“It was one of my worst times,” says Gloria (identities changed for privacy). The interview takes place in the dining room of her small, freestanding home. There are signs of love all around—lots of green plants in the windows—but dust piles on the flat surfaces, and the curtains are faded. We are talking about when she finally fought free from addiction to pain medicine. (This interview occurred pre-COVID-19; at the end we share how Gloria is faring during the pandemic.)
At 74 years old, Gloria lives with Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. She also lives with poverty; she cannot afford a computer or a cell phone. When Jewish Family Service’s therapist Maia comes to visit, she often helps Gloria by using her own cell phone.
How the addiction started
Gloria became addicted to pain medicine as a child, suffering from the pain of undiagnosed Crohn’s disease. Gloria would curl up in bed and refuse to move. Two children, three grandchildren, and over fifty years of life lived later, she spiraled out of control.
This difficult time lasted 14 months. After over thirty years on the prescription opioid Vicodin, her doctor repeatedly reduced the dosage in an attempt to end the addiction. Gloria says she couldn’t handle the change, and found illegal ways to obtain the pills. But then, she soon found herself taking too many.
After much difficulty, Gloria asked her sons for help, and they found a treatment center—but her insurance only paid for four days’ worth. After that, she lay in bed at home: in withdrawal, sweating and with the shakes, for 14 months. “I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep,” she says. Tragically, the addiction was even harder to break because of Gloria’s illnesses.
Gloria finds Jewish Family Service
It was during this time of crisis that Gloria found Jewish Family Service, and met Maia. Maia served as Gloria's therapist as she got off Vicodin, and is still her therapist today. Gloria has been in recovery now for three years, three months. Gloria says that it is her proudest achievement.
Maia agrees. “Gloria just has so many strengths. It’s amazing she was able to get off of pain medication that was prescribed for over thirty years,” she says.
Along with Gloria's care manager at JFS, Maia also supported Gloria in the rest of her life. They helped Gloria see that despite her modest retirement pension, her budget didn’t work because her medical bills were sky high. They initially helped her find a job as a department store cashier (despite her earlier retirement) to make ends meet. As Gloria said, “I enjoyed that job for two years, I liked the people.” Now she is retired again. They also found Gloria a resource that pays for her medicine, and they manage the bureaucracy involved.
“When you came it was just like a lifesaver”
Remembering it all during the interview, Gloria says to Maia, “I’d be depressed, or sick, a lot of the time; and when you came it was just like a lifesaver.” It is clear that Gloria knows Maia’s support is there for her.
These days Gloria’s JFS team helps her manage her bills, talk to doctors’ offices to arrange her frequent appointments, and research her many medications. Along with her two sons, Maia continues to be her emotional support.
Jewish Family Service has seen significantly increased need overall during COVID-19. Asked how JFS is handling the situation, CEO Liz Vogel said, “Our staff has stepped up across the board, despite dramatic changes in the ways we can deliver services. We want to make sure those who lack a safety net aren’t facing hunger, eviction, or foreclosure.”
This safety net is still working for Gloria: despite the COVID epidemic, Gloria continues to get the help she needs. Maia provides ongoing teletherapy, with telehealth check-ins. Gloria is extremely social and is having a hard time with social isolation. She did, following precautions, attend a niece’s wedding, and loved that. “She used to go to the gym for exercises and heat treatments for her rheumatoid arthritis in the sauna, so she misses these things,” said Maia. Most importantly, Maia says Gloria is continuing to do well in recovery.