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Facing the Pain

21 Dec 2021 — 5 min read

By Taryn Hiatt, AFSP Utah and Nevada Area Director

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Taryn Hiatt, AFSP Utah and Nevada Area Director

Introducing AFSP’s Newest Public Policy Council Members: What Advocacy Means to Them

I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis at age 11. Idiopathic, essentially meaning no rhyme or reason – as scoliosis tends to be hereditary, and this wasn’t a condition my parents had experienced. After years of therapy and working with an energy healer, I came to believe it had developed due to my throat chakra being blocked after enduring sexual abuse as a child.

I was introduced to morphine with my first spinal surgery at age 12, and for the first time I felt some relief. I had severe depression by this point. My parents had just divorced. My father had been addicted to opioid medication all my life, and I was weary, but I also wanted the relief the morphine brought.

My first suicide attempt happened at age 13. When I left the hospital, I told my parents about the sexual abuse. I was asked to “pretend it didn’t happen.” Drugs and alcohol became my solution, and – in a way – kept me alive for many, many years. They had become my solution to coping with the emotional and physical pain. I had four more back surgeries throughout the course of my life, and every time I left with copious amounts of opioids. Knowing the devastation they caused in my father, I would limit taking them. Instead, I sold them for marijuana and cocaine. I didn’t want to be a “pill addict” like my dad.

I drank a lot to deal with the amount of pain I experienced after each surgery. When I was 25, my dad finally found a period of sobriety, due to his being incarcerated. We spent that Thanksgiving and Christmas with our dad again. It was such a joyous time. But in February, he had a pancreatitis flare up, and rather than tell the doctors he had an addiction to opioids, he let them prescribe them to him again. His life ended in suicide that October. It took him down so fast.  

Losing our dad to suicide was a turning point in my life. I searched on the Internet for anything to explain WHY he died by suicide, and came across the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I quickly learned they had local chapters across the U.S., but not one in Utah. I reached out and asked what I needed to do to change that! Long story short, I hosted an Out of the Darkness Walk, and then an International Survivors of Suicide Day (also known as Survivor Day) event. This attracted others, and we founded the Utah Chapter in 2010. Ultimately, I was hired as the Area Director for the Utah and Nevada Chapters.

I also got sober in 2013 because I realized I was on a similar path as my father, due to my alcoholism and drug use. I didn’t want to inflict the kind of pain suicide would bring to my own kids. I found myself in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.

My hips have been deteriorating for years and I had been using cortisone injections to get by the last two years. As I approached our most recent Walk season, my cortisone had quit working, so it was time to have the MRI and X-Rays to see what was going on. My labrum was torn, and I was now bone on bone, both front and back of the joint. A total hip replacement was scheduled.

I have a tremendous fear of what taking opioids would do to my recovery – so I told my doctors that I did not want ANY opioid medication. They told me I was crazy, but okay. I wouldn’t be able to have the traditional spinal anesthesia and nerve block because of all the scar tissue around my fused spine. This meant that when I awoke, I felt it all.

As they wheeled me to my room after the surgery, my body was wracked with sobs. I pleaded to my husband, “I can’t do this!” I almost caved – I wanted them to shoot me full of anything they could. But I kept trying to breathe and get through it. Ultimately, I did allow them to give me two Tramadol and one Valium for the muscle spasms.

Within an hour, the edge was ever so slightly gone. I began to calm. My daughter Cait snuggled up with me in my hospital bed. She and my husband were there at the hospital when I took my first steps post-surgery, and prepared to come home.

I had many people praying on my behalf, knowing what I was up against and my desire to maintain my sobriety. I have since managed with only Tylenol, Celebrex, essential oils, and LOTS of meditation.

This experience brought up a lot of memories, and a lot of feelings for me. As I recover from this surgery, I continue to think back to losing my dad, and addiction; the ways we contend with pain, and how some pain lingers, forcing us to face it in different ways as the years go by.

This is the first year since losing my Dad that I won’t be attending a Survivor Day event. Yet, I feel so blessed to be where I am and that I was able to do what he couldn’t all those years ago. His life and death have taught me much about enduring. We are 19 years out from losing him and this is the first year I have been ANGRY. Why couldn’t he face the things he had done? Why did shame win? We lost him because of it.

But I am reminded of all the work I have done because of his life and his death. The culture we live in today is much different than it was for him 20 years ago. No matter how angry or sad I have felt these last few weeks, one thing is clear: I will always wish he would have stayed. Suicide is a thief. Not only did it rob us of him, but it robbed him of living a life in which he overcame the things he grappled with. It robbed him of being a grandpa to his grandkids, and being the dad we knew and loved.

My hope is to continue to push forward in eradicating the stigma around mental health and substance use disorder so people can get the help and support they deserve. That we as fellow humans can offer grace to those around us as they make mistakes and cause harm. That we can help each other be accountable, and move forward with hope, and a willingness to evolve. I don’t ever want to go back to being who I was all those years ago, when I felt so dependent on drugs to numb my pain. But it only is possible by taking life one day at a time. 

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