Second Chances: How One Woman Inspires Others Struggling with Addiction
As a peer recovery coach for CARE (Community Assessment Referral & Education) of Southeastern Michigan, Jeanne Royal works in the emergency room at St. John Macomb Hospital in Warren, where she counsels people with substance-use disorders. “I see people who are overdosing or intoxicated, sometimes suicidal,” she explains. “A lot of those people say, ‘I want to hurt myself,’ which I know is a cry for help.”
She knows because she was in their shoes. She believes that simple, yet powerful fact is why patients trust her and listen when she gives advice. “I tell people it’s going to be okay, you can get through this,” she says. “I say, ‘I’ve been there, and I understand where you’re at right now.’”
Royal appears in the 2018 Faces of Recovery calendar, produced by Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals along with CARE and Project Vox, a recovery advocacy group. The calendar highlights the success of people in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
For Royal, substance use started early. “When I was a child, I was in a major car accident and was given morphine in the hospital,” she relates. “I feel it may have set my addiction in motion.” Later, she used drugs and alcohol to numb feelings of isolation. “I thought the way to fit in was to drink and smoke marijuana,” she remembers.
She understands the dark places of addiction and hopes to help others avoid her experiences – the drugs she did with the “in” crowd led to stronger drugs and, eventually, to opioids and heroin.
“I struggled with opioids for over a decade, and it was the worst decade of my life,” Royal remembers. The pills led to a full-time heroin addiction. “I gave away everything that I loved not to feel the sickness of withdrawal,” she says. “One day, the euphoria was gone, and all that was left was a shell of the person that I really wanted to be.”
National attention to the opioid crisis has brought addiction into living rooms across America, she says, and has removed some of the stigma. “When people used to hear the word ‘addict,’ they thought back alleys and street corners,” Royal says. “That’s no longer true.”
Resources exist to help addicts and their family members, Royal says. Unfortunately, many won’t seek help until they hit rock bottom.
“I banged my head on that rock many times,” she admits. “My addiction led me to do things I am not proud of and resulted in numerous legal issues. It wasn’t until almost four years ago that the consequences of my lifestyle became too overwhelming for me to continue on that destructive path. I had the option of going to prison for a second time or finally getting my life together. Fortunately, I made the best decision of my life and chose recovery.”
A therapist helped her see that things could be different. “She was the first person I could let the walls down with,” Royal remembers. The therapist, who is now Royal’s mentor, helped Royal see that her negative experiences could translate into something positive. “Helping other people who struggle with addiction is the best way to make amends for all the damage I have done to my own life and the people around me,” Royal says.
A Role Model
Royal has been clean since 2014. She has worked in recovery for two years and is now a peer coach. Every day, she tries to set an example – for her patients and for her 21-year-old daughter. She has learned to lean on other things to relieve stress, such as going to the gym and playing with her dogs, Rocky and Max, and she tries to take bad days in stride. “Life has ups and downs,” she says. “I do my best every day, one day at a time.”
She works hard to focus on the positives in her life, which include studying to be a social worker, the honor of being chosen to be in the recovery calendar, her ongoing work at the hospital, and watching her daughter grow up to be strong, independent – and, most important, drug-free.
Royal, who got her high school graduate equivalent degree at age 32, says, “I am proud that I am a college student, that I am able to be a better mother to my daughter, and that I can be of service to others. That brings me joy.”
Royal works with patients for 60 days after they show up in the ER. “Every day that I don’t see a person back in the hospital is a good day,” she says. “If my story can help just one person and give them hope, it’s all worth it.” Her hard-won success shows change is possible. “Never, ever give up on yourself,” she says. “Better times are ahead.”
Opioids by the numbers
- Approximately 3 out of 4 new heroin users report abusing prescription opioids before using heroin.
- On average, 115 people in America die every day from opioid overdose.
- Michigan had a statistically significant Increase in overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016.
- Deaths from prescription opioids – drugs that include oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone – have more than quadrupled since 1999.
- From 2000 to 2016, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses.
- Nearly 7/10 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid.
- Opioid overdose deaths were 5x higher in 2016 than 1999.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
HAP can help
If you are struggling with opioids, help is available. HAP members can reach our Coordinated Behavioral Health Management team Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at (800) 444-5755. If you call outside our regular hours, leave a message and one of our specialists will call you.
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