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'I will die if I use again'

Matt DeYoung • Aug 26, 2017 at 9:00 AM

J.J. Miner is lucky to be alive.

Two years ago, Miner, now 28, overdosed on heroin.

She was deep in the woods, at a drug house. She didn’t know the people she was with, and their first choice was to leave her for dead.

Instead, in a moment of compassion, they drove her to the hospital, dropped her off by the front door and left.

A nurse found Miner and hustled her inside. Two doses of Narcan didn’t help — she had too much fentanyl in her system — and she flatlined twice before doctors could revive her.

That was one wake-up call — but incredibly, it wasn’t enough to help Miner kick her drug addiction.

The day she was released from the hospital, her dad drove her to Harbor House in Holland, where she spent 90 days in rehabilitation. A month later, she relapsed, began using heroin again, and overdosed.

This time, she went directly from the hospital to the Ottawa County Jail, where her parole officer contacted the county’s drug court.

“The drug court had me go visit her, and I told her she had two choices,” said Pricilla Shafor, who mentors 16 people through the county’s drug court. “You can finish out your jail sentence, or you can start fresh and you come to the drug court program. At that point, J.J. said she needed help.”

Asking for help didn’t come easy for Miner, who said she was adopted into a loving home and had “a normal upbringing, good childhood, good schools.” But when she was 14, she began what would become her new normal — a life of chasing her next high.

“I didn’t know where I fit in. That’s an issue with me, not fitting in,” she said. “When I was 14, a traumatic event happened (and) I wanted to numb the pain. I started using alcohol and marijuana. That led me to experimenting with every drug out there, except for heroin. I never in a million years thought I’d use heroin.”

But the addiction had Miner firmly in its grasp. By 17, she was using cocaine regularly. When she was 21, she began using prescription pain pills — Oxycontin, morphine and the like.

“They became too expensive, and the next thing out there was heroin,” Miner said. “At 24, I became a full-fledged heroin addict.”

She and her boyfriend — the father of her two young children — sold their car to pay for drugs. They were evicted from their apartment because they couldn’t afford the rent.

“We sold everything for dope,” Miner said. “We sold TVs. We would return my children’s Christmas presents. … We were living at a hotel, and we’d hustle up enough money for dope, diapers and formula.”

Things began to change when her boyfriend overdosed. He was on probation at the time, so he was sent to jail. Child Protective Services got involved.

Still, Miner couldn’t admit to herself that she was an addict and that she needed help. Instead, she sent her daughter to live with an aunt and her son to live with her parents.

“I didn’t want my kids in that environment, but I know I wasn’t ready to stop,” she said.

At 26, Miner was arrested for cashing bad checks and driving without a license or proof of insurance. She spent a week in the Muskegon County Jail.

When she got out, she went right back to drugs. She was living with a drug dealer when she was arrested for missing a court date and spent three months in the Ottawa County Jail.

That time behind bars didn’t have the effect of curbing her addiction for drugs. In fact, it had the opposite effect, she said.

“I was in there three months just stewing. I was clean, and I didn’t want to be clean,” she said. “When I got out, I used again, and I overdosed.”

It wasn’t until Miner got involved in the drug court program and began forging a relationship with Shafor that she truly decided she wanted to beat her addictions, she says.

Shafor explained that the drug court is an intensive 18-month program. Miner started the program nearly a year ago.

The program involves therapy, weekly meetings with a probation officer, attending recovery support group programs and meeting with her recovery coach.

Over the past year, Miner and Shafor have forged a strong relationship that has helped Miner on her journey.

“Our relationship has become much more trusting,” Shafor said. “She knows I’m a person in recovery, too.”

If she ever needs a reminder about the dangers of drug addiction, all Miner has to do is remember some of her friends. Last weekend, two of her friends overdosed and died. This year, she’s lost seven people she knows to drug overdoses.

Challenges to recovery

Because she has a felony on her record, Miner has a hard time finding an apartment to rent. She can’t get a checking or savings account, and finding a job is exceedingly difficult.

But she says she’s working hard to become a success story.

“She’s had a job for a year, and she’s kept that job,” Shafor said. “She attends everything that she’s required to attend. She has her children back, and she takes care of her children.”

It’s also difficult to shed the label of an addict.

“There’s a hierarchy,” Shafor said. “And in Ottawa County, if you’re a recovering alcoholic, there are much more programs available.”

While Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet several times a day across West Michigan, it’s difficult to find a Narcotics Anonymous class.

“There aren’t enough resources available,” Miner said. “Not in Ottawa County. I’m not an alcoholic, so I feel like I’m not being truthful when I go to an AA meeting.”

She also noted a lack of transitional housing, especially for women. Much of the transitional housing that is available is faith-based, and that doesn’t appeal to everyone.

Despite the obstacles she’s facing, Miner is determined not to slide back into the darkness that engulfed her life for 10-plus years.

“I had to stop talking to a lot of people, dealers, people from Muskegon, even people I’ve met in Holland,” she said. “But there’s temptation all the time at work. Triggers. You just have to trust yourself not to give in.

“It makes me angry I’m going to have to fight this every day, but I will die if I use again. Everybody’s dying.”

If she could go back and give her 14-year-old self some advice, what would she say?

“I would tell my 14-year-old self to love yourself,” Miner said. “You don’t need this stuff. … Find out the reason why you want to be numb and deal with those issues. … Who cares if you don’t fit in? Be yourself. And right now, you don’t want to listen to your parents, but they love you and they’re doing it for a reason.”

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