The difficulty in even starting the journey of recovery, and the support needed to help.
Sandra Guerrero Sanchez
Mom in Recovery
When providers meet a mom who is dealing with substance use disorder, it’s easy to just want to find a way to fix the situation. To help her immediately stop and start a new path for her life. But that simply isn’t the way it works, even if that mom wants desperately to recover. Sandra Guerrero Sanchez’s story is a reminder that even the first steps of getting off of drugs can be so daunting it sets moms back, sometimes over and over.
Sandra is a 27-year-old mother of two young children. Giving birth to her daughter this past January, she said she felt like, “a new mom” as she went through the pregnancy and birth working on her sobriety. But it hasn’t been her first time getting sober or having the intention of getting sober.
Sandra became addicted to opiates after she delivered her first child. At the time, she and her spouse were prescribed Oxycontin after being in a car accident. “It started with overusing this prescription,” she said. “Then, when we ran out, we started seeking it in the streets and buying it from other people.” She thought they were buying prescriptions and didn’t realize that they were actually buying pure fentanyl.
“When we realized we had an issue, it was already too late to just quit,” Sandra remembers. “We honestly weren’t really aware of the whole opiate addiction and how intense the withdrawals would be. I had never had anyone around me have any addiction issues until I went through them.”
Knowing she was in trouble and trying to care for her 6-month-old son, she turned to her family. “My family was in denial and that made it a lot harder for me to get sober or to find and accept resources,” she said. Sandra explained her family was partly in denial because they didn’t know where to find resources either, so it was easier to pretend the problem wasn’t real. Reflecting back, she thinks that they were more ashamed of people finding out what was going on, and that her culture may have played a role in not wanting to address the issues.
Sandra hit rock bottom when trying to stop using on her own and found the withdrawal symptoms were so much harder to endure than she had thought. For someone who is dependent on substances, simply stopping and not getting any support to help “rewire” their brain only leads to an endless cycle of cravings. She couldn’t do it on her own and she lost her marriage, job, and the home she had just purchased. Plus, her son was staying mostly with her parents. When her family finally realized that she truly did have an issue, instead of helping Sandra get to inpatient treatment or seek care, they called social services.
“One thing that families or even your provider doesn't know is that sometimes when they think they're doing something good for you, they’re really sinking you. I was already going through so many things trying to get sober, so the last thing that I needed was social services to be involved.” She felt all alone to figure out her sobriety and try to get back to a point where she could claim her son. “I wanted to get sober, but the withdrawals were horrible and I was out on the streets and I didn’t know where to turn for resources,” she said.
After finding an outpatient treatment program, Sandra was prescribed Suboxone. “Looking back, I realize that even though I was taking the medication and it was taking off some of the withdrawal symptoms, it wasn’t going to work if I wasn’t ready to get sober and didn’t have things like a good living situation and a support system outside of their doctor,” she said. “And providers and patients need to understand that Suboxone actually has to be taken for a long period of time - two to three years - to truly curb cravings. I know now that the times I relapsed was because I stopped taking the medication.” Prescribing medication and not following through to make sure moms have all the other support and resources they need is why so many moms fail to stay sober. And soon, Sandra relapsed again.
Doctors don’t realize you feel like a robot and you’ve forgotten how to be yourself. You may be sober but your body and your mind are trying to figure out what to do next. You have trouble finding satisfaction in the simple things in life because your only satisfaction was the drug.
Despite setbacks, Sandra did find a positive experience at Denver Health. She found comfort in the fact that her withdrawal symptoms were being closely monitored and that everything she needed from referrals to medications was all in one place. “At Denver Health, it made me feel a little bit more like I could really do this,” she remembered.
As in many recovery journeys, even with the help of Denver Health, Sandra relapsed another time and also found out that she was pregnant with her second child. She credits her boyfriend, who was not using substances, with encouraging her and promising he would help her if she would try treatment again.
Sandra found herself back at the ED at Denver Health, again seeking the care and the medication to get her through the dreaded withdrawals. “I just knew I couldn’t bring this new baby into the world being an addict,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
“At Denver Health, they made me feel like they were proud of me for taking this step for me and my baby,” she said. “They didn’t just give me a prescription and say, ‘Good luck,’ but they really looked at what could be prescribed to help with withdrawals that would be ok to take while pregnant. And they started researching where I could go to get help for both my sobriety and my pregnancy.”
As part of this continuing journey to piece together all she needed, Sandra reconnected with Rose Andom Center where she had sought help before for domestic violence services. They referred her to Motherwise, a program that coaches moms on motherhood and developmental milestones, offering classes to learn more about better parenting.
Since Denver Health works with Motherwise, Sandra finally had a more integrated care team and Denver Health also referred her to a therapist onsite. When Sandra was ready to deliver her second baby, Denver Health immediately scheduled her an appointment to talk to a physician about staying on track with treatment and getting any medications that were needed.
“The neat part about Denver Health is that I didn't have to figure everything out,” she recalled. “They already had the answers for most of my concerns and my physician, Dr. Klie, had solutions ready for me so I didn’t have to do it on my own.
Sandra says, “I feel like Motherwise opened a window of knowledge, acceptance and courage for me, and the people at Rose Andon and Denver Health who helped me navigate everything made me feel like I had the kind of support I really needed to succeed