It's hard to believe that 32-year-old Larissa Maunula — who loves to read and cook for her two kids — spent years of her life in and out of shelters, in an abusive relationship, and absorbed in addiction.
"I felt like two people for so long..." - Larissa Maunula
"I felt like two people for so long," she said, sitting in the kitchen of what was once her grandmother's house in Chatham. "I felt like the addict and the past that defined me, and this new person who I presented myself to be didn't include any of that."
That past consumed her for nearly 15 years. Now nearing the end of her journey of treatment, Larissa feels ready to shed her double life — and come clean about her opioid addiction to the people that she loves the most.
Down a bad road
Despite growing up a "sweet, innocent girl," in her early teens, Larissa began skipping school and turning to drugs and alcohol as a way to escape. She felt out of place and unable to cope, saying that looking back she thinks she had adolescent depression.
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"It was causing a lot of issues in my family life," she said, adding that her parents and brother were caught in the fray of her erratic behavior.
"And then I was addicted. I was just in that position and I was addicted and I was using every single day." - Larissa Maunula
As she got older her dependency became worse, and Larissa became immersed in a completely unstable lifestyle where at one point she became homeless, and eventually turned to harder drugs, like Oxycontin.
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"I didn't care what drug it was," she said. "And then I was addicted. I was just in that position and I was addicted and I was using every single day."
Larissa's mother Aerica Maunula had to make a heartbreaking judgement call; Larissa's choices were putting such a strain on the rest of the family, that she would not be welcomed back into their home.
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"We were asking that [she] not bring drugs into our home. We acknowledge we cannot control or manage what [she would] do outside of our home but our request is that [she] not bring drugs into the home," said Aerica.
Larissa is quick to point out that for an addict, that's "essentially impossible." But her parents were trying to do the right thing, and provided for Larissa in other ways by buying her groceries or taking her for meals when she would let them.
"We had another child in the home," said Aerica. "Our principle was that we were going to make ourselves available to her at whatever point in time she was ready to make changes."
"With any illness you're going to do better when you have people close to you who live with you that are supportive of what you're doing and encouraging you to do the right thing," said Dr. Robert McKay, President of Erie St Clair Clinic which specializes in addictions medicine.
McKay said that when addicts are dependent on narcotics, getting clean can be extra difficult because emotionally they are used to feeling great.
"Stopping it provokes a lot of anxiety, provokes withdrawal symptoms, they feel depressed," he said. "And so then trying to get folks to be clean, be abstinent, becomes very difficult because it provokes all of these very harsh symptoms."
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During her first pregnancy, Larissa was determined to beat her addiction. Her family was there to cheer her on. But when she later relapsed, Larissa couldn't confide in them, because "there was no trust there."
"You feel like two people… because your whole life is revolving around a pill essentially," said Larissa. "At that time I couldn't let any of that show because at that point I had a professional job and I was a mother and I just had to keep up appearances."
"I am who I am now and I am that addict, but kind of bringing them both into one person... because I know that's not who I am now." - Larissa Maunula
Through methadone treatments, Larissa had been able to come clean again. But that treatment was something else she felt she had to hide, even from her family.
"I went out of my way to hide it in some cases… I was worried I would be judged." she said. "I am who I am now and I am that addict, but kind of bringing them both into one person where I can talk about my past in a healthy way. Because I know that's not who I am now."
This is something McKay is used to.
"I think addiction generally is looked down upon by the general population," he said. "So likewise I think treatment of addiction is generally looked down upon whether that be methadone or not."
On top of her treatment, Larissa said that integrating into her new life was a "slow process" because she felt so different from everyone else.
But she's been clean for about six years now, and her methadone dose is extremely low — though still very necessary to keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.
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"Realizing it's not something I need to hide and it's not something I need to be ashamed of - I think anybody that goes through addiction goes through this process," she said.
She'll be done her treatment in February or March of next year, and feels more comfortable sharing her story. It's even helped to mend her relationship with her family.
"I'm really very happy and very proud of where Larissa is today," said Aerica, adding that she's "thrilled" her daughter wants to openly talk about her past.
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