By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
In 2013, Anna VanWormer spent 18 hours at her mother’s hospital bedside as the older woman died from a heroin overdose.
The ambulance that brought her mother to the hospital took 23 minutes to arrive. During that time, she was unconscious, not breathing and had multiple strokes. She spent 10 days in a sedated coma and another three days unconscious without sedatives.
Her brain function “was less than that of a newborn infant,” VanWormer said.
“And you would have thought that that would’ve deterred me from using,” she said. “But it actually made me go into my drug addiction worse.”
VanWormer, 25, shared her story Tuesday in a presentation about addiction at Owens Community College. Also speaking were Jamie Decker, also in recovery from drug use, and Pat Hardy, director of addiction services at Century Health.
At the time, VanWormer saw the death of her mother as a suicide, since there had been previous attempts. It was the latest trauma in a rough childhood and adolescence.
“I didn’t have the tools to be able to express my anger and my hurt and my frustration,” VanWormer said.
She said she was first molested at the age of 3, and continued experiencing rape and molestation into her early 20s. She had controlling boyfriends who hit her. Her mother was in and out of prison, eventually becoming drug-free for several years before becoming addicted to pain pills after a breast cancer diagnosis.
“So my drug use came out of trauma and hurt and pain that I wanted to get away from, that I thought defined me as a person. But now I know that that stuff that happened to me was not my fault, that that was somebody else’s actions that they did to me,” VanWormer said.
During her addiction, VanWormer didn’t know therapy was a valid option to help her deal with her pain, “so I didn’t get the help that I needed when I probably should’ve.”
Drugs were her escape from reality, and her drug of choice was cocaine, if it was available and she had the money for it. VanWormer’s drug history also includes Xanax, opiates, Adderall, crack and marijuana.
Now, therapy and journaling are her outlets for dealing with trauma.
But VanWormer didn’t figure that out on her own.
“I know if it wasn’t for me getting arrested and going to jail and seeing that side of things, I probably wouldn’t have stopped until I was dead,” she said.
VanWormer stole a debit card, and went through withdrawal while she was in jail. She faced a fifth-degree felony charge for receiving stolen property, but completed intervention in lieu of conviction.
After four days of sleeping off the withdrawal, VanWormer called her father, who gave her an ultimatum: “Either you’re going to continue your life and I’m not going to be a part of it, or you’re going to get the help that you need.”
She went to Teen Challenge, a faith-based recovery program. In October she’ll mark the three-year anniversary of starting recovery.
After a while, “it started to click. And I was like, ‘I am smart. I am a good person. I’m not defined by society’s rules and their regulations and who they say I need to be. I’m my own person, and I kind of like who I am.’ So I chose to stay in recovery for me, and really got down to the deep issues of why I started using in the first place,” she said.
She’s still dealing with that trauma in some ways, but has no desire to use drugs to cope.
“I’m not trying to escape from anything. I’ll take anything and face it head-on today,” she said.
VanWormer is now a residential monitor at Tree Line Recovery Center, a residential addiction treatment center in Findlay. Through her employment, she’s taking classes to earn a chemical dependency counseling assistant certification. She is also taking biblical studies classes online through Colorado Christian University.
Decker, 49, is also in recovery and helping others to do the same. He works in peer support at Century Health.
“I don’t come from really a bad home,” Decker said.
He was an athlete in high school, and described his parents as caring. But he started using alcohol and marijuana at age 13.
“I loved the feeling of being able to be someone else. I didn’t really love myself,” he said. “I had low self-esteem.”
After high school, he started working at Whirlpool. He was 18, making $350 a week, and living with his parents, leaving him plenty of money for “having fun.”
Whirlpool started doing drug-testing. Decker failed the test and lost his job. It wasn’t the last time he lost a job for reasons related to drug use.
Decker had several failed relationships, too, which produced four children.
Decker said he probably tried about 20 times to start the recovery process. Eventually he ended up at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Dayton.
“It was not anything like Tree Line. It was more like Army boot camp,” with a 5:45 a.m. wake-up call each day and lots of rules, Decker said.
He worked in a Salvation Army warehouse and got kicked out of the center for accidentally bringing a pocketknife back after using it to break down cardboard boxes. But he’d already made progress in his recovery.
Decker is now in a healthy relationship for the first time and loves his peer support job. He has been in recovery for about three and a half years.
“Recovery’s not about getting clean. Not at all,” he said, noting that someone could stop taking drugs but still sell them. “Recovery has a lot to do with me changing the person that I was.”
Hardy gave some statistics before VanWormer and Decker spoke.
From January through May, Blanchard Valley Hospital had 143 visits due to overdoses.
That’s on pace to significantly surpass the 159 visits in all of 2016. It’s already more than the 139 overdose visits the hospital had in 2015.
There have been six confirmed overdose fatalities for the county this year, with nine pending.
If those are all confirmed, that will match last year’s total of 15 overdose deaths, with about three and a half months left in the year.