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Seventeen Years Clean, Then a Plunge Back into Addiction. But That's Not the End of Her Story.

Todd Huffman
Flickr/Creative Commons

What may be most remarkable about Turina James' story is not that she got hooked on heroin as a teenager, but the fact that she managed to get off of it. She did so with little support from family, and after a traumatic childhood that included sexual violence, homelessness and unplanned pregnancy. 

James grew up in Yakima, where she says she was kicked out of her house and on the streets by age 12. By 15 she was pregnant, and soon moved in with an older man who was not her child's father. He had children of his own, and, she would soon learn, a drug habit.

At one point, she says, he left her alone with three young children and no car for days, while he went on a drug binge. What happened next is every parent's nightmare. 

"I went into the room to wake my son up and found him, on his knees, he had basically been strangled with a necklace," James says.

It had been another child -- a 5 year-old boy, trying to lift her one year-old son up by the necklace around his neck. James says she had no idea her son had the necklace in his playpen. 

After that, James says, she was in despair. And then, the older man returned, with his cocaine and heroin. 

"I didn't want to feel and he said he had something that would take it all away. Of course it took it away, but it also started a really unfortunate life for myself," she says. 

'Five Seconds Away From a Relapse'

James developed a full-fledged addiction, and used for years. She managed to kick the addiction for a while when her second child was born, only to be pulled back into it. Then. in her early 20s, she decided to get treatment, leading her to quit using drugs, she believed, for good. 

Over the next seventeen years, James raised her daughter, got married, started a business. She led a normal-looking middle-class life. But the pain and trauma of her youth still lurked just below the surface.  

"It was great, but I still didn't deal with that underlying problem. It was still there," she says. 

And it became impossible to ignore when, following several surgeries, she was prescribed opioid painkillers. 

James told Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer what happened when the addiction reared its head after nearly two decades, what it took for her to get sober yet again, and why she believes that this time her recovery will hold up. 

"As I tell everyone, I'm five seconds away from relapse," says James, who is now studying to become a chemical dependency counselor. "[But] do I have any intention or any thoughts that I'll ever use again? No."

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.