Focus On Recovery – Spokane Regional Opioid Task Force
Sarah Spiers’ Story
From Hollywood to Heroin by the Age of 22
I was born and raised in Santa Fe New Mexico, and come from a long line of female filmmakers. Following in the footsteps of my mom and grandmother, I graduated high school early and began my film career at the young age of 17.
I then ventured to Los Angeles where I worked on several film projects as a makeup and special effects artist as well as some production work. I worked closely with Josh Brolin’s independent production company, the Coen Brothers on No Country for Old Men, and with a host of other celebrities on projects. I traveled the world and even started an international non-profit in Tanzania, Africa to support an underfunded school.
With the career of a lifetime, I was flying high. However, everything changed the day I decided to give it up for “love.” At 21 I was introduced to heavy drugs and quickly digressed to becoming a horrific IV heroin and cocaine addict.
Over the course of a year and a half, I lost everything, was utterly hopeless, and thought the only way out of my addiction was to take my own life. After I purposely overdosed on heroin, I was found unconscious and close to death by my mother, who ultimately saved my life. I ended up in a comatose-stroke-like state, was diagnosed with hepatitis C, had a contracted gallbladder, and a myriad of other health complications. Despite all the odds, I found the will and the drive to fight for my life.
At 23 I demonstrated a profound inner determination in overcoming my addiction and enrolled in Eastern Washington University where I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a major in International Political Science with a focus on the socio-economic development of opiate drug treatment systems and a minor in Cultural Anthropology with a focus on drug cultures— precisely the kind of education I needed to become a leader in the field of drug addiction and drug policy in order to help others gain the freedom from addiction that I had attained.
Nine years later, I am not only surviving, I’m thriving.
Today, I hold several recovery coaching certifications and am the Director of External Relations for Daybreak Youth Services, one of the largest adolescent substance abuse and mental health treatment facilities in the state of Washington. Additionally, I sit on over nine different task forces and coalitions that help improve social determents of health for vulnerable populations which include those suffering
from substance abuse and mental health challenges.
Ultimately, my goal is to improve the drug treatment system to give people the same opportunity I had to have a second chance at life.
Marsha Valenzuala’s Story
I believe I get another day clean, to help another human being.
My paternal grandmother ended up getting us out of foster care and raising us. But, at age 11 I started using drugs and alcohol on a daily basis. I know why now, but it took years away from my life and my children’s lives.
There was a lot of trauma in my life. I now know that I was running; turns out I ran for 29 years. At 40 years old the state removed my two younger sons from my care. I was no longer able to care for them, I knew I needed help, but had no idea where to start.
After about 90 days into my children being in family placement, I wandered around homeless; my heart was so broken. Child Protective Services asked me to go to mental health counseling, domestic violence counseling, and substance use disorder treatment. I urinated in a cup once a week for 90 days, failing all my drug tests. Although I failed, the fact that I kept showing up told my counselor that I was trying really hard, but I did not know how to get clean and sober. My counselor suggested that I go to inpatient treatment. I finally surrendered and thought I wanted my kids back more than anything in the world. I didn’t know how I was going to do it—I was so broken—but I’d try. I know I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least try to get them back.
After 3 treatment centers, mental health providers and parenting classes, finally the fog began to lift. I wrote some goals: the biggest goal was to get my children back.
I started going to recovery meetings two to three times a day, every day. I started making new friends—healthy friends. Friends that were best for me. I was living in a shelter for women when finally, a judge and all my providers—including child protective services—all agreed I had work so hard making a life in recovery that my children were returned to my care. It took me 10 1/2 months from the day they were removed until the day I got them back.
Mind you, when I started, I had no intention of staying clean. I just wanted my children back. But becoming sober was new to me. It changed me. I started to laugh and even cry. I started to feel my feelings and not covering them by using drugs.
So far, I have practiced 24 hours at a time. This October 2019 I will have 18 years clean.
It takes a community. It takes a lot of care and genuine, concerned providers to walk with addicts into the light. I couldn’t be more grateful. What I thought was the worst day of my life losing my children, was actually the best day for all of us. I have three sons 37, 30 and 19. My youngest is at University of Washington in the Pre-Med program. My two older sons each have two children. They are wonderful fathers. Today I am a peer support specialist and a recovery coach. I pass the parenting training I have learned along to my family. Through love and compassion and boundaries, we’ve managed to stay together as a family.
There are still shadows from my experience. Both my two oldest sons have trouble with addiction, as well as mental health issues that goes along with drug and alcohol abuse.
My family is caught in a cycle of addiction.
My mother lost her children.
I lost my children.
And my son lost his son, even if for a short time.
That is three generations.
But, we are working to break that cycle. I pass the parenting training I have learned along to my family. Through love and compassion and boundaries, we’ve managed to stay together as a family. And I support my children on their path to recovery.
My hope is to share what I have learned with others and help bring them to the light. Us addicts are not bad people, we are sick people that need help. They say it takes a village, though. I believe that was my whole heart.
Life is difficult as it is and being clean is the first ingredient to a successful future.
I’d like to think this was a bad dream I’ll soon wake up from. However, this is as real as it gets. It’s all fuzzy when I try and think of where it started. We need to go back to 2012. June 12 to be exact. I was hurt playing hockey and shortly after that was a doctor visit. I was in pain. So what does a doc do for that? He will mask my pain with endless scripts of narcotics. I was soon normal again. After missing work a day or two, I was back at it in all areas: working, present in my family duties, hanging with friends—I really had it all. This was the “beginning of the end” for me. The laws were about to change surrounding narcotic prescriptions and I was going to experience my first ever withdrawals from any “medicine”. I was required to see a pain specialist if I was to get another pain med script.
Long story short… I was cut off immediately by the pain doc, so I began seeking “relief” on the street. This went off and on for a couple years and stopped finally. But it never really stopped there. I would go on to separate from my wife which caused me more grief than I was willing to admit. I started using pain meds to cover that grief. I became psychologically and physically addicted.
The day came when all roads led to dead ends and I couldn’t find pills to buy. I decided to introduce myself to heroin. I convinced myself this was only a temporary answer and I’d quit when needed. I knew in the back of my mind it wouldn’t be that easy. I used heroin for almost a year without anyone knowing. Literally, no one knew except my dealer. This was no social experiment. All I wanted was to not feel. I was tired of feeling everything. I did finally reach a breaking point and needed to talk to someone in order to get help. I opened up to my family which felt like a mistake at the time. My son was taken from me by my own family and I ended up homeless. That gave me a motivation I never had before. I wanted my son back. I needed him and he needed me. It took getting clean, proving it to a judge and my family.
I had a job and a place to live by this point. I had my son. Life was great until a series of unfortunate events led me to relapse in May of 2018. I held my job for another 6 months before quitting. At this point I was shooting heroin with coke and even meth at times and doing it socially. When I was high, I felt nothing.
There I was deeper into my addiction than ever. I knew I needed to stop but it took losing my son and becoming homeless again to actually get myself together. It also was with the help of a dear friend who was in a similar place in life. She has helped me find love for myself, which I lost along the way.
Even with these motivating factors, it’s still an uphill battle. Yet, I’m clean and feel alive.
And yes, I’m using a med-assisted treatment but without it, I see myself back where I was— alone, homeless and using drugs to cover up and hide all I felt.
I thank god daily for what I have. I’m at a place in life that is still hard, but I’m finally doing things correctly and officially in recovery. Life is difficult as it is and being clean is the first ingredient to a successful future. Things are looking up and it’s all because I’ve *chosen* to stay clean and utilize community resources for the betterment of my personal growth. This will also be for the betterment of my Spokane community, which I care deeply for.