It started out innocently enough. Julie Hartman, an administrative assistant and mother of three kids, ages 10, 7, and 2 at the time, hurt her back while lifting a TV. "I was in chronic pain and couldn't sleep for a month," says Hartman, of St. Paul. When an MRI detected mild arthritis, her internist prescribed the painkiller Vicodin and told her to take the pills as needed.
At first, Hartman did need them. But her back improved with visits to a chiropractor -- yet month after month she kept taking the pills. "I was in love with how confident and in control they made me feel," she explains. Whenever her prescription ran out, she'd simply go back to her doctor, lying to him about her pain and using her kids as an excuse to get a refill. "I told him I'm a mother and need to be able to function," she says.
As Hartman's dependence on the drugs grew over the next year, she started doing things she never thought she'd do: finding other doctors and lying to them to get additional prescriptions, and stealing Vicodin right out of the medicine cabinet of friends and relatives. "I was always afraid I would run out," she says, "so I manipulated people to get what I needed." For three years, she took more and more pills but couldn't admit to herself that she was addicted. "I kept telling myself, 'You're okay; you're not that bad,'" she says. "I didn't want to believe it. But my addiction began to take over my life."
Her denial came to an abrupt halt on August 31, 2009, when she walked downstairs on a Monday morning to a roomful of people who, along with a counselor trained in addiction interventions, confronted her about her drug use. Her husband was there, along with her sister, her pastor, and friends from her church. "My husband cried for 15 minutes straight, and I'd never seen him cry before," Hartman says. He told her he'd caught her in too many lies, she'd missed too many of their children's events, he no longer trusted her, and she was tearing their family apart. He threatened to take their kids away from her if she didn't get help. He admitted that he was afraid that he'd find her dead. Her pastor spoke up and said that he didn't want to give the sermon at her funeral.
But the smallest voice was the one she heard most clearly. Through tears, her then 11-year-old daughter begged her mother to get better. "Please, Mommy, go get help," she said. "I don't care if you miss my first day of middle school. Just go."'