This is part of an ongoing series in which Bronx writers share their personal stories on the state of healthcare in America.
by Barbara Kloss
February 4, 2019
Trying Not to Die Right Now
This week’s story by a recovering alcoholic details her journey from a happy childhood, through a series of careers, with increasingly serious alcoholism. Now committed to recovery and embarked on a new career, her story looks backwards from today.
Why is this story so important? Addiction is an illness that demands attention. And addiction has reached epidemic proportions. The opioid epidemic is the greatest American public health crisis in decades, arguably since the emergence of AIDS. Opioids kill 130 people a day across the U.S, many in the Bronx.
The problem is urgent “It’s frustrating …,” said an opioid addict to a Politico reporter, “I need help now. I’m trying not to die right now.”
As a recovering addict, seeking to serve as a Wellness Consultant, I know healthcare disparities firsthand. Fixing those disparities (with the same urgency as treating, say, cancer) involves recognizing addiction as a health problem, like every other illness. Only removing the stigma from alcoholism and substance abuse will allow us to address these conditions systematically — and effectively.
The NYHA will bring all essential healthcare to all New Yorkers. Everybody In, Nobody Out. In addition to primary and emergency care, this inclusion means treatment for mental health and substance abuse, and all their intertwined medical issues. On a state level, we can address crisis-level opioid problems that may continue to fester at the federal level, given the complicity of the FDA in perpetuating the epidemic (The Guardian, Jan 24, 2019).
I came of age in the 1980s go-go era of an intoxicated Wall Street. Despite those maddening headwinds, my three brothers and I were raised in the then bucolic and somewhat sheltered Staten Island.
My parents considered it rash when I chose to attend secretarial school after high school in 1984. I joined the secretarial pool of a prestigious Manhattan company and, with that job, discovered the excitement of after-hours clubs. The drinking part, I learned, was an acquired skill for most people. For me, the thrill was immediate. I quickly progressed from mixed cocktails. A Sapphire martini, straight up, was my new business card. And I was serious about my business.
Success came rapidly: from secretarial pool, to personal secretary, to partner in a private bank with a jaw-dropping salary and all the glitz of life in the fast lane. In a world where working 80-100-hour weeks was common, I learned that holding my own in drinking bouts with the boys was a professional lubricant.
I failed to see that, with each notch up the corporate ladder, I rewarded myself with a finer martini — and, when alone, to drinking straight from the bottle. It was no longer about enjoying the taste. It was about draining the bottle as quickly as possible to fill the ever-growing vacancy of my life.
Deciding Wall Street was the source of my unhappiness, I sought to change channels by earning a Master’s from the Stern School of Business.
My drinking escalated. I had two minor strokes and required open heart surgery. Did I reconsider my drinking? Think again. Instead I decided to again change channels: I wanted to help those on the frontlines of distress. I chose nursing.
Focused on beginning my version of living a life worth living, I earned my license in 2007. I began a promising career, but my alcoholism followed me. I lost my job.
Drunk at home, I slipped and fell, hitting the edge of a glass coffee table, cutting a 3-inch gash in my face. Later that year, my second DWI involved an accident where a man was injured. I ended up in Riker’s Island for 10 days.
I Begin My Day One
That trip to Riker’s was the turning point which released me from the bondage of self. I am now fully committed to my life as a recovering alcoholic.
I am grateful to have had Medicaid since 2013. It covers my treatment for substance abuse— enabling me attend an intensive outpatient program, and also including medications and therapy. I have begun to walk the path of recovery. For me, that means that I no longer stop into bars. I no longer drink at home.
Because I understand what the travails of addiction are, I can help others fight their ongoing addiction battles. I have a new life. My story has a new beginning. That beginning needed effective healthcare. As I see it, I was lucky to get it.
I want all New Yorkers to have affordable access to the care they need, when they need it — without having to fall so far they spend time in Riker’s.
All of us need NY Health.
Engaged in social justice through her church, Barbara Kloss has personally witnessed widespread healthcare injustice and supports NY Health to help all New Yorkers.
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