Back to Life in Midlife: Beating Addiction

Addictions are powerful — but so are over-40 women. Here, four stories of how maturity speeded recovery.

By Ginny Graves
Janis Robinson (Photo: Alessandra Petlin)
"But I’m much healthier than I was, and every day I find myself doing a little better — eating more, getting stronger," she says. "The best part is, I have more energy, so I can enjoy everything more. I love my job, and I adore my kids. Going through treatment was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It set me on a healthy course, the first one I’ve been on in years."Addicted to CocaineBy the time Allison Simon, now 42, and her husband moved to the affluent New Jersey town of Woodcliff Lake, in 2001, their four-year marriage was shaky. "We fell in with a very social, partying crowd, which helped us escape our problems with each other," she says.When their son was 3, Simon got pregnant again. She stopped drinking but jumped back into the party scene within two months of giving birth to another boy. One night, two of her new friends pulled her into a bathroom and offered her cocaine. "I hadn’t done coke since college — and I only did it a few times then — so I thought, what the heck. This will be a lark," she says.A couple of months later, Simon used cocaine again and bought some for "special occasions." At first it was a weekend thing, she says, but as the months passed, she started snorting it during the week, whenever she needed a little boost. "I felt distraught about my marriage, but coke made me feel good," she says. "I could forget our problems when I was using it."As her drug use escalated, Simon’s marriage deteriorated. "My husband and I were fighting a lot," she says. "He was spending more time with the guys; I was spending more time with the girls — and the girls liked to party. I knew I was getting out of control, but physically and mentally, I was so convinced I needed cocaine to survive that I couldn’t even bring myself to ask for help."In 2006, says Allison, her husband filed for divorce. "I begged him not to," she says. "I wasn’t happy in our marriage, but my own parents had split and I was terrified of being divorced — of putting our kids through that trauma and giving up on the dream of a happy family. I was depressed, my confidence was at an all-time low, and I was scared to death of being a single parent with no job."To block the pain, Simon kicked up her cocaine habit, making it a daily ritual. "I’d usually wait till three or four in the afternoon, so I had already picked the kids up from school when I started. But sometimes I’d party all night," she says. "I was meeting the boys’ physical needs — they were clean and well-fed, their homework was done — but I was pretty checked out emotionally."Finally, the family’s former live-in housekeeper, who had become a friend, called Simon’s mother to say her daughter needed help. That same day, Simon’s father arrived. "He said he thought I needed to go to a treatment program," she says. "I was embarrassed, because 40-year-old moms aren’t supposed to be addicts. But I was also relieved. I knew I had to stop, and that I couldn’t do it on my own."Simon’s parents took her to Caron, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, where she stayed for four months. "Leaving my kids for that long was incredibly difficult," she says. "As a parent, it’s impossible not to have some guilt about that, even if you know you’re doing the right thing for your own health."Now, with more than a year of sobriety behind her, Simon attends a 12-step meeting for addicts almost every day and feels better than she has in years, despite the fact that her life is, in some ways, more stressful. "My husband and I are embroiled in a tough custody battle, which is very difficult. But overall my life is amazing," she says. "I have my wits about me again, and I’ve realized I can handle a lot more than I thought I could. I just started a new sales job, and I love earning my own money. I’ve made many new friends in recovery, and the friendships are based on a really deep, shared bond. My relationship with my children is better than ever, because I’m present when I’m with them. I love waking up early with them and doing fun things.

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