, and much of this connection is attributable to both how the brain develops and its plasticity - the way the brain responds and restructures itself due to certain environmental stimulation.
From extensive medical research, we know that, as a brain grows and matures during childhood, the neural connections within either develop, become stronger or actually break. Instances of trauma or extreme stress can, therefore, actual affect the brain's physical development.
"Addiction is a symptom of not growing up."
- C. C. DeVille, musician
In summary, traumatic or stressful experiences during childhood are believed to be behind certain anomalies in brain structure that result in cognitive, behavioral and social impairments. If we look at Sally's experiences, it is clear that her childhood experiences - the addiction within the family, the parental fights, her father's overdoses, the weekends spent visiting the state penitentiary, to name but a few - would definitely make her more susceptible to addiction herself in later life. And, as Sally herself explains:
"I got used to tending to myself, and, at that age, I didn't really know how to ask. I had food, I had a house, a roof over my head, but emotionally, I found it hard digesting things or transferring them onto self. I didn't know what it really meant. At 6, 7, 8 years old, you're not coming up with the best solutions, and how to deal with these things emotionally.
"Never in a million years did I think I was going to grow up and be a drug dealer and an addict and an alcoholic and have dysfunctional, abusive relationships and be a liar and a cheat and do the mass destruction that I did in my lifetime."
Sally, in her own words
So I started to carry around this shame that was linked to my Dad's behavior. I carried around his shame, and I felt I carried round my shame. I wasn't able to separate the shame in any way, shape or form. I was embarrassed about the secret that we had. At weekends, I didn't go and hang out with my friends - I went out to the penitentiary. On holidays, I went out to the penitentiary. You know, at least a day or two. And I didn't have an option. I was resentful about that.
I had highly unrealistic expectations of self, and expectations of others. I had no idea what a healthy relationship looked like. I didn't know how to have a healthy relationship. All these kind of behaviors existed, and I was extremely codependent. I was very needy. I didn't have friends until I was like, I made a best friend [Julie] when I was about 16.
"It's about hiding who we really are. If they really knew who I was, they wouldn't like me, they wouldn't accept me or they'd think less of me."
Sally, in her own words
It's about hiding who we really are. If they really knew who I was, they wouldn't like me, they wouldn't accept me or they'd think less of me. All these different distorted ways of thinking that we've adopted from a very early age and then just implemented that for the next 30, 40 years. That's a long time to feel inadequate or unworthy or unsafe, which are all things that led me into using. Sure, it started out as fun for me. Clearly, it did not end that way."
Sally's first use of drugs was pivotal in her rapid descent into addiction:
"Through high school is when I first started dabbling in drugs, but I set these lines. I know that alcohol and pills, they caused major disruption in our family, so I'm never going to do those. So I went straight for doing acid, you know, and everything else, everything else pretty much. And eventually, that line was crossed too.
My first feeling was that it was like euphoric, and it was very much like I could relate to my best friend, and we were, like it was the first time I could make an emotional connection with somebody, you know? To be able to speak to somebody and to be able to be vulnerable. I really liked that feeling. It was that I really liked that feeling of being connected. I'd been disassociated to everybody my entire life."
Call it a need to escape, call it self-medication, call it curiosity, the outcome was not to be denied. For many young people, whatever the need they feel has to be sated, such a spiral appears unstoppable. Sally used away from the family home, and even when her mother became concerned about her, there was no help offered, no trips to the doctor to ascertain the extent of her drug use, and no apparent admonishment.
In reality, her mother's response was entirely different, possibly unique, and even a little confusing:
"She would show up in the middle of the night at Julie's house, and we had taken acid. She would just know. She'd pick me up and take me home, and she would make me clean! I swear, she would know what was going down. She'd make me clean.
And I was a vegetarian, and she'd make me these easy dinners that would have meat in them, and I was so uncomfortable, and vacuuming behind couches - just the insanity. All I could do was eat it. She knew I didn't eat meat, but all I could do was eat it.
I remember moving furniture. I just remember thinking, "Oh, my God." I was definitely committed. I wasn't going to fess up. I never fessed up to anything. I don't know if my Mom knew, but her senses definitely knew something was going down."
Eventually, as with the vast majority of substance abusers, Sally found her drug of choice - crank, a low-purity methamphetamine in crystal form, and otherwise known as "crystal meth." Known for being one of the strongest variation of methamphetamine, its users either eat crank, mix it with liquids to drink, or snort, smoke or inject it.
Crank's effects last from 8 - 24 hours, and its street slang name is derived from the fact that drug dealers often smuggle crystal meth in the crankcases (the housing for the crankshaft in an engine) of their cars. Sally describes the catalyst that resulted in her finding, using and subsequently abusing crank:
"Julie got a boyfriend and I couldn't handle that. Strangely enough, I couldn't stand sharing. At the time, I couldn't understand that, this healthy part of life, because we do have our own. I got super-depressed and the drugs increased. So I found different people to do drugs with.
I started hanging out with my [new] best friend Sharon, and we started doing crank. I really, really liked crank. I was able to communicate. I didn't have that altered feeling of using hallucinogens. It was my drug of choice. I was in on that, really, and doing coke too."
As with all illegal narcotics, crank has some serious side effects, most of which could be considered physically and emotionally dangerous to the user. These are the most common:
Many of the side effects listed above are also known to be signs of a crank overdose, such as rapid/increased heart rate and respiration, aggression, paranoia and hallucinations. Further signs of overdose include:
Note: A fatal methamphetamine overdose is often preceded by convulsions and coma.
Sally continues her addiction story: "The other thing I did was Sharon got kicked out of school for missing too many days. I was doing fine in school, but she went to an alternative school, and I went to the alternative school with her. So that's another type, another unhealthy relationship. I sacrificed self and what was important to me, so I could keep doing drugs and hanging out with someone I enjoyed hanging out with. So, again, those are all red flags that unfortunately, they weren't any red flags I could recognize. That was just my life."
Upon graduation from high school, Sally kept a promise made to her parents that she would follow her parents to Oregon. Although she began working for her father's boss remodeling houses, and her access to hard drugs was limited, thus enabling her to get healthier, living back at home presented the same old problems.
Eventually, she upped sticks and moved to Arizona to escape once again, and had no contact with her family until she was found by her brother. Together, they moved back to Boise, Idaho, and Sally was back to dealing and using hard drugs, as well as drinking heavily. It was during this period that she started smoking cocaine.
"I was again drinking heavily. I wasn't back into... Ok, that's a lie too. I was doing coke too. I came back, and I was doing coke. I was living with my cousin. I remember I was doing coke with her boyfriend, and, yeah, thought nothing of it. Still gets me... So she thought he was cheating on her, you know.
We were all over at this guy's house and smoking coke as much as we can, and drinking as much as we can, and she's thinking that all this other stuff is going on, because we're deceiving her. She didn't deserve that. She didn't deserve that. She's an amazing lady and she's very much in my life now, thanks God to recovery. All of you will get back the people that they love."
When people drink alcohol and use cocaine simultaneously, the combination of the two in the liver can actually produce a third drug - Cocaethylene. The euphoric effects of Cocaethylene are alluring enough that people will combine alcohol and cocaine simply to get the high of the third drug in their system. However, Cocaethylene can be a lethal substance to have in your body. If Cocaethylene toxicity occurs within your body, you become 18, yes, 18 times more likely to experience an overdose.
People also mix alcohol and cocaine because cocaine allows you to drink more, while alcohol enhances cocaine, making its effects last twice as long. However, when Cocaethylene is produced, several lethal health risks may develop, such as sudden heart attacks or impulsive, dangerous behavior, as well as:
Combining the drinking of alcohol and doing cocaine, you are also likely to binge drink. Binge drink itself can cause serious health issues, such as:
Cocaethylene, just as both alcohol and cocaine does, will cause you to be more impulsive, due to the rapid increase in dopamine and serotonin levels. These impulsive behaviors can include violence, unprotected sex, or taking whatever drugs are available around you.
Cocaine withdrawal can be an intense experience, whereas alcohol withdrawal can produce dangerous side effects, and can result in death, depending on the severity of the previous alcohol abuse, without medical intervention. Detox becomes far more complex when you have two substance to quit, and so it's suggested that you find both inpatient detox and rehabilitation for a successful recovery.
"I remember just doing coke every weekend, and any money that I got went to coke. But all of a sudden, I realize. I go into a bar and there's this woman that performs there, and she's gay. This was a little bit different. She created this atmosphere that it was acceptable. I always knew I was a little bit different. My friends were the pretty-pretty friends, if you know what I mean. And I loved them a little bit differently than the average person, but I didn't know.
Finally, I met this girl is what it breaks down to. I'm gay. I met this girl and I really liked her. It was very uncomfortable for me, you know, because you don't hear me talk too much about relationships prior to this."
First of all, let's look at 2015 statistics uncovered by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration regarding addiction and sexual minorities. Their National Survey on Drug Use and Health (with 3,000 LGBTQ? self-identified respondents out of 51,000 in total) found the following patterns when comparing sexual minorities to the sexual majority:
Note: Respondents in a sexual minority also had higher rates of past-month alcohol use or binge-drinking than those in the sexual majority. Furthermore, these higher rates of use were consistent across boundaries of age or sex.
Clearly then, the LGBTQ? community are more likely to engage in drug use and its misuse than the sexual majority, but how does this actually translate into those who go on the suffer from substance abuse disorders (SUDs)? Using the criteria specified for these disorders, the answer to that question is equally clear:
This greater percentage of SUDs and other disorders equated to a greater demand for appropriate treatment, ie. 15.9% vs. 8.1% among heterosexuals. That 15.9% is equal to 1.7 million LGBTQ? adults requiring treatment.
In research by the Center for American Progress, it was found that there are 3 primary factors that make sexual minorities more prone to substance addiction, as follows:
"You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town."
- Anne Lamott, U.S. author
It wasn't to be long before Sally's life did become unmanageable, although there was a brief respite from her use of crank and cocaine thanks to her new relationship, although she continued to smoke weed and drink heavily. As Sally explains:
"I met this girl, and it felt good. I got love, and I liked it better than drugs, you know. So I was like, I don't want to do drugs anymore. I got myself a new addiction, you know what I mean? That's what it really broke down to."
However, when the relationship became unstable, and the two separated, Sally responded the only way she knew how - to return to her drug use, only this time, she elevated from crank to meth, and she increased the level of her using to every single day. Her rapid descent into the true depths of addiction had begun, and the following powerful words, which will certainly strike a chord and hit home directly to many addicts and their families who read this, highlight her true desperation:
"I tried to do things to control it. I got back with my girlfriend, and then I ended up getting her hooked on meth as well. Just so as you know, meth is not good on anyone. I was a highly functional user, but it's not a compliment to myself. It was just an easier way for me to continue using for longer. That's all it was.
I figured out if I could kept my job and if I kept my house in order and I still did family functions, even if it was I could only be there for so long, because I could only be normal for so long, that I could continue getting away with it.
I continued the meth for the next 18 years. I went from using meth again to selling it, because i got addicted to the money. I compensated for it. I knew what i was doing was wrong, but I wanted the drugs, and I wanted the money. So I compensated by doing nice things for people to justify my behavior.
The truth was I was poisoning people on a daily basis, and I was taking food off the table of children because their parents were using, and I was doing to them the exact same thing that happened to me as a kid.
It didn't matter how much change I gave back, it didn't matter from who I bought a car, it didn't matter if I was the #1 daughter, it didn't matter if I was successful at work, it didn't matter - I still felt bad for doing it, but I still wanted to get high.
The addiction still overrode that feeling, so i just came up with more self-seeking behaviors, more validation, more people-pleasing, more perfectionism, things like that, to compensate for this secret that I had. I used as a solution to everything I did at this point."
Everyone has heard of the phrase "rock-bottom" when it comes to addiction - that point where an addict can go no further, and where their life simply isn't worth living the way they are doing so. It can be a traumatic, terrible event, it can be the constant and unwavering "sick and tired of being sick and tired" that 12-Step communities speak of, or, and sadly for so many, when life as it is needs to come to an end through a suicide borne of utter, unimaginable desperation.
For many, the events and circumstances that Sally's addiction had brought to her would have been enough for most, yet she continued to sink ever deeper, and ever mentally and physically weaker, with events such as:
"Clearly, I'm not having fun anymore. Clearly, this was just my life. Most people get up and eat a bowl of cereal. I got up and smoked a bowl."
Sally, in her own words
Nothing at all changed, and she continued helplessly spiraling ever deeper into her addiction.
Knowing that recovery was her only true hope, she confessed her drug use and behavior to her family, and started to attend Ashwood Recovery as an outpatient, but she lied constantly to both staff and other outpatients, and she still kept using. More desperate than ever, and unable to cope with the constant deceit, Sally eventually resorted to what she felt was the only option left:
"I lost everything. The truth came out. So, I disappeared. I took copious amounts of pills, and I drank copious amounts of fireball, and I went to this hotel to die, you know. And I woke up. I woke up. I couldn't talk or walk for 3 days. Somehow, I made it home. I don't know how I made it home still, but somehow I made it."
Not even a suicide attempt and being near to death was rock-bottom enough for Sally, and she continued to use.
Eventually, following further proof via a diluted yet meth-positive urine sample at Ashwood that she could never, ever be able to stop on her own, and under the careful guidance of Ashwood Recovery counselor Erica, and the persuasion of her mother, Sally finally, finally surrendered.
Her clean date was, and still is, November 11, 2014. On November 16 of that year, following 5 days of having her Mom constantly at her side, even sleeping next to her, and never leaving her alone, not for one second, Sally was admitted into a sister inpatient facility for 28 days in Arizona, and her recovery, with the help of a mandatory 12-Step program, finally began.