Nellie Nellie’s Story
From Wendy Lee Nentwig
Nellie seemed to have everything going for her. She was an attractive woman with a successful acting career, a caring husband and a wonderful young son. Still, the threat of losing it all wasn’t enough to keep her from spiraling downward into addiction.
How did this self-described “nice girl from a nice family” end up being sent to a psych ward, then eventually kicked out of the house by her husband and served with a restraining order that prevented her from seeing her son?
She was as baffled about how she got there as anyone. Nellie liked to be in control, and she was someone who never drank too much or ate too much or did anything excessively. So she couldn’t understand for the life of her how she ended up where she did.
“I didn’t know how to fix it because I didn’t know how it started,” she says.
In hindsight, it’s easier to see how she ended up in need of treatment. First, there was her mother’s prolonged illness, which spanned two years, ending in her death and the rest of the family falling apart. Add to that the pressure of a high-stress, high-stakes job with no outlet and little emotional support, and you have a recipe for trouble.
It wasn’t about getting high, though. Surrounded by drugs in her urban high school, Nellie had always found them easy to pass up. But eventually she turned to them to get to sleep. She now realizes she’s hypomanic (a mental disorder on the bipolar spectrum) and began using the pills to help turn off her brain. Initially, it was about getting rest, but soon it became about tuning out completely.
In the beginning, no one was even suspicious. A lot of people take medication to help them sleep from time to time. But soon, you couldn’t get Nellie on the phone (a sure warning sign of trouble, she says). She was sleeping too much, and the things she cared most about in the world – her family, her career, her life – were taking a backseat.
Nellie’s drug of choice was SOMA, a muscle relaxant also called carisoprodol, which is usually used to treat pain and discomfort caused by strains, sprains and other muscle injuries. She found it would turn her entire body to jelly. She also turned to Klonopin, a benzodiazepine used to treat seizures and panic disorder. She could order the highly addictive medication online and soon became dependent. She even wound up in the hospital two times for seizures.
Amid all the drug use, there were also attempts to quit. The hospital trips scared her enough to enlist a friend to help her taper, but self-detox is not recommended. Nellie’s husband tried to intervene, too, cutting off her Klonopin cold turkey when he saw the negative effects it was having on her. But he was unaware of the dangers and the need for medical supervision. She also reluctantly sought professional treatment four different times, but it didn’t stick. It wasn’t until her husband took legal action that Nellie finally gave in to the process.
While her treatment wasn’t court-ordered, Nellie was really only there initially because she knew it would help her chances of getting her son back. Her lawyer told her not to even think about leaving until she had 60 days under her belt. It seemed like an eternity, but her attorney’s message was echoed by her family (except her husband, whom she wasn’t allowed to contact), so she unpacked her bags and settled in. Despite all that was at stake, though, she still entered treatment with pills hidden in her wallet, showing just how powerful prescription addiction is.
The days passed, and Nellie didn’t eat properly or exercise while in treatment. You couldn’t get her to do group activities either. Instead, she remained depressed over the loss of her son and her husband.
“I distinctly remember day 34,” she says, adding, “I was so cut off and it was hard.”
Soon, she learned to approach treatment and recovery like a marathon. It’s overwhelming all at once, but if you break it down in stages, there are little victories all along the way. “Just take it in baby steps,” she advises.
It was heartbreaking to know that her family didn’t believe in her anymore. They had been disappointed too many times and were afraid to hope she’d be able to turn it around this time. But Nellie knew she needed that trust and encouragement from them, so she worked hard to earn it back.
Following treatment, Nellie relocated to Dallas in an attempt to fix her marriage. The place she was staying was a far cry from her former home in Los Angeles, but she stuck it out, driving over to see her son for three hours intervals. And that was as good as it got for a while. Fortunately, her commitment to recovery eventually won over her family. Her son, who is now eight, was the first to come around. He had been very angry at his mom during her addiction and she’s worked hard to build a healthy, new relationship with him.
“I think the best thing I’ve done is make sure he knows I’m consistent,” she says. “After about two months of that, people relaxed a little bit.” Still, rebuilding her marriage took much more work. In the end, she says she just kind of wore her husband down. Their 20-minute coffee meetings eventually led to a “first” date and eventually reconciliation.
Through it all, she wasn’t afraid to do the hard work. “I was as relentless in my recovery as I was in doing pills,” she says.
She admits sometimes that she wishes she had fewer feelings, or had learned to channel those emotions better when she was younger, but she’s learned to do that now, using her acting as a positive outlet.
At three years sober, she says she feels so grateful that she was able to turn everything around—her marriage, her relationships with her son, her career. It may seem like a Hollywood ending, but Nellie knows it’s much more than that. And when others insist they can’t do what she’s done, she doesn’t buy it.
“If you so wholeheartedly go after drugs, then why can’t you go channel that into something positive?” she asks. “All that energy that got you there, harness it and put it toward something you really want to do, because you can do anything you want to do.”
She’s living proof.