Editor’s Note: This is the second story in an ongoing series, sharing the experiences of people in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions who now work with other people seeking a sober life.
Brianna McCleese accepts full responsibility for her decision to start using Oxycontin, even though it would be easy for her to blame someone else.
“It would be easy to blame him for it, but I was the one who made that choice,” McCleese said, sitting in an office at A Center 4 Change in downtown Olive Hill as she shared her story.
“It may sound cliché, but I fell in love with a guy that used (drugs),” McCleese said, recalling the year 2010, two years after graduating from West Carter High School. Her friends warned her that she was getting into a potentially dangerous sitiation, she said, explaining she saw things differently.
“I felt I was in a great relationship … And, I was pregnant within one month of when we started dating,” she said, adding “He was my prom date, but he was in jail.”
Roughly halfway into her pregnancy, McCleese said “Stuff got bad” as her boyfriend’s drug use escalated.
“I was still kind of young and oblivious,” she said, skipping ahead to explain her baby was not breathing when she was born, and died at six days old.
“Of course I was devastated and not coping at all. When you are young and pregnant you think you will have it all be perfect … sometimes it’s not always picture perfect.”
McCleese recalled the moment she decided to have her partner help her inject a 30 milligram dose of Oxycontin.
“We were sitting on the couch and he was shooting up OC 30s,” she said, noting she was struggling badly with the grief of her daughter’s death. For three hours, her boyfriend tried to talk her into trying Oxycontin herself, “saying it would make me feel better.”
Even though she had barely dabbled in drugs or alcohol as a teen, McCleese said she instantly embraced the once popular painkiller.
“There I went. Yeah, I liked it immediately. It numbed me. The feelings just weren’t there.”
McCleese said drugs essentially became her life – “The only things I never done was crack and hallucinogens.”
Early on, she developed a massive infection at an injection site on her arm. “Finally, my arm busted,” she said, explaining medical staff told her she likely would have lost her arm if she had waited one more day before seeking help. The incident also resulted in her losing her job.
More than a year later, she was again pregnant although she was able to “get clean” while carrying her son. “I had my son on the day my daughter died. Exactly two years later.”
She stayed sober for the first two months of her son’s life, then reunited with his dad.
“We were just bad for each other – fire and gas.” she said, adding it did not take long for her to lose custody of her son, who was placed in the care of her mother and father, Barry and Connie Rayburn.
“So then, I really went crazy with meth – the kind that’s cooked in a two-liter Mountain Dew bottle.”
Meth sold for around $100 a gram at the time, but McCleese notes “It was next to nothing when you knew people.”
She described herself a a “binge addict” with a predictable pattern, isolating herself from her parents for months at a time. “My parents tried, but I stayed away from them. I would use for seven months and then be sober for two months. Then repeat the cycle.”
McCleese remembers the moment she decided to take control of her life.
“I had been wide awake for two days and I was covered in poison ivy because I hid from my dad in a patch of poison ivy on Armory Hill. It was dark and I’m severely allergic to it,” she said, explaining she sought shelter in the home of a now deceased friend who lived on Ben’s Run.
“There was no food, no drink and no drugs there and I was just thinking ‘What are you doing? What have you done?”
She made a decision to call Joey McCleese, who she had met in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He contacted her dad, who soon picked her up and took her to a doctor for a steroid shot before bringing her back home where she “showered for the first time in a while.”
McCleese said she changed three factors – “the people, places and things” associated with her addiction, in order to stay sober. At the one-year mark, however, McCleese said she made a serious error and tried to help a friend get away from drugs.
“At one year sober I tried to help someone get sober and it didn’t work. Instead of getting her sober, I got high.”
“At one year sober I tried to help someone get sober and it didn’t work. Instead of getting her sober, I got high,” she said, adding they used drugs together for about two weeks and took a trip out of state and found themselves stranded due to a failed promise for gas money.
“I watched her go into a hotel with two guys to get gas money … just enough to get home.”
Seven Years Sober
McCleese now works as a Peer Support Specialist at A Center 4 Change and Jenkie’s Journey, which is a program named in memory of her late friend Josh Jenkins. In July, she will celebrate her seventh year of being drug free. She sees her son, Paxton, daily and enjoys life with her husband, Joey, and their six month old son, Lennox.
She admits she was initially hesitant to take the job at A Center 4 Change, explaining “I was known as an addict.”
“Then I thought, what better way to honor him than by helping the people we’re both friends with in the community.”
She offers encouragement to people who are now where she once was.
“More than anything I would tell them that they are worthy of a good life and being in a relationship with their kids … just worthy of whatever they want. I know how it feels to be down so low that you don’t care.”
“More than anything I would tell them that they are worthy of a good life and being in a relationship with their kids … just worthy of whatever they want. I know how it feels to be down so low that you don’t care,” she said, sharing a memory of a time when she was at Olive Hill’s only motel and took “so many Percocets that I knew I wouldn’t wake up,” but was unfazed by the circumstances.
While pregnant with her son Paxton, she was also diagnosed with Hepatitis C as a result of her sharing needles with her friends who were fellow drug users. The disease has been inactive in her for several years following treatment, although there is no actual cure at this time, she said. That experience is her reason for remaining a strong advocate for clean needle programs.
For more information about A Center 4 Change visit http://www.acenter4change.com/
Or call – 606.475.0334