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Hitting rock bottom

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, mental and substance use conditions often co-occur. In other words, individuals who struggle with substance abuse and addiction often have a mental health condition at the same time and vice versa. - Photo illustration by Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, mental and substance use conditions often co-occur. In other words, individuals who struggle with substance abuse and addiction often have a mental health condition at the same time and vice versa. – Photo illustration by Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Lowest points in addiction often lead a person toward change

Editor’s note: This is second in a three-part series on addiction and recovery.

 

Those who have any experience with addiction are typically familiar with the phrase “rock bottom.”

When it comes to alcoholism or drug addiction, rock bottom can manifest in a near death experience, legal trouble or the loss of a partner or children. It could also mean experiencing a mental or emotional breakdown. “Hitting rock bottom” is used to describe the lowest point in a person’s addiction, but it can also be the turning point that brings about the change needed to push an addict toward recovery.

 

A moment of clarity

Ric Staloch first went through treatment when he was about 27 and had been arrested for selling drugs. He said he maintained his sobriety for about 90 days, before gradually slipping back into old habits. His relapse would go on for about eight years.

Staloch said there were a number of times when he knew he wanted to quit, that he wanted to be in recovery, but “the addict in his head” kept coming up with excuses. He didn’t enjoy using anymore and said he felt guilty and ashamed every time he did.

His daily routine consisted of getting up in the morning, getting dressed, packing a lunch and then getting high before going to work for the day. He’d try to take baby steps to quit using by trying to stop for one day. Over the course of a week, that one day was reduced to waiting until he got home from work, to waiting until his lunch break, to just trying to make it to the parking lot at work before he used. On the morning he made it to the parking lot before using — a 20-mile drive from his house — he said he just sat in his car and cried.

“I kept thinking, ‘What a loser I am,’” Staloch said.

He finally went in with his wife for a Rule 25 assessment — an assessment done when a person is seeking chemical dependency treatment and needs public funding to pay for the treatment — and was given a 30-day residential treatment recommendation.

“I laughed at her,” Staloch said. “I said, ‘I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work. You need to lock me up six to nine months. That’s the only way it’s going to work.’”

The woman running the assessment said they’d start off with 30 days and told him he could be admitted within the week. Staloch panicked. He told her he’d have to talk it over with his family and that they’d make the decision together. On the drive home, Staloch told his wife to let him do all the talking when they brought it up to their children.

He wanted to put the treatment off for a month, saying that if he went in right then his family wouldn’t have much of a Christmas. The family hadn’t started decorating or shopping for the holiday yet, and while Staloch was in treatment he wouldn’t be earning a paycheck to do so.

“I told them, ‘I can go to treatment now and we won’t have any of that. It’ll be the most miserable Christmas we’ve ever had, we won’t be together as a family.’ And I just went on and on. And I said, ‘Otherwise, we can wait four weeks, next paychecks we’ll get Christmas ready, have a great Christmas and then I’ll go to treatment,’’ Staloch said. “My kids started crying and said ‘Dad, we just want you to get help.’ It just took the wind out of my sails. … It was a moment of clarity.”

 

This is it

Through Jayne Stout’s treatment experience, she has heard the saying, “Drug addiction leads to jails, institutions and death.”

Stout herself had her own brushes with the law through her continued methamphetamine use. After going through an outpatient program at Fountain Centers as a term from her most recent felony sentencing, she skipped a check-in with her probation officer. Two days later she was arrested in Austin.

“I was in the back of a cop car with my hands in handcuffs, and my boyfriend was along with me. … I turned and it was like an epiphany,” she said. “I turned to my boyfriend and said, ‘This is it. I’m never going to do this again. This is the end for me.’”

Stout said before that turning point she had been playing games with the system for years. Out of her seven drug possession felonies, Stout said almost all of them were for fifth-degree possession, which means she had less than a quarter of a gram — the lowest level of possession. She referred to her record as “the record of a junkie.” She never had a large amount of drugs on her, because she was always using, and she considers herself lucky to have only ever been arrested for possession.

“I took a lot of risks that I definitely could’ve been caught for. God willing, I never did,” she said. “I came to a place where I found myself to be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. … I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Stout commends the local probation office for how it handled her situation and the role it played in her path to recovery.

“I’d stay sober when I thought I needed to, and when they’d turn their back I’d use. I was just really bent over to my addiction,” she said. “I really give them credit for seeing the potential in me, even when I couldn’t see it myself. … They could’ve very easily put me back in prison at any point, but they decided to give me a shot in treatment this time.”

After being arrested, Stout went to jail for 60 days, and then straight to Fountain Centers for 34 days of inpatient treatment as part of a recovery plan that was specifically tailored to what the center thought she needed.

“It was really about getting honest with myself. You like to believe when you’re using that you’re not hurting anyone else, you know, that you’re just having a good time,” she said. “I was hurting my children and my family. … You lose your friends, you can’t hold a job, you have trouble paying your bills and your self-esteem just plummets.”

 

Feeling powerless

By the time he was 24, Rey Reyna said he had been to jail multiple times, was renting a cheap room from a friend and had a number of broken relationships in his life. He felt powerless.

“I had no compassion for myself or other people,” he said. “I knew something was wrong and it scared me.”

A number of the relationships with those closest to him were strained or broken, he said. Reyna believes there is certainly a place for tough love — or as he calls it, “detaching with love” — when dealing with a loved one who’s struggling with addiction.

“Some of us are really good manipulators and we can keep people sick around us. If I’m behaving in an addictive way or using, I can keep people around me in that same sickness mentally and emotionally as well,” he said. “There’s a way to detach with love.”

Reyna said his sobriety technically began with jail time, but that the idea of recovery didn’t fully resonate with him until he went to a 72-hour relapse program in Austin.

“Jail was not fun, but I didn’t hear what I needed to hear until I got to a relapse group,” he said. “I didn’t have a drinking and driving problem, I had an alcohol abuse problem.”

While he said the program wasn’t as intensive as an inpatient or outpatient treatment, Reyna believes the program was what introduced him to the concept of recovery.

“It was just hearing somebody explain the behavior and the mentality of an addict and going, ‘Wait a minute, I think that might be me,’” he said. “I believe wholeheartedly that addiction is addiction. The chemical we react to is the one our body likes the best.”

Reyna credits a good deal of his recovery to the legal system and the groups he has become involved in throughout the years.

“I’ve heard so many stories in these groups of people with amazing stories of overcoming their addictions and overcoming hardships,” he said. “My story isn’t quite that dramatic. I think it just proves that so many of us have different degrees of bottoms.”

 

Looking out

Five or six years ago, Matthew Peterson said he felt he needed help where his drinking was concerned. He tried asking for help, but felt he asked the wrong people when nothing changed.

“Inside, growing up I always felt like I was a little bit different than everybody else,” he said. “Nowadays I think that was more inside me than it was put on me. … There was a lot more going on inside my head.”

Peterson believes he found his rock bottom about two years ago, when he said his drinking was taking off again.

One afternoon he put his two young children down for a nap, and then passed out himself because of his drinking. While he was asleep, his children woke up and went outside by themselves to play. The police were notified, and Peterson’s mother had to pick up his children when officers came to the house. The incident made Peterson think more and more that he needed to get into recovery, but he didn’t know how. His family ended up finding him a treatment center to go to.

“I thought the window had closed. I had resigned myself to be a drunk until I died,” he said. “Somebody else was looking out for me, and they’re the ones that got the ball rolling into recovery.”

In general, Peterson credits his family and the support they’ve given him as playing a major role in his recovery.

“I’ve been ready for a couple years to get sober,” he said. “I took it very seriously, and I still do.”

 

Knowing better

Rochelle Kirsch first asked for help with her meth addiction after she felt she couldn’t hold her life — both as a mother and as a nurse — together anymore without treatment.

After her first outpatient program, Kirsch said she was living with a boyfriend who was also using, and that too much of her life was still the same for recovery to take hold. Eventually she went into a second outpatient program, specifically made for health care professionals. Throughout this second treatment, Kirsch said she was routinely met with the stigma of, “You’re a nurse, you should know better.”

“I did know better, but I didn’t feel better,” she said. “There’s no gray zone. You either are or you’re not. … I tried to find it.”

Following her second treatment, Kirsch relapsed once again. Since she had gone into treatment specifically meant for those in the health care field, her relapse was reported to the board of nursing.

Her nursing license was suspended, and Kirsch was told to take a year off to get help. At the time, Kirsch was also reeling from the loss of her brother, who had committed suicide two weeks prior to her suspension. Kirsch was terminated from her job as a result of the suspension, as well.

“That was a huge part of my identity. I’m a nurse, that’s me,” she said.

Kirsch said she went to her ex-husband to ask for help and was met with animosity and insults. The couple had joint custody of their children at the time, but — following her admission — Kirsch’s ex pushed for full custody. He got it.

“I’m a nurse, I’m a mom,” she said. “I didn’t have it anymore. Nothing.”

The loss of her two most important identities brought Kirsch to yet another recovery crossroads.

“I thought, ‘I can’t stand this.’ Everything I thought I was is gone,” she said. “If I pick up and use again I’m not coming back from it, I’m not. … It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

She fully committed to treatment her third time around, she said, and still never received support from any of her family. Kirsch said her going to rehab was very “hush-hush” where her family was concerned, because they were worried about what people would think.

“I’m not blaming anybody. I am responsible for my actions. … As using addicts, we have horrible behaviors. We do. I had them. That’s what’s always highlighted. … But there’s another side,” she said. “I was very broken, I was very damaged. I was very emotionally void. That’s what an addict needs, is emotional support.”

 

One last chance

After both going through treatment twice and relapsing twice, Sandy Roe was to the point where she was drinking in the morning, at lunch and throughout the day, every day.

In 2000 she got a DWI while driving with her two youngest children in the car. In 2005, one of her brothers died after falling asleep at the wheel while driving drunk. Roe said none of it phased her.

At her lowest point, Roe’s youngest daughter wouldn’t speak to her, even though they worked together at Minnesota Corrugated Box. One day, Roe said her obvious drinking was reported at work. She was pulled into her boss’ office, written up, told to get help and was then escorted off the premises and sent home.

“I had lost all respect from family, friends, coworkers,” she said.

She went home and continued drinking.

“I got home from work one night and I just bawled and cried and prayed to God. I knew I was going to die,” she said. “If I didn’t quit drinking I was going to die. My health was deteriorating. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I didn’t care anymore.”

Roe said she called her father and asked him to take her to the hospital. She was taken to the emergency room, where she passed out. She woke up two hours later. Her father told her that, unable to give her a breathalyzer, doctors had done a blood test and Roe’s blood alcohol level was .52 percent. A .5 is considered potentially lethal. Roe believes she had been that drunk before multiple times, and she thinks she was routinely walking around with at least a .17 percent blood alcohol level at all times.

“From that moment on, I knew God had a plan for me and that he saved me, because I should’ve been dead,” Roe said. “I know — in my heart and in my soul — if I go back out again I don’t have another chance.”

 

Look to Tuesday’s Tribune for more on Staloch, Stout, Reyna, Peterson, Kirsch and Roe; their recovery experiences, as well as others who have been affected by addiction and recovery.

 

Read part one here.

Read part three here.

See video from the series here.

About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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