7 Lessons from the Opioid Addiction of a Loved One
What would you say to a mother who is finally sober from drugs if you knew you would never talk to the “real” her again?
Andrea Jean Sorensen found herself in this very situation not very many years ago.
The Opioid Epidemic
The New York Times reported in December of 2018, “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.”
This opioid epidemic is a crisis for all members of society. It robs us of husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, sisters, brothers, teachers, influencers, and mentors. The power of these addictive drugs is impacting tens of thousands of American families every year.
Because of these mind-blowing statistics, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a public health emergency and announced a 5-Step Strategy they were taking to begin to curb the problem.
A Personal Story of Opioid Addiction
These stats are real and personal for Andrea Sorensen. She saw her mother struggle for years battling with addiction.
Andrea’s mother, Debbie, was the rock of the family in for many years. She was 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.
Debbie, became addicted to opioids after a surgery to fix a broken knee.
Years later, in a brief moment of sobriety, Debbie 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.
At first it was habitual, but it led to “I can’t function without this anymore.”
After a family intervention and several visits to detox centers without permanent sobriety, Debbie got to the point where she lost everything because of her opioid addiction. She lost her husband, her home, her family, her teeth (because she wanted more painkillers) and was living on the street.
Finally after a suicide attempt, Andrea flew Debbie to live with her family in Seattle to detox in their home. Following a difficult two weeks, they had her completely sober. Andrea thinks Debbie was finally able to get sober because she was on lockdown in their home with no car, no phone, and she didn’t know anyone out there.
Andrea had her mom back. She was finally free of the drugs.
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.”
Photo by Javier Allegue Barrios on Unsplash.
This is one of the reasons it is so hard to deal with an addict. Andrea explains you wonder, “Why are the drugs more important than me? And why can’t you realize that you’re … worth more than all of these substances?” Andrea continued, “I just wanted to grab [my mother] 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.’”
The problem is after so many years of addiction, Debbie’s brain had been rewired due to the addiction.
Debbie stayed with Andrea’s family for three months. At the end of this time period Andrea 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. 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 knew she wasn’t ready, but she let Debbie choose.
The Last Time
Just as she was sending Debbie through security at the airport, Andrea felt a whisper, “This is the last time.” Suddenly 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.
That was the last time Andrea ever talked to her mom sober.
So, what lessons does Andrea say she learned through this process of addiction in her family?
The Power of Choice
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.” — Edwin Markham
One of the lessons came the evening Andrea dropped her mom off at the airport. Andrea screamed 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 want to change.
Andrea found a great quote by Richard G. Scott which helped her understand her mother’s choice better, “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. “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.”
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.” — Andrea Jean Sorensen
Let Go & Let God
“When you let go, something magical happens. You give God room to work.” — Mandy Hale
The third step for in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program is to make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
This principle is not only for the addict. It also applies to the family members. For Andrea, the burden of trying to be responsible and cure her mother’s addition was too heavy to carry on her own.
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!
She knew she had to let go of the heaviness and let God deal with it in His way and timing. This didn’t come overnight. Andrea had to dig deep and search for God through prayer, fasting, reading in the scriptures. Over time she realized, “It’s not me that has to fix this. It is the Savior.”
Love Unconditionally and Establish Boundaries
“Having healthy boundaries is a form of self-love and self-respect.” — Ella Patrice
Once Andrea figured out it wasn’t her job to fix her mother, she also realized her responsibility was to show her mother love. That was it. Andrea’s job was to love. God’s job was to fix.
Andrea also had to set up boundaries because “the addiction of a loved one will completely take you over,” she explained.
The last several months of Debbie’s life, she was toxic. She was so out of control that she was disruptive enough that they had to leave a restaurant when Andrea took her to lunch. It was hard and heart-breaking.
Andrea stayed in touch with her mother 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 and wanted to change. All she had to do was ask.
That is how their last conversation went.
Death is Not the End
“Birth is not the beginning, death is not the end.” — Zhuangzi
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 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. 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.
When she finally vented to God all the raw emotions and feelings, God simply whispered, “This isn’t the end of her journey.”
Because of this, Andrea believes her mother’s journey is continuing with God and now Debbie is working on herself with God’s help.
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, 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.
We can’t expect all of the happy endings here during our life. All the heartache will be resolved in Act 3 of our lives when we are with God.
Don’t be A Victim
“You are not a victim. No matter what you have been through, you’re still here. You may have been challenged, hurt, betrayed, beaten and discouraged, but nothing has defeated you. You are still here. You have been delayed but not denied. You are not a victim, you are a victor. You have a history of victory.” — Dr. Steve Maraboli
“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.
Then, about halfway through the song one Sunday, Andrea heard the words, “can be” in the song. “Families can be together forever.”
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.
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 (Target with a fancy accent)? 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. He can and He will. You are worth it!
You’re Not Alone
“Remember you are not alone. There are others going through the same thing.” — Adam Levine
Andrea is quick to point out 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. The truth is there are thousands of addicts and their families struggling.
Support groups are needed and encouraged for both addict and family members. We all need community. We need to reach out and help each other and draw strength from our shared experiences.
God also always understands what we are going through and won’t leave us alone.
“I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” — John 14:18 KJV
Some people isolate themselves because of the shame of the problem: alcoholism, drugs, children who have wandered, mental health challenges, suicide etc. But isolation can lead to suicide. Don’t isolate yourself — whether the challenges are yours or a loved one.
“Realize that you are not alone, that we are in this together and most importantly that there is hope.” — Deepika Padukone
Shame is Temporary
“Shame, which is often referred to as ‘the master emotion’ by researchers, is the never good enough emotion. It can stalk us over time or wash over us in a second — either way, its power to make us feel we’re not worthy of connection, belonging, or even love is unmatched in the realm of emotion…Shame can deal such a painful blow to our self-worth that just the fear of it can send us running.”
— Brené Brown, Dare to Lead
Many people with an opioid addiction and their families don’t seek help because of the shame associated with any addiction. Shame is scary. We do indeed fear the thought of people thinking poorly of us, or our family. Shame is what makes us hide skeletons in our closets and suffer in silence.
Andrea strongly encourages 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 Debbie tell her about her opioid addiction and gotten her help early on than to have lost her. “Death is final. Shame is temporary.”
So, when facing shame, focus on the end goal — the reason WHY you are doing something hard. For Andrea, this was having a healthy mother participating in her life. For addicts it could be the freedom of sobriety.
Whatever your compelling WHY, let it motivate you to push past the shame and move forward with faith. If you are having a hard time finding a WHY compelling enough, I would strongly suggest reading this article by Benjamin Hardy, PhD about diving deep by asking questions to find your why.
The opioid addiction may seem daunting, but Andrea Sorensen is fueled with a personal passion to push through shame towards understanding, education, and compassion for opioid addicts and their families. Her personal story is full wisdom born from experience.
- The Power of Choice
- Letting Go and Letting God be in Control
- Loving Unconditionally and Establishing Boundaries
- Realizing Death is Not the End
- Choosing Not to be a Victim
- Remembering You’re not Alone
- Shame is Temporary
These are powerful lessons applicable to each of us today, no matter what our challenges have been.
So, what will you to change today? After all, you can change and control your destiny. Make a choice. Connect with God and move forward in a powerful way.