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September 17, 2012 07:34 PM

All Walks Of Life

sioux falls, sd

Addiction carries a lot of stigma with it, but one Sioux Falls woman is putting a face on the problem and showing it affects people from all walks of life.

As a bank vice president, she may have been able to master her career, but battling her addiction to pain killers was much tougher. 

Kristi Metzger has shattered the glass ceiling in the banking world and holds the position of vice president and trust manager for Home Federal Bank. 

"When I hit the trust business about 12 years ago I knew it was a career path I wanted to take and I wanted to work my way up as fast as I could,” Metzger said.

But admitting she had a problem with prescription medication and then figuring out how to deal with it was much tougher than climbing up the corporate ladder. 

“I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I didn't want anyone to know,” Metzger said. “And I had friends and people I knew so well say you're smarter than this. You're better than this.  Why are you doing this?”

Metzger's addiction to pain killers came after her battle with endometriosis.  She had seven surgeries and was prescribed Vicodin.

“It did make me feel better. It took away the pain and took away anxiety you have feeling the way you do. It's a feeling that, gosh, I've been looking for this the whole time and if I find something that works, great,” Metzger said.

But after she didn't need the pain killer anymore, she found she couldn't get off the drug.

"That in itself keeps you in addiction because it's a very painful process to get out of," Metzger said.

It took an intervention from her family for her to admit she needed help.

"It made me a person I was not proud of. You start to look for ways on the Internet to buy prescriptions from doctors on the Internet. That's what it resorted to at the end for me," Metzger said.

But a few months after getting out of treatment the first time, Metzger started taking the pill again.

"I was used to being active and these pills were making me so tired, I couldn't function. I wanted to sleep all the time,” Metzger said. “You start to not care about things you cared about. It makes you not feel, [you’re] numb to everything. You start to become a person you don't recognize in the mirror."

It took a second trip to rehab for Metzger to get clean.

"This is something I'll have to deal with the rest of my life and facing the rest of my life," Metzger said.

Face It Together used Metzger's story in its campaign to get the world out about the program. 

“Here they're coming out to say you don't have to be ashamed. This isn't anything you did. You didn't cause this, but the shame and embarrassment eats us alive.  It was very freeing to have an organization say this isn't your fault, you didn't chose this,” Metzger said.

Metzger says she's been amazed at the response she's gotten just from people she meets in public. 

"[They] come up to me and say, thank you for your message. I struggled for 20 years, my son struggled and some people I knew and some people I had no idea,” Metzger said. “That was very freeing too because you realize they're able to come forward and talk about something they felt very ashamed about.  Face It is doing its job very much so,” Metzger said.

Metzger credits the support of her family, friends, coworkers and employer for helping her get her life back on track. 

“[I’m] very proud of my employer, Home Federal Bank. I think they've been a very strong leader in this area. They were one of the first employers that got behind "Face it."  But what a great thing to come out as an employer and say we believe in this and we're here to help employees we have,” Metzger said.

Metzger says the pain killers robbed her of her life and now that she's off them, she able to live fully once again. 

“As far as relapsing, no way.  My life is so good and so meaningful and the gratitude I feel for everything I have now, all the blessings I have in my life, I wouldn't have appreciated that to the level I do today and it's not even something I think about or want because I feel so good,” Metzger said. “I've got the energy I've got everything I've had before and I know how good it is to feel this way again and I also know how horrible I felt when I was struggling, once you're there you never want to be there again.”

She hopes by sharing her story again and again, she can continue to help take away the stigma surrounding addiction so that people suffering from it will step forward and get help.

“The bottom line is it could happen to anybody and when you look at statistics and see how many people in the community are dealing with this illness and won't come forward because they're afraid they'll lose their jobs, lose their families, lose their home and the fact of the matter is if you don't get help and have people help you, you will lose those things,” Metzger said.

Metzger marvels at the Face It Together program and its ambition to go nationwide; even worldwide. 

“This is a big deal because it affects everyone in the country and world and if we're able to start here and move this globally, what a big deal,” Metzger said.

Since Metzger first shared her story through Face It Together, she's been able to refer several people to treatment to get help.

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