Weak from a lingering illness, Elisha Finley blacked out and tumbled, severely injuring her shoulder.
The savage pain reignited her love affair with an old flame — narcotics.
Finley's physician prescribed hydrocodone, one of the most popular and potentially addictive pain-relieving drugs on the market.
The powerful drug had a dual effect.
While it helped deaden the pain, it also restored the sense of euphoria the 35-year-old hadn’t felt since she was teenager abusing methamphetamine.
The hydrocodone, a potent opiate, also soothed the pain of losing her longtime managerial job. It calmed the frustrations of not being able to find a new job and having to return to college for a degree. And it eased the anxiety of caring for a newborn son.
Initially, she took the drug as prescribed, but eventually her 30- to 60-day supply wouldn’t last a week. Fearful her physician would suspect her abuse, she found illegal ways of getting the pills. How she got the pills illegally, she refused to say.
Soon, a 300-pill supply would last only two weeks. To maintain the euphoria, she added other painkillers, including morphine and Dilaudid.
“They made me feel happy,” said Finley, who was living in Worden at the time. She said she would "do anything" to get rid of the mounting anxiety from all her troubles.
Then, at about 3 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2010, she put her two children, ages 1 and 7, in her car and headed west on U.S. Highway 312 to Billings. She wanted to buy a cellphone to replace the one she had lost.
Under the influence of the painkillers, Finley fell asleep at the wheel, rolling her car into a ditch.
“I could hear my son screaming in the back, and I knew the car was upside down, then I was out,” she recalled. Although the children were not seriously injured, they were "definitely traumatized."
She awoke in a Billings hospital and was told what happened.
“I dropped to my knees,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe what I had done with my kids and what could have happened. Even though I wasn’t willing to admit it to anyone else, I knew in my heart I had a huge problem.”
She was charged with two counts of child endangerment. But, for various reasons, it took more than three months for the formal charges and she wasn't sentenced for two years. Because of the delay, she didn’t feel the full impact of what she had done. There were no immediate consequences.
“As long as nobody else knows you have a problem, it’s not real,” Finley said. “I was a closet user. I was living a lie.”
She tried to quit drugs on her own and rode a roller coaster of stops and starts.
To avoid the pills, she turned to alcohol. She drank in the bathroom, behind closed doors where no one would see her.
“A couple of trips to the bathroom and that bottle was gone,” she said.
But drinking was harder to hide than the pills.
In the meantime, the difficulties of raising children and taking college classes continued to mount.
She convinced herself she needed some kind of crutch to cope.
“These are excuses,” she said. “Normal people deal with this stuff daily. I don’t know how to. It just kept getting worse and worse. I never dealt with the guilt from the car accident.”
Eventually, she turned to the methamphetamine of her teen years. She hadn't used since she was 19.
It allowed her to maintain the façade of being normal and happy without anyone knowing what was really going on, she said.
Within six months, she was addicted again to meth and this time sought treatment in a mental health center.
The reason more women become addicted to narcotics than men is because so many women work, take care of children, and run a house, often as single mothers, she said. “You can’t do that while drinking and getting drunk. It’s too obvious.”
As part of a plea agreement related to the car accident, Finley sees a counselor, is enrolled in a 12-step program and was required to attend Impaired Driving Court through the Rimrock Foundation. She has been sober since Oct. 25, 2012.
She has graduated from Montana State University Billings with a two-year degree in accounting technology and is employed as a legal secretary for a Billings attorney.
She works on a daily basis to remain clean and sober.
This is the second time she has been in treatment and vows it is the last.
“I don’t think it’s something I could ever come out of again,” she said.