Woman is determined to reclaim a normal life after hitting bottom
By Annette Newcomb
Just hours after giving birth to her first daughter, Eva Lawson knew immediately she liked the way the pain medication made her feel.
“I knew I was addicted to the feeling right away,” she said.
Two years later, in 2006, another daughter was born. It would be the unwavering love for her children that eventually motivated Lawson to pull herself out of a quagmire of drug addiction, but her slow, painful spiral to the bottom was humiliating and full of self-loathing.
“Who would ever think a pain pill would turn you into a piece-of-shit junkie?” said Lawson, who uses profanity to emphasize the intense embarrassment and dislike she has for the person she became when she was using.
Before Lawson could find her way back, she first had to lose everything, including custody of her daughters, all her personal possessions, her job, her self-worth and her freedom.
Today Lawson lives in Milwaukee but she grew up in Elkhorn, where she attended Elkhorn High School, until she was 17 and dropped out.
Her home life was not ideal and her parents were hardcore alcoholics.
“I learned to self-medicate when I was younger,” Lawson said.
She moved to Milwaukee and partied. She drank alcohol and smoked pot and did pain pills recreationally, if someone had them.
Prescription for trouble
Lawson found a great job in a well-known Milwaukee-area bakery and became a sought-after cake decorator. “I was making $15 an hour. I had a vehicle, an apartment, I had my girls, I was taking care of everything,” she said.
Then she developed tendonitis in her arm and was prescribed painkillers for carpal tunnel syndrome. The prescription had to be refilled every two weeks.
And that familiar feeling quickly returned.
“I really liked the pain pills. Then they decided to start cortisone shots and stopped the pills. I needed the pills…I was addicted.”
Her mom, ill from the effects of a lifetime of drinking, had a prescription for strong pain pills and became Lawson’s drug dealer.
“My mom started giving them to me because she didn’t want to me to lose my job. I couldn’t function without them.
“I started getting pills from other family members, too. Mostly Oxy (Oxycontin) 80 mg. I was 21 or 22 then. Depending on the dosage, how strong the pills were, I would take three to five a day or 20 to 30 of the smaller doses,” she said.
When she couldn’t get the pills, she got sick. “I couldn’t work, my skin would crawl.”
Lawson said she learned quickly how to manipulate a situation to get what she needed. “I told my mom I need money and needed the pills to sell for cash and she would give me some, usually Oxy 60s.
“Then, she finally put her foot down. She drove the pills into Milwaukee for me and told me that was the last time.”
At this time Lawson was still paying all her bills, her rent was up to date, she was getting food stamps and the girls were taken care of.
“After the bills were paid, every penny I made went to buying pills,” she said.
Lawson realized she had a problem and asked her dad (who had divorced her mom and was living in Milwaukee) to tell his girlfriend not to sell her any more pills.
“My dad told me to go to a methadone clinic.”
Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is given to patients with an opiate addiction going through withdrawal. It acts on the same brain receptors as those affected by morphine and heroin but has a longer duration.
Lawson did go to a methadone clinic and discovered “it was way stronger than pills. I got addicted to methadone. They gave it to me in liquid form. It was a high dose; I was falling asleep at work and even when I was driving. I am lucky I didn’t get into a car crash,” she said.
“So, being in a junkie mindset, I decided I should use something to counteract the meth(adone). I didn’t want to stop taking it because it made feel good but I had to stay awake for my job.
“So I started doing coke so I could function at work. I was still sniffing pills when I could get them.” (Lawson said she ground up the prescription pills and snorted them because they enter your system faster.)
Because methadone is strictly controlled, Lawson had to submit to a urine test before she could get her weekly refills.
“I dropped dirty. It showed I had ingested coke and opiates. My insurance company told me if I dropped dirty one more time they would cancel me and they did.”
Up until this time she had continued to work, although looking back she believes her job performance wasn’t up to par.
At the same time her insurance dropped her – cutting her off from the methadone clinic – Lawson rekindled a relationship with an ex-boyfriend who was also an addict.
“I was going through methadone withdrawal. I was buying painkillers to function.”
When she couldn’t find pain meds, Lawson and her boyfriend began buying crack or coke.
“We would go on binges for three to five days, spending $50 to $300 on drugs.”
Lawson said the binges took place when her daughters were staying at their father’s for a scheduled visit.
“I was still working, taking care of my house, the girls, made sure there were groceries in the house.”
This went on for two years, and then things slowly started to fall apart.
“I just stopped paying rent. Then I went and got assistance and they paid my rent so we weren’t evicted. So I was OK for a while.”
Lawson was 27 by now. She had just let her boyfriend move back in after kicking him out for two weeks. “I was doing laundry and had found this really dirty sock and inside was a dirty spoon and needles and a tie off. I freaked out.
“I thought he was snorting it, not shooing it. I flipped out. To me that was the line, shooting was the lowest. Although now I know there is no difference, back then I thought there was.”
Lawson let him move back in because he told her he was “getting help” and was on Suboxone, a drug prescribed to those going through opioid dependence. It is in the form of a film sheet that is held under the tongue until dissolved.
Heroin enters picture
Then, one day, there were no pills, no coke, no crack. “I was dependent on him for drugs, I didn’t know anyone anymore. All my connections had cut me off because they knew I was spiraling. “I was just sick, I told him ‘I don’t care what you find, I just don’t want to be sick.’”
The first time Lawson tried heroin her daughters were again with their father. Lawson makes a point of mentioning her daughters’ location during this time in her life because no matter how low she slid, she did everything to shield them.
On the day she first tried heroin, Lawson said she was drug sick and crack and heroin were the only things they could find. The pain and sickness was so great, she was willing to try anything to make it go away.
“First, we smoked crack. I was totally wasted…then I wondered what it would be like to shoot heroin.”
She remembers every detail clearly. “It was this great numbness through my entire body. I was immediately not sick anymore. I felt like a million bucks. I was hooked. We were both hooked.”
Lawson said she started messing up at work. When she couldn’t find drugs she started drinking alcohol to keep from getting sick.
“Then one day I got really drunk at work. And I was sexually assaulted by the dish washer.”
The next day Lawson was called in by her bosses. “They knew about the sexual assault (a co-worker had seen Lawson’s ripped clothing) and fired the dish washer. I think they were going to offer me help for my addiction, but I was so ashamed of what I had become, I just walked out and never went back.”
Turning to crime
Soon after, Lawson was evicted from her apartment and together with her daughters moved into her boyfriend’s parent’s house in Delavan.
“We were full blown into our addiction. We were pawning anything we could get our hands on to buy heroin.
“I withdrew my 401k. I blew most of it on drugs but we tried to fix his car, which didn’t work. I had a storage unit full of furniture and clothes and we lost that. I lost my vehicle. I lost everything.”
Lawson got a job at an Elkhorn grocery store but was fired after four months. “I didn’t get fired for my addiction, which is weird, it was something else.” She was able to get worker’s compensation. It all went to drugs.
“We were spending $200 a day on heroin,” she said. “We fooled so many people for drug money. But we didn’t care; I would get sick every five hours. All I cared about was the drugs.”
Lawson said her boyfriend even sold fake drugs. “You just put stuff in a baggies that can pass as drugs, like white flour, crayons, eye shadow. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
And then, every other weekend, when the girls were with their father, Lawson and her boyfriend would try to go cold turkey.
“We tried kicking it when the girls were gone. It would last two days. We were full blown junkies…that’s when I started stealing from my victim.”
That’s what she calls the senior citizen who was a friend of her mom’s – a kind woman who welcomed Lawson into her home.
“I visited her and asked her for $20 for gas. I saw she had a wad of bills in her purse and I knew I was going to take some.”
So Lawson started making visits every other week or so and took money from the unsuspecting senior’s wallet. All told, over the course of about six months, she took about $1,500 in cash.
The need for the drug drove her to return over and over to the senior’s house, all the while Lawson despised herself for doing it.
“We hated ourselves. We hated what we had become,” Lawson said, recalling the conversations she and her boyfriend had over and over again.
“We said we were pieces of shit. I wanted to die. And we knew we wouldn’t stop until we went to jail.”
Finally, the senior’s son noticed his mother’s finances were off. They called the cops and at the same time, unbeknownst to him, Lawson’s boyfriend had been purchasing drugs from an undercover agent working for Walworth County Sheriff’s Department.
The Elkhorn Police Department set up a hidden camera in the senior’s living room.
“One day we were drug sick and had tried withdrawing and just couldn’t do it. We went back to my victim’s house. When she wasn’t looking I opened her purse. There was nothing inside but a white envelope with $200 cash. I knew right then we were caught but I didn’t care, I was sick and needed drugs.”
She took the money.
About two weeks later Lawson and her boyfriend went back and a neighbor was at the senior citizen’s house and would not allow them inside.
“We were sick, we had tried to withdrawal again. We went to Speedway in Elkhorn to get gas. I was withdrawing so bad. I was sick. I was shaking. I stunk; I was sweating and hadn’t bathed. I didn’t have underwear on. It took every ounce of strength I had that morning just to get out of bed to look for some drugs.
“While I was pumping gas I saw a cop drive by and do a U-turn. They detained me for questioning but I didn’t get out of jail for three months. They arrested my boyfriend inside the gas station and I have not seen him since that day.”
In 2012 Lawson spent three months in Walworth County Jail where she detoxed off of heroin on her own.
“They don’t give you anything. I had diarrhea, I puked, my skin was crawling. I wanted to die. There was no nurse, no medication – nothing. I didn’t eat for two weeks.
“Finally, I started feeling physically better, after about two weeks. But the mental withdrawal lasts forever,” she said.
“A guard in the jail told me I seemed like a good kid and was smart. She told me I needed a plan for when I got out. I listened to her.
“I knew I never wanted to be the piece of shit I was. So I started working on a plan. When I got out after three months I was clean and sober and I was dead set on staying that way.”
While in jail the girls’ father had custody. They knew their mother broke the law and was in jail but they do not know they details. Lawson did not allow the girls to visit her while she was incarcerated.
Then she was released on bond. “I moved to Delavan and went to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings two and three times a day. I ended up having an altercation with a roommate and moved in with my brother in Milwaukee.
“I had nothing. I had lost my car, my clothes, my apartment, my job.
“I signed up for an Intensive Outpatient Program offered at Columbia St. Mary’s and took the bus there every day; sometimes I went twice a day.”
When Lawson returned to Walworth County for court, she was facing several years in prison. Because it was her first offense and she had voluntarily and faithfully attended the IOP classes and other support groups, the judge sentenced her to 30 days in jail plus time served, eight years probation and allowed her to be placed on the ankle bracelet on house arrest for six months. Lawson moved in with a family friend in Lake Geneva. There she was reunited with her daughters, who visited almost every weekend.
While under house arrest, Lawson was allowed to look for a job and was hired by a bakery in a large Milwaukee-area grocery store chain.
Daughters motivate her
Today Lawson has her own apartment in Milwaukee, has worked her way up to assistant manager of the bakery and, most importantly, her daughters are living with her full time. She said, proudly, her bills are paid on time and she has a little extra to have fun with the girls. To date she has paid $1,000 back to her victim.
“I celebrate my sobriety every day. I see a therapist twice a week and still go to NA meetings.
“I am staying clean. I get cravings every day, but I know as much effort as you put into using, you have to put twice as much into staying clean.
“I don’t drink. I do smoke cigarettes. I know myself. We all know what triggers us…getting help, admitting I have a problem, these things all helped me get where I need to be.
“I will go to meetings the rest of my life. My children suffered the consequences but they don’t know the full story. Someday I will tell them.
“I just can’t believe a pain pill turned me into a crime-committing, full blown junkie.
Lawson knows she’ll battle the addiction the rest of her life – but it’s a battle she’s determined to win.
“I will never, ever put my sobriety at risk or risk losing my children. Ever.”