Life was humming along for Bonnie Sweeney in 2011. Working as a nurse in Casper, Wyoming, she also successfully juggled her role as a wife and mother. Little did she know the drastic detour her life’s path would soon take.
It all began when Sweeney broke her shoulder while trying to move one of her patients at work. Several surgeries would follow her injury, and in the process, Sweeney was prescribed hydrocodone to help manage her pain. But over the course of time, she came to realize she was becoming addicted to the pain killer.
“Nurses aren’t supposed to get addicted,” Sweeney says she told herself. “I kept telling myself I could stop taking it, but the fact is, I couldn’t.” She was also carrying the additional burden of keeping her addiction a secret from her friends and family. “I had been lying to people for a long time, saying I was off the drugs.”
After Sweeney and her husband, Kevin, moved to Pinehurst to be closer to their daughters, Sweeney’s condition became more pronounced. Her family noticed she was withdrawn and losing weight, and then Kevin discovered Bonnie was still using hydrocodone. She says that moment was a tipping point in her life’s direction. “He was upset, but it also got me on the right path.”
Sweeney’s family got help for her, and she was referred to FirstHealth Behavioral’s Intensive Outpatient Services for patients with substance abuse and mental health challenges. The program offers two levels of care, depending on the patient’s diagnosis and severity of symptoms. The Intensive Outpatient Services (IOS) level is for patients who exhibit less acute symptoms, with patients participating in three hours of group therapy five days per week. Sweeney was referred to the Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), designed for patients with more acute symptoms. At this level of care, patients are in therapy weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Regardless of the care level, the treatment plan is tailored to the patient’s particular needs, says Kelly Frye, LRT/CTRS, Program Coordinator for FirstHealth’s Partial Hospitalization Program and Intensive Outpatient Services.
“Every patient has an individualized treatment plan that they help create,” says Frye. “Patients address their goals in groups, classes and individual therapy. They set their personal daily and weekly goals and address progress or barriers daily. PHP patients attend group therapy, individual therapy, education and activity groups. IOS patients attend group therapy and are referred to our Behavioral Outpatient Clinic for individual therapy.”
In both programs, patients are assigned a therapist who works with them throughout their treatment. The patient’s family can attend a weekly group session to be involved in their loved one’s care and offer support. Frye notes an important benefit of both tracks is the daily observation by staff members. “If the patient has a problem, we can address it immediately.”
Sweeney says a sense of relief swept over her as she was admitted to the PHP program.
“It’s a judgment-free zone,” Sweeney says of the program. “It was a relief to know I was finally doing something to make myself better. They give you the tools to make yourself better. They treat the whole person, not just one particular thing. And they include your family, which I think is really important.”
Kevin Sweeney says the family group sessions were an eye-opener for him.
“I’ll admit, the first time in the family session was uncomfortable,” Kevin says. “That experience was really unique, but I started to realize all the things they were doing in the program and to see what Bonnie had been going through.”
The program helps patients and families understand that addiction is an illness, not a choice, says Sweeney. “When you’re in the group, you suddenly realize you’re not the only one in the world that has problems, and there is no shame in it. But you have to make that initial outreach.”
Sweeney’s life has turned “180 degrees” since she joined the program. “When I went in the program, I didn’t talk, I sat in the house, I wouldn’t go out,” she says. “Now, I walk 35 minutes a day, I go get my grandsons from school and take them here and there. In the past, I wouldn’t drive because I was afraid I would wreck. Now I’m back to doing things with the kids and the family.”
For more information about FirstHealth Behavioral Outpatient Services PHP & IOS or to schedule a free confidential screening, call (910) 715-1523 or 715-6740.
Courtesy photo: Kelly Frye, LRT/CTRS, Program Coordinator for FirstHealth’s Partial Hospitalization Program and Intensive Outpatient Services and patient Bonnie Sweeney.