Breaking the Grip of Heroin - United Way of Greater St. Louis

It’s Christmas Eve, 2012, and instead of enjoying time with family and preparing for the holiday, Jeanine is sitting in her boyfriend’s parents’ basement, alone. As she mentally played back the last few years of her life, she realizes this moment must be her rock bottom. Addicted to heroin, homeless, and separated from her kids, Jeanine has lost everything. Alone and in the dark, she finally recognizes that she needs help.

“I called my brother and said I want to change my life,” Jeanine says. That moment marked the beginning of her recovery. Jeanine went to Queen of Peace Center, a United Way partner agency, where she entered a residential drug treatment program and eventually received outpatient services, including counseling for her children.

Jeanine was 41 when she got hooked on heroin. She never thought she’d become an addict – after all, she didn’t fit her own perception of a drug addict. “I didn’t really picture myself as a typical addict because I’m college educated, I’m a white woman from the suburbs,” she says. But her identity didn’t protect her from the insidious nature of drug addiction.

 

In 2009, Jeanine was in a severe car accident that left her with a broken neck. To fight the pain, Jeanine was prescribed opioid pain medication. Not long after, she became addicted.

Jeanine began manipulating her doctor to get more prescriptions. “I knew probably eight months into the prescription pain pills that I had lost control,” Jeanine says. Her doctor knew she’d become addicted and stopped her prescriptions. Jeanine started feeling sick, and a fellow addict suggested she take heroin to offset the withdrawals. That set her further down the path to destruction. It only took 30 days for Jeanine to become a full-fledged heroin addict. Soon her life was consumed by her desire for the high.

“Your body becomes dependent on the drug, especially with an opiate, especially with heroin. It becomes something that your body needs every day just get out of bed and function,” she says. Her addiction led her to quit her job, lose her home, and blow through all of her savings.  Homeless after she lost custody of her children to her ex-husband, Jeanine moved in with her boyfriend.

 

The three years Jeanine spent in the throes of intense addiction wreaked total havoc on her life and family. During that time, she broke the trust of anyone who was willing to help her. “I lied all the time. I stole from anybody and everybody,” Jeanine says. She went from a responsible working mother to someone she didn’t recognize. “This drug is all consuming. It’s all powerful,” Jeanine says. “It totally takes over and there’s no stopping it until you get to a point where you’re just so sick and tired of being sick and tired and chasing it all the time. You have to make a decision to either continue to fight and get some help, or continue to keep doing what you’re doing and know that you will die.”

May 2, 2013 is a powerful date for Jeanine. It marks the day she achieved sobriety and decided to live. Queen of Peace Center not only provided resources and support for Jeanine’s recovery, but also helped her navigate the arduous process of rebuilding her life. Jeanine secured a home of her own with a housing voucher from the center and, in her continued commitment to attaining stability, she re-entered the workforce.

Jeanine’s life has come full circle, as she now works as a counselor at a drug treatment center. She discovered her purpose of helping people and the fulfillment of being able to give others the hope she found. To anyone living with addiction, trying to find a way out, Jeanine’s message is simple, compassionate and clear. “They don’t have to live that way anymore,” she says. There’s hope and there’s help. They just need to ask.”

Discover how United Way is working with its member agencies to fight opioid addiction in the St. Louis region.

Watch two stories on breaking the grip of heroin:

About Queen of Peace Center

Queen of Peace Center is a family-centered behavioral healthcare provider for women with addiction, their children and families. The gender focused female recovery center provides a variety of treatment options to women with co-occurring disorders and those affected by trauma.