Lily was 36 and thinking about suicide. Her husband had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly; she suffered from chronic pain due to lupus; and she was addicted to prescription pain pills. When she was diagnosed with lupus ten years earlier, she was prescribed opiates to manage the pain.
Over time, Lily began misusing her prescriptions. “I was prescribed by a pain management doctor. And I went every, let’s say 30 days, which is silly, it was every 20 days, and I would go talk to him about how I lost my pills or I overtook a couple. It turned into a game — trying to manipulate the system to get more pills.”
Lily was a “somewhat functioning addict.” She worked at a credit union and at LANL. But her work performance suffered from her addiction. “My life became about timing, when I was going to be able to take more pills… They were really taking over my life. I wasn’t present at all. I was always thinking about the pills, thinking about how I’m going to get more and when I did have more, well, I’d take them all and then try to figure out how to get more tomorrow.”
After her husband’s death, her addiction escalated. She spent a lot of money purchasing pills online or asking family members who had prescriptions to get more for her. She began isolating, hardly leaving her house. “I became really miserable. The isolation and resignation were overwhelming.” When a family member approached her about her drug use, she knew she had to do something. She had two boys who had already lost one parent. She had to get help.
Lily utilized a variety of services for the treatment she needed, including medical detox, group and family therapy, IOP, and pain management. She became an active member of Narcotics Anonymous, where she now chairs a meeting and serves as an events coordinator. Of the multiple treatments she participated in, she says the group therapy was especially powerful. “I learned that there were other people with pain and that we were all trying to figure out how to deal with it, and also how it ties in with all the other traumas that we lived through.” Attending NA meetings also contributed to that sense of shared experience and taught her the ability to learn from another addict. “It helped me not to go on the roller coaster of emotions. Knowing that other people felt this way and hadn’t died from it, or hadn’t gone off and used, helps a lot. It grounds me and helps me be present. These are feelings, they’re gonna pass. I don’t need to go into ‘Oh my God, I’m overwhelmed and I can’t do this anymore,’ and reach for something outside myself to numb those feelings.”
During both family and grief counseling, Lily recognized that trauma she experienced as a child caused her to disconnect from her body and her feelings, and set her up for addictive behaviors later in life. Lily had spent her life over-achieving in order to outrun her emotional pain, rather than addressing it and healing. She views her lupus diagnosis as that emotional pain manifesting physically.
Several years later, Lily is a dynamic voice in the recovery community. Besides her participation in NA, she has worked at a treatment center for adolescents, works with Turning Point now, has gone back to school, and volunteers in her time off. She speaks at high schools with the organization Healing Addiction in our Community, and she raises her two boys.
“Recovery is the best thing that I could have done for myself and my family. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s worth it. I’m walking through a lot of pain that I was never taught how to walk through. I have changed my perspective, and how I treat my boys. There’s a lot more kindness. I don’t always feel like I’m making an impact on anybody else’s life, but I know I am. And I’m doing things that make me happy, that don’t revolve around drugs. I’m not going to reach for something to numb these feelings. I’m just gonna walk through them.”