Monday, June 11, 2007
Surviving life with crystal meth
She's 18 but she looks 14. With a red sweater, horn-rimmed glasses and a funky ponytail tied above her head, Jessica (not her real name) seems like your typical teen. But there's nothing typical about her. Raised by a woman who used crack and crystal meth, Jessica jumped from home to home, living with family and friends, while her mother spent time in jail, rehab and other facilities to quit her habit. Sometimes Mom would be clean for weeks, then, according to Jessica, "She'd give in to the devils inside her." Most of the time her mother prostituted herself for her hits. It was rough for her, but even rougher for Jessica.

I met Jessica on the last day of a fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee this spring. The weeklong event was designed to introduce journalists to the world of crystal meth. We attended classes, visited rehab programs, talked to professors, users, judges, police officers and doctors who've seen meth's effects on society. We witnessed how the production of meth destroys communities, kills, maims and puts an incredible financial burden on our penal system, medical community and foster care systems. But it was Jessica who opened my eyes the most. Here was this girl sitting across the table from me, talking about drugs, paraphernalia and pimps as if everyone lived this kind of life. Not once was she bitter. Not once did she come off as hating her mother, or the system that forced her to live in foster homes. In fact, here was a child, a young woman actually, who had no anger. Instead she had hope.

That's because for the past few years, Jessica and her mother have been living in a group home called the Renewal House. It's Nashville's first and largest long-term recovery community for women addicts and their children. What makes Renewal House different is that instead of splitting up families, as many rehab facilities do, Renewal House keeps the mother-and-child relationship intact. Research shows that keeping children with their parents, even mothers who are struggling with drugs, helps the child to grow with more confidence especially when that child enters society, moreso than if he or she were put into foster care. Studies also have found that children of drug addicts usually turn to crime or drugs themselves when taken away from their families, reflecting the loss of the nurturing bond that only a mother can give. Experts also note that programs that keep families together see a higher success rate of addicts getting off drugs and staying off drugs. So the mom helps the child and the child helps the mom.

Renewal House looks a lot like an apartment building. Children live with their mothers as the parent progresses through rehab. The kids go to school and live as normal lives as possible, while moms attended meetings, workshops, and therapy sessions. Renewal House's goal is to get the women off drugs and back to work, so they can provide a healthy home for their children. It doesn't always work, but the Renewal House has a success rate of more than 50 percent. Experts say that's impressive. And Renewal House provides a loving home for kids who normally would be shuttled off to live with someone other than a parent.

So Jessica was not angry. Jessica was not scared. In fact she was proud of her mother, who now works with other women in the program. You could see the love in her eyes as she spoke about her mom and her mother's will to break free from a habit that once consumed her. Asked whether she had felt abandoned at times, Jessica said no. "'Cause even though she was a whore and a junkie, my mama loved me. She will always love me. That's why we are where we are. "

Do you think states should fund more programs like this? Tell us about positive rehab facilities in your neighborhood.
Whether we build jails or places like Renewal House, we are going to pay for the consequences of drug addiction. I would much rather have my taxes going to programs that create law abiding citizens contributing to society than jails that only seem to create better criminals.
In Oklahoma City we have a facility called Jordans Crossing. It too, keeps the woman and child together through treatment. I know that it is truly rewarding to see families go in to the facility hurting and broken and to see the bond that the family has formed while in treatment is amazing. I feel that it is a great swing in the trend of recovery. I have seen amazing results!! To top it all off, the kids are getting the help that they need to cope and to be able to know that they aren't the only kids in that situation. I feel that the kids are able to be the support for the mom, as well as the mature kid that they need to be in school and society. I wish that there were more high quality places that were as effective as Jordans Crossing. Maybe there will be one day, as this is still somewhat experimental in nature, but we'll have to wait and see.
Good morning Val,
What a loving and touching story you tell about Jessica and her Mother. I do wish there were more programs like this. No matter how old we are, we still need our parents love and vice~versa.
I have a friend who is gay and a drug addict. He has been through detox and in rehabilitation countless times. He keeps going back to drugs. Why? His religion does not tolerate gays and he won't give up his religion. He says it gives him God in his life. Yet, his pastor tells him he has demons and that he is a sinner and so he turns back to drugs and he believes that he has CHOSEN to be gay!!! It is a vicious cycle.
This is so sad because he is such a witty, creative, and intelligent person.
I have supported and talked with him until I am blue in the face. I feel he must make his own choices at this point.
Does anyone have any suggestions?
I honestly think that a person has no right having a child if they can't even take care of themselvs. It's a ticking time bomb
We need programs not only for adults and their chilren to go to for help with their drug addiction. Parents of teenagers also need programs to be able to put their teenagers in for their drug use. Why not try to help them before they become parents. Programs that they have to live there .
I think this is a wonderful program. A child who doesn't have a mother can likely end up just like their addict parent. In this facility, the child is more safe than if they were dumped into foster care. It takes a village to raise a child and this facilty uses that philosophy.
Crack and meth are definitely the worst drugs to hit America so far. They're just so accessable and cheap. It's unfortunate that very little focus is paid to the destruction those drugs are causing to minority communities and how little access those groups have to rehab treatments.
Watching my ex husband with his inner turmoil and his mother being addicted to drugs. I always wondered what would have happened if those two stayed together. I think the bond would have kept my ex husband out of trouble and gave his mother some form of hope. Yes he was always with his family. But his grandparent's adopted him and would not let him see his mother. Maybe if there were more homes like this. We would see less youth turn to drugs and alcohol and more parent's willing to fight for their children.
My sister ran away from home when she was 16. We got a call from her over a year later saying that she was pregnant and in a home for recovering drug addictsn in Denver, Colorado. We found out she was addicted to Heroin, but thankfully made the choice to get help when she found out she was pregnant. I cannot remember the name of the program, but it was geared towards young moms, either pregnant or with a child under 5, and all the moms had some sort of addiction. She was able to leave to visit the family every other week for 2 days, and we could visit her the opposite week. My sister stayed in the program until her daughter was 6 months old, so a little over a year.
My sister is now 23 and has not touched any drugs since she entered the program. They still check in with her every few months. She is now in Nursing school and my niece is completely healthy. Without this program I am afraid my sister may have harmed herself and her daughter. We have a very supportive family, but at the time we could not help her the way the program could. She is now a happy mom, with some health problems from the drugs she used to be on. She says it is a daily reminder of why she needs to stay clean, get healthy, and take care of her child. There should definitely be more programs out there that keep families together through the hard times.
Renewal House sounds like a good idea

However you fail to mention whether or not this is a secular or religious based organization

If it is religious based, no we should not be funding it at all. The religious in this country already get enough of a free ride. They can fund it themselves with the property taxes they don't pay.

If it is secular, it is definitely a social program we should fund greatly.
Hi Val,
Four of my friends are recovering drug addicts, all men. Around here there is something called the "Oxford House" where they can go to stay if they have nowhere else, and they can stay as long as they need to- pending, of course, that they are working the steps to stay clean.

My friends regularly attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and I've gone with them, out of both curiosity and in support. The 12 step program that NA uses is fantastic, and with the aid of sponsors, many of them can do well. But as for whether or not states should fund this? Absolutely, I think they should.

It would be nice if this situation was not even a question that needed to be answered. If, perhaps, the family dynamic hadn't degraded in the first place... well, one can wish, or one can make a positive impact- it's up to them.

I'm personally going for "positive impact."
This seems like a great program. Children need their parents and troubled parents need the reminder that they need to shape up their lives for their children. The two can balance eachother out and try to live a normal and healthy life.
Dallas, Texas
Hi Val,

I personally believe that this is a wonderful program becuase it keeps families together. The society what it needs is love, people are lack of it & they try to find relief of their pain in drugs. Jessica's mother is a great example of what such programs can do to help and addict. And her daughter was the light she needed to help her go on..
We need a lot of rehab places for moms and kids. People do not want them in their neighborhoods, But where could they possibly go. It is hard for children under normal circumstances, but drug and alcohol addicted parents tear at a childs soul. You never know who you could be if not for the drugs. Families deserve the start of a new life without drugs. I bless Renewal house for they are truly our mothers keeper.
We all believe that a parent and a child should remain together but are we also not told that we should leave a destructive relationship. Children of drug addicts have the potential to dispaly co dependent behavior and to take the role of the care giver. Will this child grow up and be in an abusive relationship because he feels he has the ability to change this behavior? Even in a rehab environment the child is always aware daily of the struggles the parent is going through. How does a child grow within the dreams and wishes of themselves when their life revolves around the healing of the parent. Life is full of decisions and learning experiences for a child and they should have an environment that allows them to focus wholly on those decisions with the guidance of an adult who has the proven ability to assist with those decisions. In this case we are taking that away from a child I think that the state funds should go to creating a better foster system for children this may seem harsh. But, with a success rate of over 50 percent in these rehab programs that still leaves a failure rate of at most 49 percent. I would think that a child participating in this kind of program with a parent would feel personal failure when the parent returns to drug use. What are the effects then to the self esteme?I know that the theory is stop the problem don't just treat the symptems but in these cases the problem is not the childs so why should he have to endure the life of a drug addict? So that it is better for the parent? The one who has put this misery in the childs life? HMMM
If we don't do whatever we can, to destroy the cycle of addiction, civilization as we know it will soon be a distant memory. However costly, this program sounds like it is getting results. It must continue and be spread throughout the US.
IF only more people/communities would beome involved in helping people I honestly believe our crime/abuse rates would drop. So many are still not willing to get involved.
I'm glad a program like this is getting some press. Thank you for posting this.

The fact of the matter is that this country has had the wrong approach to the drug addiction problem for over half a century.

We need to be putting money into rehabilitation programs like this and doing everything possible to make rehab more readily available to people who need help. Drug users are criminals in this country because we make them criminals. This has and always will be a public health issue, not a criminal one. Sticking a drug addict into a jail cell with violent criminals and without treatment is a great way to grow a future criminal. We need to put money toward harm prevention programs, the only effective method of treating addiction.

The United States has 25% of the worlds prison population. Can we please stop the madness of demonizing drug users and start treating addiction like the disease that it is?
I'm glad to hear of such programs. These are postive programs, where community/ governmental programs use common sense and compasson to help its citizens.

I just wanted to dispel a previous commentors statement- yes, such drugs have unfortunately taken their tolls on our society...and the societal elements of politics, law, economics and culture all play into this...but the largest demographic addicted / using crystal meth are the middle-class white women... becuase it gives the user " more awareness, energy and a thin figure"... I'm just going off of the stats and studies...
No I do not think my taxpayer dollars should fund programs like this. Drug use is a choice that people make and my money should not be used to help someone because of the choice they made to take drugs. These programs should be funded privately or through donations.

I also agree with one of the posters that it's not fair to the child to watch their parent struggle while they go on and off drugs. I would think it'd be better if they were adopted out by a loving family. It's a hard call.
I just want to comment on the comment above me.
Foster homes and kids being adopted are not always better for the kid. Have you heard someof the horror stories that have gone along with kids in those situations? Being caged, starved, beaten, completely ignored and so on. Yes living with a druggie can also be bad but the system is not as good as people want to believe it is. kids are a number and once they are 18 they don't care about them anymore and normally end up prostitues and druggies themselves. Foster care and adoption don't really have any better turn out then these homes they are talking about.

I'm for it, I think these homes are a good idea.
In response to Anonymous that posted to my response, I have known a couple of people who were adopted into loving families and are now living a full life because of the opportunity to live their own life without having to essentially babysit their parent. Not all adoptions go well but there are a lot of adoptions that do go well. I can't imagine having a child grow up watching a parent being this irresponsible and having to worry about them when they fall off the wagon or get arrested. Half of these parents in the program don't make it. A child should have the opportunity to be a child and sometimes adoption is the best option.
To Betty Ann,
I have friends who are gay and who also value their religious and spiritual life and who live deeply spiritual lives. Perhaps your friend needs to look for a church/pastor that is more accepting of his homosexuality. I believe homosexuality is not a choice but a determination at birth which means that God created a percentage of people that way. Some churches are more accepting/tolerant than others and I hope your friend finds one that will value him.
Betty Ann:

Two suggestions - there are GLBT focused drug treatment facilities, Pride Institute being the leader of them. They may be a far better option for your friend. And, as someone above said, there are churches, and groups within churches that support GLBT members. (There's even a group for gay catholics!) MCC is a church that comes to mind for being accepting.
I'm half hour into the A&E program "Intervention" and I'm watching a 10, 12 and 15 year old deal with their mother's alcoholism. She wasn't always an aloholic but she did become one. She drinks mouthwash if she can't drink vodka etc. She's already been arrested for DUI 4 times in two years and even eluded the police on a chase. She's now facing a year in jail. Watching how these 3 kids react to their mother's condition is heartbreaking and unfair. She was sober for 2 years after being in a treatment center but then fell off the wagon. Luckily these kids have their father who is taking care of them. If it weren't for him, I don't know how these kids could ever have a "normal" life. My point is that it's not fair for a child to have to watch their parent struggle with additiction and this is only over alcohol. I can't imagine how hard it would be for harder drugs. No I would not want my taxpayer money funding these programs. This mother like many others made a choice and it's unfair for them to make their children, spouse, parents or friends suffer for it.
I WANT to support programs like this, but I can't. Drug and alcohol addictions are self-inflicted, and they divert resources from the innocently mentally ill. I don't want to be mentally ill, and I certainly didn't choose to be mentally ill, but I am. Because of the emphasis and funding directed to addiction rehab programs, it took close to 15 years of increasing madness to get real, effective treatment.

If I'd had any idea I could feel this much better, I might have pushed harder to get into treatment, but I did try to the best of my ability. That wasn't enough. I didn't have a criminal record or a history of substance abuse. I had a history of staying gainfully employed (I still am). But all of that didn't stop the voices, didn't stop the crashing depression, didn't stop the loss of myself.

As I commuted to and from work on the local bus system (I couldn't trust myself to drive with the voices telling me to roll my car), I heard tale after tale of time spent in rehab, and I came to resent it. How is it these people could get treatment when I couldn't?

That's still how I feel today, although the resentment is gone. It's just how it is.
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