Losing everything to find yourself: Waynesville native shares her story of addiction
Every recovering addict can recall a moment in their life when they hit their lowest point. For Jenny Green of Waynesville, that low point was December 2014. She was incarcerated in the Swannanoa Women’s Correctional Facility, suffering from excruciating physical opioid withdrawal symptoms and missing her infant daughter’s first Christmas.
“It was Dec. 19 — they took me right before my daughter’s first Christmas. I was having withdrawals from suboxone in prison on top of the anxiety and stun of being in prison,” Green remembers. “If I ever for a moment think about going back to pain pills, the memory of that Christmas alone is enough to keep me clean.”
By that point, Green had been taking opioid painkillers since 2008 when they were prescribed to her following a back surgery. She took the pills prescribed to her and her physician kept refilling it.
“Every time I went back to the doctor they’d ask me if I wanted more,” she said. “It got to the point where I did tell him, ‘No, I’m good,’ but I was already addicted by then.”
Green said she tried to stop on her own several times, but the physical withdrawal symptoms always led her right back to the same habit.
“It just spiraled from there. Whenever you’re in it you know it’s not a productive thing in your life and that you’re never going to be a better person if you don’t get off, but it’s such a cycle and it’s really scary to get off because of the physical addiction,” she said. “You wake up in the morning praying you didn’t take them all the night before and still have one left so you can just get out of bed.”
Green suffered in secret for several years. She even hid the addiction from her husband when they got married in 2012. When she did finally break down and reached out for help, she said he was supportive and did everything he could to help her get through it.
Turning to crime
But for two more years Green continued to relapse, and eventually did much more damage to her life than just taking drugs. Being addicted to opioids is an expensive habit. Running $45 per pill, she could easily spend over $400 a day to get the 10 to 12 pills she needed to feed the addiction.
When her income wasn’t enough to support the addiction, Green turned to pawning the title to her car and selling all of her nice jewelry. When that money ran out, she started stealing from friends and family. During the same two years, she was working for the N.C. Employment Security Commission in Waynesville and devised a scheme to fraudulently collect unemployment benefits. When people’s unemployment benefits would stop because they went back to work, Green falsified documents to have their benefits started again — but she changed the recipient address so the checks would be sent to her. Between 2013-14, Green embezzled close to $30,000.
“Stealing and lying and all that was never a part of my makeup to begin with. I’d always held jobs for long periods of time, had great friends that I’ve had since elementary school that have stuck by my side,” Green said. “My best friend was one of my victims — she could have turned on me, but she’s been there through everything. I pawned her engagement ring and she never got it back — I did horrific things because of my addiction.”
Her crimes caught up with her in July 2014 when law enforcement executed a search warrant at her home in reference to the break-ins and theft. That’s when they also found documents with other people’s Social Security numbers that eventually led to officers discovering the unemployment fraud.
In the midst of the theft charges and fraud investigation, Green finally reached out for help. She checked in to Grace Hospital in Morganton — the closest place with a behavioral health bed — until she could find a drug rehabilitation bed available. She ended up going to a rehab facility in Virginia where she detoxed and began suboxone treatment.
“That initial getting clean — that was the needed stability in my life and knowing I didn’t have to go through the withdrawals,” she said. “It’s really what I needed and what a lot of people need but the resources just are not here locally.”
Green went to court and was convicted on nine theft charges in December 2014. She went to prison for 10 months for her crimes. It’s a place she never thought she’d be.
A Haywood County native, Green came from a good family, graduated from Tuscola High School and found a successful career in real estate. With nothing more than a speeding ticket on her record, she said she was convinced she wouldn’t go to jail.
Healing through yoga
While serving her time, Green rediscovered yoga when an Asheville-based nonprofit — Light a Path — offered classes once a week at the women’s correctional facility. Green said she attended every class led by Light a Path founder Sierra Hollister. She credits the physical and mental benefits of yoga for getting her through her sentence. She decided to seek out Hollister when she was released and began taking classes at the Asheville Yoga Center. Hollister even offered Green a free three-month membership so she could attend classes every day and continue her recovery process.
Green took it a step further by completing a teacher-training program at Asheville Yoga Center and now volunteers through Light a Path to help others and also teaches her own classes in Waynesville.
“A lot of people think yoga is just a lot of stretching, but it can be a very physically and mentally demanding exercise,” she said. “It’s more than just postures — it’s really just a way to live your life.”
Though her life is on a much better path these days, Green is still paying for her crimes. She will be paying restitution to the theft and break-in victims for many years to come and was just recently sentenced to a year of house arrest after pleading guilty to the federal fraud and embezzlement charges earlier this year.
“It’s been hard. I have to have permission to go to the grocery store or to go to work, but I’m not saying it’s not warranted — what I did was wrong,” Green said. “I could have gone to prison again, so I’m very grateful I can still be with my daughter and I can still teach yoga. Even though this was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, I’m very grateful for this experience. If I hadn’t gone through it I wouldn’t be who I am today, which is a better version of myself.”
Green also feels fortunate that so many people — including some of the friends and family members she stole from — have stood by her side and forgiven her for what she did while addicted to opioids. She’s thankful to her ex-husband for his support and understanding and allowing her to have joint custody of their daughter.
While she decided to stay in Waynesville to be close to her mom, grandmother and daughter, it hasn’t been easy to have to come face to face with her mistakes on a daily basis. She still runs into people she hurt when she’s at the post office or the grocery store and quickly puts her head down so she doesn’t have to talk to them.
“The people I’ve hurt are not nameless faceless people — they are people I cared about the most in my life, and I will always have guilt and remorse over that,” she said. “It’s hard to see them. Some won’t forgive me and I understand that — I don’t fault them for that. For a long time I just kept my head down in the grocery store to avoid them. I still do that because I don’t want to cause them any more pain.”
Green said she’s carried around a lot of shame over the things she did while addicted, but at the end of the day, she knows she’s not that person anymore.
“That’s not who I am. I’ve gotten to a place of forgiveness for myself and that was hard. I was very shameful for a long time, but once you get to that point, you have to hold your head up and keep going through life or you can’t help others,” she said.