SNOHOMISH COUNTY -- You've heard the saying before, “Addiction does not discriminate”. But would you recognize the faces of addiction?
The woman you are about to meet certainly defies the stereotype. And in the hopes of helping others, she’s sharing her personal struggles through opioid addiction and recovery. Her name is Melissa McGee. She is a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. And she is also a recovering addict.
It’s not a label she wears lightly, but it is one that she treasures, because it’s through that recovery that she found her way back to her most precious title of all -- being “Mom”.
Sometimes the best way to measure how far you’ve come is to go back to where you began.
For Melissa McGee, it started in the Snohomish County home she shared with her husband and two young children. In 2011, after four miscarriages, a specialist diagnosed her with a painful and chronic condition. That’s when she received her first prescription for Hydrocodone -- an opioid. By her first refill, Melissa was hooked.
“After becoming addicted I would have to take pills in order to function. To be a mother, I would have to take pills,” says Melissa.
She quickly learned how to work the system.
“I would go from doctor to doctor to doctor and these doctors, you know, you would show up at your appointment with your makeup done and your hair done; and you look like you have your life together. When in reality you don’t. And I know some of them have to know,” says Melissa.
But in 2013, she had a hysterectomy and the prescriptions stopped. But the addiction didn’t.
In order to feed her addiction, Melissa's friends of friends connected her with the dealers and they’d meet at her local grocery store parking lot. Eventually, Melissa’s husband caught on. He confronted her about the constant errands and the money missing from their accounts. He gave her an ultimatum: stay and get help or get out. She left.
Melissa hits rock bottom
Melissa stayed with friends and family, still meeting dealers on the regular until one day a deal went bad and she ended up in the hospital. That’s where she met a social worker. And that’s when doors started to open.
First, at the Everett Gospel Mission.
“It brings me back, it brings me back to the beginning of my recovery. This was where it started. This is where it started, this bed and this blanket,” she says.
Her next stop, a local treatment center.
“They actually have a group for moms here. You’re in a room with people that have been through the same things, the same experiences,” she says.
Melissa gets sober and fights to get her kids back
But Melissa’s most difficult test came 60 days into recovery when she says a dog attacked her at a BBQ, clamping down on her throat. She received 40 stitches to her neck and chin, but she refused any kind of pain medication. No amount of physical pain could come close to the heartache of being separated from her kids. She spent the next year fighting to get them back.
Today her sobriety is not measured in milligrams, but by moments, like her reunion with her little boy.
“It was like seeing them for the first time all over again, being introduced to me, because they only know who I was. They didn’t know who I became,” says Melissa.
Now, she volunteers her time helping other moms battling addiction.
“I know that there are other mothers out there struggling with addiction. I want to make sure all the women know that they have hope. This doesn’t have to be it. This is the beginning,” says Melissa.
Melissa will celebrate being “clean and sober” three years in March. She just got a promotion at work and she’s created a beautiful home with her boyfriend and two children.
She encourages anyone struggling with addiction to reach out to “Hope Soldiers”, a local nonprofit whose mission is to raise awareness and restore hope in the fight against opioid addiction.
Melissa said she can be reached through Hope Soldiers, if anyone wants to talk or is struggling with their addiction.