Jamie: I read this one a while back but I'm just finally putting it on Booklikes. Just a great book and a very personal journey for me. If the subject matter interests you then I strongly urge you to give it a try. I thought I had added this one didn't find it on my shelf anywhere.
Kicking it old school - literally!
Starfish: A Mothers Recovery from Addiction is an inspiring, raw, unflinchingly honest account of one mothers journey through addiction and recovery. I was in the process of reading another really good book that I was enjoying but for some reason my mind was just going ninety miles per hour and I couldn't concentrate on it so I downloaded a few free books, this being one of them and after reading a few chapters from the other ones I tried this one and I could not put it down. I've been reading a lot of books about damaged and broken people, stories about hope and redemption and I guess they just got my memory churning and I couldn't really concentrate on any one book until I started this one and I have to say it was EXACTLY what I needed at that time.
Donna gives us a very detailed look at her world, of being a single mom and growing up in the sixties. Donna is a free spirit and as much a product of that generation as any other free spirit. We are given glimpses of her childhood, of her many problems starting with being sexually abused by her father and the neglect and anger that she suffered at the hands of her mother. No matter how hard she tried her mom just didn't seem to love her or any of her other children. She went to church, tried extra hard but in the end it never made a difference so somewhere along the way she quit trying and left just as quick as she could once she turned eighteen. She had hopes and dreams of going to college but like many other young women she became pregnant and had one and then two children. She ended up a single mom and eventually spiraled into addiction. The journey of an addict is always a subtle journey. It doesn't just happen overnight. There are many reasons why people turn to drugs and at first it's just fun, you're still in control. You're not really hurting anybody...are you? But one day you wake up, years have gone by and you're a hopeless addict who cannot figure out how you got to where you are.
This is Donna's journey that starts when she is arrested for trying to pass fake prescriptions to feed her ever growing opiate dependency. She is addicted to heroin and much like many other heroin addicts she will use any type of opiates when money is tight or heroin can't be found.
And so Donna has to go into treatment. She's been to many before and it has never worked for her. This is her last chance. Her kids are in Hawaii where she left them with some lady she barely knew, the courts are involved and she may lose them for good and if this doesn't work she will face jail time. So with a heavy heart and wanting to be sober yet not really wanting it at the same time, Donna goes to the Sunlflower house which is a long term treatment facility. Keep in mind this is back in the early 80's. And what unfolds is nothing short of miraculous, intense, crazy, beautiful, weird and the most challenging thing that I can imagine anyone ever doing. Donna's courage and strength is a true testament to the human spirit. Reading about her journey as she starts treatment while going through severe withdrawal while having to stay somewhat active just makes you feel for her.
The intense part of treatment hasn't started for her yet, they go easy on you as you're kicking the heroin but she has to remain up during the day and is required to be followed by another member of the facility as a shadow, basically someone has to be with her at all times during the first so many days/weeks. All of this might sound like no big deal but let me tell you all that opiate addiction of any kind is a very special form of hell. Just getting out of bed is a near impossible feat. Think about the worst flu you've ever had, now multiply it by 1000 and add in the worst depression you can imagine but that doesn't quite do it justice. Opiate addiction withdrawal is the absence of light, the absence of one's very soul, there is no joy, no sound, no color. There's nothing but this horrible hole. Nothing is good, all joy and hope has fled the universe, You ache (there are no adequate words for that deep mind numbing pain), your hands feel like big balloons (Pink Floyd hit the nail on the head with that one), they're hot and cold at the same time just like the rest of your body. You can't eat or drink at least not very well, your nose will not stop running, you have the runs for days and weeks, and for me there was always this special place behind my face and neck where every bit of the sickness gathered and stemmed from. I could literally feel it, like every inch of sickness just resided and spread forth from that one area. If there is a soul then I believe it must reside in that spot and that addiction is not only physical but also spiritual affliction. It is the worst feeling that you can't even imagine in your wildest dreams and what Donna accomplished is nothing short of a miracle. She did it day after day without leaving, without complaining too horribly much and that sickness lasts for weeks, heck months sometimes. There's a very real reason why heroin addicts/opiate addicts can't stop. That withdrawal is a nightmare! And to know it only takes one little thing to get rid of it is very hard. Words alone really can't do it justice and it's just something that truly cannot be explained. I wish nobody ever had to feel that way. I would not wish that on my worst enemy.
Finally Donna starts to notice after a month or so that she's no longer feeling quite so bad and treatment kicks into full gear. Some of the things that happen at this facility would be highly criticized today and are probably unethical at best and abusive at worst but you know what? You can't argue with success and it worked for her when nothing else would. This was some very old school treatment. I've known people who have been to facilities like this during that time and it saved their lives just like the Sunflower house saved Donna's when nothing else could. While reading I couldn't decide if it was madness or pure genius and I have to say that I'm leaning towards genius. You set your own pace. Recovery is up to you, they cannot do it for you. They are only there to provide structure, the rest is on you which makes Donna's journey even more miraculous. The whole treatment is based around peer support and confrontation is a huge part of it and it's extremely intense!
I'm not going to tell you too much about what happened. Tears are shed, bad things happen, people are lost but people are also saved. Donna is probably one of the strongest people I've ever read about. The way she was able to really start grasping treatment and applying it was just amazing. The way she carried what she learned into the real world. The strength in her to be there for her children, not to beat herself up over the past but to be a better person and mom in the future is a reminder to us all that while we cannot change the past, we can change the future and learn from our mistakes. The only shame is in giving up, as long as we keep fighting to be better today then that's all that matters. Donna's journey was very inspiring to me. It reminds me of how far I've come but it is also a poignant reminder of how much is at stake. My life like Donna's depends on staying clean and sober. I was once very sick like Donna, but eventually sought help and have been sober for a very long time now. I just remind myself that if Donna was so strong then maybe I am too.
I truly hope that other addicts will read this story and gain the same strength and hope from it that I did. If you are a recovering addict then her story can help to remind of where you came from, how far you've come and how much is still at stake and to never get complacent. If you are still doing drugs then her story can bring you hope and show you what is possible. With so much stacked against Donna you won't help but feel that if she can do it in an intense treatment like that then maybe you can too. Even if you've never done drugs her story can still help by showing the dangers of addiction and by giving you an intimate look into their heart, soul and mind as they start their journey on the road to recovery. I'd recommend this book to anyone who's interested in the subject. It's one of the most inspiring stories I've ever read and her story spoke to me on a personal level. One that I could understand and relate to having traveled down a similar road. Just truly amazing!