By Caitlin Miner
It is a heavy, humid morning. The sun, struggling to shine upon us, has regrettably submitted to the battalion of deep gray clouds. It’s a perfect backdrop to usher in a dismal mood. Taking a drag from my cigarette, I wait for my friend. I’m parked outside an old brick building made up of more patch than original brick. It sits too close to the road, making the noise almost unbearable. It has no sign. The structure has been many things including a veterinary practice, a State Farm insurance agency, a small medical practice, and now it has a different purpose. “Victory”, an opioid replacement clinic, serves a part of the community often overlooked.
There is a constant flow of people coming and going. I sit and watch them, cigarette in one hand, coffee in the other. I imagine junkies. Young punks or shriveled old women with no teeth and clothes fit for teenagers, that’s what I expected. I pause from my coffee and look up to see young woman not much older than myself changing her toddler son in the back of her minivan. I watch as what appears to be her husband and, maybe, her father walk inside. After she wrestled the little boy back into his shoes, they follow after them. It’s a classic picture of Americana, mom, dad, baby, and grandpa out for the morning in their minivan. Something is wrong. They aren’t somewhere meant for families. This is a place for junkies. They’ve disappeared from view. I can’t help but wonder what demons they’re fighting, and for a moment I start to judge.
I knew how my friend had wound up here. Born with fetal alcohol syndrome, her mother left her in her car seat for days, unchanged and with a spoiled bottle. Her grandmother took her on at an early age and provided her a safe and loving home. Unfortunately, at the pivotal age of 15 the only safety net she had ever known was ripped away when her grandmother passed away. She started drinking to kill the hurt. Bounced between her mother and foster homes she fell pregnant at 16. By 20 she had two children. Their father left state leaving her on her own. Last winter things came to a head, we stopped hanging out. Everything’s fine she’d say, a sure sign everything was not fine. After a few months CPS showed up at her door and she was forced to face her demons or lose her children.
Addiction is a dirty word, a disease you are not supposed to catch. Those of us who’ve not had to stare it in its hideous face don’t believe that it can touch normal people, good people. But as I watched from my car, I realized something. That family was not any different from anyone else I know. Everyone has demons. Some people find out the hard-which ones are the hardest to shake. It’s hard enough to raise your hand and say you have a problem when there is no social stigma. But if you so happen to fall into the heroin crowd there is no easy way to find help. Your average citizen doesn’t drive past this building thinking the people standing around the parking lot are improving their lives.
For someone who doesn’t have insurance, who may not have had an easy run at life and may have fallen into self-medicating for various reasons, Victory is the first step. It’s not easy for a person to swallow their pride and ask for help when they know they’ll be judged. Many families think that methadone is simply replacing one addiction for another. When there is no insurance to cover expensive treatment facilities, the clinic is the only option available. Going on methadone is the only way to become a part of a program. It is only way to receive counseling and find a community of support. Adding one more stigma to a subpopulation who has already had those nearest and dearest to them turn their backs.
The early months were difficult. She relapsed and lied and asked for money. The realization that she needed help to change came in May and treatment is helping. She is receiving talk therapy and finally staying clean. She has no support from family, only harsh words, so I wake up every morning to drive her. For the first time in her life she is working though her long history of trauma instead of resorting to self-medication. Her children have their loving mother back and I have my friend back.
I cannot argue that someone should be proud of using heroin. I cannot argue that it is not ugly, especially when children are involved. But, for the good of our society, we must allow people to seek help without being ridiculed. As we move through life we don’t know if the mom at the bus stop is heading to the clinic after her son is off to school. We don’t know if the young man behind the counter at the gas station is struggling to stay clean. We certainly don’t know what drove those people to use in the first place.
Everyone has their reasons for slipping, for seeking comfort in the wrong places. It should not be so shameful to dig yourself out of addiction that the building cannot have a sign. If I had not been given the opportunity to hold the hand of a friend who struggled, I never would’ve understood that all people are not encouraged to seek help. I would have not heard the harsh words of her family when she said she had started using methadone. I would not have seen hypocrisy in their judgment. I would not have seen the hypocrisy of our society. It is only through kindness, understanding and education that things will improve. We as a community have to make the choice to be better for those at the “bottom”. We must make the choice not to abandon our neighbors when they need us most. It’s easy to judge. It’s not so easy when your dirty laundry is being aired on the line. Worse still, you are being ridiculed for washing it. There is nothing clean or simple about addiction or its treatment. A little love and understanding go miles to help someone who is struggling to find victory.
Professor Tim Kelley had this to say about Caitlin Miner’s work—she understood what was important and what wasn’t. She had a sense of what she had to say and what was important. She had a voice. She had the critical thinking. She needed to fix the sentence structure and some of the shifts from past to present tense in some places. She took editorial comments to expand about her friend. The sentence level skills don’t matter so much if you have something to say he concluded. (Editor’s note—the writer made some changes after the draft that Professor Kelley was talking about.)