By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
If need be, Sue doesn’t mind being blunt when it comes to drugs.
“If you gave people a loaded gun and told them to put it to their head, they wouldn’t do it,” Sue said. “But that’s what they do with heroin. It’s the same thing.”
Unfortunately, Sue has some experience with the topic. Her daughter, Peggy (both names have been changed for this Chasing Dark story), died this summer after an infection from needles. Peggy had heart issues and used drugs for years, in particular heroin.
In last week’s Chasing Dark story with members of the Keizer Police Department’s Community Response Unit (CRU), there was an emphasis on how addicts have to be willing to make the choice to get clean before any change can be seen.
“If you’re an adult, are you ready to stop? You can tell me ‘I’m a drug user,’ but if you don’t say ‘I’m done with this,’ you are not ready for treatment,” CRU member James Young said. “Until they’re ready, they’re not going to go.”
Rehabilitation is also seen as a key way to help addicts, especially once they express a desire to get better. Sue questions the part about waiting for addicts like Peggy to indicate a desire for change.
“Rehab is a complete joke with heroin addicts,” Sue said. “I know for a fact she scammed her way through rehab with her meth addiction. She would have her kids pee in a cup to pass the UA (urine analysis). She was good at that.
“In rehab, they say you have to hit your bottom,” she added. “Peggy didn’t have a bottom. We were sure she would reach the point where she would do the work (to get better). Losing her children wasn’t her bottom. Having open heart surgery wasn’t her bottom. Knowing she would die from this addiction was not her bottom. Waiting for them to ask for help isn’t the answer. Being she was dying in the hospital, we said goodbye to her three times. That wasn’t enough to keep her clean. That wasn’t enough.”
Peggy’s addiction got so bad, the state stepped in and removed her children from her home.
“When her kids were taken away because of the heroin, Peggy had a year to get clean,” Sue said. “It took her months to even get in the game to schedule the first visitation, because she wasn’t ready. That was the heroin talking. She was the most devoted mother when she was clean. She was mother of the year material. But with heroin, you can’t feel. That’s not the answer, waiting for a heroin addict to say, ‘I’m ready.’”
Even as her daughter struggled with various drug addictions for years, Sue kept the lines of communication open. In last week’s story, Young pointed to that as a key.
“The biggest thing is be involved,” Young said. “Users are distancing themselves with the drug. When you see them spending time alone, bring them into the family unit again, especially with juveniles. They are using that as a replacement for something lacking, which is often family. You have to make sure you’re all together mentally.”
Sue had the same approach.
“Building trust and respect early on is a huge thing,” she said. “Peggy could talk to me about anything. Making sure the kids feel respected so that they don’t feel they’re being judged, that’s a big thing in our house. I don’t agree with the notion about not being your kid’s friend. You need to treat them with respect, like any other human being. That worked with my other four kids. They can tell me anything. It worked. The drill sergeant thing just breeds hiding and lying. Then the parents are the opposition.”
Sue knows Peggy smoked weed in high school and then moved on to meth before turning to heroin. But in the midst of that, mom was there.
“I made her talk to me every day,” Sue said. “Through all of this, I always made sure she stayed connected. I listened without judgement. When she did meth, I called the police and she was in jail for a month. I made her tell me what was happening, not that it was okay, but I made sure she stayed connected to me. I listened because I needed to know and I needed her to know she could talk to me about it. There was a lot I didn’t want to know.”
And yet, even with that communication, even being there for her daughter, Sue still had to deal with the pain of losing her daughter to drugs. In some ways, it made her question the approach.
“That’s what I felt was right, but it didn’t change anything. The outcome was still the same,” Sue said quietly. “Of course you want to be there for your kid and not be judgmental. It’s not because she was a bad person. She didn’t grow up on the streets or in a bad situation. She was raised in a suburban upper class home. In the end, heroin is such a bad drug, there’s nothing that my being there could change. She was locked in.”
Though she isn’t certain, Sue believes her daughter’s first experience with drugs fueled a habit that caused escalating destruction.
“The ritual of escaping, that opens the door to all the rest of it,” she said. “Then your mind is open to the next thing. You give yourself permission to do the next thing. There’s nobody who did heroin who didn’t do weed first.
“The solution is keeping people from doing it the first time,” Sue added. “Once you’ve done it the first time, it’s too late. It’s supposed to be the best high ever. I don’t want to know. It’s just a culture as far as escapism. There’s got to be a better way to cope with whatever it is.”
Over time, Sue picked up on cues that indicated when Peggy was on heroin.
“The first thing I can remember in figuring out she was doing something was that she had no concept of time,” Sue said, remembering one holiday season. “She would bring the kids over and would be four hours late. With school, her kids were not getting there on time. She completely lost track of time. A lot of naps and sleeping are involved. They steal Q-tips and lighters. You will see a lot of Q-tips around your bathroom. And there are a lot of pick marks. It was mainly her face. If she picked, I knew.”
There were also the eyes: dilated pupils meant Peggy was on methamphetamine, while pinpointed eyes meant an opiate (heroin is an opiate).
Sue, who called anti-drug efforts like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) “worthless,” said Peggy told her she got bacteria from a dirty needle.
“She said she had a bladder infection that got into the kidney and the blood stream,” Sue said. “If she was not doing heroin, it wouldn’t have happened.”
In Peggy’s final year, she was in and out of the hospital. A week before Peggy’s death, Sue discovered used needles in her closet and realized her daughter was using again.
“I didn’t know the infection had come back,” Sue said. “I didn’t know she was sick again. So a week before she died, I kicked her out of the house. Knowing that she would die, she still used. It was basically suicide. It was the air she breathed. She couldn’t kick the habit. You just get this tunnel vision and you don’t see anything else that’s going on.”
After Peggy’s passing, the family went to the funeral home and got a rude surprise.
“They said they needed to do special handling of the body due to Hepatitis B,” Sue said. “Never had we heard about that. I wonder if she got that in the last week.”
That put the exclamation point on a sad ending, which leaves bad memories for the family.
“The last year of her life was so traumatic,” Sue said. “That’s what you’re left with, it’s just yuck when you see someone so unhealthy. The Peggy we knew the last couple of years was a train wreck.”
Peggy’s passing brought out anger in her mom.
“I was mad at Peggy,” Sue said. “When the doctor said there was 0 percent chance she would make it, I went straight to anger. I was mad for a good month, just fuming. That wasn’t the Peggy I know. The Peggy I know, I’m not mad at her.”
Sue said her daughter was an amazing woman who was great with crafts – when clean.
“Her kids were everything to her,” Sue said. “She was always all about doing craft projects with them. She was very creative and so crafty. It was terrible to take her to a place like Michael’s, because you couldn’t get her out of there. A card from her wasn’t just a card. When she did birthday cards, she would do 3-D pop out things. It would be like a cityscape. She would sit there and make signs and cards for other people.
“Everything she did, she would do 110 percent,” the mom added. “She was always about helping everyone and taking care of everyone else. She was a really good person when she was not clouded up by her demons.”
Sue is sure the Peggy not clouded by the demons didn’t want a tragic ending.
“She did not want to die,” Sue said. “She wouldn’t have put a gun to her head.”