Catherine Swieter said her legs always hurt the worst.


That was the hardest thing about getting off drugs.


The last time she detoxed from heroin, she had checked into a psychiatric hospital in downtown Austin. The methadone that she was taking to manage her heroin addiction had stored itself deep in her bones. The feeling of it coming out was like a lighted fire inside her legs.


“I have never hurt so bad in my life,” Catherine Swieter remembered. “I went to my counselor, and I said how long will this take? How long will my legs hurt like this? She said, “For a while.” I said, ‘I can’t do it.’”


That was 20 years ago, and Catherine Swieter has been sober from heroin ever since — and from all mind-altering substances since 2006. She credits much of her recovery to her husband, Eric Swieter, whom she met shortly after detoxing and whom she calls her “rock of Gibraltar,” for the promontory near Spain that legend says Hercules broke in two to divide Africa and Europe.


“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.


The Swieters are part of the Statesman’s Season for Caring, which every year helps hundreds of families through local nonprofit organizations. The Swieters were nominated by Hospice Austin.


Catherine started using drugs when she was young, during her marriage to her first husband, Roger. She was a teacher at the time and living in La Grange. The two eventually divorced, and Catherine moved to Austin in 1985 and continued to use drugs, mostly heroin.


She met her second husband, David, at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The two tried to stay clean but could never manage. She called her life at that time “tormented,” an endless series of tragedies that ended in David’s death on Sept. 28, 1998.


That morning, he had left their apartment to score drugs. When he was pulling back into their complex, he swerved to avoid hitting a station wagon and crashed into a telephone pole. He died instantly.


Catherine Swieter’s drug use escalated afterward. At her daughter’s behest, she went back to Narcotics Anonymous. It was while she was withdrawing at a meeting that she was urged to go to a local hospital and then the psych ward to detox, then taken to the boarding house where she met Eric Swieter.


He urged her to remain clean.


“He would talk to me and tell me how much life would be better,” Catherine said. “He told me I would be able to smell the roses and that I would eat better. I thought, ‘Oh, what a fool.’ … Then I fell in love with him.”


The two wed in June 2006, after Catherine promised Eric she’d never use again. They’ve been together and sober ever since.


Today, Catherine says it is still her legs that hurt the worst — this time from neuropathy associated with her diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. She also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and failing kidneys, which caused her several months ago to seek hospice care. Doctors estimate she has about a year to live.


“If I could get back on my feet, I’d help people. I always loved helping people,” she said. “I told God I want to see Christmas one more time.”


On Catherine’s wish list this year is a lifting recliner, new clothes, twin bed sheets, a food processor, Capital Metro bus passes and Access passes, piano music books, and fresh paint for their apartment.


To find out more about the Swieters or help fulfill one of their wishes, contact Hospice Austin at 512-342-4700, hospiceaustin.org