From postpartum depression to opioid addiction—and how I found my way back

Motherly Collective

On Sunday, January 22, 2023, after teaching Sunday School, I met my dealer. Then I had lunch with a friend, hopped into a rideshare and took one of the pills I routinely bought to feed my opioid dependence (OD). That was the last thing I remember.

Next thing I knew, I woke up in an ambulance, the paramedics giving me naloxone to reverse an overdose from fentanyl-laced pills.

I was terrified. How had my life come to this?

I never imagined myself as the kind of person who lives with addiction. I was an Upper West Side wife and mother who met friends for lunch, had a nanny for my kids and a personal trainer. The hardest part about my day was the inconvenience of my groceries not being delivered by 5 p.m., which meant I had to order sushi for dinner instead. And yet, here I was, spending much of my day consumed with getting high.

Like many others, I was playing a risky game with my life.

In the U.S., more than 13 million Americans abuse opiate painkillers. Overdoses are skyrocketing because people often don’t realize the pills they’re buying on the streets are laced with fentanyl. 

I was lucky. I survived the overdose. And with the help of medication, counseling and the support of my family and community, I am now on a recovery journey. 

First postpartum depression, then addiction

For me, addiction was a years-long experience, which got more severe at each turn. I was first aware of the feeling that opioids gave me after the birth of my twins, when I was prescribed painkillers following a C-section. 

I had terrible postpartum depression. As a new mother of twin infants, even though I lived in one of the biggest cities in the world, I was lonely and overwhelmed with the realities of new motherhood. The days bled together. I was anxious all the time—imagining they were going to fall out of a window or some other tragedy would happen. Opiates quieted those thoughts and gave me the relief I desperately needed. Under the influence, I felt I had the energy and the enthusiasm to get through the day.

When I took my kids to their six-week checkup, the pediatrician told my husband, “If you have any extra income, please get your wife some help, because she’s in a state of psychosis.” I have no memory of the appointment. But I’m told I was asking the same question over and over, and I was crying.

I did get help, but the roots of addiction had taken hold. I craved the feeling that opioids gave me. Before, I was so sensitive to pain medication that even less potent options made me feel sick. Now, it was like having opioids in my system was “normal”—and I missed it.

I was doing well for a time, but then I had my third child, and it was an extraordinarily complicated delivery—and another C-section.

To be honest, I was excited to have a C-section because I knew I would be prescribed postoperative painkillers. 

After my delivery, I had an emergency D&C for a routine placenta issue. The surgeon found that an infected sponge had been accidentally left inside me during my C-section. I was prescribed opiates, and almost immediately my addiction kicked into high gear. Between my postpartum depression (which returned) and renewed addiction, I felt disconnected from my newborn.

At this point, the physical addiction I experienced was more extreme than anything I’d felt before. I physically needed the pills, because even the hint of withdrawal symptoms was brutal. I knew a friend of a friend who had a connection to a dealer, and had pills delivered to me, at home in my building. The transaction was so seamless, I thought, “How can this be bad?”

I was so good at hiding my addiction that nobody knew. But then we went on a weeklong family vacation and, with everyone staying in one big house, my family started to notice that I wasn’t acting like myself.

My mom was very concerned. “I know something’s going on with you,” she said. I was in total denial, insisting I was OK.

But when we got home from that vacation, my husband caught me snorting the pills.

He was devastated.

The next day, we took the kids to a park so he and I could talk. I admitted that I had been abusing pills, but I didn’t admit to having an addiction. “I’ll just stop,” I told him. “I’ll be uncomfortable for about a week, and then I’ll be fine.”

I knew I could convince my husband that I would stop—and I knew full well that I wouldn’t stop. All I thought about was getting more.

I continued taking the pills through the holidays, and shortly into the new year was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a type of cancer that develops in fatty tissue. The tumor was removed in March. I was in the hospital for four days and, again, was sent home with prescription painkillers.

One month later, I ended up in the hospital with a severe case of withdrawal.

I knew I needed help, but didn’t want to be away from my family, so my husband and I sought outpatient rehab. I saw a drug counselor two or three times a week. I stayed clean from April 2022 to November 2022 because of that counselor. He had experienced substance use and addiction, had just gotten out of prison, and was choosing to apply his experience to help others. He had so much hope and was so inspiring. I wanted to do well for his sake.

But I wasn’t yet fully committed to recovery for myself. I still found ways to self-medicate, such as with alcohol, and, while seeing the drug counselor, every time I was drug-tested, opiates never came up, but alcohol always did.

Then in December, I relapsed.

“I will manage it better this time,” I thought. “I just won’t do it as often. I’ll be more regimented.”

But on January 22, I nearly died. It was evident that I had a bigger problem. So, we enlisted the help of a psychiatrist, who prescribed VIVITROL, a monthly injection of naltrexone used to treat opioid dependence along with counseling.

My cravings for opioids decreased—immediately.

Every month that I get the injection, I am thankful for medication that supports my recovery. But it’s not a magic bullet. I still do the hard work; I see my therapist and I depend on the amazing support and encouragement I receive from family and loved ones. I think about all the times in my life when I quietly struggled with depression and used opioids to quiet that anguish. Now, I feel like I have the tools and the help I need to be my own best advocate. I have learned so much more about my mental health and what works for me. 

While in recovery, I learned that when a mental health issue coincides with taking an opiate, addiction may be an outcome. For many who experience addiction, the addiction is a symptom of a much larger problem.-

Living with addiction means knowing that I have a chronic illness, one that I will have to manage for the rest of my life. But I’ve learned in recovery how to navigate my individual needs. 

During the worst days of my addiction, I would sit in my bedroom with the door closed, shut off from life. I didn’t want to participate. I had forgotten who I was, that I’m friendly and love talking to people. Therapy has helped me to understand that I am not my addiction. I am not my illness. I am a person who has an illness, and I was fortunate to have help. I feel like I’m finally living again, being the mother and wife and friend I want to be, and I want everyone to know that help is out there.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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