Part of the PublicSource series
Stories about the opioid epidemic
in the Pittsburgh region.
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The first time I ever illegally used prescription opioids, I was 12 years old. I fell between the deck and swimming pool at my house and hurt my wrist. My mom didn’t take me to the doctor. Instead, she crushed up Vicodin and put it in my drink because I couldn’t swallow the pill.
First, it made me sick. Then I loved it.
By the time I was 15 or 16, I was going to the doctor for pain medications. They diagnosed me with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which was a misdiagnosis. Later on, I found out it was osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia.
I went doctor shopping forever. My mom was an enabler. I was taking pills in high school because my mom would bring them to me. I hate saying that stuff because I miss my mother. She’s taken care of my daughter Larissa and I don’t want to talk badly about her, but that’s where my addiction started. It was a bonding experience. We would take pills and decorate or go do things.
After awhile, the pills became super expensive.
Larissa’s dad doesn’t know, but he was the first person who sold me dope for myself. He thought I was getting it for somebody else. He would have never given it to me. He didn’t want me to use dope. He was always behind that locked door, and I wanted to know what was taking him from us. Once I did it, I opened that door.
I thought it would bring us closer, but it only tore us apart. I’ve been with Larissa’s dad on and off for 14 years. Larissa watched him hit me. She witnessed all of it. Now she’s afraid for me. She doesn’t want me to be with any man.
"Larissa told me she just wants to know what a home is, which made me cry."
I’ve been in so many drug rehab programs. Every time I get close to getting clean and stable, I screw something up. But, this last time, I was president of the house. I supervised almost 50 women.
I got in trouble during my time as program president and I was put on restriction. I had gone to a Walgreens while I was out without telling anybody. The whole house had to vote whether or not to keep me as a president because I should be leading by example. It was almost a unanimous vote to keep me. They said I advocate for them. I love these women. I had been in the program for 13 weeks.
My parole officer actually told me recently that he was proud of me. I haven’t had charges in two years, which is really good for me. My judge said that if I keep doing well and complete my program, he’s going to close my case.
I need stable housing and I want to be able to take care of my kids and do what I'm supposed to do. I want to do something different this time. Larissa is afraid for me to come home and relapse, like I have done countless times before.
Larissa told me she just wants to know what a home is, which made me cry.Read an essay by Lynann's daughter, Larissa:
My mom has been addicted to heroin since I was 8. Her addiction has defined my life.
I have too much to lose this time. I’ve never had the Office of Children, Youth and Families involved before. All of my “nevers” have happened: I'm never going to shoot heroin. I'm never going to smoke crack. I'm never going to lose my kids. I'm never going to be homeless. I’m never going do things that I don’t want to do for money.
It’s like a line in the sand you draw. And you just draw another one. And another one.
My aspirations and arrests
I went to the Everest Institute-Pittsburgh to become a patient care technician. I was the president of the parent-teacher association at Larissa’s school. I was a straight-A student for most of my life.
I had 78 hours left of my Everest internship when I got arrested.
You can’t be a patient care technician with a criminal record. That’s when my record started. I got arrested in 2009 and, by 2010, the chaos started. Larissa was 8.
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It kills me how much I've hurt my kids. And because I’ve been to so many programs, it's almost normal to say goodbye to my girls. And it shouldn't be that way. When I first started going to rehab and programs, I would cry when they left. I missed my kids so much, it was all I could focus on. Different places would hold your kids over your head: Don’t do this or that, or you will lose your kids. I left my first program after seven days because I needed to be with my daughters. I left another program right before Christmas for the same reason. Larissa remembers that Christmas because it was the year she got her first Justin Bieber doll.
I was hospitalized for depression. I had tried to kill myself. I was so mad at myself for relapsing. I figured that my kids were better off without me. If I died, they wouldn’t have to say goodbye to me all the time. I wouldn’t be going in and out of programs. I didn’t want them to witness me falling apart. My mom was doing a great job with Larissa. They obviously loved each other. My youngest daughter was with her dad. I felt like nobody needed me.
All I was doing was being a burden.
I was prescribed antipsychotic medication called ziprasidone, but I wasn’t taking it. And one morning when I thought Larissa had school, I wrote a note explaining how useless I felt and I took all of the pills.
Larissa found me.
I woke up in Mercy Hospital and the doctors told me that if I had taken one more pill, I would have been dead.
The unknown scares me. I don't like not knowing.
With Larissa, I see the attitude and the attention seeking. The acting out. I don’t want her to go down the same road as me, but I know I have to let her make her own mistakes. I can’t control what she does. That’s something I am learning. The only thing I have control over are my actions and my thoughts. I have control over my response.
Larissa is my mini-me. She’s the mini-Lyney! Sometimes people can’t tell us apart, like when our hair was the same color.
She has dreams where I die. She will wake up and have to talk to me. She will call me at the program 25 times. It’s killing me. I can’t see her hurting anymore. My youngest daughter doesn’t really understand because she wasn’t around it. She wasn’t old enough. But Larissa has been through it all.
My aunt keeps reminding me, “You got to be her mother, not her friend.” I parent out of guilt. Anything she wants, I give her because I want her to be happy. I need to be stern with her. She needs stability. She needs structure. That’s why I wanted her to live with my grandmother’s sister. My aunt can start that process; Larissa is living with her now.
I am living with Larissa’s letter. I’ve read it in my support group and now other people read it in their group. I carry it with me. It’s flimsy from me reading and re-reading it. The first time I read it, I tuned it out because I wasn’t ready. Then she sent it to me at the program. I read it and I sobbed. It’s helping me heal.
Any time I get frustrated, my therapist tells me, “Go read your daughter’s letter.”
And then the part where it says, “Why doesn't my mom or dad want me? Why did they choose a needle over me?” I used to think that my parents chose everything over me.
All of her feelings, I know them too well.
Lynann Michelessi is a Pittsburgh resident and mother in recovery from drug abuse.
This story was fact-checked by Lindsay Patross.
Edited by Halle Stockton and Mila Sanina.
Web design and development by Natasha Khan.
This project has been made possible with the generous support of the Staunton Farm Foundation.
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