In Ruby Shoes, Michele Zumwalt invites readers into her struggle to overcome prescription drug addiction. Michele gives readers hope that they too can overcome the stronghold of addiction. Her story is a powerful testimony of what God can do with a surrendered life.
Maybe you have a very personal story you need to share with the world, too. Maybe your testimony can help pull others from despair and defeat. I hope this interview with Michele will nudge you to get your story written and published so it can bring hope and healing to readers.
Addiction to prescription medications is all over the media lately. How big is the problem?
Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the chance to talk with my friends at Inspire Writers. I have so much respect for what you do and I’m truly honored to talk with you.
Prescription drug addiction has recently been called an epidemic in America by the Department of Health & Human Services. Americans are only 4% of the world’s population and yet we take 80% of all narcotic prescription medications. More people die every year from prescription drug overdoses than from car accidents. Every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription drug overdose and as a Law Enforcement Chaplain in Sacramento County, I know. I’ve done far too many death notifications and witnessed too many preventable deaths just in our county alone. Since 1999, the number of narcotic prescriptions in the US has quadrupled. That’s why I wrote the book, Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction, to bring hope to a hopeless situation.
How did you become addicted to prescription drugs? How long were you addicted?
Like almost everyone who becomes addicted to prescription drugs, I was caught off guard by the addiction. Most people become addicted because of an injury or some type of chronic pain problem. I developed headaches in college and started on opiates to treat the pain.
There’s nothing social about prescription addiction. No one goes to a bar to take some prescriptions. It’s all very benign and clinical. The doctors prescribed it, and so it’s safe, right? The problem is that prescriptions are taken at home alone and when we get in trouble with these powerful drugs, we are alone with the problem. I became addicted very quickly and struggled with this addiction for years. It almost killed me.
At what point did you know there was a problem with your prescription drug use?
There were several ominous warnings, but I can remember one time in the hospital when they were preparing to run an MRI. I had developed a fever, which I later learned was drug fever from chronic use of opiate medications. That day in the hospital, they gave me a heavy dose of Demerol on top of what they had already given me. I overdosed and had a grand mal seizure. When I awoke, the doctor said they would do the MRI the next day, but if there was nothing on the scan, they would have to consider that perhaps all these medications were the problem. At that point I said a prayer. I asked God to let them find something, anything, on the brain scan. As absurd as it sounds, I would rather have had six months to live with the drugs than to consider a life without them. By that point in the addiction, it was as if they were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen. That day, deep in my heart I knew that I was in real trouble.
My family intervened and put me in a treatment facility in Orange County; but honestly, it took years for me to come to terms with this problem. I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere. I was angry and resentful. I spent many years in and out of recovery. In Ruby Shoes I tried to provide the reader details about this life-and-death struggle. I believe every prescription addict faces it before they finally surrender. My final surrender came when I almost died in the ICU at Mercy Folsom Hospital. God saved me, even from myself. Chapter Eight, “What a Gift – Those Ruby Shoes” describes the turning point for me. I needed to know how much God really loved me. In my most broken and sinful place, He loved me completely. Just like Dorothy from Oz, no one could save me. My family couldn’t do it for me. I had to surrender this problem myself. I had to find and wave my white flag.
What advice do you have for someone reading this interview who realizes their use of prescription drugs is out of control? What can they do to escape the tornado of addiction?
The first word in the First Step is “We.” We can’t make it alone. Alone, is how we die. Together, is how we get better. Reach out and get help. Call any 12-Step support group, church, or hospital. You can even call me. My number is 916-439-7775 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
How will reading Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction help readers who struggle with addiction?
The Wizard of Oz is used as a metaphor to help readers relate to being lost in the strange world of addiction. That feeling of being trapped in another world with no way to get back home is the very essence of addiction. Ruby Shoes is my story about a devastating prescription addiction tornado, being lost in a foreign world, chasing brooms for fake saviors like Oz, and finally remembering the precious Gift that takes us HOME.
This book offers a personal account of the horrors of prescription addiction and a biblical, 12-Step, life application solution to the problem. Ruby Shoes takes the reader on a discovery journey that leads them to a much better place than where they began. My prayer is that those tormented by prescription drug addiction would discover they do not have to suffer alone any longer. They don’t have to die and become another sad statistic of prescription drug addiction. After reading Ruby Shoes they will know, if I can get better, anyone can.
Since my book launched a few months ago, I’ve been talking with people all across the country with similar stories of desperation. We don’t have to continue to die in record numbers from this problem. Together, we can find our way HOME to Him.
Was this a hard book for you to write?
Yes, but two things made all the difference in keeping me strong, motivated, and what I’d call “writing with a purpose.” First, I had so much love and encouragement from my family. And second, I knew that this was what God was calling me to do. My mother, Dr. Donna Perry wrote the foreword. You would love my mom. She has helped a great deal in the editing process, but more importantly she encouraged me to share my story and inspired me to do it for the Glory of God. My entire family, my husband, father, mother, and children have all been involved in everything from proof-reading to book signings. We all see this book as a ministry to help people and God has a role for each of us to play.
In a 12-step program, you had anonymity. No one outside your recovery group needed to know what you were battling. Was your decision to go public difficult? Were you ever concerned about “coming out” about the topic?
No. After so many years of working as a Law Enforcement Chaplain and seeing so many senseless deaths from prescription addiction, each year more than the last, I knew this story of hope needed to be told. The loss and devastation of so many lives gave me the courage I needed to trust God completely and not worry so much about what my husband calls, “the look good.” We just decided to use this book to speak the truth, trust Him, and love and serve all His children.
Tell me about your writing process.
Writing begins and ends for me with prayer. So, I started by asking God about the idea of telling my story. There’s a short story in Chapter One about how He, very directly, answered those prayers for me one day. Then, I began a process of intentionally praying for the audience. This was years before the book was finally published, but God already knew who would read it someday. It’s comforting to know that long ago, I spent so much time praying for each person reading my book today. God has a plan and a purpose for each life.
Next, I prayed for an approach to tell the story in a way that people, some of whom have never been addicted, could relate to the struggle. The idea of using The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor came to me during one of those prayers. The actual writing of the book was done in much the same way. I would pray about a story or an idea and then write it. Usually, I didn’t even know where it would go in the book. At some point, God began to help me see the chapters and how the stories fit into the chapters. There was great deal of writing, perhaps a whole second book, which didn’t make the final cut. All of those stories, I collected into a folder I called, “Cut from Ruby Shoes.” I don’t know what God wants to do with all that writing, but I know He is the Master of taking our messes and making them messages. So, don’t ever throw your writing away. You never know what He’s up to next. J
How long did it take to write this book?
The whole process from the beginning prayers to final publication took about six years. It’s a small book, only about 40,000 words, but it’s my first book and, as you know, it is a very personal story. This was my journey with Jesus and He didn’t rush me.
What obstacles did you overcome while writing Ruby Shoes?
Mostly, I just had to get myself out of the way. I keep trying to make the story more general in nature, trying to be inclusive. For example, talking in general terms about my higher power. But in the end, my mom reminded me that I needed to tell my story, even if it’s not for everyone. So, I wrote it true and now I know, that it is for everyone. We all get lost sometimes, lost in food, spending, shopping, even Netflix or Facebook. We all wander away from God. Sometimes we feel trapped or so lost that we know we might never get back home. But, we’ve all been given a free gift–Jesus. He died for all of us. No matter what happens, He has given us a precious gift which takes us Home.
Were there any surprises along the publication journey?
If you feel that your book is God-Inspired, never take no for an answer. For months after my manuscript was complete, I approached many agents and publishers. I heard nothing at all. So, we took the self-publishing leap of faith and I’m so glad we did! I was surprised that Ruby Shoes launched as the #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in all three categories. As I write these words, four months since the launch, Ruby Shoes is the #3 book on Amazon’s Best Seller list in the Christian Recovery and Counseling category and in the top 10 Best Seller books for Substance Abuse Recovery. The self-publishing world has opened the doors for every writer to reach his or her audience.
If you have a passion for what you are doing and you love marketing, which I do, (it was my major in college) then you have the opportunity to write a best-selling book! I’ve also been amazed at how, when you are called to write, God puts all these other people who are called to write around you. I’m pretty sure He does that because He wants us to love and encourage each other as we seek to do His will through writing. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:11) It’s the we thing again.
What advice do you have for an aspiring author who has a deeply personal story to share?
Pray. Seek His will in this and in everything. If you have a deeply personal story to share, it is very important to have people in your life who keep you honest and who support and encourage your writing. Surround yourself with other Christian writers who are trying to do the same thing. Finally, remember that our broken world NEEDS your story. We need more Christian writers to demonstrate how it’s done…not perfectly, but with perfect forgiveness and love. I’m praying for my fellow Inspire Writers as we seek to demonstrate God’s love and mercy for this broken world. May our works inspire others to seek and do His will and may we always remember to give God the glory. (see Matthew 6:33)
What questions do you have for Michele? Join the conversation in the comments section below.
Elizabeth M. Thompson hosts weekly Open Studio writing times in her home because she loves to write in a quiet house filled with other creatives creating. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Elizabeth blogs about overcoming on her website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her.