When Michelle told her 6-year-old son she was going to be interviewed for this article, he said, “You’re a star, Mom!” This is an accurate description of Michelle. She is a “star,” in the sense that she is much like an “entity in the darkness that generates its own light, fixed in place by gravitational forces.” In Michelle’s case, the gravitational forces in her life are her four children, ranging from age 5 to 8. “I did it for them,” she says, “and I want others who are struggling to know that this way of life is so much better!”
Michelle tells her story of addiction with a mix of courage, humility and gratitude. It began slowly, with casual use of methamphetamines (meth) in the evening — a way to unwind from the stresses of a day parenting four small children. But in 2008, when her marriage began to deteriorate, her social life accelerated along with her use of meth. She also began to smoke it, not realizing how detrimentally more potent it is in this form. Her addiction quickly grew out of control.
In summer 2009, Michelle was arrested in the parking lot of a local store, while her children watched from the car. “This is when it all started to tumble down,” says Michelle. Her children were taken away and she was sentenced to jail time. In jail all she thought about was how she was going to use when she got out, which she did the very first night. “I was still in the addict state of mind,” says Michelle. But she wanted her kids back, so she attended the required Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings and made a valiant attempt to quit meth. Then she did it — she got her kids back!
Two weeks back into her old life, overwhelmed with a houseful of kids again and a home left filthy by her ex-husband, she relapsed. She tested positive and was again sentenced to jail time. Again, her children were removed. “This relapse was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me,” says Michelle. “If it hadn’t been that bad, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.” By this time she was suffering from severe chest pains and her hands hurt such that she couldn’t hold a piece of paper. Doctors told her meth use had damaged her heart. She knew she had to make a real and permanent change.
At first, her attitude was bitter. She felt singled out, unfairly punished by the county and the court system. “You think you have it the worst. Then you hear all the stories at the NA meetings. You see so many people struggling, some worse than you.” A friend pointed out that the only one hurt by her anger was herself. That’s when her attitude began to shift. She began embracing the services provided her.
The more the drugs wore off, the more clear-headed she became. She began to feel a strong joy for life and for being with her kids. “Everything looked different! I woke up and I grew up!” says Michelle. She became fierce in her determination to lead a new life. Though she lived several miles from the nearest NA meeting and didn’t have a car, she could be seen walking into town for her 7 p.m. meetings, through snow and blizzards, in the dark, with cars slushing her along the way.
Michelle recently hit her 18 months clean mark. She cannot say enough about how much her family life has improved. “It’s everything,” she says. Once overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood, now she is overwhelmed with gratitude for getting to raise her kids. She no longer thinks about who can watch her kids while she gets a break. Her focus is now about how to make her family life great for her and her kids.
Michelle is now a spokesperson for services, working for the Family Resource Center in her community, where she helps others going through what she went through. She’s a strong believer in how much those services work and loves sharing these resources with others.
Michelle says the support she felt from her NA group and from counselors and social workers saved her life. She’s especially grateful to the people who didn’t see obstacles to her success, but instead saw her strengths and gave her encouragement. She is grateful to her Mountain Circle Family Services social worker, who gave one-on-one support through a grant aimed at promoting safe and stable families, sponsored by the Child Abuse Prevention Council. She’s also grateful to her Child Protective Services social worker: “He was there for me every step of the way.”
And Michelle is very clear that she could not have done it without the unfailing support of her fiance and the network of friends she’s found in her NA group. “When I used to get stressed, I would say, ‘I need a bag (meaning drugs).’ Now when I get stressed, I say, “I need a meeting.”
When asked what she would say to foster parents, Michelle said, with a tone of deep sincerity, “Thank you. Thank you for taking care of my children the way I should have been.” Her only regret is that the system isn’t set up so that birth parents can remain with their children while also getting the support they need. She’s seen too many birth parents, when they lose their kids, fall into a kind of despair. Then they go deeper into the party mode and grow more out of touch with their role as parents. Michelle’s concern is valid — one that’s being addressed by some child welfare agencies.
As previously mentioned, Mountain Circle Family Services offers one-on-one intensive services to help birth families create a more successful home environment. And, because the ultimate goal is always to create stability for children, Mountain Circle is always looking to recruit foster/resource parents willing to provide therapeutic support to birth families so that child and parent can reunite. When an openness and support exists between the birth family and the foster/resource family, the outcome is ultimately better for the child.
Michelle is all for keeping this openness. She feels enormous support from the foster families that have helped with her children. One foster mom recently came to her daughter’s birthday party and they’re planning to invite another foster parent to her son’s upcoming party.
“It’s all about the kids,” says Michelle. “You know how the 12-step meetings ask you to call on a ‘higher power’ and they tell you it can be anything that works for you? In my case, my higher power was my love for my children. I did it all for my kids.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or is in need of family services, contact Plumas Crisis Intervention and Resource Center (PCIRC) at 283-5515. If you’ve ever wanted to help a struggling family and are interested in becoming a therapeutic resource family, contact Mary Barry at Mountain Circle Family Services Inc. at 284-7007.