A Nurse's Healing Story: Admitting Her Truth about Addiction

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Photographer in Medow

Nina O. knew all about addiction. As a child, she grew up in a family hurt by substance use. As a nurse, she recognized addiction as a chronic disease. And yet Nina thought she was somehow immune, even as she diverted narcotics from work to sustain her drug dependence. Listen in as Nina tells host William C. Moyers how shame and stigma kept her from admitting her truth and seeking help—and why other health care workers need to know treatment works and recovery is within reach.

I knew about addiction, I knew about opiates. And I continued using them anyways.

Nina O.

0:00:13 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of podcasts produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on the issues that matter to us, the issues that we know matter to you, too. Substance abuse prevention, research, treatment for addiction, recovery management, education, and advocacy. I'm your host, William Moyers, and today we have a story of hope brought to us by Nina. Hello, Nina, how are you?

0:00:39 Nina
I'm good, how are you?

0:00:40 William Moyers
Great, good to see you again. I know you've done a number of public events if you will or stood up and spoken out using your own story to help unmask the stigma of addiction and promote the reality of what we look like. And the fact that treatment works and recovery is possible and we're glad that you're with us today on Let's Talk. Tell us a little bit about your first experience with substances.

0:01:02 Nina
Yeah, thank you for having me. So, my first experience was really the one that ultimately brought me here. For my own—in my life, my dad was an alcoholic growing up. For me, I had an injury which ultimately ended up—I ended up getting prescribed narcotics. Opiates. And I enjoyed them well beyond using them for pain.

0:01:33 William Moyers
How old were you then?

0:01:34 Nina
It was about seven years ago. So.

0:01:37 William Moyers
Okay. Yeah. Seven years ago.

0:01:41 Nina
Yeah. [chuckles] And you know, kinda before I knew it, I was enjoying them, you know, kinda like my whole mind, body, spirit, everything. And it ended up becoming, you know, full-on addiction which I thought I was immune to for whatever reason. I was not. And I was physically addicted. It got to the point where I couldn't use them. I couldn't not use them without getting sick.

0:02:09 William Moyers
And the irony of it is is that you were working in the health care field at some point along the course of your addiction—

0:02:12 Nina

0:02:15 William Moyers
You're a nurse!

0:02:16 Nina

0:02:17 William Moyers
Talk to us about being a nurse who is struggling with substances.

0:02:20 Nina
Yeah, it was—it was really hard. I had—I knew about addiction, I knew about opiates, I knew all of those things. And I continued using them anyways. And I think—I think I particularly felt a lot of shame because of that. And I had access to them in my workplace and so being—I just didn't wanna be the nurse with an addiction and I think that was a huge denial piece for me. Until I ended up diverting narcotics from the hospital I worked at. Ultimately ending in getting caught and resigning.

0:03:07 William Moyers
And that diversion was so that you could sustain your own addiction?

0:03:11 Nina
Yes. Yes. Very much.

0:03:13 William Moyers
How did that make you feel when you were under the influence, when you knew what you were doing was not only wrong but was actually illegal, and yet you couldn't stop?

0:03:24 Nina
Just the powerlessness of it. But also in—in active addiction, it wasn't—it wasn't a matter of right or wrong 'cause for me, my morals and values have always included not stealing. But that wasn't—it was a matter of feeling normal or not. Or—so it just—I don't know that it was ever—I know I felt guilt, I knew at the end of the day it was wrong, but in the moment, it was just what I needed to do. And, you know, and that's what I did.

0:03:57 William Moyers
And then in 2017 as you noted—

0:03:59 Nina

0:03:59 William Moyers
—You were "caught." 

0:04:00 Nina

0:04:03 William Moyers
You were terminated.

0:04:04 Nina
I re—yes.

0:04:05 William Moyers

0:04:06 Nina
Resigned. Same thing, yeah.

0:04:07 William Moyers
Yeah. You left your job. And you went to treatment.

0:04:09 Nina

0:04:10 William Moyers
Did you have any doubt in your mind that you needed treatment?

0:04:13 Nina
Not at all. And I think honestly, it was a relief once the shock of it all, of losing not only what I used as my coping mechanism but losing what I had worked for for so long. I have always wanted to be a nurse, so I think the shock of losing all of that wore off. It was a relief I didn't have to keep covering my tracks, I didn't have to keep wondering where I was gonna get my next fix from. I didn't—somewhere in there, there was relief.

0:04:46 William Moyers

0:04:47 Nina
That I did get caught so I could go get the help that I needed.

0:04:51 William Moyers
And you got that help—

0:04:52 Nina

0:04:52 William Moyers
You got that help at Hazelden Betty Ford.

0:04:53 Nina
I did.

0:04:54 William Moyers
In Minnesota.

0:04:55 Nina

0:04:57 William Moyers
And that help included—how long were you in treatment?

0:04:59 Nina
28 days. In inpatient.

0:05:00 William Moyers
As an inpatient? Residential and then you transitioned into a step-down program?

0:05:05 Nina

0:05:05 William Moyers

0:05:06 Nina
Like in IOP, Intensive Outpatient, called COR-12 specifically for opiate addiction.

0:05:14 William Moyers
COR-12 C-O-R, which is Comprehensive Opioid Response hyphen 12, meaning the Twelve Steps.

0:05:19 Nina

0:05:19 William Moyers
'Cause you had an opiate addiction?

0:05:21 Nina

0:05:22 William Moyers
And that COR-12 meant that you were prescribed as part of the treatment regimen what?

0:05:29 Nina

0:05:31 William Moyers
Okay. Buprenorphine? Yeah.

0:05:33 Nina
Yep. Yep. That started during inpatient. And continued through outpatient and into my life now.

0:05:41 William Moyers

0:05:42 Nina
So and that was—that was huge for me personally. I think, you know, after, you know they kinda call it the "bubble" of inpatient treatment—

0:05:52 William Moyers
Yeah. Right.

0:05:52 Nina
—Where everything's safe. After that, there's all the trials of life that come, you know, they didn't stop—

0:06:01 William Moyers
Still happens. [nods, laughs]

0:06:01 Nina
Yeah. So that was a big support for me.

0:06:05 William Moyers
Right. And that trial of life for you included having to come to terms with the fact that you were gonna lose your license as a nurse, is that right?

0:06:14 Nina
Yep. So I—I got a letter in the mail saying that my license was suspended. Which I—during inpatient, I was part of a health care professional group. So that was—I was able to be around people who were similar to me which was a huge deal. But also I kind of learned what I would—what to expect. For what was gonna happen next for me as a nurse. And so I kinda was prepared for that to happen. And it was still really hard. But I also, in all of that, got a phone call from the DEA which was so scary. That I was being charged for this, for what happened at the hospital and diverting narcotics. And so, like I said, just having all that support was a huge deal. But it was like two very big things for me.

0:07:07 William Moyers

0:07:08 Nina
That were very scary. That I had—ultimately I had COR-12, I had my counselors, I had my sober—I mean there was so much support around me that helped me get through that.

0:07:17 William Moyers
It wasn't all hard though, I mean—

0:07:19 Nina

0:07:19 William Moyers
—Along the way you became a new mom.

0:07:21 Nina
I did.

0:07:22 William Moyers
What's that been like to be a sober mom?

0:07:24 Nina
Oh my gosh. It's been so—it's been so great. It's—I'm able to experience these things and whereas all my energy before was being used up by when I'm gonna use next, where I'm gonna get it next, what I have to cover up. You know, all of those exhausting things I'm totally able to focus on my son and my husband and where my life's at now and it's—it's so great, so rewarding.

0:07:53 William Moyers
What has motivated you to be public about your experience, both on the substance use side and on the recovery side? The fact that you were and still are a nurse, you wanna continue in that profession. But it takes a certain person who has that willingness to stand up and speak out.

0:08:13 William Moyers
You were on the stage at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minnesota when we had the Drug Czar, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, on the campus to meet people like you and to talk. And there you were on the stage in front of the Drug Czar and in front of a big group of people. Here you are on a Let's Talk podcast being seen and heard by thousands of people who wanna know more. What is your motivation for being public?

0:08:40 Nina
A couple different things I think. The being a nurse part, I just—when I—when that all started, I think I mentioned this, I felt like I was the only nurse on earth who was going through this. Who was, you know, getting caught doing something criminal, that I was very ashamed of. With an addiction in general who was dumb enough to use narcotics and become addicted to them. Just all those things for me were—held so much shame. I mean, so much. And when I got to Hazelden, I remember in the, you know, the detox unit, they—there was a nurse there that had gone through a very similar thing and hearing the first—she was the first person who I talked to that had ever been through that. And that was so big for me and then like I said, there was many people on the way who had been through similar things and then people sitting right next to me that were going through the same thing.

0:09:42 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.

0:09:43 Nina
So, just being able to tell people that you're—you're not alone in addiction, but you know, being a professional in addiction. Also the stigma was a big thing for me even though I grew up around addiction. And I knew it to be a chronic disease. I also know that in the health care profession, it was not always seen that way. And that makes it hard to wanna get help, that makes it hard to wanna admit to what's going on and go get that help. And that was the best thing that happened to me. And I, you know, at first because I was caught and had to go to treatment wasn't necessarily a choice, but it was ultimately my choice to go; no one was telling me that I had to.

0:10:29 William Moyers

0:10:28 Nina
But that it's okay to stop what you're doing and go take that time for yourself and treat your addiction and move on and be able to live a healthy life.

0:10:44 William Moyers
So where do things stand with your dreams of continuing to pursue nursing? Or do you have your license back, what do you have next planned?

0:10:55 Nina
I don't have my license—it's still suspended right now. I'm in the process of getting it back and working with the Board on what that looks like. If there's gonna be, you know, restrictions or what that looks like. But I will have it back. And then, from there I really would like to get into the addiction you know medical profession in some way. Whatever that looks like. 'Cause that was such a huge part for me. And I wanna be able to share with people more one-on-one that they're not alone.

0:11:26 William Moyers
What is that message that you would leave our viewers with today? We know that there are a lot of "professionals" [uses air quotes] including nurses who are probably watching or listening to this Let's Talk podcast—

0:11:32 Nina
Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.

0:11:38 William Moyers
But at the end of the day, we know that there are a lot of people who are just like you—

0:11:42 Nina

0:11:43 William Moyers
—And just like me and just like thousands and thousands of people who have struggled with substances. Don't know where the answer is or looking for some hope. What—what's the message you have for people who are struggling right now?

0:11:53 Nina
I keep coming back to—and this was true for me—what do I have to lose? I, you know, I had nothing to lose and so much to gain. Even—even losing my job, even without my nursing career right now, I have so much more in my life.

0:12:10 William Moyers

0:12:10 Nina
And I'm able to experience so much more in my life. And the support is out there without the stigma. And it's so much bigger than I could have ever imagined. The support is everywhere once you are in the recovery community and it's just taking that first step and it's—it's scary, it's intimidating, but it is so wonderful. And I—I really think it's the best thing to do. For yourself. And that I would—you know, you're worth it, you can take that time.

0:12:44 William Moyers
Without a doubt, you are worth it, Nina. And we thank you so much for bringing your story of hope to our constituents at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. On behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl, I'm your host William Moyers. And we wanna thank you for joining us for another edition of Let's Talk, a series of podcasts that at the end of the day are always about hope. And help. And healing. We hope you'll join us again. Thank you.

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