I am delighted to begin my conversation with Sheila Hyer.
In today’s episode, Sheila shares with us the story of how the disease of addiction has affected her throughout her life, not only as a registered nurse but as a family member who has witnessed and experienced its impact on multiple family members, from her mother to her sons.
Each relationship has had its unique impact on her life, and she bravely tells us about her youngest son’s battle with a late-onset meth addiction that rocked her world.
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See full transcript below.
You’re listening to the Embrace Family Recovery Podcast, a place for real conversations with people who love someone with the disease of addiction. Now here is your host, Margaret Swift Thompson.
Intro: Welcome back! It is my pleasure to introduce you to Sheila Hyer a mom, grandma, and retired nurse who has witnessed and experienced significant losses due to the disease of addiction. Today she’ll begin sharing her journey of how this disease has affected her life in numerous ways. Trigger warning there is talk of suicide.
The Embrace Family Recovery Podcast
I want to welcome you Miss Sheila Hyer to the podcast. I am so excited to chat with you. I know that you and I have had a lovely conversation and connected on our Boston roots. Which brings me happiness.
Sheila: Yes, we have.
Margaret: And I want to give you an opportunity to tell your story as a mother, and the journey you’ve had. But if you’d be willing to first share with us, who is your qualifier? Who is the person that introduced you to your own recovery to this journey?
That gave me this journey. That would be my 43-year-old son, Kevin.
And when you think about the journey, you’ve been on with Kevin, who has a substance use disorder, in recovery now? Correct?
Margaret: How long ago? Did this happen in your life? Like, what was the Wake up? What was the awareness for you what happened?
We were so naive. Okay, I’m an RN. But that doesn’t give you any experience. Also, I’m a retired RN. But it would have been in the vicinity of four years ago that we first knew something was wrong. We had no idea what. And since he was in his late 30s, early 40s, at the time. It was late 30s, he wasn’t living at home, he was out in the business world. So, we would hear from him like every week or so maybe sometimes every two weeks. But that was fine with us because he was out on his own, which is what every parent is doing,
Margaret: of course.
Sheila: And so, absences of hearing from him, although I will tell you now, in hindsight, I realized they were there. And we didn’t understand. And I guess very frankly, that’s when the lying started. But again, we never put it together.
And I honestly say this a lot to my guests. There’s the two pieces going on, there’s a person in the disease, who believes they have to use to be okay or to survive, who is determined to keep people from seeing because of their shame and not wanting people to know. And they tend to keep family in the dark the longest because of not wanting to hurt them and also knowing they will intervene the fastest. Not to mention on the other side of the coin. When we love someone with this disease, we want to see the best in people, we don’t want to see the ugly bits as I like to say that this disease creates.
So, before we go into the hindsight and what you now know that you didn’t know I want to touch base on what you just shared that’s very powerful. You’re an RN. And you shared that you were naive. Tell us for purposes of understanding. What did you get in your training around addiction, substance use disorder when you were in nursing school or in your years of being in the field?
Nothing. Now remember, Margaret, I trained in the early 60s. So, we’re talking many, many years ago, we just had our 60th class reunion. It was not addressed. It was not addressed. And again, being frankly honest, we had no reason to know anything about drugs.
We felt that the boys, we have three were grown. They were doing their thing, and we knew that drugs were becoming a huge issue. We live in a very small country community. And we would hear about the issues with drugs. We were recently hearing about suicides in our middle school that ultimately were connected to drug use. I knew nothing. And clearly 50 years ago, 60 years ago, we were trained in nothing. So, I’ve been trained in how to use Narcan. I have been in parts in committees, where I learned about these things. But really, Margaret, it was never at home. We never gave it a thought within our immediate family.
Sheila: We hoped our grandchildren would be okay.
Sheila: we have four, but never really naive is the only word I can use.
And understandably so. There was no reason not to be naive. There was no evidence, things in the community you were hearing, but nothing appeared to be coming to your home. So, I think part of it is giving ourselves grace of why would we even have that the nursing profession in the 60s, you weren’t trained in it? My understanding of the medical field still, it’s limited training. I had the privilege of working at Hazelden, where we would have medical students and people in their medical practices early on coming through and training because they still weren’t getting the training they wanted. And they have a great program called, The SIMS program at Hazelden, where medical professionals can train to understand this disease differently. So, we’ve still got a lot to do there. But that’s a whole tangent we’re not going to touch on. So, prior to your son about four years ago, any addiction in the family tree, any alcoholism, any issues that you were aware of that were part of your story.
Margaret, this is probably going to be the very hardest part for me. Okay, I’ll start at the beginning. My brother at the age of 27 committed suicide. And he had been on medical prescription drugs. For years, he probably became an alcoholic at 16. Okay, I remember that. And then after multiple suicide attempts, he killed himself.
Meanwhile, my dad was a police officer, I’m sure all of that, you know, starts to impact everything. So, for my father, it was dreadful, because my brother lived at home, and the ambulance kept coming. And the ambulance, we knew one of the people and they said, we know its just time, it was going to be a little bit of time, then Michael would kill himself. Well, he did.
My mother was addicted to Percodan and died of a massive aneurysm. When she was 56. She had an alcoholic father, an alcoholic brother. So, we always knew that there were issues in the family.
Sheila: Speaking, personally, I never tried a damn thing. Because I was so afraid. Remember the rules, remember the rule lady here, I was so very concerned,
Sheila: that I would become addicted. And so, I never did anything. We have our oldest son is 52. And we have not spoken to him in 10 years. We attempted to address what we felt was an alcohol problem. And the result was, he is happier without us in his life.
So, he put up a boundary after you tried to get him help, and won’t have contact with you.
Sheila: That is correct. That is correct.
Margaret: That is probably every family’s fear when they do an intervention of some kind that that will happen.
We should not have done it. We did it on our own. And we tried to say, we will come and live in the house. Go and get help. Julie, your wife can continue to work. Everybody can have a life. But we will be here so that you don’t have to worry. Please get help. And the grandchildren were like five and seven. And he knew that, that would be the worst thing he could do. So, do we have it and family in spades?
Sheila: So, I never thought to look for it again.
Right. Well, it also showed up late with Kevin, right. It wasn’t an early onset for him. Let’s get back to something I just want to say Sheila how sorry I am for the devastation that disease has created in your life, because that’s a lot. And I’m sorry for the losses you’ve experienced as a result of the disease whether it be that your son pulled away or losing your brother in that manner.
When you grew up in the home, I hear you say, rules. I’ve realized I was going to protect myself. I was too afraid it could happen to me. So, your strategy as a younger person was, not me not going to touch it. We’re going to be safe. And okay.
Sheila: That’s correct. Yeah. Yeah.
Margaret: Did you raise the kids about that? Like, did you share that with them? That that’s what you did?
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. They also knew about my brother. They didn’t know about my mother, we thought that was, you know, perhaps not what they needed. I also have siblings who have had children with issues. And my children knew every single bit of that.
Margaret: So, an open book.
Sheila: an open book. So now we’re back to what you had said the other day about the brain.
Sheila: Addiction is not a choice. You either have it or you don’t. And our family’s got it?
Sheila: I worry, so about my grandchildren, that other people will have to go through this again, because I don’t think it ended with us. Not with what I’m learning. Anyway. That’s the whole story. That’s the story that most people don’t know.
Do you remember as a young woman or a child with moms use and your brother struggles? Do you remember the impact on you, like when you were a cognizant of what was going on and how it affected you?
Not with my brother, Michael. Because I was in California by then. Okay, I had gone through training, I was now a Navy nurse. So, distance, remember, I got out of dodge. So, I don’t know. I’m sure. I used to, this is really personal. I used to pray that I would get my mother’s headaches. So, she wouldn’t have them.
Tried to take her pain away. So, she’d be okay. Thank you for that vulnerability. I think there are people listening who will so relate to that, that we want to do everything and anything to make them okay, so we can be okay.
And that’s the worst part of addiction is you can’t you have no control?
Sheila: And I had no control then, but at least I thought I did. But I had the option to leave. And I did.
Sheila: and I did.
And you went into a profession to help people.
And that’s why I did because of my mother’s health issues. Her headaches were caused by a brain tumor. And so, then she had brain surgery, and there was Sequela after that. I remember interestingly that the day she died from this massive aneurysm, my sister and I, I was 27
Sheila: And we couldn’t cry. Because she was finally at peace.
Sheila: I mean, we cried. But it wasn’t the how can you do this to me? How can you take me away? It was it’s okay. She’s at peace.
Could not cry because of relief for her that she was at peace?
Sheila: That was a lot to be putting on young people. Marilyn, my sister was married children. I was not at any rate.
So, you get into profession for very obvious reasons. And you find your passion and you help.
I did. I loved medicine. I was actually in pre-med, when I met, Ed, the audio man. And we met and we married. I was going back into medicine, not in nursing. Nursing was not my call. But medicine was. I would have been thrilled to have gone into research. And I still would if somebody said to me today, what do you want to do? I’d say I wanna go back to school, and anyone, at 81 I’d go back to school.
You’re unbelievable. your energy and your feistiness is obviously part of what got you through this whole journey, not to mention your passion.
This one almost knocked me down.
Yeah. You meaning Kevin?
Margaret: So, let’s move forward. So, you get married, and you have these three children?
And are open with them about the family history. So, they’re informed?
Sheila: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Margaret: And as you and I talked about, there are people who are fortunate to not have the disease and they are spared and those who have it and if we try something we don’t know if it’s going to flip the switch. And for your eldest it sounds like their switch was flipped at some point along the way. And you attempted the intervention? And we know the outcome of that, which is very sad for everybody?
Margaret: And it sounds like four years ago, Kevin would be an adult, when you started to be aware that there was a problem.
That is correct. That is correct. Yes, he was supporting himself, just for interest’s sake. Our first two boys were born a year apart. And we decided that was too many children too fast. And then Ed came to me, the audio man, and said, would you be willing to have another child, my boys were eight and nine at the time. And I said, why? Why do you want another child? And Ed was an only child. And he said, If anything ever happened to one of the boys, I don’t want an only child. And I said, that’s fine. You want another child; we’ll have another child. I said, I’d prefer pink. And so, I was working in a hospital and utilization review. And, you know, I went to one of my friends and said, how do we get a girl? So, she told me, it didn’t work. And I was 39. So, I didn’t have to have an amniocentesis, but we elected to. And so, we knew he was a boy from like, four and a half, five months on. So, we named him Kevin, well, before he was born. But it was funny because it was a deliberate pregnancy.
Sheila: Which, you know, if you want to go back and think about the way things happen, yeah.
Sheila: it was a deliberate pregnancy,
Margaret: where others would assume an opps because of the timeline.
Yes, it was, you know, I literally had to have a coil removed to go ahead, and I could get pregnant in a heartbeat. We could have had a dozen children.
He was a wanted child.
Oh, my yes. And since he came along, so far behind, his first outing after birth, was a birthday party at Chucky Cheeses. For his closest brother, he was two weeks old. So, Kevin has always been assimilated. And as a child, he was never disciplined. Kevin did not need discipline. He did not need discipline. He knew what needed to be done. When it was bedtime, he would come to me and say bed, bed is so of all of the children. He would have been the last one that I will have.
Sheila: anyway, just a little background.
Sure. And I think that’s really interesting, right? Because we often assume who may have it or not have it when we look at our children or relatives, right? We have that look around and wonder.
Margaret: And I think that’s one of the reasons this disease is called a baffling because it isn’t that easy to spot. We don’t know. We won’t know until the disease shows up. And then it’s like, oh, boy, here we are.
Sheila: Here we are.
Margaret: So, life continues. He gets on with his life, his career, and no issues present around addiction.
Kevin: And four years ago, he was living independently managing his life, you’d have contact here and there and then spidey sense goes off and you something’s wrong, or how do you come to realize, as mom, there’s a problem?
He had come home, and something was wrong. Okay, he had had a relationship and, and so we knew that, and he was challenged by it, suffering with it. But it was bigger than that. And we did not know Margaret. We didn’t ask, I don’t know that he would have told us.
Sheila: But we didn’t know what it was. But he had changed. We knew that. And so, the I’m not gonna say suffering. But the challenge was suddenly there as to what’s going on here. And of course, we got lots of I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m getting over this. I’m good. Everything’s fine. And I’m going to say I think it went on for about a year. I try not to chronological, everything because I want it more in my rearview mirror than reliving what did happen in the past.
I had had a premonition. It was during the summer. And my son Ken, and his two children were going to go to where we had lived for many years at the Jersey Shore. And Ken was going up to bring the children there. He loves to go back to the shore its where he spent all of his summers, and I became aware that I would be receiving a call from my daughter in law. Now while my son is away, my daughter in law has her horses, and her friends. And it’s her vacation because the children and a husband have gone away.
Sheila: And so, there’s no reason I should hear from Courtney. And I’m telling you this only because it was a fact. I knew that one day the phone was going to ring and it would be Courtney. And it happened at four o’clock on an afternoon, the phone rang, and I looked down, and it was Courtney. And I remember saying, here it is.
And she said, have you heard about Kevin? And I said no. And he had, he had been found by residents on a street in a field behind a fence, unconscious. Well, he wasn’t unconscious, because he was able to tell this woman his name. So, she went on to the internet and searched all the Hyers, she could find, she did not find me, she found both of my daughter in laws, one of them in Florida. And one of them, my neighbor. So, Courtney gave us all the details. And that’s when it started.
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In those moments, the devastation of the news, the horror, the shock, the fear the, every emotion possible. Has there any time on the journey been a place Sheila, where you’ve gotten to the point of I have an enormous amount of fear and worry. And I have a faith that he has a higher power because the fact that he was found and cared for in that manner?
Sheila: Yes, yes.
Margaret: I always try to find with families I work with. Granted, we never want this, and we have a lot of fear and worry. But where is that possibility of there’s a higher power watching over this person to give me a moment to just catch my breath.
I don’t believe I felt that
Margaret: at the time. I doubt it.
Sheila: No, I did not. But when I tell you I knew the call was coming. I knew that it was coming. And so, I have always been grateful that whether it’s my spirit, God can’t worry about one little person well he does, I suppose. But I have always felt that I can commune with someone. I don’t know who. But I knew that Courtney would be calling me. And I knew it would not be good.
Sheila; And I did. I knew that.
And I would believe at that moment. There’d be no reassurance in that knowledge, right. Like who wants this bad news? And who wants to hear the scary stuff.
No but I was okay knowing it was coming. I didn’t know what it was. Never, ever did I think he was going to be found in a field. And it was going to be drugs. I didn’t understand any of that. Ed immediately call the police in the area where he was found, which is where we have a lake home. And the police assured him that yes, they had a record of him being found because the ambulance was called, the police go with since he was found in the middle of a field, it was not a vehicular thing.
Sheila: Nobody knew how he got there. Nobody knew where a car was,
Sheila: So, we then I don’t remember when we went to the hospital, whether it was that moment or the next morning and must have been that moment. No, we didn’t. We didn’t. We spoke to Kevin. And he said, I’ll be home in a day or two. And we said, good. So, we call the hospital the next day spoke to the ward nurse. Now, this was in the beginnings of COVID, or in middle of COVID. Sometime in COVID. It was probably the very beginning. And she said, he is not allowed visitors we’re not allowed visitors in. However, if you would like to come up, you can. And no, he’s not going home.
Sheila: he is not going home. So, we went up. And that was the next day when we were calling to see when we could come and get him. And by then he was in full blown kidney failure.
So, you went from zero to 100? Very quickly.
We did. We did. We did our last probably quiet night’s sleep was that night, when at least you knew he was in the hospital. But we didn’t know why. But we knew he was alive because he talked to us. We had no idea the journey was about to begin.
And you speak to something very prevalent to most loved ones. And that is the pressure to be on alert and the fear, and the worry, and the sleeplessness, and just that being on crisis alert, I call it like just not knowing when things are going to happen again.
Margaret: So, this journey of four years, what happens next for you? Are you even internalizing what’s going on? Or is it still shock for you at that point?
We still didn’t know, Margaret. Okay. The police told Ed that they were treating it as an overdose.
Sheila: We were thinking of overdose of what? Well, I guess when you find someone in the middle of a field, you have to wonder how he got there and what the circumstances were. I think it might have been the nephrologist, who put him on the dialysis that probably said that it was the crystal meth, that was destroying his kidneys, it might have been the very first time we heard those words, and then had to start thinking of what was the next step? Because we didn’t know.
No, and I hear that. And I believe that. And even in my own story, Sheila, when I was told, it was like, boom, and then it was okay, but that makes sense. And that makes sense. And that makes sense, right? But in the moment, it was complete shock. And it’s what now, that was where I went similar to you. I’m the fixer, the caretaker. And it was like, okay, what do I do now? What do we do for help? How do we get this going? So, I’m guessing that’s what happened for you.
Yes. Kevin never gave up control. And I mean that with all seriousness, we get a call. Now, meanwhile, he’s in the hospital, I think, a couple of weeks. I can’t remember it all, but close to a couple of weeks. And the dialysis was working beautifully. Okay. And he had asked for a priest. Because we are religious people by nature. And he was raised that way. So, he wanted to talk to a priest. But he was certainly on the upswing. I got a call one day and it’s my son, and he says, they’re gonna let me out of the hospital, but you have to continue to give me IVs. I said, excuse me. He said, I’m not going to get better in here. Now, here’s where the drug is still talking. We still don’t know it, okay. So, for our learning curve, it was probably the slowest one in the world. And I’m not kidding.
Margaret: I doubt that.
Sheila: Well, anyway, so he came home, and I had to give him IV antibiotics, round socks, for two weeks. 6am noon, 6pm and midnight. So, I slept from one till five. And sometimes I got really angry. Because I thought why? You know, I mean, did we want him home? Yes. Was he a different person? Absolutely.
In retrospect, Sheila, granted, it was a slow learn, right. Do you think that you were seeing more of your son’s disease than him in those early days but didn’t understand that’s what you were seeing?
That is correct. We did not understand. We were seeing the disease.
Sheila: We were seeing a boy that we had never know. And it was hard. Everything was hard. Everything is hard. I don’t know if this is a good jumping off place, but maybe it is. What do you do? Who do you tell? What are you looking for? I remember one day sitting at his bed while the IV dripping in. And he says, do you want to know when I relapse? And I looked at him, I said, you just almost died. And you’re gonna relapse. There is my lack of knowledge of the disease of addiction. He already knew it. He already knew he wasn’t quitting.
He wasn’t ready yet.
He wasn’t going to, why would you give that up? No, we didn’t know that.
Sheila: And so, the struggle of seeing him and then suddenly realizing, suddenly realizing the lack of control, the isolation was so hard. And that’s what I said to him not too long ago, now that he was in recovery. I said, I can’t just take this experience and not do something with it. I said, I can’t believe that I was put here just to get you through it. And he said, what do you want to do? And I said, I don’t know. But I have to do something with this energy. I can’t just say oh, isn’t it okay now? Because Margaret, the fear never goes away. It’s never okay. It’s never okay.
Sheila: So here I am.
Outro: “The fear never goes away,” as Sheila said this, I pictured many of you nodding while listening. Come back next week when Sheila continues sharing her story and her journey with shame and fear.
I want to thank my guest for their courage and vulnerability and sharing parts of their story. Please find resources on my website,
This is Margaret Swift Thompson.
Until next time, please take care of you!