Andrea has been able to thrive despite growing up in a home with an alcoholic father and a mother addicted to opioids. Find out what lessons she learned along her bumpy road and how she overcame a victim’s mentality.
Andrea was raise in Utah and California. She grew up with an alcoholic as a father and a mother who became addicted to opioids. At the age of 16 she found Jesus, and her conversion is at the heart of who she is and has carried her through every dark time she has encountered.
After high school she felt God pushing her to figure out who she was and applied to serve with AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). She spent the next year serving with at risk youth, building houses with Habitat for Humanity, and even with the American Red Cross in New York after 9/11. Andrea prayed to God pleading that she could find herself, and He showed her exactly who she was while she served others.
She met her husband of 15 years just three weeks after returning home from the Corps. Andrea is a proud stay-at-home mom of 5. Her husband is a rocket scientist and she is the crazy extrovert. They have lived in Seattle, Washington, Charleston, South Carolina, and recently moved to Layton, Utah.
She is an active board member for A Reason to Stand.
Andrea is passionate about family, friendship, and sharing the message that peace can be found in Christ and joy can be found in any circumstance.
Andrea grew up in a home where her parents loved her deeply and she believes they were doing the best they could. Knowing her parents loved her helped her through a lot.
Addiction in Her Childhood Home
Andrea goes on to explain “addiction comes from a place of pain.” And Andrea knew her father was dealing with some depression and other challenges. In an effort to get through them, he chose substance abuse to numb the pain. “That is where most addicts come from,” Andrea explains.
The tricky thing about growing up with an alcoholic is their home environment was very unpredictable–kind of like walking on eggshells all the time. Andrea never knew if she was going to have a happy father or a raging father. In an effort to numb his pain, her father would also numb everything else which enhanced his anger and frustration.
Andrea’s dad was amazing too, but he struggled with the addiction so much that, “There was contention in the home. It was really difficult. You lived in fear all the time.” Sometimes it was fear of how much he drank and what it was doing to his body. Other times it was fear of his mood or fear she wasn’t good enough.
One of Andrea’s early wishes for her father was that he would live long enough to see her graduate from high school. She worried about him because he drank so much.
Mom, The Rock
So, Andrea’s mother, Debbie, was the rock of the family in these early years. She was so fun and joyful. Andrea’s mom was the type of person who was going to hug every person in the room. You almost couldn’t help from loving her because you knew she loved you.
Andrea’s mom tried for years to “save” her dad and finally when she turned 13, decided maybe it would be better for her daughters if she got a divorce. That way they wouldn’t be fighting all the time. Her parents got joint custody and so they rotated houses every two weeks. This was hard for Andrea and her sister because they constantly felt uprooted as teenagers.
Her mother met and married Andrea’s step-father, who has been a bright spot in their lives ever since.
The Surgery that Changed Everything
Her mother was working as a house-cleaner at the time when she slipped, fell, and broke her knee. During the recovery, the doctors gave her opioids, and she became addicted to those. Years later (in a brief moment of sobriety) her mother explained she took the medication as prescribed, but they gave her more than she needed. She got in the habit of taking the medicine at a certain time of day even when she wasn’t in pain and noticed that it gave her energy to get through the day. So, at first it was habitual, and then it led to “I can’t function without this anymore.”
Andrea’s mom was able to hide her addiction and keep it a secret for several years until Andrea was a junior in high school. They notice a change in her mother. She was more agitated, she couldn’t sleep or she slept too much. Andrea noticed that there began to be tension in the home, but she couldn’t pinpoint the problem.
What is the Problem?
During Andrea’s senior year, she got sick and her mom took her to the doctor. Andrea explains that addicts are really good manipulators, and by the end of the doctor’s appointment, her mother had convinced the doctor that Andrea needed a medication stronger than ibuprofen to help her. They walked out with a prescription for Loritab, which Andrea never saw or used.
They started to get little clues that something was going on because similar medication situations kept happening. For example, after Andrea graduated from high school, her step father called with a similar medication situation. Then her pediatrician called her because her mother said Andrea got hurt working with AmeriCorps (even though she was fine) and asked if she really needed a prescription.
At this point Andrea began wondering what was wrong with her mom and if she was in pain and needed help because she was taking prescription pain medication all the time. Andrea thinks her family was in denial and they also didn’t understand what they were up against because opioid addiction wasn’t as talked about back then.
As a family, they thought Debbie would just figure it out, but unfortunately people don’t just figure their way out of addictions. It takes intention, action and a desire to change and become free from addictions.
When Andrea came home after serving for a year with AmeriCorps, she was on fire and so confident she was going to change the world. She met her future husband three weeks later, and after dating for about a year, they got married.
At this point, Andrea thought she was home free! She was free from the addictions and the crazy family drama. She was going to make her own family and it was going to be what she wanted it to be.
This all changed one day when she got a call from her dad’s neighbor who quickly handed the phone off to a fireman. The firefighter informed her that her father had a house fire and had 3rd degree burns on his hands because he had tried to put the fire out.
This was a low-point for her father, and it was excruciating for Andrea to watch him and help him the next few weeks while he was healing from his burns. She and her husband had to clean the burns so he would heal properly.
This experienced changed her father. He changed being a raging alcoholic. He seemed to realize what mattered most and where his focus should be. Andrea’s father was able to let go of a lot of anger after the fire. So, as hard as it was for him to hit rock bottom, this event changed his life for the better.
This house fire is also the point where Andrea’s parents switched places as far as their addictions go. Andrea’s mother went to visit her dad three weeks after the fire and she stole his morphine pills. This was a turning point for Andrea. This action was enough to move her past the denial and realize, “My mom is an addict.”
So, Andrea reached out to her step-father and her siblings and they decided to have an intervention for her mother. At first Debbie denied everything, but then she broke down and admited she had a problem.
Trying to Detox
Andrea then took her mother to a hospital in Salt Lake City and checked her in for rehab. She vividly remembers Debbie walking through the double bi-fold doors and them closing behind her. Then Andrea lost it. She ran to the bathroom and sobbed. She just couldn’t believe this had happened to her mom—her life-of-the-party, light-up-the-room, love-everyone mom.
Unfortunately this same scenario repeated itself over and over for the next few years. They’d check Debbie into a detox center and she’d promise she’d get better…and then she’d relapse. She was so high all the time and Andrea describes it was like “talking to a wall.”
Debbie’s body also started showing signs of addiction. She’d go from being overweight to bone skinny. She went through unnecessary surgeries so she could get more medication. For example, she ended up having all of her teeth pulled because she’d go into the dentist complaining of pain, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. They’d prescribe medication and then pull that tooth. But the complaints continued until all her teeth were gone.
Debbie’s eyes became sunken and bloodshot. Her coloring and skin looked frail, and she was weak and tired. She looked 30 years older than she was.
How God Helped
Andrea was always a religiously conscious child. When she was young, her family was Methodists, and Andrea loved wearing the robes and lighting candles as a child. Andrea thinks that because the disfunction was so great in her home, it just made her seek for God. After years of visiting different religions, Andrea found her place at age 16 when she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Andrea admits she was very young in her relationship with the Savior at this point. It took years for her to develop a deep relationship with Him where she learned to listen and knew she was strengthened and lifted up by Christ no matter what was happening. “it takes time to develop that kind of faith, but the hope was there for years.”
Andrea really had to learn to dig deep to rely on the Savior as she balanced being a wife, a mother, and trying so save her mother.
Debbie got to the point where she lost everything because of her opioid addiction. She lost her husband, her home, and was living on the street. Her mother finally hit this low and attempted suicide. Andrea’s brother found her and rushed her to the hospital. After two weeks, the doctors released her from the hospital and her family put her on an airplane and sent her to Seattle to be with Andrea.
Andrea wanted to try to work with her, to try to get her mother back. So despite the fact that they had four children, they decided to bring her mom into their home and try to help her detox. It was really hard, but after two weeks they had her completely sober. Andrea thinks it is because she had no car, no phone, and she didn’t know anyone out there. They literally had her on “lockdown” in the house.
Andrea admits she was a little brutal and gave her a little bit of “tough love” because she wouldn’t even buy Debbie cigarettes (but she did give her nicotine patches.) Naturally, Debbie went through withdrawals and was upset. But after two weeks, Andrea had her mom back. She was finally free of the drugs, but the light or spark her mom used to have wasn’t back. And that wasn’t something Andrea couldn’t fix.
Andrea expressed, “I was convinced that if I got the drugs out of my mom’s system, she would finally choose me instead of the drugs.” This is one of the reasons it is so hard to deal with an addict. You wonder, “Why are the drugs more important than me? And why can’t your realize that you’re worth it? You are worth more than all of these substances!…I just wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her and say, ‘Mom, you’re enough. You’re enough the way you are.’ It’s okay to come to the Lord as you are. It’s okay to come to Him broken. That is what He is there for.’”
Andrea’s mom stayed with them for three months. At the end of this time period she and her husband were hopeful Debbie could stay sober, and they invited her to stay with them for another year. They would help her get a job and get her feet back under her, but they knew they needed to keep her out of her old environment with her drug contacts.
Ultimately, Andrea’s mom refused to stay because she wanted to get back to Andrea’s younger sister, who was 15 years younger than she was. Andrea told her she wanted her to get back to her, but she needed to go back whole, strong, and sober.
Debbie kept reassuring Andrea she could do it. She was ready. She could do it on her own now and she felt ready. Andrea knew she wasn’t ready, but she let her choose to go home to Utah by plane.
This was a low for Andrea. She had been in survival mode for so long and she was so determined to fix her mom that she had withdrawn from the Savior. “When you are in survival mode, the very thing that is going to help you the most which is reaching for the Savior, reaching for God, is the thing you withdraw from.” Sometimes we do this because we think we can control the situation.
The Last Time
Just as she was sending Debbie through security at the airport, Andrea felt a whisper, “This is the last time.” And she knew it was the last time she would talk to her mother free of the drugs. So, she took her mother’s face in her hands and told her mother, “Mom, I love you. Thank you for loving me all of these years. Thank you for making me feel like I was the greatest daughter in the whole world! You are enough. You’ve always been enough for me, and you’ve always been enough for the Lord.” Then Andrea hugged her and let her go.
And that was the last time Andrea ever talked to her mom sober.
Andrea’s Heart to Heart With God
That night on the drive home from the airport Andrea was screaming at God, “What more do you want from me? I have done everything that I can. I have shown unconditional love. I have tried to put her in detox centers. I have tried to be her rehab center. All I want is my mom back. This is a righteous desire. Why can’t I have this?” Andrea had to vent her feelings to God that night, but she wasn’t ready to listen for the answer.
But, slowly the answer came: Debbie had to had to want to change. Andrea couldn’t be the one to control Debbie’s recovery. It was Andrea’s job to show her love. That was it.
This was the most painful realization of Andrea’s life—because Andrea has always been a fixer. She was always the type of person who if she decided she wanted something, she made it happen. This was the one thing she couldn’t figure out how to fix. Andrea felt so defeated, discouraged and alone!
The Fixing Source
Andrea had to dig deep and search for God through prayer, fasting, reading about the Savior and diving into the scriptures. Over time she realized, “It’s not me that has to fix this. It is the Savior.”
Andrea found a great quote by Richard G. Scott, “Do not attempt to override agency. The Lord Himself would not do that. Forced obedience yields no blessings.” This was an ah-ha moment for Andrea. She realized that agency is a gift from God. It is at the foundation of God’s plan. “Without that freedom to choose, we don’t make progress. We’re stagnant. There is no growth and there is no learning when decisions are made for you.”
The Ah-ha Moment
Andrea realized, “The reason my mom was never able to recover from the substance abuse is because she never chose it for herself.” Andrea has since learned as she has talked to other addicts that it wasn’t until they made the decision to heal and recover that it started happening.
“The growth won’t happen, the change won’t happen, the healing won’t happen unless we choose it for ourselves.”
So, let others choose for themselves, and give it God. Give it to the Savior because it is too heavy to carry on our own.
Lesson 1. Knowing Your Worth
For Andrea, breaking the cycle started with realizing she was a daughter of God. She had to realize that she was worth taking care of.
The example she had from her parents was, “if it is hard, numb it.” They always told her she was strong and capable, but they also said, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
So, it wasn’t until Andrea internalized that she was a daughter of God, and that due to her inherent worth she could overcome and do things she previously thought impossible. Knowing this, planted the seeds which would grow into more confidence in God. It is a confidence which comes from being His and feeling worth it.
Lesson 2. Don’t be A Victim
“So many people who go through hard times, don’t get out of the hard times because they are playing the victim.” People often go around wearing their “victimhood” on their shirts like a scarlet letter. But the question people need to then ask is, “What do you have after that?”
Andrea spent some of her teenage years playing the victim. One day she had an epiphany during church which changed her perspective. Andrea felt like every Sunday there was a hymn that played called, “Families Can Be Together Forever.”
Andrea hated the song because she was a victim. Every time she heard the lyrics of the song she thought about what she didn’t have. She thought about her addict father, and her divorced parents, and how hard it was living in a broken home. Due to this Andrea had a private conversation with God in her head, “Really, Heavenly Father?”
Then, about halfway through the song, Andrea heard the words in her mind, “can be” in the song. “Families can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s plan.” All of the sudden it was like a light switch was flipped in her brain and her whole world was illuminated. Andrea realized she could choose. She could have a forever family. It wasn’t about her current circumstances. It was about what she wanted for her future.
Focusing on the Future, Not the Past
Andrea realized she had been focused on the past,when she should have been focused on the future with hope. This realization altered Andrea’s life. Every decision Andrea made after that she weighed it against her ideal she had for the future. She would then ask herself, “Is what I am about to do going to get me the forever family? Or will this keep me trapped in my current circumstance?”
And that is how Andrea broke the cycle. “I looked toward the future. I believed in my divine worth as a daughter of God enough to know that I was worth that forever family.”
Challenge Your Victimhood
Challenge your victimhood. Step outside of your victimhood. Hope for a better future. “Why am I wandering around wearing a dollar store t-shirt with a “V” for victimhood, when I could be glamming it up with a shirt from Tar-je? I don’t have to be the victim anymore. I get to decide. That power of choice is tremendous! But it has to come from desire, and a place of action. Then we become so much more than we ever thought possible.”
Be aware if you have been a victim, you sometimes don’t believe you are worthy of those big dreams and aspirations. Have God help you create a future better than your past.
Changing Her Dreams
For a long time Andrea never wanted to be a mother. She didn’t want to bring children into a broken, awful life. It wasn’t until Andrea had her epiphany that she felt she could start to entertain the possibility that she could create a better family than she was raised in. God often plants these seeds of possibility in our minds when He knows we are open to better dreams. We just need to act on these dreams and make them a reality.
Andrea concludes, “You feel Him so much closer when you are who He knows you can be.”
Favorite Bible Verse
Jeremiah 17:7-8, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For He shall be as a tree planted by the waters and that spreadeth out her roots by the river and shall not see when heat cometh but her leaf shall be green.”
Andrea loves this verse because to her it is proof God will fortify us when we trust in Him.
“We really have all been touched by the heat of our trials, but that verse tells me that my soul has not been burned. We are never too far gone. I have refused to be defined by the flames!”
Andrea’s focus is on the leaf—the possibility for growth.
“The joy that we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” –Russell M. Nelson
Andrea likes to constantly ask herself, “Where is your focus?” She suggests our focus should be on the joy we want, and less on the difficult circumstances we are in.
Andrea knows there are moments where it feels like the sorrow is more overwhelming than the joy you can even foresee. At times like those, she suggests remembering “You are more than your circumstances. I believe the Lord didn’t send us here to be trapped in a challenge. If you can push through the hard time, then certainly you can make it through the recovery. Sometimes during recovery we are still stuck in the heaviness of the situation.” Then she adds we should ask ourselves these questions, “Do I want to stay in this trail? Do I want this trial to be who I am for the rest of my life? Do I want it to define me every single day? Or do I want this trial to be just a part of my journey? Do I want joy that I want to have be who I am?”
Perhaps the core message is to focus on the Savior because He is the ultimate example of going through a hard time and overcoming. And when the burden becomes too heavy, He will help you bear it.
Also, remember you are not alone in your trials! The adversary wants us to believe no one understands and we feel very isolated. Maybe we isolate ourselves because we think no one understands. When in reality, God always understands what we are going through and won’t leave us alone. And we need community. We need to reach out and help each other and draw strength from our shared experiences. You often find yourself by serving others—just like Andrea found herself by serving in AmeriCorps.
The End of Debbie’s Story
In June 2018, Andrea’s mom succumbed to her addiction. Andrea received a phone call from her youngest sister who informed her Debbie had passed away.
Andrea was in complete denial. She went from sobbing uncontrollably to not believing it was true, and asking if her sister had seen the body. She was in bed when she got the call and she just hit her husband and kept saying, “She can’t lose. This isn’t how this battle is supposed to end.”
Andrea had followed her promptings and set up boundaries and let her mom choose her own course in life, but in Andrea’s mind her mom was going to beat this! She held onto hope the idea of a happy ending. In her mind she could picture her mom deciding she was going to beat this and then Andrea would step in with her family and help her through it.
Why the Boundaries?
Andrea had set up boundaries because “the addiction of a loved one will completely take you over.” The last several months, her mother was so toxic Andrea stayed in touch by calling every few days to check on her and tell her she loved her and she was there for her if she needed help. All she had to do was ask. And that is how their last conversation went.
Death and Defeat
Andrea flew down the freeway doing 100 miles per hour to get to the home her mother was staying in. She arrived to crime scene tape, and stood outside for what felt like agonizing hours until the detective let her and her sister come and identify the body.
Andrea felt so defeated by her mother’s death. It was awful. In the weeks after her mother’s death Andrea stopped praying. It was ironic that in the moment she needed God the most, she withdrew. God kept reaching out to her through others through the meals that were brought into her home, through the notes which were dropped off, through the flowers. Andrea knew God was still there but she was so afraid to pray. She knew once she prayed she would have to bare her soul to God and deal with all of those feelings about why her story didn’t end happily.
Not the End
When she finally vented to God all the raw emotions and feelings, God simply whispered, “This isn’t the end of her journey.” Andrea believes her mother’s journey is continuing with God and that now she is working on herself.
And the battle isn’t lost because Andrea is still on earth raising awareness about addiction and hope. This is still part of her mother’s journey.
“As painful as it has been for the rest of us to lose her, that I believe that from the other side she is strengthening me.” And every time Andrea shares her mother’s story, she feels her beside her.
In reality, the battle wasn’t lost. This is only Act 2 of a 3 Act story. The end is yet to come. We can’t expect all of the happy endings here during our life. All the heartache will be resolved in Act 3 with God.
This program is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, but it is a 12 step Christian-based program. Andrea encourages, “If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, please check it out.” This program produces a manual for addicts, but it also has a support guide for spouses or loved ones. Going through this program helped Andrea deal with her mother’s addiction.
Social Media resources
Type “addiction recovery” in the search bar on Facebook, and it will bring up resources for you in your area.
This is a great article which helps portray the magnitude of the Opioid Epidemic in America. This isn’t just junkies on the street. This is happening in our homes, communities, and youth. “The opioid epidemic is devastating America. Overdoses have passed car crashes and gun violence to become the leading cause of death of Americans under 55. The epidemic has killed more people than the HIV crisis at the peak of the disease and the death tolls exceeds those of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq combined. Funerals for young people have become common. Every 11 minutes, another life is lost.”
If you or someone you love is at the beginning of an opioid addiction, reach out for help—reach out despite the shame. Andrea reassures she would have rather had her mother tell her what was going on and gotten her help than to have lost her. “Death is final. Shame is temporary.”
Andrea’s Contact Info
Facebook: Andrea Jean Sorensen