Reckoning with addiction: Jacena’s fall into dependency

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When Jacena graduated with honors from Henry County High School in 2005, she dreamed of becoming a nurse.  

By 2009, she had a nursing degree, a growing family, a job, and her life. Within a year, drug abuse was threatening it all.  

Jacena was “raised with good morals and respect” for herself and others. Prior to 2009 she had never used drugs. She traces her quick and utter descent into the madness of addiction to a decision to take drugs offered to her by a close friend.  

She believes it was the traumatic effects of a sexual assault in her childhood that left her particularly vulnerable to substance abuse.  Not all victims of sexual assault become addicted to drugs, of course, but the vast majority of the women she met in rehab and recovery have similar stories.

Abuse, trauma and pain often leave our bodies and minds susceptible to the false promises of the legal and illegal substances to make us happy.  

Jacena had been struggling for years to relieve the fear and anxiety that haunts victims of sexual assault.  She was acutely aware of her clothing, always looked over her shoulder, and made sure to attend college and work with her best friend so as never to be alone.  

So, when she popped her first pain pill, smoked her first joint, followed her Adderall and Xanax prescriptions and took a hit of meth, she finally “felt like a normal person.” She began to go shopping alone.  She relaxed.  She liked the feeling. Almost immediately, however, she began to crave and obsess over feeling normal.  The problem was that it took more and increasingly powerful drugs to maintain a sense of normalcy. 

Whatever normal or euphoric feelings she was experiencing on the inside, her life in the community was disintegrating.  

Abusing legal and illegal drugs “took it all away,” she said — the self-respect, the job, the family and the career. 

She freely admitted that her poor choices early in the addiction process, but she also talked about the feeling of being swallowed up by a spiraling disease and of “being pulled down by demons on your back.”  

As she descended into addiction she struggled to be a good parent, so she asked her mother to help. She couldn’t hold down a job because all she cared about was staying home to get high.  

She couldn’t pay for the drugs — a gram of meth, for example, cost her more than a hundred dollars and could be used up in one day  — so she resorted to theft and stealing things that could be used or sold for money to buy more drugs.  She was arrested three times.  An addict and dealer she knew well committed suicide when he learned that he was going to permanently lose his child.  

The shocking death of this close friend marked the beginning of the end of Jacena’s substance abuse, which will be the subject of the next column.

All of these events continue to take a toll on Jacena, but in our conversation she repeatedly spoke of the power of respect and dignity. This may seem ironic since addicted people regularly and blatantly disrespect themselves, family, friends and community.  

“It’s really hard to love an addict,” she said, especially after all the poor choices and broken promises.  

I also got the sense, though, that the community’s failure to interact respectfully with her was part of the reason she was reluctant to seek help.  When she repeatedly heard some in our community describe addicted people as “worthless,” “not worth saving,” and “pieces of [excrement],” she started to believe it.  Jacena never used lack of respect as an excuse or reason for not seeking help sooner, but I can’t help but wonder how much suffering could have been avoided if she had instead repeatedly been told that she deserved love, compassion and belonging.  

Our respectful and dignifying language could send a signal into the madness of addiction that hope remains for addicted people.  

As Jacena testifies, addicted people are “still human.”  The addicted people among us will not always want our advice or heed our warnings.  

But speaking to them, and about them, as fellow human beings might become a handhold for their climb out of the madness of addiction.


Rev. Dr. John Inscore Essick is co-pastor of Port Royal Baptist Church and associate professor of Church History at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky in Georgetown. Feedback is welcomed by e-mailing hopeinhenry@gmail.com. He also welcomes conversation with those willing to share their stories.