The Big Picture

A life unraveling

Heroin and other opioids have devastated Massachusetts families. Over the past year the Globe spent time with Raquel Rodriguez, a heroin addict from East Boston, as she struggled to get clean for her two young daughters. Raquel opened her life to us in hopes that her story might help someone else. (Read more)--By Jessica Rinaldi
1
High on heroin, Raquel Rodriguez reacted as her daughters, Estrella (left) and Mimi, ran back and forth across her small living room. Tomorrow Raquel will go to the clinic and get her first dose of methadone, but tonight she worries that she won’t be able to do it. Raquel has been battling with addiction for the majority of her life. Born to a heroin- addicted mother, she has memories of drug use and sexual abuse by her early teens. She has tried to quit using before, but this time she is determined to get clean for her two young daughters. “I want them both to have a childhood that I never knew existed. Happiness, joy, love,” she said. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
2
Mimi went into her parents’ room to watch television the night before her mother started treatment at a methadone clinic. The older of the two children, Mimi is silly but also sensitive and responsible, often helping Raquel with small things like pulling up the socks she can’t reach or swooping in with a hug when she can sense that her mom’s mood is about to take a turn. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
3
With the door locked to keep her daughters out, Raquel leaned over to snort heroin inside her apartment. Moments earlier, Estrella had tried to block her mother’s way into the bathroom, and now the girls were crying outside of the door as she got high. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
4
Coming down from heroin, Raquel Rodriguez stopped to flip a shopping cart over so that she could rest as she walked her daughter Estrella, 4, home from school. The heroin that Raquel had taken earlier is starting to wear off and the pain that it was helping to ease when she walks is starting to come back. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
5
On her way back from the clinic last December, Raquel stopped to buy Christmas presents for the girls with the cash that her friend, who has been her source for heroin, had given her as a deposit for the month’s rent. He would be moving in later that day, her first day at the clinic. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
6
Estrella lifted her legs so that Raquel could reach into a drawer as she made dinner the night before she will go to the methadone clinic for treatment. Raquel has done the rest of her bag of heroin, including the dose she would have normally saved for the morning. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
7
Jose, Raquel’s husband, met her at the pharmacist to fill her nine prescriptions. Jose has started going to a program for alcoholics, and Raquel has continued to stay with the methadone clinic. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
8
Estrella laughed as she ran ahead of her mother and sister as they all walked home from school. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
9
Raquel kissed Mimi as they waited for dinner inside a pizza shop. The love that she feels for her two youngest daughters is one of the reasons she was driven to get clean. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
10
Mimi held her Mom’s purse and the puppy in her arms as she stood outside the clinic and waited for her mom to get her dose of methadone. Raquel brought home a new puppy the night before, and Mimi had begged Raquel to let her skip camp and spend the day with her and the puppy instead. It was only when they arrived at the clinic that Raquel realized they weren’t allowed to bring pets inside. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
11
Raquel and Estrella walked to Mimi’s kindergarten graduation with a “Frozen” balloon in tow moments before the wind changed direction and sent the balloon into Raquel’s cigarette, popping it. In a panic, Raquel raced back to the store and begged an employee to blow up another “Frozen” balloon for her. She rushed back to the school, making it there just in time for the ceremony. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
12
Surrounded by other proud parents Raquel clapped and cheered and blew kisses to Mimi during the graduation ceremony. That afternoon they would head to a certificate of completion ceremony for a trauma and addiction program Raquel had finished. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
13
As the girls played on an Orange Line train on their way to a completion ceremony for Raquel’s trauma and addiction program, she started to nod off from the methadone. Raquel said, “It’s like a battle going on inside me between the methadone and the addiction; and I know I can win but it’s hard.” (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
14
After a day filled with both Mimi’s kindergarten graduation and Raquel’s completion ceremony for her trauma and addiction program, the girls shared a bag of Cheetos while they waited for the pizza to arrive. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
15
As they returned from a day filled first with Mimi’s kindergarten graduation and then Raquel’s certificate ceremony, Raquel cradled Estrella in her arms while they waited for the train to take them home. “When are you gonna graduate?” Estrella asked later. “Not for a long time,” Raquel said, “until Mommy gets better.” (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
16
Raquel began to panic as she embraced Estrella in the waiting room of her summer camp program while they waited for a councilor to arrive and open the doors. After having relapsed for less than a week, Raquel had made an appointment with a doctor to up her dose of methadone at the clinic, it was scheduled for 8 in Chelsea. Estrella’s camp opened at 7:30, and Raquel had done the math: If she took a cab, she could make it there in time. But by 7:45, the councilor still hadn’t showed and Raquel was in jeopardy of losing the appointment and the higher dose of methadone she needed to get back into recovery. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
17
Estrella jumped up and down on the bed as Raquel begged her to stop. After eight months with the clinic, Raquel relapsed, the methadone wasn’t helping her to control the physical pain she was in. After the people at the clinic refused to increase her dose, she broke down and asked a friend to sell her a bag of heroin. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
18
Raquel winced in pain as she got up from her chair. She says the days on end of physical pain are what caused her to relapse. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
19
Often defiant, Estrella continued to play on the computer even after Raquel repeatedly asked her not to. Having lost her patience and high on heroin, Raquel snapped at Estrella, telling her that she needs the computer in order to find them a new home. The day before, their landlord had threatened them with eviction. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
20
High on heroin, Raquel began to break down after Estrella refused to listen to her. She leaned on the frame of the doorway and told her friend, a fellow user who supplies her with heroin, how alone and frustrated she feels. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
21
The same day, Raquel checked Facebook on her phone moments after she wrote a post to ask for help to find a new apartment. “I am in desperate need of all the help I can get I have two children ages 4 and 6,” part of the post read, “and am a recovering addict struggling everyday to move forward for my children.” (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
22
The next day, Raquel clutched Estrella’s giant teddy bear and cried for hours when she returned home after learning that the Department of Children and Families had taken her daughters away while they were at camp. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
23
Raquel and her Uncle Bobby held hands as they crossed the street and made their way toward the Suffolk County Juvenile Court where Raquel and her husband, Jose, will go before a judge to find out how long it will take and what they will have to do to get the girls back. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
24
After returning home from a DCF visit with her children, Raquel paused on the steps across from their apartment to call Jose. Increasingly, she has been in more and more physical pain when it comes to getting up and down the stairs, and she needs Jose’s help with the groceries. But she says is staying with the clinic and away from heroin, the drug tests she has taken back her up. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
25
Raquel adjusted her oxygen as she waited outside of East Boston Neighborhood Health Center for a shuttle that will take her to Mass. General for a checkup with her primary care physician. She went to the health center to get her children’s medical records, proof that she could take to a judge to show that she had cared for them. But because the children were in DCF custody, she could not get the records. “They took my kids because of my past,” Raquel told a friend over the phone, “I changed my past and they kept my kids. What do I do? There’s got to be something I can do.” (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
26
At the end of Mass, the children’s choir started to sing and Raquel broke down, “I miss my babies,” she said quietly inside St. Rose of Lima Church four months after her daughters were taken away. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
27
After a bout with pneumonia, Raquel found herself at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Cambridge, trying to get used to being on oxygen and working on building the strength to climb the four flights of stairs up to her apartment. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
28
Raquel took off her oxygen mask to light a cigarette at home. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
29
Raquel counted out her morning medicine. “My doctor keeps telling me these are what’s keeping me alive.” she joked. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
30
Raquel smoked a cigarette as she lay in bed. She’s been feeling sick again but she’s afraid to tell the nurse who comes for her home visit. The last time she was sick, she ended up in the hospital with pneumonia, and the court date to get her children back was postponed until 2016. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
In this blog: Big Picture
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.