“Aunt Nee, Aunt Nee, please God help me.”
“Who is this?”
“Aunt Nee, it's Bobby, I do not know what is happening to me. Help me, please help me.”
“Bobby where are you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know where I am. I can’t remember anything …”
"Saving Bobby: Heroes and Heroin in One Small Community" is a memoir written by Renee Hodges of Durham. It's about opioid addiction, and a community that rallies to save its children.
“I wrote this to Bobby,” Hodges said. “It's open and vulnerable because I wrote it never wanting him to go back to the place he had been.”
Bobby — she never gives his last name — had been battling addiction for seven years. It started in college when a doctor prescribed an opioid for back pain.
He got hooked.
“Bobby was not just an OxyContin abuser,” Hodges writes in the book. “Although oxy was first, he used every street drug, including coke, meth, and ‘needles’ (code for heroin). ... He spent $200 a day on any drugs he could get. He pawned everything including his expensive watch. He squandered his trust fund.”
Move to Durham
Bobby's parents did not know the extent of his addiction until after he graduated. One day he overdosed at an LSU football game and was taken to rehab. This started a series of hospitalizations; in the last one he walked out.
“Bobby left the halfway house and was sleeping in the park,” Hodges writes, “telling his dad how he was tired and that he didn’t know if he could continue with life for much longer.”
This prompted Hodges to ask her nephew to come to Durham. The plan was to have him checked at Duke University Hospital.
Fix the back, Hodges thought, and stop the pill taking. It was that easy, or so she thought. Bobby would drive up from Louisiana.
Bobby had other plans.
“After having the argument with his father over taking his prescription opioid, Bobby immediately packed and left Louisiana to drive to North Carolina," she writes. "He made the plan to buy and use any drug, every drug he could get along I-20. And he did. He was suicidal.”
Bobby never intended to get to Durham. He tried to kill himself in Atlanta.
“Is this when you called me from Atlanta not knowing where you were?” Renee asked Bobby as they sat in a doctor’s office after he arrived, “Is this why you were so confused and disoriented.”
The turning point
“Bobby how many Xanax did you take?”
“Maybe four or six, a handful. And then I drank the old wine I found in the bar.”
“Bobby why don’t you just put a gun to your head? Wouldn’t it be easier and faster?”
It was 12 weeks since Bobby had come to Durham. It was his first relapse.
Hodges had made him sign a contract if ever used he was to leave. He left. For four days they looked for him, but couldn’t find him.
Finally, he called.
“Aunt Nee, I am so tired of being a failure I don’t want to be failure anymore.”
“Bobby was predisposed to addiction,” Hodges said. “We come from a long line of alcoholics, and we did not talk about it because no one knew how to talk about it then.”
To deal with this, Hodges and Bobby adopted the hashtag #noblamenoshame to help them cope with their family history of addiction, and be open about Bobby’s addiction.
A study by Dr. Nicholas E. Hagemeier, a pharmacy professor at East Tennessee State University, examined the impact of opioid use on families, which suffer financial burdens and disruptions in routine and relations. Some 44 percent and 85 percent report a moderate to severe burden on their physical and mental health, respectively.
Hodges turned this around and rallied the family and her community to embrace Bobby. They focused on Bobby and not his disease.
“We treated Bobby wholly: mind, body and spirit," she said. "I asked Bobby to read the newspaper, I asked him to eat healthy, and I asked him to work out. A lot of it was just common sense that I had, not knowing what else to do.”
Dr. Nicole Scramm–Sapyta, an addiction specialist at Duke, advises families to be open, not hide what they're going through, and offer their loved ones meaning, purpose and patience.
Today, Bobby has finished grad school and is a social worker helping others recover from addiction.
“Recovery is just the beginning after treatment," he said in an interview. "I don’t expect to stay sober if I return to the people I used with, or hang out at the places that I associate with my drug of choice or continue engaging in unhealthy behavior.”
"Saving Bobby" is raw. At times it read like an open wound.
But wounds heal.
In writing the book Hodges, 59, says she was also healed. She came to understand addiction and the wounds and scars it had created and left in her family.
“When I was writing the book, I really understood my story," she said. "This was not just Bobby’s story; this was my story.
"This was the beautiful part of the story, that Bobby ultimately saved himself, but this story was about saving Renee too.”