Dramatic recovery inspires addict to help others

Associated Press Published: March 31, 2012
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Darylann Torrico had lost everything to crack cocaine: her home, her children and her self-respect. Now, in the early morning blackness of March 11, 2006, she was about to lose her life.

A stranger offering a ride took her instead to a wooded area near Bull Creek Park, off Capital of Texas Highway. He raped her repeatedly. She broke away and frantically tried to flag down the few cars whizzing past at 2:30 a.m. Then she saw the man's white sedan.

Torrico darted across the highway and ran up a hill to a parking garage, the white car in pursuit. Then the man got out, wielding a flashlight and, Torrico said, a gun.

How she got from the bottom of a 30-foot cliff to where she is today is nothing short of miraculous, said the detective who investigated her case and those who helped her recover.

"It was grace," said Lynn Goodman-Strauss, who runs the Mary House hospice for the homeless in Austin. "Grace is as simple as keeping a street person alive long enough to allow God to work miracles in her life."

Hitting rock bottom — literally — started Torrico, now 48, on the rugged path to sobriety and a transformation experts called remarkable. Along the way, she changed many of the people who helped her. And then she became a force for change in the lives of other women addicts in the Austin area.

"It makes me think of this flower coming out of the mud and blossoming," said her mother, Florence Burns.

Torrico had been mired in addiction for half of her life. Then she was swallowed by it.

In 1998, "my accountant told me I was a millionaire," she said. By October 2005, "I was living in a box in the woods. And it wasn't even my box."

About 22.1 million Americans 12 and older, or 8.7 percent of that age group, abused or were addicted to drugs in 2010, including 1 million crack addicts, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The cost to society: an estimated $215 billion. Less than 12 percent get treatment, and of those, 40 to 60 percent relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

As a substance abuser, Torrico had sought treatment four times. She wanted to be a good mother to her three children, but her addictions were too strong.

Dr. Herbert Munden, a former drug abuser who runs an addiction treatment center in Austin, said that although data are not available, he estimates that just 5 to 10 percent of addicts get sober and stay that way without treatment. Crack is cheap, and most abusers don't have access to treatment, he said.

Torrico credits the love of strangers and God's intervention with saving her. She wants other addicts to know there is hope. If she can recover, so can they.

But even after that night six years ago, she still felt the gnawing to get high for months.

___

"Most people can't understand that kind of craving," said Carlton Erickson, an addiction expert at the University of Texas. Without help, "a person can't stop using drugs any more than a schizophrenic can stop hearing voices."

Crack causes the pleasure chemical dopamine to rush to the brain, but it lasts less than 15 minutes. As the addict needs more crack to get high, dopamine becomes depleted and depression sets in, Munden said. All the person can think of is that next dose.

Talk therapy, support and medications are key recovery tools, experts said.

Betty Mendl, a Round Rock therapist who worked with Torrico for free and spoke with her permission, said she tries to get to the root of an addiction. Some people have a genetic susceptibility. Others might have experienced trauma or have a mental illness. "So many times what they are trying to do is self-medicate," Mendl said.

Torrico came to her with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological scars from childhood.

Her parents divorced when she was 2, and she and her three siblings were raised by their schoolteacher mother in Pitman, N.J. Supervision was light. "There just wasn't enough of me to go around," said Burns, who now lives in Jensen Beach, Fla.

Between the ages of 7 and 11, Torrico was molested by a friend's father, she and her family said. "It colored her life," her older sister, Camille Boisvert, 52, of Gouldsboro, Maine, said. "When it all came out, she was just becoming a teenager."

Torrico quit school at 15 and got a job baking at a doughnut shop. Her boss drank and shared booze with her. She got hooked on alcohol, moved away and roamed.

Back in New Jersey in her early 20s, she married an engineer. They settled in Austin in 1990.

"Once the children got in school and I was alone, I started drinking all morning," she said. "I would pass out and sober up in time to get the kids, and then he (her then-husband) and I would drink together at night."

The marriage ended in 1999. She got treatment but then discovered the drug that would unravel her.

"The first time I smoked crack," she said, "I didn't come home for three days."

She rented her car out for drug money; the borrowers crashed it. She was spiraling downward. With her ex-husband and children on the phone, she said, "What you need to know is Mommy smokes crack while you're at school, and I am a danger to you." She told them she needed a year apart to get well.

She couch-surfed, sobered up, then lived with an elderly couple as a caregiver. She relapsed, stole from them and ended up on the street.

"For the first 10 days, I didn't bathe or eat," she said. "I just smoked crack and wandered."

___

That's a familiar story, said William Moyers, son of newsman Bill Moyers and author of "Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption."

"I ended up in a crack house in Atlanta, Ga., while working as a journalist for CNN," said Moyers, now a vice president at the Hazelden treatment program in Minnesota. "I was on the cusp of losing everything. I was standing on the same cliff she was standing on."

Addiction does not discriminate, he said. It "is a disease of the mind, the body and the spirit."

A native Texan, Moyers sought treatment four times before he was able to get off crack 18 years ago. "There really is only one bottom with addiction, and that is death," he said. "If we don't recover, we die."



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