BrightView’s Peer Recovery Support Specialist Tells Her Story

Amy’s Story –
As a child growing up in Cincinnati, OH, Amy Parker struggled with mental health issues, and by the age of 14, she began cycling in and out of psychiatric hospitals, where her medications would be shifted, and she would be released only to return upon another violent episode. By high school, she was desperate for relief and began to self-medicate with anything mind-altering she could get her hands on. By the age of 18, Amy was regularly using an array of illicit drugs in addition to prescribed medications, including Vicodin, which she was prescribed after undergoing multiple surgeries for a volleyball injury. Because the Vicodin was prescribed, neither Amy nor her mom considered that she might be struggling with a substance use disorder in addition to severe mental health issues.
Amy Parker

Eventually, the side-effects of the medications became so immobilizing that Amy had to drop out of high school. She began selling drugs, and when she thought that the police were onto her, fled to Columbus. This first escape marked the beginning of a long period of instability during which Amy was often running from the law and always running from herself. Amy was actively using when she discovered that she was pregnant. Six weeks after Amy gave birth to her daughter, she signed her parental rights over to her own parents.

The shame of being unable to care for her daughter pushed Amy into a darker depression and destructive promiscuity. At the age of 26, she joined a line of customers that wrapped around an entire block to see a pain specialist who, for $400 cash, gave her a bottle of the strongest pain medication she had ever taken. When it ran out, Amy had her first experience of withdrawal and, in a cold panic, tried heroin for the first time.

She became a drug mule for a cartel and regularly transported heroin. One day, Amy overdosed in her boyfriend’s car and he left her for dead on the tarmac of a parking lot. She was revived by naloxone and woke up surrounded by the floating heads of concerned strangers. She refused help and within minutes, walked off alone. It took six weeks for Amy to decide she needed help. By then, her family wasn’t speaking to her, and Amy hadn’t seen her daughter in over a year. She called every treatment center in the area, but couldn’t find a bed. From her time in psychiatric wards, Amy knew that if she went to the hospital and said she planned to commit suicide, they would admit her. She didn’t expect her time there to be productive,but hoped that she would be confined for long enough to figure out a way to get help.

She was given Suboxone on the morning of her first day, and by that afternoon, Amy was beginning to feel like herself for the first time since she was a child: “I was laughing, I almost felt normal.” Over the course of her ten-day stay at the clinic, Amy engaged in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and began to develop coping skills. When she was discharged, she moved into an apartment with an abusive partner who was still active in his addiction. Every day he forced her to inject him with heroin as she struggled to stay sober without any support. When he realized that Amy was plotting an escape, he stabbed her in the stomach. Luckily, the wound was superficial and he was arrested.

Amy went back to Middletown, Ohio, the place from which she had originally fled. On New Year’s Eve, she met Jeremi, the man of her dreams, and they moved in together. When a domestic disturbance incident happened elsewhere in their apartment building, the police arrived at their door to get statements. Amy’s social security number revealed her status as a fugitive and she was arrested.

In jail, Amy was the only woman in her pod who wasn’t withdrawing from drugs. Fourteen months sober, she sat there thinking that her fate was sealed. She reached for a Bible and turned to the proverbs: she is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future. Sitting in that cell, reading on, Amy had a spiritual revelation—she felt the love of God displace fear in her heart. On her court date, she pled guilty to one misdemeanor and the judge dismissed every single one of her felony charges.

When she got home, she began using the tools she’d learned during her short stint at the clinic and making amends. She got certified as a Chemical Dependency Counselor, married Jeremi, and gave birth to a beautiful daughter. She talks to her eldest daughter, Chloe—who is now fourteen, the age when Amy first started abusing opioids—every day on the phone and visits her regularly.

For Amy, recovery is “The fact that instead of saying ‘I have to go to work and pay the bills,’ I say, ‘I get to go to work and pay my bills.’ Even the worst parts of life are okay because I’m alive.” As a Peer Recovery Support Specialist at a treatment clinic in Cincinnati, OH, Amy has dedicated her life to helping those in need and to revising false narratives surrounding substance use disorders: “People refuse to believe that addiction is a disease.” Amy said that many people question whether naloxone should be administered to people even if they continue to use. To this, Amy responds with a question: “What if it was your loved one who was struggling? Would you deny them another chance?”

Amy Parker is 35 years old and has been in recovery since 2012. She lives in Westchester, OH, with her husband, Jeremi, and their two-year-old daughter, Jordan. She is a Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant and Peer Recovery Support Specialist for BrightView Health in Cincinnati, Ohio. Amy was recently featured in “Seven Days of Heroin,” a piece of in-depth reporting about the opioid epidemic that ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer in September and gained national attention. She was also featured in the documentary, Revived and Renewed: Life After Narcan, which can be viewed on Youtube. Read her piece, “How Overdose Saved My Life,” for the Huffington Post here.

Original Article here.