‘Sara’s Struggles’: Not all addiction stories have a sad ending

By on October 26, 2016


“Sara’s Struggles” is part of a series of stories on the addiction crisis facing our society. The stories are written by Janice Ballenger, who works at Retreat at Lancaster County, a premiere 175-bed addiction center in Ephrata. Working closely with addicts, she has a burning passion to raise awareness and offer hope to all. Sara and her family’s names have been changed to protect their identity.

Substance abuse in pregnancy is rising at an alarming rate. It is estimated that one baby is born in the United States, dependent on drugs, every 24 minutes. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome occurs when addictive drugs pass through the placenta that connects the baby to its mother and becomes dependent on the drug. After birth, the baby is no longer getting the drug and withdrawal symptoms may begin. Neonatologists agree that our medical community needs to focus on providing access to medically assisted care for substance abuse patients. Some rehab facilities will now accept pregnant addicts on an individual case review basis to provide obstetric care and medication assisted detoxification.

lr20161027_sara-cropSara’s Struggles: Drugs, Addiction, and Joy

Despite Sara’s parents divorcing when she was five years old, and her father remarrying when she was seven, she relishes her memories of her great childhood. Along with her older sister and two more siblings her step-mother brought into the family, they succeeded in forming a happy family. Sara attended a good school, played soccer and trumpet, went to church on Sundays, and never had to worry about money. Her father told her that he’d pay for her college. But invisible depression ate away at her. Sara was constantly bullied about a defective front tooth and being overweight. While sporting a happy face, she struggled with her inner turmoil.

Sara shared her struggles:

I hated being bullied, so I tried to fit in by smoking pot and cigarettes when I was around 13 years old. When I turned seventeen, I got a job at a diner where I made some bad friends. We smoked weed and crack in the back room at work. Vicodin was easy to get at school, so I added that to my daily routine. One evening at work I met 22-year-old Noah, who worked at a store a few doors down the street. We were immediately soul mates. He loved me, even with my messed up tooth and extra weight. Noah admitted he was a former heroin addict, but I was so naïve and in love that I overlooked his past and age, just as he overlooked my appearance.

When my parents learned of our relationship they did everything they could to keep us apart. Daddy made me quit my job and he took my cell phone! But with the help of some friends, we still saw each other. On my 18th birthday my parents told me they knew that I was still seeing him and I had to choose between living with them and leaving Noah or moving out. So, with a few months of high school left, I moved in with Noah. We didn’t make much money, but we always had enough for our drugs. Despite smoking weed, doing crack, ecstasy, benzos and powder, I graduated in 2006 and went on to get my phlebotomy certification. After landing a high paying job at a medical center, I quit all of the drugs. Noah knew that I was always serious about never doing heroin, but when he started seeing a girlfriend from his heroin using days I was shattered. So, I asked him to bring me some to try. I couldn’t lose Noah! I ended up keeping him and loving heroin. After a few months of snorting it, I jumped to shooting it. It actually worked out really well because I could steal clean needles at work, and my phlebotomy experience helped in being a new IV drug user. Surprisingly, I was able to hold my job through all of this.

Noah and I got married. I thought I was living the perfect life. My biological mother, who was also an addict, moved in with us. I had a great job and was still able to shoot heroin. That all ended when I got drug tested for erratic driving in my work’s parking lot. They have a great policy though. If you admit as to what is in your system before the test, you could go to rehab and they would hold your job for you. So, I admitted to marijuana and heroin and went to rehab. It was hard trying to get clean knowing that Noah was out getting high. After 10 days I left, against medical advice. We had to move to the worst part of Reading to afford a dumpy apartment and feed our addictions. I lost 100 pounds in less than a year. For once I thought I looked amazing. But I did some horrible things in Reading. I had promiscuous encounters with my dealers in hopes of getting a few more bags. We stole and sold anything we could, but we finally couldn’t find the resources to get us high several times a day. We moved out and Noah’s dad loaned us a pop-up trailer on his property in Ephrata Township.

One day I ran into Omar, a dishwasher from the diner I had worked at, in the parking lot at Green Dragon. He didn’t use drugs, he barely spoke English, and he had always been nice to me. Knowing that I had drug problems, he said I could move in with him and live a better life, but I had to quit all the drugs. Frustrated and defeated by my addiction, I moved in with Omar. Dealing with my pending divorce forced me to have contact with Noah, and of course, still do heroin, which I was able to hide from Omar. In May of 2011, I learned that I was pregnant with Omar’s baby. I was terrified! But I kept using drugs. I was either puking from morning sickness or puking from being high.

When Daddy learned about all of this, he was furious. “Sara! If you don’t care about yourself, have enough common decency to care about the baby you’re carrying,” he said. “Be an adult. Own up to what it is you’re doing. Regardless of how bad you’re going to feel, there’s a baby there that didn’t ask to be there.”

I decided to get help, but finding help getting clean as a pregnant addict was much harder than finding drugs. I finally got into a methadone clinic. July 11, 2011, is my clean date, with zero relapses. On Dec. 31, 2011, our baby Samuel was born, addicted to methadone. He had an above average withdrawal. Most babies go home after about 10 days. Samuel spent one month and two days in the hospital’s NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). I painfully watched him struggle with constant high-pitched crying, tensing his muscles, fighting tremors, fevers, diarrhea, seizures, non-stop sneezing, and vomiting. After five months he was weaned off of methadone.

On Aug. 9, 2012, Omar and I got married. With the help of our baby Samuel, my husband and the clinic, I made it through the first year without any relapses! During that year I landed a great job at Amazon and renewed support from my Daddy. My addiction had taken a huge toll on him. He supported me without enabling me. Sadly, my mother lost her battle with addiction. We would talk on the phone, but often she could barely talk because she was so high. My sister mailed her money to come and see her grandson, but she chose to use the money to buy drugs and died of an overdose.

Today I am over five years clean and sober. Samuel is a happy, healthy four-year-old boy. I am married to the true love of my life, Omar, who is only steps away from becoming a legal citizen, a feat almost impossible for many people. I am still on methadone, but on a slow taper so I don’t relapse. My life is my family. It’s what I work so hard for every week. It’s why I wake up every morning. It’s why I stay sober. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Janice Ballenger may be contacted at janiceballenger@yahoo.com.


One Comment

  1. Janice Ballenger

    October 26, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you so very much to all who have sent me your stories and all who continue to read them. I hope and pray that they are having some impact. Please don’t wait until you are burying your loved one to get help. Thank you again.

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