Stacy West moved out of her parent’s house at the age of 18. She and a friend rented a house off Centennial Street in High Point. They partied a lot, and were usually game to try any drug their guests brought to the house. They smoked a lot of weed and used Special K, or ketamine a dissociative anesthetic that has developed a reputation as a “date rape” drug.
West met her husband, Scott, through drugs. Scott “was raised in the street life,” West said, in contrast to her own middle-class upbringing, where education and church were important.
“We married, and we calmed down on a lot of stuff,” West said. “I got pregnant. We got awesome jobs. We were going to church.”
But they fell back into their old partying habits. “The first time I got sick, it got to be that instant thing,” West said. “Get a pill.”
One time they discovered an out-of-state clinic where they bought 300 pain pills. They started selling the drugs, but ended up snorting most of the profits. The relationship was physically abusive and they would fight over drugs. Her husband cheated on her, and the marital dysfunction fed into their chemical codependency.
“I wanted it to work,” West said. “The only time we got along was when we were high. That’s sad to say.”
Although she couldn’t see it at the time, a number of risk factors foreshadowed Misty Sanders’ addiction.
“I was raped when I was 14,” she said. “Honestly, both my parents have struggled with addiction issues. I don’t want to say that environment is everything. My father passed away in 2009. He was a heroin addict. My mom was an addict, but my mom conquered all her demons, and she’s doing phenomenal. She stood up when I was born and put all that behind her.”
Sanders’ father injected heroin the day that he died.
Soon after her father’s death, Sanders started going to the doctor for medication to manage the pain from four slipped discs in her back.
“Access to pain pills was ridiculously easy for me,” she said. “All it took was an MRI and an appointment with a nurse.”
When her use of pain medication spiraled out of control, her doctor cut off the prescription, and Sanders started buying pain pills off the street. She abused pain pills for about three years before she tried heroin for the first time in 2012.
Like her fellow Trinity High School alum, Stacy West abused pills for about three years until she started using heroin.
There were other drugs besides. And as West and her husband submerged into drug use, their housing situation became increasingly precarious.
“We could never keep a house,” West recalled. “We had an apartment off English Road [in High Point]. We didn’t have electricity, and we were fine with that. That’s when we were using crack.”
Even before she started using heroin, Misty Sanders lost her children.
“I think my in-laws’ and my husband’s decision to not let me see them was the right thing for my children,” she said. “That’s hard for me to say because I was a great mom.”
Paradoxically, Sanders could more or less manage adult responsibilities while she was abusing pain pills, but she was also coping with an abusive relationship with her husband. When the relationship ended, she found that the freedom from his judgment allowed her to use heroin more frequently.
“If there was ever a drug that was invented for me, it was heroin,” she said. “I’d been through a lot in my life. It took me to a different place. The pain pills didn’t do that. There’s no other drug I can compare it to. I’m not proud to say it: I’ve done every drug there is. Heroin is a different animal. It’s a whole-body high. It’s like everything is right with the world for those first couple seconds, but unfortunately that doesn’t last.”
Addiction presents an impossible contradiction.
“When I talk about chaotic substance use I talk about a feeling that wants to use more than anything in the world and at the same time wanting to get off more than anything,” Louise Vincent said. “I’m praying to get off and at the same time I’m on the phone with my dope dealer. It’s like being split into two persons. Or maybe that’s part of being bipolar.”
Deborah Forrester Dean, Amy Dean’s mother, reflected, “The problem with addiction is people who go through addiction don’t set out to be addicts.”
Stacy West swore to herself that she would never touch a needle.
“I started finding out it was cheaper doing heroin,” she said. “I was terrified of needles. At first my husband gave me the shot, and then I did it myself.”
For the families of addicts, the disease can only be described as “a pure hell,” Deborah Dean said.
“It put a wedge between my oldest son and myself because he saw me as an enabler,” Dean said. “I saw myself as helping my daughter, who was not able to get her feet on the ground. I helped her with rent and utilities and car payments.”
Finally, she decided enough was enough when she found herself raising her daughter’s son.
“Just living on a shoestring I realized I was not helping her achieve anything,” Dean said. “Then I heard about the boyfriend who was feeding the addiction, and that became a bad situation.”
Amy Dean’s boyfriend beat her when he was high, and Deborah forced her daughter to take out a restraining order against him. But Amy went back with her boyfriend. They wound up getting arrested with drugs in Sanford.
Over time, with the help of other parents, Deborah Dean came to understand the contours of her daughter’s disease.
“I knew that she had nothing to do with what had taken control of her brain,” the mother said. “She needed help, and I couldn’t find it. That was frustrating to me.”
Stacy West has been the child who has stolen from her parents, and who eventually exhausted their patience and forbearance.
“They didn’t turn against me,” she said. “I felt like they turned against me.”
Of all the people who have provided support to Louise Vincent, her mother is the one who has been her rock.
“When I thought I should throw it all in, that woman has really believed in me and been a champion for me,” she said. “She’s made mistakes and sent me to places that f***ed me up. But she did it because she loved me and thought at the time that it was the best thing for me. She has always believed that I am smart enough, that this was a sickness, this is not what I wanted to do, this is not something that I did because I did not love her or my children. She’s the person who gets the late-night phone call when I want to say, ‘F*** it, I can’t do it anymore.’
“I hope I die before she does,” Vincent continued. “I tell her that. I don’t know what I’ll do without her. I’ll be a mess.”
Stacy West found out she was pregnant when she detoxed from heroin the second time. Her mother took her to an abortion clinic with an offer to pay for the procedure. They looked at the ultrasound together.
“I can’t do this,” Stacy’s mother told her.
“I don’t see how I can have this child,” Stacy said.
“We’ll make this work somehow,” her mother said.
After detoxing, West went back to using pain pills, and then snorting heroin in small quantities.
“It wasn’t too long that she was born — she was healthy, thank God,” West said. “The opiate roller coaster happened again. I started using needles, and I started buying methadone off the street.”