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How opioid addiction has plagued a Utah woman and her family

Andrea Sorensen joins the Project Recovery podcast to describe her mother's struggles with opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction never hid its face from Andrea Sorensen and her family. It also never stopped her from feeling unconditional love. Even throughout the years, when the addiction began to deteriorate her family from the inside, she says always felt loved.

“When I was younger growing up, [addiction] started with my dad. My dad was an alcoholic.”

When her mother had given up trying to help their father with his addiction, which ultimately ended in a divorce, she still felt loved.

That’s why when her own mother began to struggle with opioid addiction Andrea was going to love her, with everything she had — until the very end.

The rise of an opioid addiction

While working one day, Andrea’s mother tripped and broke her knee. She was eventually prescribed opioids to help with the pain. And as so many current and former addicts can attest to, she became addicted.

Andrea’s mother’s addiction to pain relievers started slowly.  While they didn’t know what exactly was going on, they knew something was off.

“We just knew, over the course of the next four or five years, Mom’s different and we can’t quite put our finger on it,” Andrea said.

In the late 1990s, the public’s perception of opioids and pain killers was drastically different than what we’re accustomed to today. Most people didn’t even understand that you could get addicted to pain killers. So, Andrea couldn’t quite fathom what was happening to her mother.

“She started to become kind of numb, which wasn’t my mom at all,” Andrea said. “[Mom] wasn’t there anymore. She wasn’t engaged with all of us, she started to go missing.”

Andrea’s mother’s actions began to affect Andrea’s relationship with the man who is now her husband. Still, there was no discussion about her mother’s symptoms.  Looking back now, Andrea traces the inaction to not knowing exactly what was happening.

Andrea tries to put her Mother’s opioid addiction behind her

After high school, Andrea realized she needed to get out and experience life, without the constant thought of her mother’s opioid addiction. So she did just that, she left. She eventually joined AmeriCorps NCCC, a program that “engages 18- to 24-year-olds in team-based national and community service in the United States.”

Along with an opportunity to participate in outreach, Andrea got to see the world. She says at this point, she was “finally free.”

“It was the first time in my life that I finally felt like I didn’t have the weight of my parent’s problems on me every single day,” she said.

But while Andrea was beginning to build her own life, her mother’s opioid addiction was beginning to take hers.

Andrea is no longer able to live in denial

After a year away from home, serving with AmeriCorps NCCC, Andrea came back to continue her life. She married her husband in 2003 and in 2004, the truth finally came out.  Her mom was struggling with opioid addiction and there was no more hiding it or living in denial.

“My dad has a house fire and he gets third-degree burns on his hands…mom comes over and brings him a casserole,” she said. “I get a phone call from my dad the next day, ‘You’re not going to like this, I know you don’t want to talk about your mom, but I need to tell you something. She came over, she brought me a casserole, and she stole all of my morphine pills.'”

The family finally saw the truth. They began to see how opioid addiction was affecting someone that was once so close to them.

Taking the first steps towards treatment

Andrea took her mother to the hospital. She says she didn’t know it at the time, but she was committing herself. She was committing to getting her mother healthy. And Andrea says she was going to try at any cost, mental or financial. “I took on responsibility for something that wasn’t my responsibility and for years, that really affected me,” Andrea said.

She recalled the moment the hospital employees took everything from her mother in order to enter their detox program. Her mother was furious. She was upset that she was being forced to participate in the program. Unfortunately, her time in the detox program didn’t fix anything. It didn’t fix her addiction after the first attempt, the second, or even the fourth.

“She gets out of detox, comes home, and this pattern continues for a while…but [it’s] never followed up with treatment, with any kind of counseling, any kind of rehab, and no support groups,” Andrea said.

There was no after-care plan for Andrea’s mother and the chance of her falling back into her selfish and harmful patterns was very high. The cycle began to repeat and along with it, came disappointment.

The lowest of lows

“She’s taking 30 to 40 Lortab a day, she had a job at a grocery store and stole money from the till,” Andrea said. “Those fears that you live with all of the time of, ‘are they going to go to jail, are they going to get caught,’ are constantly weighing on you.”

Andrea’s mother’s opioid addiction had reached an all-time high and Andrea began to struggle with her own relationships because of it.

“Here I am, this wife and mother to young children and it’s affecting the way I am dealing with my own family relationships,” she said. “I can’t be as good of a wife. I can’t be as good of a mom because my head and my heart are over with my Mom.”

Her mother would call her ten times a day, for years. Andrea would try and give her mother the pep talk that she needed. But mostly, she put everything on her own shoulders. Unfortunately, Andrea’s mother attempted suicide one day in what Andrea calls, “a cry for help.”

She would ultimately spend three weeks in detox and in the psyche ward to try and pinpoint the root of her addiction and to what was causing such pain. Andrea was hopeful though, even though she’d begun to think that her mother had hit rock bottom.

A light in the darkness

Andrea and her family offered to take her mother into Andrea’s home, to help her get clean. They were living in Seattle and they felt they could be the family members who could help the most. So, that’s just what they did. They took everything from her Mom including her pills and her cigarettes, but mostly, her drug contacts. After years of addiction, change finally came — she got sober.

After three months, Andrea and her husband decided that it would be best to have her mother live with them full-time. But something happened that shook Andrea to her core, her mother “said no.”

Andrea continued, “I just remember being crushed at this moment…I knew that if she left, she’d go back to [her addiction].” She knew that deep down her beloved mother was about to backslide into her addiction and there was nothing she could do. No more trips, no more detox centers, no more coddling; Andrea had reached her limit.

Andrea’s mother started using within two weeks of moving back to Utah. Opioid addiction would cripple her mother for the next five years.

The day Andrea got the call

Andrea had finally found balance; a balance between being present with her own family and calling her mother every couple of days. Balance, that would crumble a year and a half ago.

“My husband and I moved back to Utah. We just had this strong feeling that we needed to come back,” Andrea said. And the family would ultimately move back to Utah. They were now closer to Andrea’s mother.  And it was just in time.

Her mother had stopped abusing opioids because they had become too difficult to get. She was now abusing alcohol, vodka in particular, and it was destroying her.

On the morning of June 25th, 2018, Andrea received a call from her sister. “Moms been found dead,” her sister told her.

Andrea’s worst fear had finally come true; her mother had lost her battle with addiction after twenty years.

“I’m in denial when I get that phone call. I’m angry and I’m upset. I remember my husband holding me and I remember just pounding him in the back,” she said. “I was just releasing all these years of emotion and thinking this can’t be true.”

Beginning to heal after a mother’s opioid addiction

Andrea felt hopeless. She had tried so hard to fix her mom. She spent years trying to bring her back from the darkness of addiction. But now, she says, it was time to heal. “That was when a new journey to heal began for me,” Andrea said.

Some days, she felt great and then other days, she felt horrible. Each day presents its own struggle with grief and depression but Andrea has found different ways to manage those feelings. She now participates in meditation and yoga to help keep herself grounded.

With the help of her family, she is now talking about her experience and sharing her mother’s struggle with opioid addiction.

To learn more, you can follow Andrea at www.andreajeansorensen.com or follow her on Instagram at @andreajeansorensen.

To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts and be sure to check out the ‘Project Recovery‘ page on KSLTV.com