(This essay first appeared on TalkPoverty.)
In the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, broken pottery is repaired with gold. During this process, the pieces of the broken vessel are held together patiently by the steady hands of the artisan, and filled in with lacquer, which is dusted with gold.
I am that vessel, broken and restored.
I was born addicted and given up for adoption.
Dismissed from social groups and bullied in high school.
Sexual trauma as my first sexual experience.
Subsequent suicide attempt.
My sense of self began to leak, falling away from me, slipping through the cracks.
I survived Hurricane Katrina.
And the looting.
My husband was deployed to war.
My child almost died at birth – and so did I.
My marriage is crumbling.
I’m a single mother.
I can’t take it anymore.
On December 7, 2011, after 7 years of addiction, I was arrested and taken to Campbell County jail. I stayed there for 9 months and was released to shock probation in a halfway house.
I tried so hard to adjust, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have health insurance, so my ADHD and anxiety disorders were not being treated. I was getting recovery material from participating in substance abuse treatment, but I couldn’t concentrate or remember things. Three weeks later, I returned to jail because I wasn’t doing the laundry chore the right way – I kept forgetting to empty the lint trap in the dryer and use the sign-in/sign-out book.
Once I was back in prison, I had health care and didn’t need insurance. I was able to complete a six-month program for women who have dual diagnosis – mental illness and substance abuse. I graduated and was released in May 2013, a completely new human being with an education on the most important subject I could ever learn about: myself. I had a 30-day prescription and a suggestion to follow up with my primary care physician and go to a meeting.
All I needed, yet again, was health insurance.
I couldn’t work for several months after being released. My only experience was serving in bars and restaurants, but I was terrified that the job would make me relapse. I have severe back pain, and I’m allergic to the only medicine that’s legal for me to use to relieve it. Even when I was mentally and emotionally capable of going back to work, I struggled to find employment as a convicted felon on parole. I had no license, no transportation, no birth certificate. I had no money.
I lived at home with my parents and felt like a tremendous burden as they shuttled me to and from probation and parole, to free clinics, to prescription pharmacy program buildings, and to my meetings. They watched me struggle in disbelief at first, thinking I could try harder. But soon they realized how hard it was to get a job interview, let alone a job.
That’s how, almost 10 months after my release, I found myself sitting in my empty bathtub. I was fully dressed and weeping, screaming silently at a god I didn’t believe in anymore to “fix it,” or I was going to end it all.
That’s when I heard the mailman. He rang the bell and brought me a package for my father, and on top was my approval notice from Medicaid. In that moment, I literally felt like President Obama had done that just for me – to keep me here, so I’d keep fighting for myself.
Just as the vessel is held together by the hands of the artisan, I was held together by Medicaid.
My doctors and I worked together fill the cracks in my life with things far more valuable and precious than gold.
Love for myself, my family, and the rest of humanity.
Coping skills for the times when I am not well.
Dedication to a beautiful, intelligent 11-year-old son.
Now, I’m pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Northern Kentucky University, with two years of experience working on the front lines of the opioid epidemic as a Kentucky State Certified Peer Support Specialist. I have helped people navigate their own road to recovery by partnering with them to identify and knock down the very same barriers I faced.
But last night, President Trump issued an executive order that could make stories like mine a lot less common. It asks any federal agency that provides assistance to low-income people to re-examine their programs and add work requirements whenever possible. It builds on a letter that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued to state Medicaid directors earlier this year, allowing states to strip coverage from people who can’t find a job.
People like me.
People who aren’t working because they can’t: because they’re sick or they have a record or they have a disability or they can’t find a job or they’re taking care of their aging parents.
People who need help.
I’ve been on both sides of the opioid epidemic, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that people will die if these restrictions are implemented. I had to fight way too hard and for far too long to get where I am today.
Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. Kristen Arant is a resident of Kentucky, an activist, a mother, and a student. This essay was originally published by TalkPoverty, a publication of the Center for American Progress. It is reprinted with permission.
Photo by Mike Kane for Equal Voice News