Drugs & Addiction

Aggies and Speedballs; Shawna and Her Recovery

I’ve always admired Shawna. I remember her as being quick witted and having huge smile with a personality to match. She was full of energy and had a presence that demanded attention. She was never one of those kids that wanted to be the center of attention – she received it because she was working her ass off along side of us. I loved seeing her at fairs and shows and seeing her do well.

The first I’d heard of Shawna falling on hard times was when she was in the local paper for theft. There was her mug shot. Undeniably, the sweet girl that grew up on a ranch and in the show ring and on a softball field, was officially involved in the wrong crowd. None of this made sense to me. Her parents had done all the “right” things, supported her in the “right” lifestyle. Shawna’s friends and support group were the same people who were my friends and support group and surely, WE wouldn’t allow this to happen.

Truth is, drugs are everywhere. And they’re way more available than we would like to admit. Although Shawna drank alcohol in High School, she knew nothing of drugs until she was 19. She visited a friend at college and commented on her sudden weight loss. It wasn’t long into the visit until the friend was doing lines off the toilet lid and offered some to Shawna. Shawna obliged. Oddly enough, while Shawna enjoyed the feeling of her first high, this wasn’t what hooked her.

About a year passed before Shawna tried drugs again. She witnessed another friend doing drugs and was admittedly curious. The friend was adamant that she not try anything they were doing and insisted that she stay off drugs. Tenacious Shawna finally wore them down, and the beast was awakened.

I asked Shawna, when she was in the middle of her addiction, if she thought about quitting. Her response was clear. “Every day. I felt stuck. Every time I’d get high, I wanted to quit.” Shawna’s recovery is very closely tied to her Faith. Every day when she wakes up, she has to make a conscious decision to spend the day sober. Right now, she has surrounded herself with healthy, positive people. She said that she’s praying constantly and listening to Christian music. Her sobriety is very delicate and it got real complicated about a month and a half ago.

Shawna had been complaining of chest pain and blamed it on softball and something to do with her ribs. She toughed it out for a long time until she finally went to the hospital where she learned she had a massive lung infection, empyema, and pneumonia. She was admitted to the hospital for two weeks where she was in ICU for a week after surgery. For a brief period, she was even on life support complete with feeding tubes and a ventilator. The incision on her back where they drained and removed the infection is about 7 inches long and looks like a zipper from the 21 staples they used to keep it closed. Three tubes were inserted between her ribs to drain the fluid and infection. Her pain was indescribable.

As hospitals do, they hooked Shawna, an addict in recovery, up to Morphine. How else were they supposed to control that kind of pain? She said that being in the hospital and having access to those kinds of drugs was the worst thing ever. She said, “I loved it and it really scared me.” Shawna was back on drugs, but this time, it was Doctor’s Orders. As doctors and nurses do, they’d ask her to rate her pain on a scale of 1-10. She said she never gave them less than a 7 although at her worst, she was probably a little over a 5. An addict’s mind will choose drugs if they can get away with it. And she did.

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After she was released from the hospital, her regular doctor took over her prescriptions. Once she saw what and how much Shawna had been prescribed, medications were once again limited to doses where Shawna could’t get high. She told me the story of a Veteran who had been in the doctor’s office at the same time. She said he was recovering from several major surgeries and was also asked to rate his pain. He was clearly suffering and only rated it a 3. Reality check. Shawna admitted that her high pain ratings were the drug addict talking and she had to choose sobriety once again.

Shawna was laying on the couch at a friends house a little over a week ago. She was in a dark place and not feeling well. The rolodex of drug dealers started spinning in her mind. A friend called and invited her over for a BBQ. Shawna declined saying she would stay home and rest. Truth is, the next call she was going to make was to get drugs. She hit the ground and on her knees, she started praying. She called her friend back and was honest for the first time. She told her friend to come get her, right now, because if she didn’t, Shawna was going back to using drugs. Her friend sped across town and was grateful for the phone call and the opportunity to help. Shawna has always been afraid to reach out. This was a breakthrough.

I asked her how she’s doing now. She said she feels good again. Part of recovery is often, relapse and she admits she over did it on her pain medication since she’s been home from the hospital. She’s off all medication now and is back to reminding herself, every moment of every day, that she wants to be sober and healthy. Drugs aren’t part of the life and future she sees for herself.

When Shawna went into the hospital, she was initially put into a twilight state to aid in her rest and healing. While in this state, she posted rants on social media, spoke to people who had passed away years ago and was generally delirious. Her family finally took her phone away so that she stopped this very public, self-destruct mode she was in. Many people messaged me and approached me in public to ask about what was going on with her. I was quick to tell them that her hospitalization had nothing to do with drug use or relapse or addiction. Flukes happen and while addiction didn’t land her in a hospital bed this time, it did rear it’s ugly head.

Her spiritual mentor from Bethel House asked Shawna if she had prayer requests. As always, Shawna asked them to pray for her Soul Mate :), she asked for a quick healing from the infection and for the return of her strong mindset. I will join in the prayer for these things for Shawna. We talked this morning about many things and she sounded like the girl I have always loved – quick, happy and funny. She was so proud of herself and that breakthrough moment where she knew she was going to choose drugs but instead, chose to be around healthy friends. I encouraged her to remember that moment and call on it for strength when she is in a dark place again.

Addicts are good people. Read that sentence again. I understand that statement is confusing. They were’t born as junkies and thieves and liars and the person that broke your heart a thousand times. I’m not telling you to trust them and believe while they are in the throws of their addiction but I do believe Shawna when she said that she thought about quitting every time she got high.

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I believe Shawna and my friends, Sarah and Karin, when they say that they will never go back to drugs and that lifestyle. Sarah, Karin and Shawna are good people, who made a bad choice, that took them away from the good life for a while. But they’re back. As their friend, I choose to participate in the positive part of their lives. I thank them, every time I can, for coming back and for being a part of my life. I have always enjoyed them and their sobriety is a blessing to me too. I do not understand how they got to the point where drugs were the answer. But I choose to not make that the focus of our friendship. I love them all for a thousand reasons. Drugs are no longer a part of their life and if there’s anything I can do to help keep them sober, they know I’m here for them.

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Drugs & Addiction

Aggies and Speedballs; Timmy and how this project started.

My brother, Sean, and his wife had a beautiful baby girl, Ruby Rose, on May 30th, 2013. A year had passed and we were celebrating her first birthday. Many of my brother’s friends now had children of their own so my family was surrounded by these new families and tons of sweet babies.

Sean has a really tight knit group of friends. The closest of them started their friendships in elementary school and junior high. There were actually two groups. They referred to themselves as the POC and the COC; Pozo Oakie Crew and Creston Oakie Crew, respectively, although the COC gave up its title when the two groups waged a playful turf war early in high school and POC was the successor. I literally watched these boys grow up. It almost seemed that they were all my little brothers.

After high school, the POC boys decided to display their talents at the local softball field. Most had played from T-Ball up until you actually had to try out to make a team, at which point, most bowed out. There were a few that went on to play high school sports, most notably, Tim Janowicz. Tim and his brothers were popular, gifted athletes and well known in the community. I went to school with his brother Nate and my sister went to school with his oldest brother Jasch. Tim suffered major injuries in a tragic hunting accident midway through high school. After months spent in the hospital recovering, it seemed his shot at sports scholarships were all but lost. But as any athlete knows, the itch to play the game never goes away. And when he played short stop for the POC at Barney Schwartz Park on Friday nights, folks stopped to watch.

Timmy would dive for balls hit seemingly out of reach. He’d come up with the ball and in a flurry of dust and with Jeter-esque leaps, he’d hurl the ball right on target to get an out. Rec softball hadn’t seen talent like his very often. He paid no attention to the on lookers. His POC teammates on the other hand, they were thrilled that Timmy was making them look good. And so the team carried on for several seasons over a few years, even a few championship T-Shirts were won for the POC.

There were times we’d see Timmy and he’d be clear and coherent and normal. Other times he’d be thin and vacant. It was evident that he wasn’t healthy and that drugs were controlling his life. Speculation was that he was taking pills. As the years went on, rumors of heroin circulated around Timmy. We’d lose track of him and mention of his name would often prompt comments of ‘Not good,’ or ‘I haven’t heard he’s any better.’

We heard he’d been arrested. Felony convictions of possession of a controlled substance, weapons charges and grand theft. Some of us breathed a sigh of relief because at least in jail, he’d be safe, right? Wrong. 5:40 am, Friday, May 30th, 2014, Timothy Richard Janowicz was found unresponsive in his cell bunk bed. Dead. Coroner’s report published on June 24th, 2014 said Timmy died of acute heroin toxicity.

Generally a gregarious and jovial group, we found ourselves standing on the patio at Ruby’s first birthday party, surrounded by most of the original members of the POC, grief stricken because yet another one taken way too early by drugs. Add Timmy’s name to the list buried too young: Trevor Alverez, Jacob Gearheart, Shawn Arthurs, Ricky Johansen are a few of them I recognize or kids that I knew.

Distraught, angry and completely frustrated, I took to Facebook later that night and posted the article from Cal Coast News that announced Timmy’s death. I commented “Here’s a campaign for #NotOneMore. A gun didn’t kill Timmy, years of addiction did .. ” This short rant caught the attention of Cindy Dallaire. She felt compelled to tell the story of her daughter and their fight to keep her alive. I felt compelled to write it for her .. And so this project began.

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Timmy was the tipping point for me. Although no one close to me had died yet, I’d lost multiple friends to drugs and addiction. They knew drugs were a non-negotiable for me and until they were desperate for help, months would pass and I’d hear nothing from them. Truthfully, until Timmy died and Cindy contacted me, I admit I was completely naive to how profound the drug problem is in our area.

When this project started, I’d never heard of The Lighthouse Project, Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Kayla Peach Memorial Foundation were, and I had no idea what all the Assistant District Attorneys did all day. The ADAs are busy processing drug crimes. Those three organizations and countless others are fighting to save the lives of kids who thought popping pain killers isn’t the same as doing drugs and now they’re addicted to heroin.

My next installment will be Shawna’s story. This is a tough one for me and I know it’s going to be difficult for her. She’s so strong when we talk. I get to see her successes daily through posts on Facebook. A few nights ago, she sold at a charity auction. Shawna has come a long way, baby. I feel guilty dragging her back.

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