addiction recovery family affair
Family photo of Mike Ferris with his new wife Jean, daughter Macy, 1, and stepson Elijah, 6; Credit: Mike Ferris

Mike Ferris, 38, knew he hit rock bottom in his battle with substance abuse as he laid in the guest bedroom of his mother’s cabin. He’d gone only two hours without drugs, and the withdrawals were already in full effect.

“I just felt like I was done,” he said. “My ex-wife was trying to call me because she knew that I had this problem, but I couldn’t answer.”

Ferris was rescued that day by his ex-wife and father, who burst down the door, carried him to their car, and admitted him to a year-long addiction rehabilitation program in Pontiac, Michigan, where he is originally from.  It marked the beginning of a long, winding path to recovery that Ferris still walks today.

“I stayed there for eight months, and it saved my life,” he said.

Ferris has now been clean for 27 months and has since managed to rebuild much of the damage done by his addiction. He went back to work, repaid his debts, got remarried and started a new family.

But the impact of Ferris’s addiction on his loved ones is still palpable and not as easy to mend. Ferris is estranged from much of his family who have become hesitant to trust him, he said. His yearslong battle with substance abuse eventually led to a divorce from his first wife and cost him all custody rights to their two children.

Relationships on the rocks

Ferris was 28 years old when a doctor first prescribed him Vicodin after a hernia repair surgery.

“I was on it for months for the pain, and I took it exactly as directed,” he said. “When I tried to stop, it was very dramatic on my body.”

That marked the beginning of a downward spiral into substance abuse that would follow Ferris for the next seven years. A psychologist prescribed him Suboxone to wean off the pain medications, but that proved even more addictive. Suboxone led to more prescription opioids, which then led to heroin and, eventually, whatever drug Ferris could get his hands on.

“After a while, I was shooting up $300 of heroin a day and living to supply that habit,” Ferris said. “I’d find marijuana, crack, anything I could to dope up.”

One by one, his relationships inevitably began to suffer. Ferris said his marriage was first to deteriorate early in his battle with substance abuse after he became dependent on Suboxone.

“It progressively caused us to fight,” he said. “She didn’t want to support it anymore.”

After two failed stints in a rehab facility, Ferris’s wife wanted a divorce. His relationship with family members became strained as well, as their trust began to crumble.

“I lost all trust from my family at that point,” he said. “They wanted to help, but they felt like they were a little lost as well because they didn’t know how. The tears and the pain were constant.”

Families often get caught in the middle of their loved one’s battle with addiction emotionally, physically and financially, said Kathleen Simpson, advanced addiction counselor for the Lansing, Michigan, affiliate of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence.

As a drug habit soaked up his finances, Ferris lived with family members until he was eventually cut off. His mother and stepfather stopped giving him gifts or loaning him money, knowing that he would pawn whatever he could for drugs.

By that point, Ferris was spending all of his earnings and selling construction tools to feed his heroin addiction. After he ran out of money, his mother agreed to house him once again.

“Families definitely get exhausted,” Simpson said. “Precious things get stolen and bank accounts get cleared. There’s probation costs, fines, court fees, debts owed.”

Ferris said he never stole to fuel his addiction, but child support for his daughters went unpaid. He owed nearly $12,000 in child support by the time he left treatment in Pontiac, Michigan.

But lost finances were only part of the hardships his two daughters would have to endure as a result of Ferris’s addiction.

“The addiction pretty much lasted all of their lives,” he said.

Ferris lost custody of his daughters after his ex-wife divorced him. Though Ferris said his daughters knew nothing about his addiction, he could tell his absence affected them.

“I could tell they were emotionally up and down,” he said. “They would cry at random periods of time, or at night they would ask, ‘Where’s daddy?’”

Fighting for custody

Ferris has used the last 27 months to get his life back on the straight and narrow.

He paid off the $12,000 owed in child support by working long hours as a contractor. He met and married his current wife, Jean, after treatment, and they now have a one-year-old daughter, Macy, together. Ferris remains estranged from his biological family but claims it is for reasons other than his addiction.

The most important damage to mend, though, is the relationship with his daughters, Ferris said, and he has made little progress on that front.

“I’ve seen my kids for six hours in the last 14 months,” he said.

Visits with his daughters grew scarce after… (continue reading)