I grew up in Watertown, South Dakota in a very normal two parent middle class home. I participated in sports and I did well in school but I wasn't a straight A student by any means. Before I graduated high school I knew I wanted to go to optometry school to be an eye doctor. My husband and I got married and after I graduated from optometry school, I then set my next set of goals in place. I knew I wanted to have kids and own my own business by the age of 35. Those were my goals and I actually achieved them sooner than I had anticipated. I don't share these things to brag but to give you an idea of the drive and passion I had. We moved back home and had our first daughter and then twin daughters 18 months later. I then opened my own practice in 2003 and things just took off. The business was thriving and I had a very large patient base, large enough to be able to add onto my building twice. But between 2007 and 2010 I had three surgeries that started a journey I never thought I would ever experience.
After 2010 I started using prescription pain medication from those surgeries more than I should have. I didn't really think at that time that it was an issue. It just slowing progressed into where I was taking more and more in a period of time as my dependency on them got stronger and stronger. I felt like I literally couldn't get through the day with out them. I eventually ran out and I started taking them from my parents, my sisters, and even my children. Basically any of my immediate family members. Once I ran out I then started writing my own prescriptions out to my family members and friends and asking them to fill them for me. I would make up excuses as to why I needed them to fill the prescription for me and that I just couldn't take time off of work because I was too busy. I never went to a family member more than once and eventually my brother-in-law turned me in to the Watertown Police department in 2012. I was very very upset with him, thinking how could he do this to me and of course not what I was doing to myself. The police talked to me and then the SD State Board of Optometry decided at that time to put me on 12 months of probation with random drug testing. So I did that but I managed to pass them, some by luck and others I would twist the system and make up an excuse that I was out of town.
The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) also marched into my clinic and questioned me and ended up taking away my DEA licence which allowed me to write prescription pain medication for patients. So you'd think that would've been my wake up call to get help, but nope, I continued to use. I didn't know how to stop!
After my 12 months of random drug testing was up is when things really started to snowball out of control. I abused every single relationship I had with every physician I knew, every dentist I knew, pretty much anyone who had access to writing prescriptions. I made up excuses that my back was hurting or I was having migraines or whatever I could come up with and they would write me out a prescription because.. why would another doctor lie about having these symptoms? Well, this went on for quite awhile until South Dakota adopted the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program where they track controlled sunstance medication and who is getting what. I assumed this would probably be monitored by the SD State Board so I knew I couldn't continue to get medication that route anymore because if the board would find out, I would lose my license to ever be able to see patients again and I did not want that - I loved being an eye doctor.
This is the point where I started getting desperate and going into peoples homes. This part is still really hard for me to talk about because this behavior just IS NOT me. But I went into my neighbors' homes, my friends' homes, my kids' friends homes and I would take their medication. If they were home, I would make up an excuse that I needed to use their bathroom and other times I went into their homes when they weren't home to look for pain medication in their cupboards or their draws and if they had them, I took them. This finally came to an end September of 2016 when I went into a house, found their pain medication and when I walked out the Watertown police detectives were there to greet me. I was then arrested and put in the back of the police car but instead of feeling fear, I felt an immediate feeling of relief because living a life where EVERY. SINGLE. DAY you wake up thinking about the drugs and how I was going to get more to get me through the next day is an awful exhausting way to live. I didn't know a way out at the time and drugs affect your brain so much that I justified that everything I was doing was "ok" even though I knew it was not. It changes your brain chemistry so much and the way you think you convince yourself your doing these people a favor getting rid of their medication and taking it for yourself.
At the time of the arrest my oldest daughter was a senior in high school and my twins were sophomores and for them to see the TV news station playing a video on the arrest and hearing it on the radio and seeing it in the newspapers and all over every social media out there was very heartbreaking to me.
My selfish actions didn't just affect me, it affected my whole family, my business I worked so hard to make successful, and my relationship with my friends and my employees. I was taken to the hospital as I was taking so many pills a day they had to clean out my system and then straight to a rehab facility. I was then able to get into Hazelden Betty Ford treatment center in Minnesota where I initially thought I was just going to be there 30 days, but I ended up deciding I was going to do whatever it took to get rid of this addiction so I ended up staying almost 3 months. It was so hard to leave my husband with 3 teenage daughters to take care of but I knew it needed to be done. Once I was done there and got home, I then had to face my legal battles. I was charged with 6 felonies and I ended up taking a plea agreement resulting in a felony to second degree burglary and 2 accounts of misdemenour trespassing. I was sentenced to 180 days in the Codington County jail and was given 70 days credited for the days spent in treatment so I spent 110 days in jail. That is an experience I am actually thankful, as it humbled me and let me see I wasn't the only person affected by the consequences of drugs. Most of the people in jail with me are good people that an addiction just grabbed a hold of and took them over too.
The SD Board of Optometry also suspended my license to practice for 18 months starting July of 2017. In January of 2019 my suspension ended and I was able to get back into practice. I am currently monitored by HPAP (Health Professionals Assistance Program) for 5 years which includes passing all random drug screens and following their recommendations for therapy. I have been enrolled with HPAP since Dec 2016 and have remained compliant with all my requirements. I am also part of a support group of other eastern SD physicians that are currently being monitored for drug and/or alcohol addiction. I am so thankful for this group of health care professionals that are just like me in that we all have done things in our active addiction that we would never even think of doing had the substance not taken over. I have a sponsor that I meet with and also continue to attend AA Meetings 2-3x/week.
My Vision and My Hope is to spread awareness about my journey through the addiction to pain medication and my recovery and that sometimes bad things happen to good people but you have a choice to let it define you or make something of it.
I want people to know that at some point in your life, you are going to fail at something but you get back up and be there for each other and support those that are struggling. Keep fighting, don't ever stop fighting. Your past does not define who you are today and who you can become!