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Addicted to opioids, Hoekstra now on road to recovery

Beth Hoekstra will celebrate five years of sobriety in December. She became addicted to the prescription painkiller hydrocodone after living with severe back pain and going through seven surgeries. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Beth Hoekstra never saw herself as an addict.

A college graduate, working professional, wife and mother of two, she didn’t fit the profile of a drug addict — at least that’s what she kept telling herself.

Hoekstra grew up in Adrian, attended Minnesota West and graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Her career began in Nobles County Family Services, where she coordinated adoptions, licensed foster homes and worked in child protection and truancy for three years. She went on to become social services coordinator for a nursing home, and later did child advocacy work for a private agency in Osceola and O’Brien counties in Iowa.

‘I was so close to losing everything’

As she climbed the ladder in her career, Hoekstra was on another journey — one she thought invisible to others — that led her down the path of opioid addiction.

It’s difficult to pinpoint just when the hydrocodone she’d been taking for pain became a pill she popped to mask other stressors in her life, but that’s what happened.

Hoekstra’s first encounter with prescribed painkillers came in 2009 with her first surgery for sinus problems. The pills helped her in recovery, but she never felt like she had to have them.

When the sinus problems continued, and a bulging disk formed in Hoekstra’s spine, there was a two-and-a-half year span, beginning in 2011, in which she had seven surgeries — three were sinus-related, the others to alleviate her severe back pain.

She couldn’t function without pain relievers, and was taking far more pills than her doctor had prescribed just to get through each day.

“I thought the doctors weren’t giving me enough,” Hoekstra said. “I was going through a 30-day prescription in a matter of a few days.”

When she ran out of pills, she began experiencing withdrawal, but still didn’t think she’d become addicted.

Instead, she started to work the system, calling clinics and pharmacies outside of the Sanford and Avera networks so she could get more hydrocodone. She’d travel as far away as Sioux City, Iowa, to pick up a prescription.

She also stole medication from the homes of friends and family.

“I was continuing to take more and more and it was just getting bad,” she said in hindsight. “The amount I was taking should have killed me.”

Hoekstra believed she had everyone fooled — even herself.

“Because it was a prescription, I still didn’t grasp the concept that I had a problem,” she said.

Her family, however, could see what was happening to her. They planned an intervention, convincing Hoekstra to enter a 30-day inpatient treatment program.

It was a trifecta of circumstances, really. She had just lost her job and, while she was in treatment, she learned she would be charged for taking medications from people’s homes.

“I was just devastated,” Hoekstra said. “I spent my whole life helping people. I was so close to losing everything.”

As devastated as she felt, Hoekstra couldn’t overcome her addiction. The day after her release from the inpatient treatment program, she went to the pharmacy to refill her prescription.

“I felt that I had to have them,” she admitted. “I had pain in the beginning, but I think my mind was being tricked to the extent of the pain.”

The prescription painkillers allowed her to escape reality — especially after the criminal charges were filed against her.

“I was really scared, and being scared I wanted to consume more so I didn’t have to think about it,” said the Ocheyedan, Iowa woman.

The painkillers gave her a sense of peace.

“It made me feel good,” she said. “I wouldn’t describe it as a high, but when I was mixing other prescriptions … people could see something was wrong with me.

“It made me feel that I was invincible.”

Facing reality

Hoekstra’s relapse with painkillers set in motion a series of events. She was arrested and jailed for stealing medications, and was then sent to drug court in the very county where she’d been a social worker.

When she saw some of the same clients she assisted as a social worker, Hoekstra said she realized she was no different from them — that addiction can happen to anyone and she didn’t choose the disease.

She credits drug court with turning her life around, but it wasn’t easy. For the first four months, she continued to believe she could do what she wanted and faked her way through her biweekly appearance before the judge.

That came to a screeching halt on Dec. 18, 2013 — Hoekstra’s birthday — when the judge called her out and said, “We don’t believe a word you’re saying. You’re going to sit in jail for three days.”

Hoekstra said she knew she deserved it, but it took another two-week jail sentence before she hit her breaking point.

“From that point on I began to listen to the people,” she said. “I believe they have my best interest at heart, and I surrendered. I was able to break out of the despair and hopelessness I had.”

Once on the path to overcoming her addiction, Hoekstra was offered an opportunity to serve as house manager when Project Morning Star Residential Recovery opened locally in October 2014 to serve those overcoming addiction. She’s been there ever since, and now works as the director of operations.

“My life has just come full circle,” she said. “I’m grateful for my addiction because I wouldn’t be where I am.

“My background and desire has always been to help people. Now I can share my personal story with the patients here and let them know recovery is possible.”

At one time believing she’d never return to her career in social work with a criminal conviction, Hoekstra said she now gets to share her experience, strength and hope with others “to let them know life is better than it ever has been.”

Life in recovery

In December, Hoekstra will mark her fifth anniversary of sobriety. Recovery has not only played a major role in her life, but that of her family as well. It’s brought them all together.

“It’s about forgiving, being humble, being kind and being grateful,” she said. “Being in recovery makes you look inside yourself when maybe sometimes you don’t want to.”

Hoekstra said her addiction to prescription painkillers took a toll on her family. She lost relationships with people and turmoil with those she loves.

“I can’t fathom going back to that again,” she said.

But, at 36, she worries. Will she need another surgery in the future? If so, she knows she won’t be able to take prescription pain medications.

“I have faith in my recovery and my God that I will make it through if it will ever come about,” she said.

“I feel everything happens for a reason. I feel I am where I'm supposed to be. It’s an amazing feeling; it’s a humbling feeling. It makes me feel I am living the life God wants me to live.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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