In a Lorain neighborhood where some of the homes are abandoned, parents Cathy, 33, and Dave, 46, talk about their lives and the nine months of sobriety they’ve achieved. One of their boys is 15 months old, can’t yet walk and scoots around in a bouncer on the kitchen floor. The older son is 4 and is watching television in the living room.
Cathy said she drank and used pills and heroin. Dave said his drug of choice was cocaine — he said he tried heroin once and didn’t like it. Their youngest son tested positive for drugs upon his birth, but the oldest did not. While Cathy talks honestly about their life prior to sobriety, Dave at times seems to downplay just how bad it got.
Both asked that their real names not be used in this story.
Cathy said her sister called Lorain County Children Services because she feared Cathy would eventually overdose and die with the kids in the house. Dave and Cathy have lost close friends and family members to heroin overdoses.
At one point they were renting a home without hot water or electricity, stealing diapers and food. Cathy said questionable people came in and out of their home, including heroin dealers, but Dave maintains no one ever used drugs in front of the children.
Cathy said she would steal Dave’s money to buy drugs while he and the kids were sleeping and the two would have vicious arguments when she returned home. Their oldest son had nightmares for a long time, which Cathy said were a result of the things he was exposed to, although Dave quickly talks over her and said the boy had nightmares from the time he was born. It might be genetic, he said.
Both Cathy and Dave said they experienced traumatic events as children. Cathy said her father was a heroin addict who overdosed and died when she was 15, and her mother also had problems.
“My mom was drinking and using ever since I can remember,” Cathy said. “It definitely affected us growing up. We were homeless or without utilities and food a lot.”
Cathy married a man before she met Dave and he was an addict. Prior to her heroin use, Cathy was a heavy user of the painkiller Oxycontin, which she snorted regularly.
Cathy’s husband overdosed and died in bed next to her in 2005 and around that same time Cathy was switching from Oxycontin to heroin because it was cheaper to buy than pills on the street. Her husband’s death drove her to use more, she said.
“That’s when I just lost control and wanted to do nothing but stay high,” Cathy said.
Dave said he was fortunate to have had a loving mother who provided for his needs, and he said his upbringing was nothing like what Cathy experienced.
“My mother was really religious, always had the bills paid and was a really good mom,” he said. “There were never drugs in the home. She didn’t even drink.”
Yet as much as he paints a picture of a happy life, Dave acknowledges he was the victim of extreme physical abuse at the hands of his brother’s father, which left him with deep emotional and physical scars and on disability.
For a long time, he said he blamed himself for one particular incident in which his mother was beaten.
“I never had a father, but my brother’s father would come around and he was intoxicated,” Dave said. “He was always drunk.”
While Cathy quickly admits her life was a mess, Dave said he was never as heavy into drugs as Cathy. He said he used cocaine not because he enjoyed it, but because he always felt a need to fit in and belong.
Overcoming that need to fit in has been an ongoing struggle for Dave, their social worker Tiffany Perris said.
“That was one of my character defects,” Dave said.
Dave said he watched heroin “suck the life” out of Cathy, but he still feels that she was always a good mom, even when she was using. Cathy said she knows she wasn’t a good mom because she’d spend any money she had on drugs rather than their needs.
Their current home is small, but all around are things that would be seen in any home where small children live. Cheerios on the counter, sippy cups near the sink, a toy here and there. It wasn’t always like this, and Cathy said she had to throw away much of what they had in their old home because it was contaminated with remnants of cocaine and heroin.
These days Cathy has a job at a fast food restaurant and Dave stays home with the kids while she works. They want to be good parents, and they say the past nine months have been the best in the eight years they’ve been together.
Both say they were angry when Children Services first came around after Cathy’s sister called the agency. They are now grateful for the help they are receiving and the pair recently graduated from Family Drug Court.
“My kids need me, and my kids are everything to me,” Dave said. “Being involved with (Children Services) made me realize they want what’s best for us.”
Cathy said without Children Services involvement, she’d still be using, although it’s ultimately up to her to stay clean.
“I have a desire to stay sober,” Cathy said.