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The Beginning Of My Life: Family On The Journey From Heroin Addiction To Recovery

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Sarah Clay, a 31-year-old recovering heroin addict, with three of her four children. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

WYSO’s Recovery Stories series brings you conversations from the heart of Dayton’s opioid crisis. Today, we meet Urbana 31-year-old Sarah Clay.

In 2007, Sarah met her husband Justin.

“We worked together at a factory. We hit it off pretty quickly. We moved in and I was pregnant within four months,” Sarah says.

Their family grew to include four children. But everything soon changed when the couple fell deep into opioid addiction.

Today, Sarah is in recovery and Justin’s mom Kathy Stewart helps to care for their  children. This summer Sarah regained custody of her three youngest children. She says she feels hopeful for the first time in a long time.

As Sarah recalls in this conversation with her mother-in-law Kathy, less than a year after finally getting clean, Justin died.

Listen to the full conversation below. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Sarah: When Justin got his cancer diagnosis, we were we were already using [heroin] at the time. He got to a really dark place to where I think he just kind of gave up. I remember dealing with overdoses and him asking me, next time please don’t call the squad. And that was a hard thing because I wouldn’t have been able to do that. When did you realize Justin and I had a problem?

Kathy: The kids would report that they had not eaten, or that they had to fix their own meals while the parents were resting. And that was unusual because I know, Sarah, you were an excellent cook and that you would fix meals on a daily basis. So, that was concerning. How can you explain the overwhelming power to allow drugs to supercede the care of your children?

Urbana 31-year-old Sarah Clay lost her husband Justin to cancer not long after Justin entered recovery for heroin addiction. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Sarah: At first it was it was almost like a pick-me-up. I remember even saying one time, I’m a good mom when I’m high, because I could go run with the kids and play with the kids. And it sounds insane to say now because ultimately my children were abandoned. But it got to the point where my kids were just in the way. I needed drugs to live. I remember the day children’s services came to the house and told me they were taking the kids. There was no question in my mind who I would call, who I wanted them to be with and who I knew would take them. You were just always there for us. You finally had to, for our benefit, had to stop being there. I think you kind of realized you were enabling us in other ways.

Kathy: When it did come down to an electric bill not being paid or it turned off, I wanted to go and pay that. But then I also knew that I had to draw a line and say, they had the money but they chose to use that money for an addiction.

Sarah: Eventually that did end up helping us out because that made us kind of hit a spot to where we were actually able to see we needed help. One of the worst two weeks that I can recall is the two weeks before I went to treatment. I had done some very hurtful things to people I loved. I stole from you. I mean, I lied and did whatever I could to get drugs that week. Eventually everything ran out and I was very sick. I wanted to die. And I just remember you were just trying to help me, trying to get me in somewhere as quick as possible. But at that time we couldn’t find anything.

Kathy: I remember pulling up to the emergency room to wait for you and seeing a lady laying on the ground outside the waiting room. The homeless woman was you laying out on this sidewalk, and I was in shock. I tried to deter the children but they did see their mother laying there. It just broke my heart to see you in that situation. I would never have guessed that it would have came to that where, I felt, you had lost your dignity.

Sarah: I felt lifeless. Addiction is a very horrible thing. I think families suffer just as much if not possibly worse than the addict because the addict is able to numb. The family’s not. They’re being worried that they’re going to get the phone call that that person’s dead. But there is hope and recovery is possible. On August 15 I entered treatment at Access residential hospital in Dayton, Ohio. It was really the beginning of my life. I always had hope that me and Justin would eventually get our life back together, raise our children together. Unfortunately, the day I got out of treatment Justin passed away. That kind of hurts. You know, I’m not sure exactly where we stood in his heart the day he died. I know he loved me.

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Kathy: I know he loved you, too. That would be my my gift to you, to say I know he wanted to be together as a family. I just know he wanted it to be healthy. I’m very proud of you and how you present yourself in the community. It does take a strong woman, keeping your head up high. And you’re doing well.

Sarah: And it feels good to hear that. It feels good to hear people tell me they’re proud of me. People can see the change in me. I’m just completely a different person today. And I like that person. And I want apologize for all those things that I’ve done. I’m terribly sorry. I wish I could go back and not do those things.

Kathy: Apologies accepted and I love you and you know that.

Sarah: I love you.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

 

Recovery Stories

I’ve Always Wanted To Be A Mother: Starting Over After A Life On The Streets In Addiction

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Photo: Maddie McGarvey

WYSO’s Recovery Stories series brings you intimate conversations from the heart of Dayton’s opioid epidemic.

In this story, we meet Susan Fitzpatrick and Rebecca Thayer, mother and daughter who describe themselves as best friends. Their voices even sound remarkably alike.

Rebecca, who friends call Becky, is 35 years old and has nearly two years clean. Before entering recovery, her drug addiction led her to a life on the streets.

This year has been one of firsts: Becky recently completed an intensive drug-court program and has a new job. She lives with her daughter’s father and friend in her first-ever apartment, and she’s looking forward to getting her drivers license this fall. Becky also recently welcomed a new child into her life, with a baby girl named Ella.

Listen to the conversation below. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Thayer: Because the one thing I’ve always wanted was to be a mother. And I was told that when I’m not on drugs or alcohol that I am a wonderful mother but it’s my addiction that gets in the way. Sophia, she’s my oldest girl. I got pregnant with her right when my heroin addiction started off, which was in 2009. So, I still have so much guilt over Sophia. How can I be a mother to Ella when I couldn’t be that to Sophia –– or to Cameron –– or to Alyssa?

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Fitzpatrick: And I have a lot of guilt about losing Sophie too because I didn’t come pick her up that night at the homeless shelter.

Thayer: It’s not your fault, mom.

Fitzpatrick: But I just kept thinking to myself she’s going to get her back, she’s going to get her back, because that’s what you kept telling me. And then I find out she’s adopted for good. Why couldn’t you tell me you weren’t going to be able to do it? Why did you keep telling me you could do it? I would have taken her.

Thayer: I was scared. I was scared to admit that I was that I’d been defeated. You know, everybody would ask me, how are the kids doing? For years: they’re with my mom. They’re doing good. They’re getting big.

Fitzpatrick: Aw, honey

Thayer: I didn’t want to admit it, until recently when I got clean. Sophia, when I lost her, I lost it. Everything took off. I did the things I thought I would never do. I was an I.V. heroin and cocaine user. I stayed in abandoned houses, I’ve eaten out of dumpsters. I’ve caught many charges from stealing from stores to support my addiction. I would do whatever the dope boy, the person that was selling me the drugs, if I didn’t have money, whatever he wanted me to do I would do it. I’ve sold myself on the streets. I’ve been raped, robbed, and then go right back out there and do it again just to get that next one. I felt like I didn’t deserve any better, I wasn’t worth anything more than a blowjob, a piece of ass, excuse my language, because I had such low self-esteem. I literally thought I would die in that life.

Thayer lost four of her children in her addiction. “I’ve lost them, but I had to forgive myself for what I’ve done for the cause of losing them to be happy with this child,” Rebecca said. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Fitzpatrick: I was scared to death to get that phone call. You know every time I would see a 937-number, I’m like, oh my god, what is it? And I’m thankful you made it out alive because I really didn’t think you would.

Thayer: Neither did I. But I caught a felony charge in Women’s Therapeutic Court, a.k.a. drug court. And I was tired. I was so tired. I basically did six months of treatment and I was just so grateful, willing to do whatever it took. And now that I’m clean, eight years just –– poof –– are gone. And I’m able to have my relationship back with you and that means more to me than you can ever imagine.

Fitzpatrick: It does to me, too, honey.

Thayer: I missed you.

Fitzpatrick: I missed you too, honey. And I feel like you’re stable now. Don’t you feel stable?

Thayer: Yes I do. I have a roof over my daughter’s head. I can provide for her. I can provide for myself. I’m not sleeping on other people’s couches, I’m not having to get up early in the morning and go out during the day because I have nowhere to stay during the day. I feel normal. I’ve lost four of my children in my addiction. I’ve developed the bond with Ella and children’s services is not taking this one. I just want to be the mother that she deserves. I want to go back to school, have a degree. I want her to be proud of me. Ella — I can’t wait to send her to her first day of school, to potty train her, little stuff like that. She’s going to lose her first tooth. I’m so looking forward to it.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

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Recovery Stories

My Ultimate Hope: Raising Children Who Struggle With Drug Addiction

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Leanna Perez Green and her two sons. Perez Green’s husband is retired from the Air Force. She says seeking drug treatment for her teenage son meant facing down stigma in the tight-knit Wright-Patterson military community. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

WYSO’s Recovery Stories series brings you intimate conversations from the heart of Dayton’s opioid crisis. This episode introduces us to two women whose children have struggled with addiction: Becky Walsh and Leanna Perez Green.

Leanna’s husband is retired from the Air Force. She says seeking drug treatment for her teenage son meant facing down stigma in the tight-knit Wright-Patterson military community.

“The Air Force is zero tolerance — if you use drugs, you’re out. I would like to see that community talk about it more instead of feeling like my active-duty person may get in trouble,” Perez Green says.

In this conversation, Walsh and Perez Green, who met at a meeting of the Dayton support group Families of Addicts or FOA, open up about the different ways they’ve handled their children’s addictions.

Listen to their conversation below. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Perez Green: My name is Leanna Perez Green. I live in Beavercreek, Ohio. We have two boys. My younger son has a problem with substance abuse. He only used heroin, that I know of, for a short time. I don’t honestly know. He won’t tell me. I have a suspicion that he smokes cocaine. When somebody is in active addiction it’s hard to believe what they tell you.

“The Air Force is zero tolerance. If you use drugs you’re out. I would like to see that community talk about it more instead of feeling like my active-duty person may get in trouble,” says Perez Green, whose family is connected to the Air Force. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Walsh: You know what, I don’t even ask anymore, I don’t ask. My name is Becky Walsh. I’ve been a nurse for 40 years. I’m still working part-time part time now, I’m kind of enjoying a semi-retirement. I live in East Dayton. I have two children, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren. So that makes me 68 years old. Both of my children have been using drugs since they were in their teens and they’re now in their forties. I was honest with them and said, I know that you’re using, if you ever decide to change your lives that I’ll be here. And I knew that that was really all I could do, that and be there for grandchildren. And then it wasn’t long after that when my son came to me and said, I can’t do this anymore, mom. It was kind of a miracle. He said, I don’t want to live like this. He was seeing his friends dying or overdosing and almost dying. And that’s, I think, the reason that he did decide, I can’t keep doing this because it’s going to kill me. I’m very proud of him for doing that.

Perez Green: I remember you had told me that you went through detox with with both your son and your granddaughter. That had to have been a really tough situation. Do you feel like your nursing helped you with that?

Longtime nurse Becky Walsh’s children have struggled with opioid addiction. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Walsh: My son, he didn’t want me to see him in that much pain. But we stayed in the same room, in the living room. He was on the couch. I was in my recliner. We were up all night long the first night. And I have been a nurse for 40 years. Most of that time has been at the bedside and I’m telling you now, I would never, ever let one of my patients suffer like that. So, that was tough. And he did it. He did all of it. He gave up where he lived. He gave up his job. He gave up his friends. He gave up any money that he had, he turned that over to me. But that’s what it took, and he was OK with it, which surprised me. But it also told me how much he really, really wanted this. And he’s been clean for almost a year. I feel like I’ve got my son back. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

Perez Green: I tell my son all the time, if you want treatment I can help you with all of that, you just need to tell me. I know that he can have a good future if he could learn how to live with his addiction and get it under control. But, you know, he’s just, he’s not ready. He’s not ready and he’s only 19 and he needs me, yet he doesn’t let me into his life. I can’t help but feel some responsibility, like, what did I miss along the way? Why did he start using drugs to begin with? What did I not see? What did I not do? I have a terrible fear of his life ending. That fear drives me, just drives me. I want to get to a place where I don’t feel like, god, did I make the wrong decision today? Becky, I look at you and I see a living example and that gives me hope. It gives me hope for my son, that someday I hope he’ll be in recovery and he’ll walk in those doors with me and be able to share his experiences. My ultimate hope is that he will decide that he is ready to get full treatment and stop using.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

Continue Reading

Recovery Stories

Be There For Your Family: Friendship Forged In The Struggle For Recovery

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Friends Dustin Aubry and Bob Lloyd first met at a meeting of the Dayton support group Families of Addicts or FOA. Aubry is in recovery from longterm addiction, and Lloyd’s adult son has an active opioid addiction. Photo: Maddie McGarvey

WYSO’s Recovery Stories series brings you conversations from the heart of Dayton’s opioid crisis. Today, we hear a conversation between Dustin Aubry and Bob Lloyd.

They first met at a meeting of the Dayton support group Families of Addicts or FOA. Aubry is in recovery from longterm addiction, and Lloyd’s adult son has an active opioid addiction.

Despite their more than 20-year age difference, Aubry and Lloyd have become close friends and allies in the struggle for recovery.

Listen to the conversation below. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Aubry: My name is Dustin Aubry. I live in Fairborn, Ohio. I’m happily married, I have three kids. I’m a recovering addict in recovery. I’ve been clean since April 11 of last year.

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Lloyd: My name’s Bob Lloyd. I live in Dayton, Ohio. I’m a roofer. I have a boy that’s in active addiction now that I really worry about all the time. We tried to get him help. He keeps dodging me. I even went to an assessment with him to make sure he went. I stayed in the waiting room when they took him in the back and I was there for him. He’s just got to want it. That’s the thing, people have to want it. They have to be tired of being tired in addiction, is what I’ve learned from it. You just hope and pray every day he comes over and says, dad, I’m ready. Until then there’s not much I can do. That’s the bad part is you feel helpless. Either he ODs or gets treatment or he quits. That’s what I worry about. I worry about him overdosing and nobody being there for him. Dustin, what keeps you up at night?

Aubry: I’ve been using since I been 17. I feel like I missed out on a lot of stuff in my twenties just going in and out of jails and prisons. I think about that and I think about the time I wasted. I think about what my life could have been like but talking to Bob, I can just tell he cares and he is just always there for me. We have the same interests, we have the same hobbies, we collect knives, we collect racecars, we collect models.

Lloyd: We watch the same TV shows.

Aubry: Yeah, [the television show] Street Outlaws.

Lloyd: That’s what we talk about a lot is Street Outlaws. And it is like a father-son relationship. We’re good buddies, you know?

Aubry: Being an addict, it’s hard to find somebody that will trust you and actually want to be your friend. And it ain’t as easy as you think, like, people being accepting like that.

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Lloyd: See I kind of flip-flopped. I was kinda down on drugs and stuff. I was one of them guys, how many times do we bring them back with the Narcan or whatever? And then I started understanding more through going to FOA. And then I listened to the people and listened to their stories. Some of them just break your heart, you know, there’s a lot of grandparents raising grandkids now because their mothers and fathers are all messed up. My boy come, we got him to actually come to one FOA meeting — I’ve been trying to get him to come for a couple of years — and him and Dustin talked a lot and he told him a lot of what he went through.

Aubry: It basically comes down to, unless you want it, you’re not going to change. I’ve been to 13, 14 rehabs before I finally got it. The one thing is is never be a quitter and never be scared to ask for help. That’s one thing that keeps me thriving. I don’t want to let nobody down no more. I want them to be like, you know, Dustin was a good dude. He’d a gave his shirt off his back to anybody. He might have messed up but he did change. I’m part of the society, I’m not a menace no more, I’m not committing crimes. I go to work every day, I cut my grass, I take care of my house, paying bills. I never worried about that stuff before.

Photo: Maddie McGarvey

Lloyd: Dustin’s like I would want my son to be. I would want my son to do the things that I do with him. I know he’s a good hardworking family guy. I know he takes care of his business and I respect that. I want him to stay clean. That’s the main thing: stay clean. Stay with your family. Be there. Be there for your family.

Aubry: And I love you man.

Lloyd: I love you, too, dude.

More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories

This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.

The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.

Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.

Continue Reading

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