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Profiles in Recovery: Woman tells how pain treatment led to addiction

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  • Profiles in Recovery: Woman tells how pain treatment led to addiction

    BERKELEY SPRINGS — Crystal Michael knows about disappointment.
    Michael, 36, a recovering heroin addict now nine months clean, has lost a lot through her years of addiction, making her an expert in explaining the price the drug places on a user’s head.
    Born and raised in Berkeley Springs, Michael was a stellar student who earned A grades in private school.
    When Michael transferred to public school midway through high school, she said teachers found her so advanced they placed her in honors courses. Then, a streak of rebellion sprouted at age 15, which veered her into a different direction that took close to 20 years to right.
    “I was very rebellious,” Michael said. “If you told me not to do it, you may as well dared me to do it.”
    In her last school year, Michael attended school a total of 21 days.
    At 16, Michael became pregnant and dropped out of school.
    “I wanted to do it — life — on my own,” Michael said.
    Lying about her age on job applications, Michael was hired in 1998 to work in a distribution center.
    For the next three years, she performed hard physical labor while raising her daughter.
    One day that hard work led to back problems.
    “I was a little 100-pound girl lifting 100-pound boxes all day,” she said.
    A doctor prescribed Oxycodone for Michael’s pain.
    “He didn’t tell me that they were addictive — he didn’t tell me anything,” Michael said.
    As time went on, Michael struck up a relationship with a young guy she had met, who often appeared to be sick. “I thought he always had the flu,” Michael said. “I didn’t realize that he was sick from doing drugs when he was not around me.”
    One night, Michael took another kind of pill provided by her boyfriend.
    “That night, I had my first Oxycontin, and fell in love — I felt no pain for 24 hours,” Michael said.
    Michael first only took pills on weekends, and then expanded to 3 days a week. When she decided to stop altogether, she felt severely ill the next day.
    “I thought I had the worst flu of my life,” Michael said. “By this time I had two children.”
    Michael’s boyfriend then introduced her to snorting the Oxycontin pills she had been taking. “He explained that I was just snorting the same pills that I was taking every day,” she said.
    By 2001, Michael had graduated to an $800 a day habit. In a little more time, people around her noticed a change, she said.
    Two years later, Michael stopped her drug taking during pregnancy and six weeks of breastfeeding. A year later, she became pregnant again, but by this time, her pill-taking habit was “too far gone to stop.”
    At one point, Michael’s pill supply dried up and she fell into withdrawal.
    “I lay in bed sick for three days,” Michael said. “On the third day I went to go the bathroom and fell on the floor and thought I was losing the baby.”
    After calling endlessly for pills, Michael found a friend from her past who offered her heroin.
    ” I said, ‘absolutely not. I will not do heroin, especially not with the baby in me,’ “ Michael said. “I lay in bed for a couple of hours and the sickness took over and I called him back. I did heroin for the first time that day, and started doing it every day. Here I am pregnant, addicted to heroin and using a needle.”
    It was then, said Michael, her life “took a nosedive.”
    She wrecked her nearly paid off car while making a drug run, started signing checks stolen from her ex-father-in-law, and was then arrested for the first time. She gave birth to another girl who was born addicted to heroin.
    After being placed on probation multiple times, Michael and her then-boyfriend in 2007 went on the run for nine months, living in three different states.
    “We were living in a truck in a parking garage at the hospital in Hagerstown,” Michael said. “We would lay on top of each other at night to stay warm. We didn’t want to start the truck, because it would take money away from our addiction.”
    Two days later, Michael was arrested while driving through Baltimore holding six grams of heroin. When she called her parents, her father answered. “He says ‘It’s been nine months since we’ve heard from you. It’s Mother’s Day.'”
    Michael then spent the next 30 days in a Baltimore jail.
    “That was my turning point I think,” Michael said. “That’s when I realized that my parents had stopped enabling me at that point. Now, I had to do it on my own.”
    During her addiction, Michael lost custody to her four children. Three of her youngest children have been legally adopted. Her first daughter, now over 18, visits her mother.
    “I am now a grandmother,” Michael said. “The other three (children) I haven’t seen since 2008. I don’t know what my youngest girl’s voice sounds like.”
    Since that last day in Baltimore, Michael has remarried and established a new professional career in the production department of CertainTeed in Williamsport, Maryland.
    As part of her recovery, Michael joined the Berkeley Springs chapter of Drugs or Life, a tri-state support group that has served as an anchor in her new life.
    Providing what she said is a combination of relief and gratification, today Michael speaks openly about her addiction to students in three states.
    “That’s why I go in school now and educate,” Michael said. “I visited every school in our (Morgan) County more than once and in Maryland, over in Hancock. I tell my story because, when I was in school, nobody told me about pills, no one told me at about heroin, because it wasn’t an issue then. I always tell them, ‘I like to think that if someone had told me, maybe I would have changed.'”
    This is an installment in a Journal series highlighting stories of those who have overcome addiction. If you have a suggestion for a Profiles in Recovery candidate, contact staff writer Jim McConville at 304-263-8931, ext. 215, or Twitter@jmcconvilleJN.

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