‘This is where I found my family’
Nichols recalls how her addiction brought her to treatment in FD, gave her new life
Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series on substance use recovery. September is National Recovery Month, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). To learn about your options for recovery and get connected to resources, visit YourLifeIowa.org.
For years, Marissa Nichols had a problem with pills. In her early 20s, after being diagnosed with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, doctors prescribed her opioids to manage her daily pain.
“I used them as prescribed for a few years, and then I started taking them more than I was supposed to,” she said. “I didn’t think I had a problem, and I look back on it now and I know that I had a problem.”
It was hard for Nichols to see the impact the pills had over those 10 years.
“It didn’t really affect my life the way that the harder drugs did later in my life,” she said.
As an adult she also struggled with mental illness and when her mother and aunt had her committed to a psychiatric unit for help, her doctors took her off the prescription opioids because of their risk of dependence.
“I just had pain all the time and nothing was helping that,” she said. “They weren’t finding anything that wasn’t a narcotic that would help.”
Soon, she turned to street drugs and tried smoking methamphetamine and “hated it.”
“And then a few years after that, I tried shooting it up, and that was it for me,” Nichols said.
She continued using meth and was in active addiction for about eight months.
“It wasn’t a long time, but I got pretty bad there,” she said. “I didn’t last very long in the life with meth because it affected my mental health so bad.”
Her mental illness troubles coupled with the effects of meth, including extreme lack of sleep, were a recipe for disaster that gave Nichols the wake-up call she needed.
“I woke up on my grandma’s roof and didn’t know how I got there,” she said. “It scared the living s– out of me and I put myself in treatment. I didn’t want to wake up in an even worse situation.”
Aug. 9, 2020, was the day Nichols decided she wanted to take back control of her life. She moved from her home in Mason City to Fort Dodge to enter the residential treatment program at the YWCA Center for Life Empowerment. She had been talking to a friend in Mason City who had gone through the YWCA program in Fort Dodge — she’s not even sure if her friend knew at that time that she had been struggling with substance use disorder. After hearing about the program, and knowing that her boyfriend at the time was living at the Fort Dodge Residential Facility, Nichols decided on the YWCA’s program.
Nichols’ time at the YWCA’s residential treatment program was short-lived — after some conflict with another resident and rule violations, Nichols was kicked out of the program after about three months.
She had nowhere to go, but instead of throwing away her hard-earned sobriety and turning to drugs, she moved in with a new friend she had met at a 12-step meeting through the YWCA.
“She’s still my best friend to this day,” Nichols said.
Looking back, she realizes that it was probably a mistake to choose her treatment program based on where her boyfriend lived, but it’s not a mistake that she regrets.
“This is where I found my family,” she said.
Addiction has a cost, and for Nichols, the price was her children, who now live with family members.
“I don’t want them to see their mom choosing drugs over them, and it was getting to that point,” she said. “It was getting to the point where I was choosing drugs over them and I don’t want that to happen ever again because they deserve more than that.”
Reconciling and rebuilding her broken relationships with her family has been a “slow process,” Nichols said.
“There was a lot of damage done,” she said. “When I was using pills, I stole my mom’s credit card and I maxed out like $5,000 on a credit card in my mom’s name, so there’s a lot of animosity about that still.”
Since getting clean, Nichols has been putting in the effort to repair the rift between her and her mother.
“We’ll work through it eventually,” she said. “It’s gotten better.”
Helping other women who are going through the same battles with substance use disorders is part of what helps Nichols maintain her sobriety and recovery. Although she was unable to complete the YWCA residential treatment program, she found her way back and is now on staff as program technician, helping to support and mentor women currently going through the residential program.
“I get to share my experience with them, especially the girls who are having a hard time or even the girls who don’t want to stay,” Nichols said. “I can tell them I had a hard time too, you know, I didn’t even make it here. But it’s possible to keep going and stay clean and keep getting the help you need even when you don’t want to, because it’s worth it.”
Through her few months of treatment and regular participation in 12-step meetings, Nichols holds onto the independence she never dreamed she’d ever have just a few years ago.
“I’ve got a place of my own for the first time not relying on a man and putting myself in situations where I’m subject to abuse because I’m relying on them financially,” she said. “I know that keeps me clean, just remembering that the life I have today is the life I want to keep on living. I don’t want to go back.”