As heroin addicts recover, they begin to feel emotions again -- and it can be a challenge

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-26 19:41:26-05

The heroin and pain pill crisis is a full-blown epidemic in our community. But treatment for this addiction crisis is inadequate and the death toll continues to grow. This is part of a series examining a broken system.

FLORENCE, Ky. -- Rachel Thomas has a harsh reality to contemplate in simple surroundings. She's just a few weeks into her second time through treatment for heroin addiction.

"I finally accepted that I was here, that I was going to do this, you know, no matter how hard it was," she said.

When she's not in group classes with other women at the Brighton Recovery Center for Women, Thomas spends time alone writing and thinking about why she used heroin.

There's a saying in Brighton's treatment program: You have to get uncomfortable with yourself to get comfortable. Women in the earliest stage of the program, such as Thomas, can wear only scrubs. She cannot shave or wear makeup. Everything most people take for granted is gone.

Like all women just starting the heroin addiction treatment program, Rachel Thomas is only allowed to wear scrubs and has a bunk in a shared room. As they make progress toward sobriety, the women earn more privileges. Photo by Hillary Lake | WCPO

Although overdoses in the Tri-State have dropped significantly since last summer, opiate addiction remains a big problem for some families. Rehab centers still have long waiting lists, and some, like Brighton, are seeing the same addicts more than once.

The I-Team first profiled Thomas and another woman in recovery, Jessica Hardy, in December. Both say getting and staying sober is the hardest work they've ever done.

"I've broken down and cried, and cried, and I've just been kind of a wreck," Thomas said.


Hardy lives in a different part of the house. She has her own room, with her own bed and her own clothes.

"It's awful, but it's very humbling. And we are only allowed to have 62 items of clothes, including socks, belts, purses," she said.

Three months into treatment, Hardy has earned back some privileges.

Jessica Hardy has earned her own room at Brighton Recovery Center, and she can wear her own clothes instead of scrubs. Photo by Hillary Lake | WCPO

"I've not had peace of mind in a long time. And just to get my own room, (after) having 15 other roommates and living on a bunk bed, it's a lot more peaceful," she said.

The rewards aren't free, though; they've come through Hardy's work in treatment. She's now in the second phase of the program, starting to understand herself and face the disease of addiction. Learning about herself, she said, is what scares her the most.

"I have entitlement issues," Hardy said. "I have manage and control, power, trust, some guilt for my daughter."

COLUMN: What we can do about heroin

She and Thomas are facing another emotion: grief. Hardy longs for her baby daughter, whom she rarely sees; photos keep them connected.

Jessica Hardy holds up a photo of her infant daughter and younger sister. Photo by Hillary Lake | WCPO

"At night when I lay in bed, I wish that I was at home with her, putting her to bed, bathing her," Hardy said. "Like, every time I see her, I feel like she don't know who I am."

Thomas' grief comes from the death of her great-grandmother. She had to stay in treatment instead of going to the funeral, so she said goodbye in a letter.

"I just hope you watch over me and know that I am trying to change my life around," she wrote:


Anita Prater, director of Brighton Recovery Center, said grief makes sobriety even harder.

"When they first get into recovery and their body is starting to heal and flush out (all) of the chemicals in the system, they begin to feel emotions, and they don't know how to handle that because they've not been feeling emotions," she said.

More than 100 women live at Brighton. They're either homeless or ordered by a judge into the program, which is based in behavioral modification. It costs about $16,000 for each woman to receive treatment, the majority of that coming from tax dollars.

Hardy and Thomas are at Brighton because a judge sent them there. Both say they know it's up to them to get clean.

"Honestly, I think if I do everything I'm supposed to do, I'll surpass where I was last time," Thomas said.

Prater said, when women don't complete the program the first time, it's usually because they chose to leave or got kicked out because they broke a rule. Every woman is allowed to have her name placed on a waiting list and return after 30 days.

"I know I have another use in me, but I don't know if I have another sobriety left in me," Hardy said.


As the I-Team continues this series, we'll show you how the women spend their days in treatment and how all of the women living together rely on each other as they work to get sober.

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