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Follow One Central Florida Mother's Year Of Recovery

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Hillary Medlin said her son is her second chance. Medlin has more than 60 days sober and is in recovery for opiod addiction.

Hillary Medlin likes to pluck the one hibiscus flower that blooms at her residential treatment center and put it behind her ear.

“There’s only flower that grows a day,” Medlin said. “I pick it and put it in my hair every day when it grows. Little things like that make me happy because my hair’s now pretty.”

Medlin is 25 years old and had 60 days sober under her belt on the early January day I visit her in Bunnell, Florida. She’s staying at a residential treatment center called Project WARM: Women Assisting Recovering Mothers.

There are 75 women in the program right now – it’s full.

“They almost didn’t take me because of my chronic pain,” Medlin said. “I have nowhere to go. This is the only women’s facility in the four-county area.”

Heroin use is on the rise in Florida, what many experts say is the result of a crackdown prescription opioids. It’s even caught the attention of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who pledged $1 billion to help states with the growing crisis.

WMFE is going to follow Medlin throughout the year to see how this story of recovery plays out at the individual level.

Mom and baby, detoxing together

The first time I met Hillary Medlin, it was 11 days after she gave birth to her son. He was detoxing from opiates in the hospital, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Ideally, Medlin would have been detoxing at the same time as her baby. But that didn’t happen.

“I was still using then,” Medlin said. “I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t want to face it. Even in the hospital I was using. And I wasn’t doing it orally, I was inhaling … oxycodone.”

The journey from new mother high on opiates to a sober mom under a hibiscus tree wasn’t easy.

Medlin wanted a doctor to treat her back pain by burning the nerves in her back and giving her steroid injections. Her pain doctor wanted her to detox or get on a different drug to control her pain.

“I finally got the ultimatum: Go to detox or (my son) gets taken by the end of the week,” Medlin said. “So I went to detox.”

Medlin got that ultimatum because her son tested positive for opiates when he was born, which opens a case with the Florida Department of Children & Families. But this wasn’t the first time Medlin went through detox and it wasn’t her first ultimatum.

That first ultimatum came from her parents.

“And so I had to go,” Medlin said. “This time I had to go for something I wanted, something I didn’t want taken away from me. It was completely different feelings, different reasoning, wants, needs. It was a happy process.”

Once sober, Medlin was able to get a bed at WARM. She thinks back to her first day.

“I thought I would be a wreck,” Medlin said. “I thought I would be balling my eyes out. I’m starting to feel my feelings.

I’m starting to feel my feelings. Much of Project WARM is learning to deal with those emotions. Medlin has been going to group and individual therapy. It’s all part of a program to give her the skills to be a mother in recovery.

“When anyone uses, it’s because we’re depressed, we’re angry, we don’t want to deal with that feeling,” Medlin said. “So we get high and we don’t have to deal with it. But when we’re not high and it goes away and we’re withdrawing, all those feelings come back. So we go out and find ways and means to get more.”

Reporter Abe Aboraya is part of WMFE in Orlando. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.