Editor’s note: In this series, Weelunk readers will meet their neighbors who are successfully navigating the road of recovery. Like any road trip, recovery has stretches of smooth highway as well as the occasional pothole. These are the stories of travelers who are making steady progress toward a better place, one day at a time.
“I believe I can survive the demons in my brain, and I prove it to myself every day. I won’t go back.” – Susan Richard
Today, Susan Richard is the matriarch of her close-knit family. She devoted many years of her life to raising her three children and is now very involved in the lives of her four grandkids. Not so long ago, however, her out-of-control cocaine habit nearly cost her a relationship with the family she treasures.
HER STORY’S UNUSUAL START
Unlike many addicts, Susan’s story begins in adulthood. She says she smoked some weed as a teenager but had no interest in harder drugs. However, about seven years ago, she found herself falling in with the wrong crowd. “It started with the company I kept,” she admits.
She was in her mid-30s at the time, technically old enough to know better. Though she initially did not partake in the drug-fueled parties popular with her friends, eventually, she made the conscious choice to give cocaine a try. It was a decision she regrets to this day.
“I said, ‘What the hell — let me try it once,’” she remembers. But once was not enough, and she quickly found herself hooked on the euphoric and energetic high of coke.
FOUR HAZY YEARS
The next four years of Susan’s life are nothing more than a blur to her. As many are, she was a highly functional addict, managing to hold down a full-time job at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, where she is still employed today. She often also worked a side job or two. “I felt like I could do anything!” she recalls. The rush of the cocaine high made her feel invincible, and she would often go days on end with no sleep.
As the days turned to weeks, Susan’s habit swelled to unimaginable proportions. At the height of her addiction, she was snorting coke about every half hour, round the clock. And when your body demands that much of a drug, the limits of what you’re willing to do to get more of it are non-existent.
For some suffering from substance use disorder, sex is nothing more than a readily-available form of currency; a means to an end. Although Susan personally did not exchange sex for drugs, many addicts do. However, she confesses that she and another female friend would sometimes “perform” for an audience who would literally throw drugs at them in return. But eventually, even this method of obtaining cocaine wasn’t netting her enough to satisfy the demons within, so she began dealing drugs herself in order to feed her insatiable habit.
“My sinuses and nasal passages were completely raw and torn up,” Susan states. “I would cry in pain for a half-hour every time I snorted a line. So I started cooking and smoking it instead.”
By this time, Susan’s adult children were painfully aware of her drug use. Her younger daughter chose to live with her father and refused to visit her mother’s home. Her older daughter once borrowed Susan’s laptop and inadvertently came in contact with some cocaine residue on the keyboard. After touching her finger to her mouth, she found that her tongue was numb.
“After that happened, she threatened to not let me see my grandbabies again,” Susan says. That finally made her stop and think twice about what her life had become, although it wasn’t yet quite enough to make her give up cocaine for good.
Around this time, Susan lost her beloved niece to a drug overdose. The loss made her realize that she herself was caught in a downward spiral that could have no possible ending but self-destruction.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
One day, a coworker’s friend happened to see Susan selling drugs on a downtown street corner. “It’s not like I was hiding at that point,” she confesses. “I just didn’t care anymore.” The friend told her coworker what he had seen and suggested that he talk to Susan about it.
“He confronted me at work,” she says. “He asked me what was going on and told me I needed to get help.”
This intervention, combined with her daughter’s threat and the death of her niece, finally convinced her to take action. But she was too embarrassed to attend a 12-step meeting or seek any other type of professional help. So she decided that she would wean herself off of cocaine.
GRIT AND DETERMINATION: THE KEYS TO RECOVERY
Anyone who knows Susan will tell you that she has more than her share of grit and determination. Those traits were exactly the tools she needed to steer a new course for herself.
She began to taper her use by telling herself that she would wait “just 10 more minutes” before her next fix. After awhile, she forced herself to go 20 minutes longer than she normally would have. She suffered many terrible headaches during the process.
It took months, but eventually, she got to the place where she was only using on the weekends. Then one day, she realized it had been more than a week since her last high. After that, Susan started taking her sobriety one day at a time, telling herself she could hold off one more day, then another.
She now has over three years clean under her belt. After she quit snorting cocaine, she also gave up smoking cigarettes cold turkey and rarely drinks alcohol. Susan continues to work on repairing the damage her drug use did to her relationships with her family.
THE FIGHT OF HER LIFE
Susan is a mama bear who will stand up to any evil that threatens her children or grandchildren. She also once outran a drug dealer with a gun during a deal gone sour. However, she says that none of these battles is as difficult as the one she fights every day with herself.
“It’s hard. I think about getting high every day. Sometimes I sit alone in my room, talking myself out of making that call to buy drugs. I’m not a very good friend when I’m in that space. Drugs are familiar and help you forget whatever is going on in your life at the time. But it’s a battle I’m willing to fight for the rest of my life. I know what I did when I was using, and I know where I’ll end up if I start again,” she states with conviction.
Susan says she’s happier and healthier now, in spite of the triggers that cause her to recall her days of active addiction. “Any time I smell burnt plastic, it takes me back to cooking cocaine to smoke,” she reveals. “I changed the way I walk home to avoid the houses where I used to go. I’ve given up all my old friends. The triggers are there, but you have to avoid them.”
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
Susan offers this advice to anyone who is ready to take that first step toward recovery. “Believe in yourself! It looks like a long road, and it is. But if you believe in yourself, you can get past the need. One moment at a time! You may falter, and that’s OK. Just don’t stay down. Get back up, dust yourself off and remind yourself that you are worth it!”
“I couldn’t save my niece,” Susan sighs regretfully. “But I’d love it if my story could help someone else.”
“No one can pull anyone back from anywhere. You save yourself or you remain unsaved.” ― Alice Sebold
• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.