Addiction can happen to anyone. No one is exempt. Every story told here is an example of that and it’s a message that everyone needs to hear. I am grateful to have the honor of sharing Shannan’s story in this space today. As the other voices have done, hers will reach someone, and her openness and honesty shines a light on something we all need to hear.
From Impaired to Inspired: One Nurse’s Story of Addiction and Recovery
I had a wonderful childhood. Hard working father and a loving and attentive mother. I have one brother two years my junior and we were very close growing up. Middle class family in a beautiful neighborhood. The picture perfect "normal" family.
I met and fell in love with a fella when I was 18. We married at 22 and started our family at 27. We had three beautiful boys. I began my nursing career in the ER the same year my first son was born. My husband began his career as a Firefighter/Paramedic at that time as well. That is the same year he began to change. The affairs started soon after. Fast forward to 16 years after we met. We were the picture perfect "normal" family and I worked hard keeping up that facade as I slowly lost myself completely. I had become very good at pretending to be happy and always plastering a fake smile on my face. He had more than 30 affairs and I was at a loss and to the point where I could no longer find joy in anything. All I knew was that I was a good mom and a good nurse. Other than that I had no idea who I was anymore. He asked me for a divorce in 2010 and I felt an incredible sense of relief.
The next couple of years I spent getting to know myself again and raising my boys alone because he was off to marriage number two. I slowly began to socialize for the first time in my adult life. Most of the friends I spent time with drank when we went out. Alcohol hadn't been part of my life very much, but it seemed that it was part of socializing, so I started to drink when I went out. It helped me relax and be more outgoing. Then I started drinking wine at home. That quickly became a nightly thing. In one year's time I was drinking every single night and I would do it when the boys were in bed. That's when I noticed all the tears and buried emotions from years prior starting to surface. In 2014 my now ex husband said he wanted to be more involved with the boys so we moved closer to him.
He was in a relationship with a girl who was awful to my kids. It was very difficult and I continued my nightly drinking to cope with the influx of chaos and having to deal with my boys emotions about the new change with their dad. I was swimming in self pity. I remember distinctly a conversation with my best friend when I told her something was wrong. That I felt dead inside and couldn't figure out why. I had lost the ability to feel joy.
Soon after, I got sick and got a kidney stone. I was prescribed Norco for pain. It was the perfect storm. I was in a dark place and already using alcohol to numb the pain. It was a magic pill for me. The answer to all my problems. It not only numbed the physical pain, but the emotional pain as well. I was hooked instantly. Within 3 months I was buying them from a drug dealer and taking up to 50 a day. I reached a point when that wasn't enough and I remember the very day I decided I was going to steal Dilaudid from the Pyxis at work. I glanced at myself in the mirror that day. I had gotten used to not doing that very often because I didn't even recognize myself. I saw the reality of what I had become and knew that I was heavily addicted and that once I diverted narcotics from work, there was no turning back. You see, when you take medications from the pyxis, you use your fingerprint to do so. At that point I had lost the ability to care. Most nights I prayed I wouldn't wake up the next day. I felt there was nothing left for me. I'd been married and the marriage failed, I had kids, but they have a father that could raise them. I'd already had an amazing career. I was broken inside and I had now committed a crime and I truly didn't care. The pull of the drugs was so intense that I continued on the path of destruction for weeks after that. Until Easter.
It was April 5, 2015. I was what I considered a high-functioning addict. No one knew what I was going through. But that day it was a combo of lack of sleep, too many pills and some alcohol. I blacked out, and the only memories I had the next morning were of my kids trying to wake me up. I was horrified at my behavior. I knew I had to get help. Two days later I called the Nursing Board and told them I was a drug addict and that I didn't know how to stop. They put me in the diversion program and suspended my license.
Getting Back Up
April 8, 2015 is my sobriety date. I told my family I had a problem and they were devastated. It was like the fall of the golden child. I had to move in with my parents and detoxed on their bathroom floor with no meds. Three days of pure hell. On the 4th day I drove myself to an NA meeting. I had no money for treatment so I found a county facility that told me if I paid for 3 days a week of IOP then I could come 5 days a week. I sold my truck to pay for treatment and went 5 days a week for 14 weeks. I walked into treatment paralyzed with guilt and shame. It was so heavy. Not only had I lied to my family and friends and lived a double life, but I was also accountable to the general public because I was an RN. Within three days I realized that I had to own my story or I would never heal. I spent my time in treatment unraveling 39 years of my life and learning new behaviors and coping skills. I made a commitment to a life in recovery and continued growth and self-development.
Losses and Gains
Around 4 months sober, my storage unit was auctioned off because I couldn't make the payments. I had no income at this time. I literally lost every material possession of my life including all of my kids belongings. At the time it was devastating, but I have an amazing sponsor that walked me through all the feels that came with that loss. I ended up being grateful that it was all gone. I was a new person. I was able to recognize my character defects and be accountable for everything in my life. The victim mentality was beginning to lift.
I was watching an episode of Intervention one night and I saw a treatment center on the show that was close to me. I decided I would apply for a job there (I was still unable to work as an RN) so I applied for a weekend position in their detox as support staff. They hired me and within a month, they asked me to take over the Operations Department. It was a huge load because it was a 110 bed inpatient residential facility. I excelled at it. And my self worth began to rebuild.
Around the 6 month sobriety point I received a call from a detective and he said there was a warrant for my arrest. The hospital had charged me with diverting narcotics. He told me to put my name on the calendar at the courthouse and face the charges. I was terrified. But I did what he said. I had no money for an attorney and no idea what was about to happen. I went to court alone and I found that they had charged me with 28 felonies. They assigned me a public defender. I had to appear in court several times and each time I ran the risk of being locked up. I was facing 6 years in prison because of my charges. The DA really wanted me in jail, but my public defender was able to get them to agree to a plea deal. Two felonies and 180 days of work release. I was accountable for what I had done, I never denied it. I knew taking these felonies would prevent me from ever working as a nurse again. I accepted the plea with a 17b which meant if I completed all my confinement and probation and paid all restitution and fines that I could have my felonies dropped to misdemeanors. In lieu of doing work release they put me on 90 days of house arrest. The cost was substantial, but I had no choice. The judge was very hard on me and allowed me only 8 hours for work per day and no other free time.
My sons had to go live with their dad at that time (and he didn't want them). I had to do a book and release and spent 9 hours in a jail cell. I contemplated a lot that day. But ultimately I was grateful I was alive because I was on the fast track to death just a few months prior.
During the time on house arrest I grew a lot spiritually. I spent the time working on acceptance of how my life was unfolding. I made amends and learned to meditate. As difficult as it was to be away from my boys for the first time in my life, I had to accept the fact that it was the decisions I had made that got me to where I was. I was completely accountable for my role in my life. I made a commitment to myself that I would continue on a path of self-improvement and help others navigate the road to recovery.
I survived that 90 days of wearing an ankle monitor and got my boys back right away. Literally one day after my house arrest was complete, I was promoted in my job to Program Director. It was such a good feeling to have kept moving forward in life despite the circumstances.
When my sentence was complete, I then faced an investigation by the Board of Nursing (despite the fact that I had been in their Diversion program). It turns out that most nurses who admit to diverting narcotics are never charged. Most hospitals are understanding of addiction and support the nurse in getting help and finding recovery. My case was certainly quite the opposite. After completing all that was required of me and paying all the fines, I ultimately chose to retire from my nursing career and I was able to do so with grace. I held on to being a nurse for so long because it was such a huge part of my identity. Today I am so much more. I'm a wonderful attentive mom, I am genuine friend, I do everything in my life with honesty and integrity. I work on my recovery every single day and always strive to grow. I lead by example. I lost everything three and a half years ago and have rebuilt my life completely differently. Everything comes full circle in life. Living amends are so important. The best apology is changed behavior.
I recently left my position as Program Director and now work as a Certified Recovery Coach and Educator. I specialize in working with medical professionals and first responders who are in sober recovery. I assist them in navigating the disciplinary process of their licensing board and help release the stigma associated with addiction and being a public servant. I also educate doctors and nurses on burnout and compassion fatigue in hopes it will prevent them from using substances to cope. I openly share my recovery story to help others own their truth and let go of shame. Recovery is possible for anyone. Every moment offers us the chance to choose differently.
To learn more about Shannan’s story and the work she is doing as a recovery coach, you can find her on Instagram @shannanfiorenza, over at her blog www.shannonfiorenza.com and she also writes on Medium.