This is the fourth story in a series sharing different perspectives about how the current opioid crisis affects our town and ways people with ties to Hingham are reaching out to others to provide support and help to those who are fighting substance use disorder.
August 5, 2019 by Carol Britton Meyer
Julie Slodden, who grew up in Hingham, struggled with addiction for many years, but she never gave up on her hopes for recovery.
It wasn’t easy, but her courage and refusal to give in when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges eventually paid off, and on July 26 she celebrated six years of sobriety.
“My path toward recovery was through the AA 12 step program,” said Slodden, who now lives in neighboring Cohasset.
Looking back to where it all started, Slodden began drinking at age 14. “It soothed my soul,” she said, eventually coming to the conclusion that “something Inside me was wired differently” as she found herself getting deeper into alcohol and eventually drugs. “Addiction is a disease.”
It took a long time for things to fall apart, Slodden said, but when that began to happen after she started taking opiates around 2002 at the age of 23, her parents were “at their wits’ end. I was so volatile.”
Even when she started taking drugs and smoking pot, she continued drinking. “I was self-medicating because I was in mental pain — I felt badly about myself,” Slodden said. “Eventually things got out of control.”
She said she “got away with it for a long time because everyone would say, ‘That’s Julie. She likes to have a good time.’ And I was good at manipulating those around me and lying to my parents.”
Quick ‘fixes’ didn’t work
In the midst of her drinking and using, Slodden would continuously try to “fix” herself, getting new jobs, moving out of town, and making new friends.
“I even moved to the Virgin Islands to get away from opiates, but that didn’t work. I did a lot of cocaine when I was there, and one night I said to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” she remembers.
Slodden attended 12 step meetings at different times when she was struggling but didn’t really give it her all.
By 2009 she knew she could no longer go it alone. “I told my parents, ‘I need help and I need to go away,” she recalled. Again she left town, this time for six weeks, but she found she “didn’t know how to cope without drinking and using cocaine and how to live a life of sobriety.”
Within 24 hours of returning home she was high again. “It was back to the same old nightmare, the same old life that included lying, stealing, and cheating — whatever it took to get by. I loved when I was high and would do anything to get drugs. It was wondering everyday where I could get them. My entire life revolved around getting drugs. Living like that is exhausting and scary.”
After being prescribed Zanax for anxiety, “which was in direct relation to my being a raging drug addict, I abused it and received treatment at Pembroke Hospital to wean me off of the Zanax or I would have died,” Slodden said, because that’s how serious her condition had become. “It helped me at that moment, but it didn’t get me on track.”
After checking into a rehabilitation facility in 2009, she starting drinking alcohol and using drugs again. After getting married, which she thought would “save” her — “I thought we’d live in Cohasset and everything would be great” — she still was unable to quit. Then in 2012, when she was still using drugs, she got pregnant. “I thought to myself, ‘What nice girl from Hingham would get pregnant and still use drugs?’” hoping this good news would help make her stop. “Learning I was pregnant really upped the ante, and I thought it would help me get on the right track.” But that didn’t happen.
“The first time I used heroin I was pregnant. I was addicted to opiates,” Slodden said. “When you’re dope sick you think a little heroin will make you feel better. The addiction progressed, and I was concerned that if someone found out, my baby would be taken from me, which they should. I didn’t tell my family [about my heroin addiction].”
Substance use disorder affects all walks of life, Slodden said. “People say you choose to use, but it happens gradually. Our wiring is different and once drugs or alcohol enter our system we’re off.”
At seven months pregnant she started taking Suboxone, “mostly as a quick fix, without medical supervision,” she said. Suboxone is the brand name for a prescription medication used in treating individuals addicted to opioids — illegal or prescription — that blocks the opiate receptors and reduces the urge to use drugs.
When her daughter Georgia — now six — was born, Slodden said she “truly believed she was a gift from God and that I would get sober, but I was back to using heroin in 10 days.”
At that point her now former husband realized something was wrong and Slodden made desperate promises that she was going to get clean and never use drugs again. “My husband told me he would leave and take Georgia with him if I didn’t get sober,” she said. “And still I didn’t.”
After her then-husband contacted her family about the situation, he then told Slodden that he was going to divorce her and get custody of Georgia, which rocked her to the core.
The following day Slodden checked into a rehab facility in Brockton. “I was done and willing to totally surrender. I decided I would live my life sober from then on,” she said. “I was served divorce papers while I was in the Brockton rehab,” she said, because things had gone too far.
Path to recovery
Still, Slodden was certain that God was working in her life, which she feels led her to the Plymouth House recovery retreat in New Hampshire for further treatment as the next step in her recovery. The program is based on the 12 steps, she said, so she knew it would work for her when she put her whole heart into it. “The 12 steps [when adhered to] provide a blueprint for how to live your life and how to recover from a hopeless state of mind. I figured I had nothing to lose,” she said.
After spending five weeks there, Slodden entered a sober house in Dorchester for six months. “I met some of the best friends of my life there,” she said, “and I have remained sober ever since.”
She was gradually allowed supervised visits with her daughter and after five years she was awarded joint custody last summer. Slodden continues to live in Cohasset and has a job she enjoys.
“It was hard. My daughter is the most important thing in my life,” she said. “It’s good to see her father and me working together as a family as far as it relates to her. I made this mess, and we’re navigating her through it gracefully. We’re in a stable environment. God created this perfect being and it’s important to be at my best. Georgia is so happy, and so am I. She’s a lucky girl, and I’m a lucky Mom. We have a nice life.
In the end, the 12 step program was the solution for Slodden. “I can feel whole and happy again — and even sad — without using,” Slodden said. “I’ve learned how to cope with life as a parent and in a new relationship. I’m wired differently now.”