Jewel Adams knows what it’s like to be in the grips of a monster.
“The disease of addiction is the worst illness that anyone can encounter,” said Adams, a certified recovery coach with Safe Communities. “Even though we put it on ourselves sometimes by not making wise choices … it’s like a monster. It only comes to kill, steal and destroy. It robbed me of everything that I ever had.”
Adams used some variety of drug for 35 of her nearly 57 years. The mother of seven, who had all her children taken away from her, has been in recovery the past 14 years.
“I thank God today for giving me a second life,” she said. “Today I know that there’s nothing going on in this world that a drink or drug won’t make worse.”
Adams was one of the recovering addicts and family members of addicts who spoke at a gathering Saturday at the Fireman’s Park shelter in Monona. The Enough is Enough event was organized by Tayler Allen-Pahmeier, who attended Monona Grove High School a decade ago.
Allen-Pahmeier’s older sister, Monique Allen, died Sept. 12, 2017, of a heroin overdose.
“My sister struggled with addiction with heroin for four years,” she said. “It didn’t just affect Monique. It affected me, it affected my mom, it affected my stepdad, my stepmom, and the way that it spirals is just unbelievable. I had every hope that she would beat it, but she didn’t. She left her three kids behind as well. I think that’s the hardest part for my family to deal with, not being able to have that relationship like we did before with those kids.”
Saturday’s event was aimed at raising awareness of the resources available to addicts and their family members who need help. She partnered with Safe Communities for the event.
Allen-Pahmeier’s mother and stepfather lived in Arizona for 16 years and were planning to move back to Wisconsin. The day they sold the house, they received the news of Allen’s death.
“We were doing everything we could to get her into rehab,” Allen-Pahmeier said. “She had been into treatment before, she had been through detox. She had gone to my mom’s house in Arizona to get clean, and that demon was stronger than she was.”
Kelly Pietsch said she struggles with the guilt of not being there for her daughter and for not comprehending what she was going through with her addiction.
“My daughter was a little spitfire. She had a wonderful life. She had three children that she loved more than life, and heroin just took it,” Pietsch said. “The three children have been separated, and unfortunately, we are only allowed to see one of them, so I have two grandchildren that I can’t even see.
“I still have so much guilt, because I wasn’t here for her. I didn’t understand heroin and everything like I do now, and I wish she could come back just for a minute so I could apologize and just tell her how sorry I am that I didn’t understand. I said some things to her, that if she loved her kids, she would just stop. In my mind, it was that easy.”
Several others shared their stories of becoming beholden to heroin and their recovery efforts. None of them said it was easy.
Lindsay Mohrbacher, a one-time registered nurse, started on her road to heroin addiction after being prescribed pain medication. She was happily married, lived in a nice house and had a good job. But it wasn’t enough.
“Long story short, I ended up stealing drugs from the hospital,” she said.
Facing criminal charges, her life started to spin out of control.
“When I no longer had access (to the pills), I turned to heroin,” Mohrbacher said. “Just like we have to breath, I had to have those drugs. It’s a disease, and you’re sick.”
Alcohol was next, and it, too, ruined her life. It was easier to get, and it was legal.
Sober for more than year, Mohrbacher still battles her demons every day, but like the light shining through a stained glass window, she keeps focused one day at a time.
“If you’re in a cathedral or church, and you see just a few glimpses of light coming through, it’s still dark and dreary but that few glimpses of light, you can focus on that, because more light will come through if you keep going,” she said.
Adams understands what Mohrbacher was going through during her darkest times.
“When we use drugs, it affects everyone around us, our kids, our mom, our dad, our significant others, our neighbors. I was that addict that did everything,” Adams said. “When they took my kids, I was like, ‘Everything is mine.’”
She said recovery is possible if you give yourself a chance. She was in treatment seven times before she made it to where she is today. If you fall seven times, you have to get up eight times, she said.
“Never stop trying,” Adams said. “Recovery is possible, and it’s real. It’s the best life that you can live after using drugs and alcohol.”