In summer of 2012, Briana Miller lost hope.
“I remember writing a goodbye letter to my mom and telling her that this was what I wanted, that this would be easier for all of us,” she recalls. “And the next thing I remember is waking up in ICU three days later ... and I remember being so pissed off because I woke up.”
Miller’s suicide attempt came after more than a decade spent in and out of treatment for addiction. Now desperate to quit and get her life back, Miller called a man she admired: Eddie Grijalva, a counselor in Tucson’s New Directions residential treatment center.
She knew Grijalva from a past stint at New Directions, and asked him for help. Now she’s back at New Directions, eight days into her 10th attempt at treatment.
“I just pray that I figure out why I keep going back, why I feel like I’m so worthless,” she says. “My mom deserves the rest of her life knowing that her daughter is alive and happy, and I will do my best to give her that gift.”
Grijalva has helped develop an unconventional, holistic approach to treatment at New Directions. In addition to 12-step programs and individual and group therapy sessions, Briana’s 90-day treatment can include spiritual and cultural practices that aid in recovery.
The center also practices what’s called trauma-informed care, which addresses the traumatic childhood experiences that often fuel addiction.
“The use of drugs and alcohol is only a symptom of something else that’s going on in their lives,” Grijalva says. “We’re finding out that as high as sometimes 80 and 90 percent of the people that would come to us have suffered some form of trauma, but the trauma goes untreated, and as the trauma goes untreated, we begin to repeat those things over and over again.”
A week later, Miller begins to talk about her trauma—the childhood abandonment and sexual and emotional abuse underlying her addiction. She reveals for the first time that she’s also struggling with an eating disorder. She is asked to give up the stash of food she’s been keeping in her room, a request that soon spurs conflicts with the staff.
This kind of resistance is part of recovery—but so is giving it up, Grijalva says.
“We tell them: probably right now we care more about you than you do for yourself. And you’re going to have to trust us that we know something you don’t know,” he explains. “If you want your life to change, at some point you have to trust somebody that they’re going to lead you in the right direction.”
Miller ultimately chooses to trust, and 30 days later she prepares for her graduation from the treatment program. Ninety days after desperation drove her back to New Directions, Miller says something fundamental has changed: Now she wants to stay clean for herself.
“I was here for my mom. I didn’t feel like I was deserving of another chance,” she says. “And [I’m] just getting to the point where, you know, I do deserve a better life. I wasn’t created to live how I was living. I wasn’t. That’s not why I was put here.”
This is Part 3 of a three-part series on addiction airing April 2, 9 and 16 on AZ Illustrated Science.