I grew up in Watertown South Dakota in a two parent normal 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 optometry school, I then set my next set of goals. 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 and have.
We then moved back home and had our oldest daughter and then twin daughters followed shortly after. 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. But between 2007 and 2010 I had a few surgeries that had started a journey I never thought I would've ever experienced.
Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb but how well you bounce.
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 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 and 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 and finally after 3 more months I decided I just couldn't do it anymore. I knew if I continued, I was going to get caught and still to that day I didn't think I had an issue. I only knew that I was doing something wrong but I didn't know how to stop.
I had tried several different times to quit on my own and I just couldn't quit. I finally went to a rehab facility for 2 weeks in California so no one would know I was dealing with this. My staff had no idea, my kids didn't know, and the community didn't know because I was ashamed of what I was doing and truly felt that I was the only one that had this issue. After the 2 weeks I left rehab and told myself I can figure this out on my own and after 2-3 months I started using again.
At this time 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 the 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.
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 without tears coming down my cheeks 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 way to live? And let me tell you living that kind of life is exhausting!! 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 our oldest daughter was a senior in high school and our 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 is very heartbreaking to me. Here's a few that were blasted over the social media world.
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 right away to the hospital as I was at this point 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 was just going to be there 30 days which was a pretty normal length for treatment 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 there which 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 with a felony to burglary and 2 accounts of trespassing. I was then sentenced to 180 days in the Codington County jail and was given 70 days credited for the days I was at treatment so I spent 110 days in jail. That is an experience I'm glad I was given 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 so I am currently not able to practice until January 2019 when my suspension will end as long as I continue to keep up to date on my continuing education and be 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. As part of their recommendations I attend bi-weekly individual counseling sessions in Sioux Falls with an HPAP approved counselor and 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 am also doing FFT (Functional Family Therapy) weekly with my husband and three teenage daughters as my addition has deeply hurt those closest to me. I have a sponsor that I meet with and also continue to attend AA Mettings 2-3x/week. I have been so blessed to have several doctors be able to come and fill in at the clinic, a day or two a week, to see my patients. They have helped me keep my dream alive and for that I will forever be grateful.
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 you. What you've done in the past is not who you are and you can change that at any time.
You cant start the next chapter in your life, if you keep re-reading the first one.