2017-07-16 / Insight

‘Part of me is dead’: What it’s like living with addicts

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Kristine Mueller of Mayfield Township was disturbed by “Sound Off” comments she read in The County Press by some area residents who suggested drug addiction isn’t a real problem in the community. Her personal story will suggest otherwise. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Kristine Mueller of Mayfield Township was disturbed by “Sound Off” comments she read in The County Press by some area residents who suggested drug addiction isn’t a real problem in the community. Her personal story will suggest otherwise. Photo by Andrew Dietderich MAYFIELD TWP. — Kristine Mueller tries her best to wear a smile and not let how the disease of drug addiction has affected her life make her emotional.

But for the most part, it’s a struggle.

It’s a struggle for her to talk about how she locks her door at night to keep one family member from taking her purse, her jewelry, or anything else of value.

It’s hard for her to talk about how her husband sleeps with the car keys under his pillow so their vehicle isn’t taken for nefarious uses.

It’s hard for her to talk of the thousands of dollars spent on various forms of rehab for the family member, including a boot camp in Pennsylvania that cost $1,900 a month for a year.

It’s hard for her to talk about how much of herself she has lost, how she and her husband haven’t been able to do things like travel because any extra money — or energy — they’ve had for years has been drained by their family member’s drug-related issues.

And it’s even hard for her to talk about having small get-togethers with other adults, including family members, that don’t happen because they just don’t want to be around someone in the throes of addiction.

This is what it’s like to be a family member of someone who struggles with drug addiction.

“Right now it’s like part of me is dead,” Mueller says, holding back sobs. “Not being able to have a family life like it should be. Not being able to feel safe. Watching every move you make.”

Mueller, 56, Mayfield Township, reached out to The County Press after reading a comment in the paper’s “Sound Off” section. The comment essentially claimed drug addiction isn’t real — a problem that the media is somehow manufacturing to sell subscriptions.

It caught the attention of Mueller and others.

Lapeer County Circuit Court Judge Byron Konschuh also was one who found the comment unbelievable.

He told The County Press there are people like Mueller all across the Lapeer area.

“I go to any event and I’ll ask how many people have a family member, friend, or acquaintance that’s involved in the damaging throes of drug addiction and, of course, every single hand goes up,” he said. “Everybody knows somebody that’s in the middle of this now, whether it’s alcohol, drugs or whatever — there’s a substance abuse issue in almost every family or circle of friends.”

Mueller says the disease of addiction runs in her family. She admits she had her own problems in the past with abuse of marijuana, cocaine, and benzodiazepines (drugs branded as Xanax, Clonopin, etc.), but that she has been clean for almost 30 years.

Her sister and brother-inlaw were not so lucky. The couple struggled so badly with drugs that they permanently lost custody of their two children — Mueller’s nephews — who the Muellers adopted.

That was when the two boys were ages 5 and 12. Today, the adopted boys are 16 and 23.

“It was a joy to have them around,” Mueller said, adding that activities like camping and attending sporting events were favorite family occasions. “Until the youngest one was about 11.”

Around that time, the boys’ biological parents both died of drug-related causes, including the father who overdosed on heroin.

“It was right before the youngest one’s birthday,” Mueller says. “(The biological father) was supposed to come spend the weekend with us.”

The older of the two boys shortly thereafter began taking the pain pills of Mueller’s husband. The kid overdosed. Quick-acting police saved his life.

“After that, we had to start keeping our medicines in a safe,” Mueller said, adding that she went to Zemmer Middle School and told administrators that she believed the boy had been selling some of the drugs.

“I’m not about hiding it,” she said. “I want to prevent it and people who are doing it and abusing it need help.”

The older kid stayed clean for a while — she thought — until one day when Mueller says she had friends over for a Mary Kay party and suddenly smelled marijuana. She looked outside on the deck and saw the boy and a friend smoking marijuana. She called the police, who came and talked to him about drug use.

Eventually, when the older boy became of age, the Muellers had to kick him out.

The younger boy started also getting into trouble, stealing money, jewelry, and more. Drugs were part of the equation, such as when she caught him smoking marijuana in the garage, or school administrators called her to say the boy was caught on camera passing a bag of powdery substance.

“Before he went to school, I would search him,” Mueller says. “I would find stuff in his shoes. I would find stuff in his backpack.”

Ultimately, the younger boy ended up being sent to Genesee Valley Regional Correction Center and then a boot camp in Pennsylvania for a year.

He’s back home now, Mueller says. He recently landed a job, and Mueller says she is hoping for the best but admits it’s impossible to trust him today.

“There’s just so much out there,” she says, noting that over the years the boys have pointed out various spots throughout the area where drugs are allegedly readily bought and sold on the street.

Of course, Mueller knows there will be some, maybe even many that will put the blame squarely on her and/or her husband for the actions of the boys.

In a time when it’s especially in vogue to cast stones and spew hatred at the drop of a hat, Mueller says she even expects to be a sort of target for those who “bury their heads in the sand.”

She’s OK with that. After all, she says, only people in situations like hers know how strong the disease of drug addiction can be, and that when it takes hold, there isn’t much one can do to help another until he or she wants to help his- or herself.

“My goal when I adopted was to make sure they were productive people in society and able to take care of themselves when they became adults, so that’s very…it’s a letdown,” Mueller says, tears streaming down her face.

Still, Mueller says she believes it’s important to stand up and share her experiences to spread awareness of what’s happening in the area when it comes to drugs, to let people know that there are others in the community who struggle because someone they know or love is struggling.

“People need to know how it is, what other people are going through,” she says. “It’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s discouraging. It’s frustrating. It’s upsetting. You lose trust… trust is a big thing.”

And maybe, Mueller added, someone like her also will find solace in knowing he or she isn’t alone.

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