Stories Of Recovery

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By: Elsa H. Partan
Published: 09/23/11

In Cape Cod’s raging battle with opiate addiction, three of the Cape’s homegrown young people say they are living proof that recovery from addiction is possible.

The three gathered in a roundtable discussion with the Enterprise a few days ahead of a candlelight vigil to support drug recovery planned for Sunday in Hyannis. The vigil is organized by the same woman who started a group called Parents Supporting Parents, which meets Monday evenings at the Mashpee Senior Center.

That organizer, Lisa M. Murphy of Mashpee, sat silently as she listened to the stories of opiate addiction, despair, and recovery from the three young people. Opiate-based drugs include oxycodone and heroin and are considered among the most addictive drugs on the planet. When the young people were done speaking, Ms. Murphy told them that their courage made her proud.

Jonathan, a striking 30-year-old with blue eyes and a sweep of brown hair, said that by the time he graduated from Barnstable High School in 1999, he had already tried alcohol at 12 and smoked pot with a friend’s father at 14. “Alcohol is more of a gateway drug than anything else,” he said.

As he was earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing at Columbia College in Chicago, he became addicted to opiates.
“At one point, it is recreational,” he said. “But Tuesday and Thursday becomes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Then it became the most important thing in my life.”

Amanda, a 23-year-old who has the build and the confident handshake of the athlete she was in high school and college, said her addiction to opiate drugs began when her friends gave her pain pills they got when their wisdom teeth were pulled.

“At parties people would trade their A.D.D. medicine for medicine someone got for their wisdom teeth,” she said. Pain pills that were prescribed when a teenager broke his arm would end up at a party in her hometown of Sandwich.

Parents should be nosy about their teenagers’ lives if they want to keep them safe, Amanda said, but she acknowledged that there was nothing her parents could have done to stop her once she was addicted to drugs.

Teena-Marie Sorrenti, the 26-year-old daughter of Ms. Murphy, also began her abuse of opiate drugs after she got her wisdom teeth pulled, at age 16. The attractive girl with thick brown hair first tried alcohol at age 11. By age 21, she was addicted to opiates and in an abusive relationship, which finally ended after her husband kicked her face so hard she went to the hospital with broken bones.

That was “hitting bottom,” for Ms. Sorrenti, and she turned to her mother for help. For two weeks, Ms. Sorrenti experienced the chills, shaking legs, and nausea associated with opiate withdrawal in a special recovery facility. She dedicated herself to a 12-step fellowship and went to meetings daily. Her mother taught her how to dress again and took her shopping so she could relearn the basic skills of living.

“We, the parents, are waiting for them to come back home to us,” said Ms. Murphy. “We have our plan, and we’re just waiting for them to say, ‘I want help.’ ”

As Ms. Murphy said this, tears rolled silently down her daughter’s cheeks.

Amanda also said she could not have started recovering from addiction without her mother, Terry. Getting up in the morning to walk the dog, drinking a cup of hot chocolate, and making cupcakes were the first, shaky steps toward a life without drugs.

Amanda suffered a major setback when she first tried to quit opiates in March of this year. During the early days, she reconnected with an old friend who was still abusing drugs. Amanda said she stole $5,000 from her parents’ bank account over the course of two weeks to fuel the worst drug binge she ever had.

“I felt so awful about screwing up, and I just kept doing it more and more,” Amanda said.

Her parents kicked her out of the house but took her back a few days later when she was ready to recommit to quitting drugs. With the help of the drug Suboxone, Amanda has been clean since April. Suboxone is a prescription drug used to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Over the course of months or years, recovering addicts are given lower doses of the drug until they are weaned from it completely. It is controversial in drug-rehabilitation circles because some fear that the recovering addicts become addicted to the treatment.

Nevertheless, Suboxone is working for Jonathan, too. When he decided to get clean in the fall of last year, he sought the help of a doctor who provided counseling and a Suboxone prescription. The combination has helped him rebuild his life. He now has a job as a sous-chef in Falmouth.

“It’s like learning to walk again,” he said.

For Amanda, one of the online job applications her parents forced her to fill out during those first, dark days of recovery has led her to a job working with people with disabilities. “I love it,” she said. “I already got a promotion, and I am in nursing school. I can’t even imagine going back to where I was. I’m way too proud of where I am.”

Ms. Sorrenti has been clean for five years and is expecting her first child in January. She says she is joyfully embracing the next phase of her life.

“I get to give my child a life that wouldn’t be possible a few years ago. I get to be there, to be present. I get to see all the little things and not be preoccupied and self-centered. And my kid never has to see me get high.”

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