Friday, February 8, 2019

My Day in Judge Dankelson's Drug Court

On Wednesday, I got the honor of visiting Judge Dankelson’s Treatment Court. If you aren’t familiar with the Treatment Court’s in Jasper County, I would encourage you to do a quick Google search of "Jasper County Treatment Court" and read about the various programs. You will also see the forms and rules. They are quite extensive rules.

In Jasper County, there are four different treatment courts handled by four different judges. Each judge has their own caseload that they personally oversee. The four courts are DWI Court with Judge Mouton; Drug Court with Judge Dankelson; Co-Occurring Court with Judge Crane; and Veteran’s Court with Judge Nicholas.

Each court has an application and process in which Defendant’s with pending criminal charges must apply and meet certain criteria to be accepted. Matt Ouren, the Treatment Court Administrator meets with each applicant. Once the person is accepted into the Treatment Court, they become a "participant" not a "Defendant". Their charges are still pending, but they have the opportunity to dissolve those charges if they complete the 18 month program to which they are accepted. To me, the choice would be obvious--take a felony or 18 months of treatment court? Uh yea, I’ll take the treatment court. However, to some Defendant’s who are not ready to get clean and sober, they rather take the felony and hope for probation. It’s quite sad.

Matt Ouren also runs a group meeting on Tuesday nights for participants. It is a meeting similar to a support group like AA, only it consists of only people who are participants in Treatment Court. It is a weekly safe place where everyone is abiding by the same rules and they get to interact with Matt and discuss any feelings, struggles, issues and get moral support from others. I was invited to visit the Tuesday night group. There were people from each treatment court present that night. Some who were just beginning and some who were getting ready to graduate, but all were there for support or to give support.

Several of them told me about their own feelings about Treatment Court and how it has literally saved their lives. What really struck me was the adoration they felt for the judges assigned to their cases. How often do you hear of a Defendant talking about a Judge in ways like "I feel like she cares about me" or "He really made me feel good when he said he was proud of me."? They also praised their probation officers. It was something you don’t commonly hear. There was no stress in the group meeting, no tears, no drama, no one showed up drunk or high. It was peaceful and comfortable. You could tell they felt safe. I enjoyed it. If someone would have walked in the room and saw the variety of people in that room, they would have had no idea that they were looking at a group of people facing criminal charges and fighting addiction. They would have seen a room full of just everyday people.

The next morning Matt got approval from Judge Dankelson for me to attend the staffing session prior to Drug Court. I had to sign a confidentiality waiver to attend the staffing, which I had no issue in doing. I had been in that courtroom in the past for domestic cases and had sat at the round table in the Division II Courtroom assisting my boss in a trial, but had never seen a Judge sitting at the table. That was kind of wild to see at first. He didn’t have on his robe, but of course, I did know he was the Judge. Also present was Matt, the Treatment Court Administrator; Will Lynch from the Prosecutor’s Office; a Deputy from Jasper County; a Counselor; Matt’s Intern; and a Probation and Parole Officer.

They started with a stack of documents and literally went through case by case and discussed each and every participant in Judge Dankelson’s Drug Court program. From the smallest of details to the largest of details, they knew EVERYTHING going on in these people’s lives. They knew whether they were working, how many meetings they were attending, how many call-in’s they have made to the probation officer, whether they showed up for every drug screen, whether they were still working, if they had a fight with their girlfriend, if they are struggling with a family member, etc. Case by case they discussed these participants and each person talked about their interactions. The deputy assigned to the Court sometimes will go check on housing, will go verify a story someone has told them, he serves lots of purposes. They leave no stone un-turned in these people’s lives. The counselor talks about issues that are bothering them, good and bad things happening in their lives, and recommends different things if she feels something isn’t working. The probation officer reports if she is not getting call-in’s on time, if someone doesn’t show for an appointment or if someone fails a drug screen. Also, they review applications from participants who are requesting to move up to the next phase. They talk about whether they are ready.

Judge Dankelson truly knows these people. He remembers things they told him 2 weeks ago that they promised him, or something they didn’t do or an achievement they have made. He has input on every single case just like the rest of the panel. One of his comments that I noted and loved was "Well if he is not working, he needs to occupy his time, so let’s have him do community service 20 hours a week and get him to group meetings."  I wanted to stand up and applaud because I am such a firm believer that "Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop".  When Judge found out one of the participants wasn’t making his appointments to his counselor, he said he was going to make him write a letter of apology to her. Admitting their faults and taking responsibility for their mistakes is a huge deal in Treatment Court I observed. I couldn’t agree with that more in that every addict has such the ability to blame everyone else for their shortcomings and problems rather than themselves. Well, Treatment Court doesn’t allow that excuse. They make you accept what you did wrong, admit what you did wrong, apologize for what you did wrong--and you better not do it again or "chit is gonna hit the fan." (Quote by myself, not them).

The team makes the decision together on whether people shall be promoted to the next phase and sometimes, they have to make the decision to terminate them from the program all together, which means they will be served with a notice when Court resumes following the staffing session.

If a participant has failed a drug screen or didn't show up for a drug screen (which to the Court is the same as a positive); or has broken other rules, they will be put in the "penalty box" when Court begins. The penalty box is the "time-out" of Treatment Court. Everyone else comes in and sits in the audience and you have to sit in the jury seats where everyone can see that you’ve been a bad boy or girl. Not fun. Since I was sitting in the jury box while they were having their staffing meeting, I was grateful Judge let me move to his seat at the table before Court began. God knows I probably have earned a penalty box a time or two in my life but glad he didn’t make me sit there that day.

At 11:00 AM, Court begins. No attorneys are present because once the Defendant becomes a participant, they are managed solely by the Treatment Court for 18 months.  It is basically a group meeting and Court all rolled into one. Judge does put on his robe and the normal "All rise" by the bailiff is announced and everything seems like a normal court proceeding is about to begin. But's all different.

Judge Dankelson started the morning court session with this quote he had read earlier and found it fitting for his participants:

"So often the difference between success and failure is belief. And so often that belief is instilled in us by someone who encouraged us. Be Intentional. Encourage those around you today. Let them know you believe in them. They may need to hear it more than you know."

"Wow, how neat is that," I thought to myself. One by one, he called up each participant by name and they would approach the bench and stand before him. He asked them questions like "Tell me what is going on in your life" and they would tell him or "Give me something positive that has happened to you since I saw you" or he would read their requests for advancement in the program and he would tell them when they have earned that promotion. When they did earn the promotion, he would present them with a coin and stand up and shake their hand and congratulate them on their achievement. After he would finish with a participant, the audience and the team would applaud. It was great. I was really getting into the positivity of it because you could see the pride they felt when he would compliment them. Even if they weren’t perfect that month, for example didn’t handle a situation as the team wishes they would have--he looked for positives to point out to them. "We would have preferred you handle that this way next time---but we are glad you didn’t do this like you would have in the past." He made sure they knew that even though they got corrected, that he still was proud that they were making progress. If someone had a tragedy in their family, he made sure he acknowledged it and gave them his condolences. He encouraged some who were parents that were having struggles with their own kids. He was sitting on the bench, wearing the judicial robe, but he was their mentor. The respect he was giving them gave them great pride in themselves.

THEN there were the ones in the penalty box. They were also called up one by one. Some were served with termination papers from the program and told of their right to counsel at that hearing. He was still very respectful to them, but the authoritative tone did change. They were people that were just not ready to be clean or were just not willing to abide by the rules. He made no bones about it, was very straight forward and they didn’t get any applause, nor did they deserve any. They did get a word of advice from him to use the days before the next court appearance to prove that they shouldn’t be terminated from the program. Do something themselves to prove it and stand on their feet and come back before him if they were willing to try again…but it would be solely up to them to do that before the next court date.  That’s another thing…if you move back a phase, you have to start all over from scratch. No free passes in Treatment Court. No skipping bases. It’s not Candy land. It’s "earn every step of every phase yourself for 18 months and sometimes longer". It’s "go big or go to prison."

There is a separate docket for those who are looking at dismissal from treatment court. They are placed back on a criminal docket. They don’t get to come back to the positive Treatment Court atmosphere. They are back to being a Defendant. No positive quotes and coins on their next visit before the judge. No counselors, no positive Matt sitting there cheering them on as well. The prosecutor will be there, however. I hope those that got served with termination papers walked out of there and decided to change their path and come back and beg to be back in…but chances are, they probably left and will be getting high until they go back to jail. Very sad, but a harsh reality of the grip addiction has on people.

As Matt Ouren says, "It is their choice to be in our program from the beginning. They can leave at any time; however, there is consequence. We truly believe that if they cannot make it with the structure of our treatment court, including the partnership we have with all of the local providers and recovery supports, they obviously need a more structured environment to address their substance abuse related issues." I completely agree. They give participants every avenue to succeed.

After the courtroom was cleared, it was just Judge Dankelson, his bailiff and me. He asked me if I had any questions and what I thought of it all. I asked if being a judge made him view addiction any differently than he did as a prosecutor. He said he didn’t feel it did, because he had been to training several years regarding the topic and has always believed in the importance of treatment court; however, he did feel that wearing the black robe does make a difference in how the participants react to him. He can definitely see the effect his positive affirmations have on the participants.  His bailiff said that when he himself first heard of treatment court, he thought it would be nonsense. He was very cynical. He said watching them change lives, has made a believer out of him. He said "I have seen it with my own eyes. It works."

I will say that my family has experienced numerous meetings, treatment facilities, support groups, counseling sessions, therapy groups, team meetings, etc. in the last seven years. I thought I had seen it all. It turns out, that I have not. I have always told parents that the best thing they can do for their kids is to leave them sitting in jail to suffer consequences or they will be dealing with the same problems and more for years to come. I still believe that. I’m so glad to know that the help that I have driven to Dallas, Columbia, Oklahoma City, Atchison, Tulsa, etc. can be found now right in Jasper County with a team of people who truly care.  Treatment Court in Jasper County is growing and improving and setting the bar for other courts in the country. It is impressive. For all the parents that I have told to let their kids sit in jail, I feel even better about that advice knowing that they have the opportunity to get help through our court system and leave no blemish on their record if they finish the program. It’s a win-win situation.

I am very much looking forward to visiting the other 3 Court’s to see the other Judge’s in action. (There is my hints to Judge Crane, Judge Nicholas and Judge Mouton that I really want to come to yours next ☺). I hear they all have their own styles and I’m anxious to learn more. I cannot thank Judge Dankelson enough for allowing me to peek inside his Drug Court and be able to share my experience with all of you.

I need the reminder every day that he gave me to "let someone know you believe in them." It’s hard to do that sometimes when you have a loved one battling addiction. It’s hard to have hope. I am thankful that there are other people out there and people of authority such as Judge; Matt Ouren and the Drug Court team that are able to give that hope to someone who needs it. Often times hearing "I believe in you"  from a stranger has far more impact on a person.

My next blog I’ll be sharing more about Matt Ouren and his experiences being Treatment Court Administrator and the advice he has for those with loved ones struggling with addiction.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

My Apology to Jasper County

I haven't blogged in almost two years. I grew tired of talking about addiction and feeling I was spinning my wheels. Also, I was trying to give my family more privacy to give my daughter the chance to live outside of the shadow of my Facebook page and blog. After I left my job working in domestic law, my husband told me he felt I should get back into blogging or volunteering in addiction/recovery because it was such a huge part of my passion. I had no intention of re-starting my Facebook page or even starting this blog again, but something was eating at me. I needed to do something. I felt empty.

One morning, I was reading the comments on a Facebook thread about some people arrested for drug charges. I started reading the comments from citizens chiming in about our court system being a "revolving door" and complaining that drug addicts need to be "locked up longer" and I even read some troubling messages from former law enforcement officers talking so horribly about addicts in general. I realize these people were criminals on the news...but they WERE people. I mean, it could easily be my own daughter on that page or yours, or anyone's. These faces splashed across the news were someone's loved ones. The lack of empathy was in full force. I started thinking about my own self and lack of empathy for others and my own criticism of the county I live and the rants I myself have gone on in this very blog.

This past year, I made an extremely bad choice and I said some things in a private conversation that I deeply regretted. My words were unfair, hurtful and quite frankly-- they were untrue. They were based off of things I was likely told by someone who was angry just like me and frustrated with the system at the time, just like me. Rather than wait for this person to be told by a 3rd party about what I had said, I reached out to him and told him myself and I asked him for his forgiveness. I got the kindest, most gracious and Christian-like response from him, that I cried. I keep that message as a reminder of the  grace I was shown when I didn't deserve it. Truly did not deserve it.

So...I wanted to give back. I wanted to show grace. I wanted to do something to get involved and help my county and get back into the area of interest that is my passion---addiction and recovery. I decided to message an old friend of mine named Erik Theis, who is the Jasper County Courts Administrator. I told him "I want to get involved with Treatment Court. I'm no longer working and I want to volunteer, even if just once a week--whatever you guys need." He responded immediately, "We would love to have your help, please contact Matt Ouren, who is our Treatment Court Administrator. Here is his number." I messaged Matt and got a response right away. We met two days later.

I was nervous. I had been raking this county over the coals for 5 years. I decided it was time to "put up or shut up"--to "help or stay silent"--to learn about what they are doing in our county and offer my help rather than my two cents. Would they resent me? Would they even know me? Would they even care? What I found...was more grace.

Matt Ouren is a fantastic human being. I've never met someone who can understand the way an addict feels without ever being an addict. I have never met a man who can feel empathy for those who relapse and understand the reasons they do, without having lived it. He is special. This county is blessed. It was the most fulfilling meeting I have had in 5 years. It filled my soul with so much hope, so much excitement and so much pride for the things happening in this community and especially in Jasper County.

Therefore---my mission now is to tell YOU about it. I want YOU to know what is going on in Jasper  County and I want YOU to know how important our Treatment Courts are to this community and the work our Judges, Prosecutors, Probation Officers, Deputies, Counselors, and especially Matt are to this county.

I have had several of the leaders of the court system answer questions for me for my blog about parenting, how to deal with your addicted children and how to handle the problem when it begins; how to use the system to help your family member; and I have gathered useful information from them that I am so excited to tell you about. I cannot do it in one blog, so this shall be a series of informational blogs to educate you, the voters, the citizens, the taxpayers. You deserve to know what is really happening in that crowded courthouse behind the scenes. It will blow your minds. It has mine.  I can't wait to share it with you.

So Jasper County, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't reach out sooner and become educated about the Treatment Court before now. I'm sorry that I bought into the stories of the good ole boy system. I'm sorry that I didn't see you as actual people in those roles of authority or behind those desks. I thought you only saw statistics, numbers, faces on a rap sheet. I was so very wrong. You see people and now, I do too. Thank you.

Next day in Treatment Court with Judge Dankelson..

Oh...the person I mentioned earlier who forgave me and showed me grace when I didn't deserve it? It was Judge Dankelson, himself.  God works in strange ways, eh?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Letter from an Addict's Child

Often times, when we think of addiction-- we think of teens or young adults. We also think of parents, who have lost their children due to addiction. We think about the amount of children in foster care, who have been displaced due to their parent's addictions. We rarely look at an adult, who has been through the trauma of being raised by an addict. These people walk among us in our daily lives, often times, not discussing the pain they felt throughout the years. 

We also sympathize with people who bury their children and grandparent's who bury their grandchildren...but what about the children and adults who buried their parents? They are the forgotten victims of addiction.  

They survived. They made it through...right? Wrong. They suffer every day with the memories and pains of losing their parent or never knowing if they could have done something differently to make that parent take a different path. They often times had to grow up way too fast and put their feelings on a shelf. They, as with every child, loved their parent with every ounce of their soul...and they too, have to come to the harsh reality that their loved one was an addict. Only their reality wasn't about someone that they raised, nurtured and brought into this world. They have to accept this reality about the people who were supposed to raise and nurture them. They have to accept this reality about the person who brought THEM into this world. It is their own personal, emotional, roller coaster of hell that addiction brings to families.

This is a letter from a young lady who lost her mother. This is a letter TO her mother. These are the words she wanted to say, but couldn't bare to say in person. These are the words she feels, thinks, and sometimes cries to herself. She wrote this to help those out there who feel the same pain, loss and disappointment that she has faced, so they know they are not alone. 

Dear Mom: 

I love you. You were my first best friend. We did everything together. For as long as I can remember, it was always me and you. 

Dad was always working hard so we could have fun and we did, we had fun. From trips to Disneyland, the beach, traveling to big cities, shopping, taking pictures, singing and dancing in the car, there was never a boring moment. And I have TONS of pictures to remember those times. 

Your love for me was out of this world. I have never felt the love you showed me and will probably never feel it again, but I'm thankful I had that love for as long as I did. You didn't show that love to just me, but for my siblings as 
well. That's one thing that no one can deny, you loved your children. 

I can say that I had the best childhood....until I was about the age 11-12. Things seemed off. You and dad were divorced. You had boyfriends that weren't good for you or for me to be around. Very abusive in every aspect possible. I witnessed a lot of the abuse. I learned more about drugs being so young than I probably should have, but I didn't believe it was you, I believed it was just the people you were hanging around. You were perfect in my eyes and could ever do such a thing. 

As I got older and into high school, I was able to put two and two together and realize what was going on. I wasn't stupid, but I was in denial. How could my mom, such a fun, loving, beautiful woman fall to such a disease? There's no way. It wasn't until some major life changing events happened that I realized, you were an addict. 

It's hard for a child to accept. It's embarrassing. I felt like I was the only child in the world who had a parent that was an addict. I had friends wonder why I could only see you under certain circumstances and I had to make up some stupid excuse because they lived a sheltered life and would have no idea what I was talking about and I didn't want anyone to think anything bad about you. I didn't want anyone to judge you, or me, or any of our family. 

You are a not a bad person in my eyes and never will be, you made bad decisions. When you took the initiative to get clean and completed your program, I was so proud and so happy thinking that was the end of a horrible chapter of your life and mine. However, you relapsed a year or so later, and just like when I was a teen, I was in denial. I knew you had relapsed, but I just didn't want to believe that this nightmare was coming back again. So I distanced myself from you. I will always regret this decision. 

I distanced myself because I did not want to be around the abuse and the drugs. I had dealt with it for far too long that I could not handle it anymore. I still talked to you quite a bit, but just short conversations. I was off work one day and decided to stop by your house. It was so nice to see you. You were in a great mood. We talked, laughed, like best friends. I left, gave you a hug and said "see you soon." Little did I know, that "soon" would be a week later, in a casket. 

Your death is by far the worst, most traumatic event, that I have ever dealt with to this day. My mom, the woman who I thought was so pretty, so perfect, so smart, funny, my first best friend, was gone, forever. Although I know you're in a better place now, you are so missed. I wish I would have said something to you when I knew you had relapsed, that maybe that would have made a difference and you would still be here today. However, everything happens for a reason, and it was your time to go. This journey has taught me what to look for and how to keep my children from falling victim to drugs and addiction. 

I just want you to know that I forgive you and I love you. I will never think badly about you. I can't wait to see you again. 

Your daughter. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why Don't We Lock Up the Deadliest Weapons In Our Homes?

This isn't about gun control. This is about self-control and the lack of it, in our teens. Constantly we talk about firearm safety and the need of a safe, locks and putting weapons out of reach; yet we allow our kids free access to the thing killing more people in the United States than firearms---DRUGS.

I've been preaching for a couple of years now about the need for parents to lock up their medications; yet it still continues to be something parents neglect. I want you to think about your sleeping pills, your anxiety pills, your old pain pills from a previous surgery. Where are they? Do you even know? Do you keep them safely locked away or are they a loaded weapon in your home? How about your teen's wisdom teeth surgery? Where are their pills? Did you get them filled? If you didn't---did you shred the prescription that their oral surgeon likely gave them for narcotics? Do you realize that your teen could fill that prescription for those hydrocodone and sell them at school or to a friend for more than $20 a pill? Maybe your kid really wouldn't do that---but do you know that 1 out of every 6 teens would buy them or take them? Did you know that?

Do you think "Oh, my son would never take pills"?  Are you willing to take that chance? How do you know that one of their friends won't take your pills?  These are the questions you need to ask yourself.  Would you trust your child with a loaded firearm without your supervision, especially if they were not trained to handle it? No, you wouldn't. So why trust them with a substance that killed 52,404 people in the year 2015 alone. Think about that for a second...52,404 people took that loaded weapon and died.

Just like a firearm, you cannot "un-shoot" the bullet. You can't un-ring the bell. You can't undo the first taste of a narcotic, if your son or daughter enjoys that first buzz. Narcotics are dangerous and although they usually won't kill someone on the first "shot"--they can kill someone in a much longer, drawn out and painful death.

I didn't know these weapons were a danger in my home. I had no idea that someone else's son or daughter would take them. I had no idea that my child would take them. I had no idea these medications were abused or were a problem among young people. I had no idea that in 2015, they would kill 52,404 people. I know it now...and so do you. We all have the responsibility to keep our kid's safe. Don't risk it.

The simple task of locking up your medication could save a life. It could save YOUR kid's life.

Lock them up.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Blogging, Bumps and GPS

I haven't blogged much, because I really haven't had much to say. Shocking, isn't it? I've tried to step back a bit on my personal stories because I have felt that I put my family under a microscope for awhile and I have regretted it in some ways. Dealing with addiction is hard on a family. Dealing with recovery while everyone is watching you, can be even harder. Ok, that is an embellishment, it's not even close...but it can be challenging. Addi has been great about talking about her struggles, being honest and, because of me---she has been an open book; BUT, there have been times over the last 9 months that she has been home, where she wished we hadn't been so open. The pro's have far outweighed the con's and the support from most everyone has been immeasurable...but she is a human.  Her moving home and dealing with recovery hasn't been effortless. It has taken a lot of work and patience from all of us; and we have had some bumps in the road. The difference is,  she has handled those bumps rather than turning around and going backwards. She puts the car in neutral sometimes, but knows she can't go in reverse or she will hit a bigger bump and blow out her engine.

Trying to stay sober in a world of temptation can be hard. Honestly, I have learned so much more about her in the last 15 months than she has probably learned from me in her lifetime. She has taught me about resilience, determination, patience, trust, and GRACE. It's easy to sit behind this keyboard and tell everyone what they SHOULD do, to help their loved one. It's easy for me to show grace to someone in an instant message on Facebook. It's easy for me to be determined not give up on her, when she is sitting in a secluded facility far away from the real world in which we live. It's not easy to do all of those things in REAL life. I'm honestly not very good at it. I drive her crazy. If I could implant a GPS into her skin, I would. She puts up with me too, because she understands that, as my husband says, "Trust is earned in inches and lost in miles"--and I never fail to remind her of all the times she lost my trust in the past. It's wrong of me, but I admit, I do it.

She has faced people from her past, has been called names from people in messages, she has dealt with people watching her every move and some hoping she will fail because they failed. She has dealt with me nosing into her college reports, nosing into her social media and nosing into her friendships of people I do show grace, and others that I fail miserably to truly forgive. She says her life is no more valuable than anyone else's. I agree with that...however, I didn't give birth to everyone else. I gave birth to her. I LOVE her. I want to wrap her in a bubble and protect her...but I can't...and she is teaching me that. She has had moments where she has been absolutely sick of me and snapped at me---and almost inevitably, she will either come back into the room or send me a text message..."I'm sorry. Sometimes the old Addi comes out and I react badly."  She has had to deal with me picking her every move apart and analyzing her every breath, pupil and appearance and has had to go take random drug screens just "because I want her to."  She has had to deal with me for 9 straight months and hasn't packed up and left and she has not killed me. That is some serious progress for us.

Now, about the really awesome things. She has established a relationship with her family again-- with us, her dad and stepmom, her extended family, and she is especially close to her grandparents again; she went on FAMILY VACATION with us for the first time in 10 years; she goes to church every Sunday; she has gotten involved in our church; she has done GREAT in college and is enrolled for Summer and Fall; she has become HILARIOUS again; she is learning to budget (not well, but learning); she has made new friends, who are great influences; she has forgiven; she has learned to lean on our pastor and his wife when she struggles with life; she has learned that she can't fix anyone but herself; she has learned that she hates Algebra, but loves writing; she has learned she hates Geography, but loves Communications; she has learned she isn't ready sometimes to be "normal" as the world says "normal" is; and she has learned she is stronger, wiser, smarter and more beautiful than she realized.

So, I guess the point of this blog, is that life will never be just unicorns and rainbows. Part of recovery, is learning how to deal with those times when your alarm doesn't go off, your car is out of gas, it is raining outside and you have a test about a subject you don't understand. Recovery is a process, not a single act. Recovery is within a whole family, not a single person. Recovery for a mom is trying to look 2 times at the GPS instead of 10 (per hour). Recovery is learning how to use the "unfriend" and "block" buttons on Facebook; and learning to stand on your feet when you feel like jumping into a pit. She is recovering...and so am I.

Get through the bumps and you will keep moving forward.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Normal Teenage Girl

I actually played softball with your daughter when we were kids. You probably didn’t know I was a drug addict. I have been clean over 7 years now. I would like to share my story in hope of helping someone else.

This is my story of addiction.

I was your teenage girl. Loved life. Loved sports. Loved boys.

It all started with alcohol. I'd drink anything I could get my hands on. I tried cocaine for the first time when I was barely 16. I met a guy and fell in with him and his friends, the “wrong crowd”, so to speak. He talked me into dealing and using pot, coke, pills, etc. He used meth, but I was too scared to try it. I left him after 10 months and moved in with my new man who I knew from high school, not too much later. I dropped out of school my sophomore year because I was too busy getting high. There were times I would get so “pilled out” that I would have memory lapses while driving or at someone's house. Later, I would be told about things I'd done and I had zero memory of them.

I overdosed and somehow survived many times.

After a short time I found myself being abused physically and mentally by that man I thought I loved. We did nothing but get messed up and fight and argue. I finally left him after 2 ½ years and moved back in with my dad. I then met a guy that worked at the restaurant I did and he seemed really great at first. Said all the right things, he was very nice. He introduced me to his friends who dealt and used drugs of all kinds and some who worked at a local strip joint. I unfortunately was wooed in to their life and started doing more drugs and started working at the strip club as a dancer to support our many habits. This is by far the most embarrassing thing I ever did. While there, I experimented with more drugs. Now I had done many drugs including coke, crack, meth, ecstasy, oxycontin, acid, shrooms, morphine, and even some experimental drugs that I couldn't tell you the name. I was in very deep.

I stole pain pills from my family's own medicine cabinet and stole money as well to fuel my habit. That is why it is so important that parents lock up their medications. I can promise you that kids will take them. 

In my early years, I would self harm (cutting my wrists) before I ever started using any drugs. I have scars all over my arms that remind me every day of that battle. When I see other people with scars like mine, I just want to give them a hug and tell them it'll all be ok and over one day.

I finally wised up and left that guy and moved back in with my dad. I was finally starting to get clean. Well “clean-er.” I had quit many things…but not everything yet. Then I met a man. A truly great man. We started dating and hit it off instantly. I believe strongly that if it weren’t for him I would be dead or in jail. I quit that job got clean. I was done with drugs. I wanted to break free…and I did.
Today I have been clean for 7 1/2  years and I'm engaged to the man of my dreams and we have a beautiful daughter together.
Occasionally I still have bad days where I'll have a craving, but I just remind myself what I've been through and how it would ruin my now happy life, so I tell myself it's not worth it. My daughter needs her mom, and that's the best thing to keep me clean.

I also used to avoid my family as much as possible because of the shame I felt being a druggie and then also a stripper. I knew if I went around them at high use times they would know I was high. Now I wish I could get those times back I missed out on with my family members who are gone. I have many regrets that I will never be able to go back and change. But I can only try to be a better person now and spend as much time with my family as possible. In order to 100% get away from that life, I had to never see or speak to those people again, even my best friend at the time. It's the only way.

Every story of addiction is different. Everyone starts in a different way for a different reason. I was in the wrong places at the wrong times with all the wrong people. I found myself being pressured by people, usually my exes, and feeling like I can't say no. Today I speak to zero of the people that joined me down that path. I never want to go back there again. I am finally clean and happy.

I at least feel better after saying all of this. I hope my story can help others. I hope my story can help others struggling with addiction and can help parents know what the signs they may be seeing in their own kids.

People caught in addiction need help and help is something that is hard to come by. Most people judge and condemn people like me because they've never been there and don't understand what it does to you and your loved ones. They look at us like a lost cause. Like it's too late for us. We are not a lost cause. We can be productive members of society if given the chance and given love and help. We want that, even while being destructive, we wish we weren't that way. I can't tell you how many times I cried while doing these horrible things. I would think of my family and what a disappointment I must've been. How I was a waste of a human being. I know now I was just a very troubled girl in a tornado of destruction that I set loose.

I hope that addict stereotype can be crushed one day and we aren't looked at as a waste of life and energy, but a real person with real problems who needs a loving hand to help them get their life back and actually live again.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

365 Days

Today is the day! Addi is one year clean. I'm so proud of her and the changes she has made in her life and continues to make each day.

A year ago at this very time, she was getting ready to be arrested. She had agreed to go to treatment and backed out at the last minute, and our family friend Jane headed to a hotel to plead with her to go and she refused. Another friend, worried about her fate, called the police to do a well check on her. The police went to the hotel and found my sick daughter...and 365 days later---here we are! She hasn't touched a substance in 365 days. No "medicated assisted treatment"; no "drugs to get her off of drugs"...just cold turkey, withdrawal and then finally...the feeling of freedom.

In a year, we have learned so much about ourselves. She has learned that she doesn't "need" anyone or anything but God to fulfill her soul. I've learned to let go. I'm not going to lie---I am still terrified sometimes. This anniversary had me on pins and needles. Really, day 365 is no different than 366, but better than 364. It's just a number. The real accomplishment is that, although she is proud of her progress...she too, realizes it is just a number. I had asked her if she wanted to celebrate somehow and her response was "Why should we celebrate behavior that I should have done all along?"  She made a valid point. She should have never gotten in this mess to begin with---but she did and she has learned lessons that will help others. As a mom, I have learned to fight for not only her, but for others who are learning the same hard lessons. We have traveled this road for a reason.

I've not been blogging much because I wanted to give her some space, privacy and peace to keep moving towards a normal life. Her life has been 365 days of miracles and personal achievements. If you would have told me a year ago, that today, I would be blogging, while my daughter is in class in college---or that she herself drove to college, in a cute vehicle her grandparents bought her, I would tell you that you are insane. If you would have told me that her Aunt TT and Uncle Kevin would be footing the bill for her college right now, I wouldn't be amazed at their generosity because they are generous people, but WOULD be amazed at the faith they have put into her. Every day she is dressed and out the door at 6:50 AM with her daughter all dolled up, with a bow in her hair and ready for her day. That is a glimpse of the old Addi that always attended school on time, up and at 'em and organized for school-- before drugs interrupted her life. She is doing the "little things" that are "big things" to me and my husband.

She has also become active in our church. Sounds so weird to say "OUR" Church. We have never really had a church we felt comfortable or attended regularly. We have found OUR church in this past 365 days, in Carterville Christian Church. She is now running the video camera that she volunteered to do; she recently gave her testimony to share; she was baptized in November; and each Sunday, Chris and I watch from the middle section (where we like to be) and we will see her on row 1, with her hands up in praise and almost every Sunday, we look at each other with tears in our eyes. Her faith is strong. Her comfort level with the Pastor Robin Sigars and his wife Jayme is incredible.  She feels loved. She feels at home there. Robin is same pastor who over a year ago, found her at a convenient store (she tells me, she was about to get high), just so he could pray with her--is now "her pastor."  Utterly amazing "coincidences."

There are way too many people to thank and acknowledge without leaving someone out. So many people have given her encouragement, support, a smile, a kind word or helped her along the way in big and small ways...even readers, who have never met us in person. Our family has been incredible and have rallied around her better than ever.  Her Nina helps her with Evie's daycare so she can attend school; her Advisor at school has been a great support and understanding ear; her old high school friends that are her "real friends" have welcomed her back into their lives; just so many instances of support, I cannot describe them all. So many people have stopped me and just said "How is Addi?"  It means so much to our family.

The one person I do want to thank, is Addi. She has allowed me to expose her life in public view because her heart is big and she doesn't want to see others suffer like she has suffered. She has allowed the embarrassment of some of her most horrible times, to be aired publicly, because she wants to help others see the light. She has held her head up in the midst of shame to show others that there is no shame in being broken and you can be fixed. She has handled little things thrown at her in the last year with a clear mind, even if it may take a month or so to realize her feelings. She has forgiven quicker and learned to love people even in spite of their shortcomings. She has also learned that she can be an example but that she personally cannot save anyone else. She has taught me that "grace" is something you do not pick and choose who should receive it, but that all people deserve it. She has become the sister again, that her little brother missed so dearly. She has become the daughter that my husband has never had and loves her so much. She has reconciled with her own daddy and his family, which has mended a huge chunk of her heart. She is a great student and has recognized when something may be over her head--and she remedies it. Yes, my Addi has become a "problem solver."  She has a sense of humor again and makes us laugh every single day. She has shown us that people can change, and that although scientifically, addiction is a "disease"--it is also a a conquerable one that must be fought day by day.

Addi--thank you. Thank you for being alive today. Thank you for not giving up 365 days ago, when it appeared I had given up on you. You have proven to me that a Mom never gives up in her heart. A mom never quits fighting for her child, no matter the age. Children can teach mom's as much as we teach them. You have taught me so much and you have made me a better person. I love you, sis. I made it all the way through this blog without bawling until now. :)  I am so proud of you. So so proud. Let's do this again next year. Until then, lets just focus on today...then tomorrow...

To those of you who are reading this and feel that your place in life is too lost, too dark and too hopeless---we are here to tell you--it is NOT. There is life in your soul. Feed it, find it, and ask for help. Addi is no more of a person than you are---she just hit rock bottom and stood up. You can too. If she can do it, you can too. Please remember that...YOU CAN TOO!