Hello, I’m Jen Underwood, a freelance writer.
My friend, Jessie, has struggled with addiction and agreed to let me interview her in order to help others understand addiction. In talking with her, I feel God taught me something as well. Addicts don't want to be seen as addicts but for who they are beyond the addiction.
On the other hand, my friend does not see her worth as I see her. She is the kind of soul that others gravitate toward. You cannot befriend her without experiencing her warmth and compassion for others. I have been greatly blessed to have her in my life this past year. As a mother of three, she does her best every day with what she has been given.
As I interviewed her, I saw a tenderness I hadn’t seen before. This is what she said:
Q: So what do you want to say first?
Jessie: It’s not like my life is so horrible that doing drugs blinds you to everything else in life. People tend to think that the addict is completely wrapped up in the drugs and that is all they want, and that is not true. Drugs are not the only thing in my life. If anything, the drugs end up being a temporary escape from all the other things that matter so much more than all the other things in my life. It becomes a focal point though for everyone else, and I don't see it that way.
Other people get the mindset that without the drugs, the person themselves would be so much happier. We would like as much as the next person to not have to do this. It does make things harder. It's hard, to begin with! You go to it [addiction] to help the bad situation that’s already there. Drugs end up making it worse but you think it's going to make it so much better.
I was raised in a household where drinking was considered normal. My parents were alcoholics, they also had an extensive history of drug use with pot as well. It was still a loving home and I had a good childhood. It was dysfunctional but whose isn't?
Q: How do you think this affected you?
Jessie: Their relaxed attitude towards it [alcohol] certainly made it easier. I did try drinking as early as fifteen. My parents bought me alcohol. It's crazy. Dad taught us how to roll a joint. He did tell us, me and my sister, to stay away from powder. They always thought if you worked and did what you had to do, you could come home and get drunk.
Q: So you started drinking first?
Jessie: I was drinking heavily, working years ago at my BioTech Job. My marriage was falling apart. I had two little kids. I was the breadwinner at the time. My ex-husband was in school. I started out hanging out with my sister, who was an exotic dancer at the time, and she introduced me to cocaine. Most of my money was going there.
My ex-husband found out about an affair I was having and kicked me out. So I started my life over with a new man. Both me and my new boyfriend did drugs, and we thought had control over it. For a while we did forty to one hundred and twenty dollars worth in a day on drugs. We lost our jobs, lost our apartment.
Q: Did you have a realization at the time of how drugs affected you or were you in denial?
Jessie: Deep down I knew but still trying to deny how bad it was.
Q: Did you repress those emotions?
Jessie: I repressed a lot, I also got pregnant.
Q: Did you use [while you were pregnant]?
Jessie: I used when I was pregnant but not as much. My boyfriend was sleeping in his van. I lived with my parents. They looked at me like trash. Mostly I stopped doing drugs while I was pregnant because I ran out of money.
Q: So when did you take your drug problem seriously?
Jessie: When we moved in with my boyfriend's mom, we realized we had to change. We did it on weekends. [Then] I started taking pills for back pain. I've always loved opiates. I had herniated discs, started on Tramadol. It works on opiate receptors. It gave me energy. I loved them. My boyfriend was on the road a lot in 2014. He had a heart attack from drug use in January, by June, we were broke up.
Q: Did you talk yourself out of it? That it was drugs that caused his heart attack?
Jessie: I knew it was because of drugs.
Q: Did it scare you?
Jessie: It was definitely a scare but I have this excuse I give myself… men have heart attacks younger than women do because women's hearts are protected by estrogen. The cocaine use was off and on, it wasn't my first choice at that point in time. I was taking all my pills, I felt bad because I took pills from my Mother-In-Law.
Q: How many pills were you taking a day?
Jessie: I was taking six or eight of Vicodin a day. You build up a tolerance.
Q: [Do you feel like] you have a problem but you cant change it?
Jessie: I feel like it can be changed.
Q: What keeps you going back?
Jessie: Emotional stuff. I don't have the tools to do it properly. I should be praying and I'm not. I want to fix it, its a pride issue. I know you have to surrender to God, AA teaches that, but I don't.
Q: Why do you think addicts lie?
Jessie: I lie because I'm of ashamed being an addict. People already have a perception of me, and I don't want to make that perception any worse than it already is.
Q: What do you think their perception is?
Jessie: With my boyfriend, I feel like he thinks my character has changed. [Thinks] I don't have enough willpower to stop, I'm somebody he has to babysit.
Q: Do you worry about overdosing?
Jessie: You get a false sense of security when you have been doing it for years. You feel like you know what you're doing… I scare myself sometimes using.
Q: Do the marks bother you on your hands?
Jessie: Yes. It bothers my Mother also, she hates it. My boyfriend and I knew I had a drug problem. I started shooting up cocaine because he was gone all the time. When he came home, it levelled out some. He didn't want me doing drugs. Low self-esteem plays into the drug use.
Q: How so?
Jessie: How you feel about yourself. Why would I bother trying to stay clean? I don't value myself anymore [to do] that. What does it matter? It is just you.
Q: When you found God how did it help you with your drug use?
Jessie: Getting saved was such an emotional experience. I was crying and felt relief. It didn't take the desire for drugs away but it put the desire to please God in there instead. I started to go to RU (Reformers Unanimous) for help.
Q: What do addicts think about [in] how their behavior affects others?
Jessie: I've hurt my boyfriend and he comes back at me. It hurts my character to be insulted. The addict is a person, the addiction is on them. Don't shoot at me to get to the addiction that is back there. Shoot at the monkey on my back.
Q: What do you feel as an addict?
Jessie: We have deep emotions we can't handle. We feel too much and want to turn it off. There's a lot of feelings, repressed feelings. We beat them down. The drugs make it easier too.
Q: What do you think you might have as a message for how to deal with addicts?
Jessie: A lot of times, addicts are extremely wrapped up in their own behaviors and negativity they don't focus on anyone else's emotional trouble with the situation. It’s a vacuum where everybody is wrapped up in their feelings. There is some stuff that doesn't phase you. You think you've got it okay.
Q: When other people die from overdosing, how does that affect you?
Jessie: Well… to think I would know God's reasoning for anything happening would be very pretentious. As far as consequences go, I don't think I would blame anybody else.
Q: Do you worry your life can be shortened?
Jessie: Certainly I worry. It's definitely a worry. At the time when you’re trying to recover and you don't want to use, it just seems like there is no other way to deal with the feelings you have. It’s a vicious cycle. Tough love is a very fine line.
Sometimes, supporting the addict does take away from the consequences. They have to face it. Other times, it makes them feel worse about who they are. You don't want to coddle somebody but you don't want to beat them down, there is already [enough] shame in it. I've only been shooting up cocaine since 2014 but prior to that, it was 2007 that I did it a lot.
When the interview was over and we were driving home, Jessie said to me that the positive end of this is that God can do anything with her addiction, even use it to help others.
She also said she has to learn to rely on His strength and not try to do it herself. It is the ultimate lesson for her in all of this. My friend is a natural optimist. Her future has hope. She wants to go forward with God.
As for me, I learned that addicts don't want to be judged so harshly by those around them. God has a reason for bringing her into my life. I can only hope I can help her to find the strength that she is looking for and trust God to show me how to help her move forward. How all of us, can help our loved ones.
She is so much more than her addiction and I feel blessed to call her, “friend”.