A recovering addict and mother of three, shares her story about finding help through IU Health’s addition counseling services.
An abandoned tree house serves as home to two 12-year-olds who create a fantasy world in the fictional book: “Bridge to Terabithia.” It’s a world that is all too familiar to Michelle Manning. The book was one of her favorites and she too, used to imagine escaping to a forest and blending in with the trees.
From the age of seven and continuing into her teen years, Manning said she often pretended her name was “Lisa” or “Rhiannon.” The latter name referring to a popular Fleetwood Mac 70s song about a Welsh witch. When Stevie Nicks sang the song, her vocals were so powerful that her performance was once described as a sort of ritualistic purification.
Manning didn’t give much thought to that sort of purification at the time, but now her life is all about restoration.
“I had loving parents but my mom had leukemia and was in the hospital a lot. My dad was a truck driver and gone a lot. It triggered a deep paranoia in me. I didn’t trust anyone and I just wanted to escape,” said Manning, 32. She dropped out of high school after her freshman year and had her first child at the age of 18.
For a time she worked in a daycare and liked it because it was like being a child again. She could play all day. But she knew she needed to get a better job to support her own child, so she worked to get her GED, got a college certification in medical office administration and landed a job at a behavioral health practice. Part of her role was answering client calls – many who were in desperate situations.
“I wasn’t trained to answer these calls. It was hard for me. I’d lived in a fantasy world for so long that I didn’t know these bad things happened in real life – people threatening to take their own lives,” said Manning. “It got to the point where I couldn’t sleep, my depression grew worse and I had suicidal thoughts.”
She was 23, now a mother to two children, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was prescribed medication to help control her mood swings.
“This was the beginning of my drug addiction. I drank here and there but then I began using opioids, meth and amphetamines,” said Manning. She eventually had a third child. All three were delivered by cesarean birth. Narcotics were offered to help with the pain. “I accepted them because I liked the way they made me feel. I was able to get my opioid prescription extended and when I ran out I would go to different doctors. It numbed me,” said Manning.
The addiction intensified. She cleaned out her parent’s savings account convincing them that she couldn’t survive without the drugs.
“When I ran out of options to get prescription pain meds, I’d get them on the street. We all thought it was harmless,” said Manning. “When those ran out and I started getting sick and I turned to heroine. No one wanted to do that because we all thought that we were better than that but it was available and a whole cheaper than pills.”
At one point she was in a car accident and ruptured her spleen and broke her ribs.
“I felt like at least I can get pills out of this,” said Manning.
Three years ago, Manning was living in abandoned alleys or derelict houses and sometimes sleeping in her vehicle. She was jailed for harmful behavior – sometimes intentionally.
“Sometimes I’d get arrested on purpose because I was tired and hungry. I needed to sleep. Jail was a place to eat, it was cleaner than the places I was staying at and they had running water,” said Manning.
There were overdoses. Some landed her in ER; some she waited out.
But her lowest point came when a serious infection in her leg lead to infection in her blood stream – a result from repeated IV use with dirty needles. Twice she was hospitalized and had to learn to walk again. Her family never gave up on her, but they were caring for her children and knew that she needed professional help. It was her younger sister who connected Manning to that professional help. She came to visit Manning at the abandon shack she called home. It was September of 2017.
“She saw my arms for the first time. I was lying on the floor and she told me to get up. I thought we were going to fight but instead she hugged me. It was the first time in a long time I felt reconnected to reality. I didn’t even know if I was dead or alive until then,” said Manning. “It was the reassurance I needed that I was alive and people love me and I don’t have to be alone.”
Manning’s sister works for IU Health and she was familiar with the chemical dependency and pain clinic at Methodist Hospital. Manning went through detox and enrolled in the program.
At Methodist, a team of behavioral health recovery specialists works with doctors and nurses connecting opioid overdose patients with ongoing care. The collaborative effort is part of a statewide plan – Project Point – that provides outreach intervention in opioid-related emergency medical services to help combat the tragic outcomes of opioid addiction. Many of the recovery specialists are recovering addicts who have walked the walk and know the challenges of addiction.
Manning’s road has not been smooth. At the beginning of October 2017, she showed up for every meeting, she listened, and she made a decision to follow the program rules. By Halloween weekend she relapsed. Police responded to a missing persons report by calling her mother and telling her that they found Manning’s purse and her shoes in an abandon alley. When she was eventually found – walking barefoot around downtown Indianapolis – she was transported to Methodist ER. She was met by one of the addiction recovery specialists.
“He said, ‘we have missed you. We were worried about you. We love you,’” said Manning. “They have been with me every step of the way.” She returned to the program the following Monday and completed the program last year. After she was clean for six months she began volunteering with the program, helping others on their road to recovery. In January of 2018, Jack’s Donuts hired her – her supervisor worked her schedule so that she could continue attending her recovery meetings. In August she completed training to become a peer recovery coach and has been reunited with her three children.
“We are recovering together,” said Manning. “The addiction didn’t just hurt me; it hurt them; it hurt my family. I’m trying to shelter them from some things and give them the assurance they need so they don’t feel alone. I know how that feels.”
As a volunteer with the addiction program, Manning openly shares her story with others. “I tell them ‘recovery is a process,’” said Manning. “I try to give them hope and help them learn to use the tools they need to stay clean and sober.”
— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email email@example.com.