Ever since she took that first hit of Marijuana at the age of 11, drugs have given Shirley a sense of belonging. Being from an immigrant family, until that moment, she never felt quiet like she fit in anywhere.
“This was back in the 70’s, everybody was smoking pot. That helped me find a niche of people that I belonged to,” Shirley explained.
Her boyfriend at the time used Hydrocodone and Codeine. He used to send her into the pharmacy to get Terpin Hydrate, a cough syrup that is now banned but at the time could be bought as long as you signed for it.
During her addiction Shirley went from Heroin to pills and back to Heroin.
“Pills cost you $4 or $5 apiece and I would need 6, 7, 8 of them at a time, three times a day. That’s a lot money when Heroin is $25 a bag and that would last four hours,” she said.
While she was using pills she was getting 80 OxyContin and 240 Lortab a month from her doctor for pain. Even that was not enough so feed her addiction.
“I used to go to my pharmacist and tell her ‘I have a doctor appointment and he’s going to check my bottle and I need like 5 pills to put in my bottle to show the doctor that I’m taking them the way I’m supposed to be, you can just take them from my refill when I get it’ and she would do it.”
Getting drugs, making the doctor appointments, talking to pharmacists, making sure she was coherent enough to sit in the office, became a full-time job.
“Thank God for Crack Cocaine. I started using that and within three months … I had no life.”
Shirley explained the steep downhill spiral that began after using Crack Cocaine, she lost her husband of 30 years, her house and was no longer capable of driving.
Her husband’s family decided that she was the source of his drug problems and with no warning came to get him.
“I was in jail. I was out in 6 hours. Within those 6 hours they came, picked him up and took him to where they live. I got home and he was gone, no note, no phone call, nothing.”
A couple of days later his family called and said that they were going to take care of him and let her family take care of her.
Her moment of clarity came when he started calling her to send him drugs in the mail.
“That’s a federal offence, I had already been to jail a couple of times and I was not willing to do that,” Shirley explained that even after that she was still using, “I couldn’t get up anymore without it … I needed something to get up, I needed something to stay up, I needed something to go to sleep, I needed something to stay asleep. That was my like, drugs dictated every part of my being.”
After a hert to heart with her brother, he agreed to fly out to her and drive her and her car from Indiana to Arizona. They made plans to make this trip after the next time Shirley got paid.
“(Before he got there) I spent the whole check … $3,800 on drugs.”
She knew in her heart that even if she told her brother that she had spent the gas money before he got there that he would still come but the fear of him telling her that he would wait until she got paid again stopped her from saying anything.
She knew that if she had to wait until the next check, she would be dead.
When he got to the airport and asked her how much she had for gas, she told him she only had $20. While he was upset that she hadn’t told him before he left, Shirley explained to him her reasoning and off to Arizona they went.
While she was staying at her brother’s house, their other brother, who was a cooker came out as well.
“An addict and a cooker together is not a good mix. He found out where to get drugs and I had a little money so it was on again,” she said.
Shirley’s brother was sent back to jail after breaking probation, it was at this point that she started stealing money from her sister to pay for her habit.
It still wasn’t enough, “I’m fighting with drug dealers that have guns on their hips,” she explained, “There is no good reason on God’s green Earth I should still be alive.”
Shirley says that after getting treatment her life isn’t perfect but she is extremely happy.
“I got it from going to rehab, that’s what worked for me,” Shirley has advice for people who might be having a hard time finding sobriety, “If they want what I have, I suggest they start there.”
Rehab taught her that it was not her fault, addiction is a strong chemical reaction in the brain.
“Somewhere along the line the drug you find clicks and (your brain) says ‘this is the answer to all my problems.’”
Shirley believes that addiction doesn’t happen because of pressure or being prescribed medication. It starts in the brain because it sees the drug as the solution.
That’s why she continued to use “It fixed me until it didn’t fix me anymore.”
She equates rehab to the place that you start your life, “not fix your life. Because most of the people I’ve met that are using and are broken … don’t need to repair the life they had, they need to find a new way of living.”
Going to rehab gave her just that, “I’m not looking in the rearview mirror for a cop. I’m not worried about (drug) testing or my kids being taken away, I have a happy life.”