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From 'depths of hell' to sobriety

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When Stacie was at the peak of her drug use, she was spending a couple thousand dollars a week on heroin and cocaine.

Stacie is in her living room with her former Lorain County Children Services caseworker Michelle Hunt, whom she’s recently made amends with as part of a 12-step program. She’s dressed in a waitress uniform and has to leave for work in about an hour.

Stacie is among the many people whom Lorain County Children Services has worked with or continues to work with in light of the opioid epidemic. Children Services has seen an increase in cases involving parents addicted to opioids and, at The Chronicle-Telegram’s request, arranged interviews with some for this story.

Due to a confidentiality agreement with the agency — or in Stacie’s case because she prefers to maintain anonymity as a devoted member of Alcoholics Anonymous — The Chronicle agreed to change her name and the names of others interviewed in this project.

Stacie talks openly about her past in the presence of her 7-year-old daughter and Hunt. Her daughter alternates between chiming in on the conversation and playing hangman on a dry erase board with Hunt.

Stacie’s daughter is quite comfortable with the adult topics swirling around the room. Occasionally she retreats to her room saying she’s bored, which means she doesn’t want to hear what the adults are saying. But she always returns after a few moments, telling Stacie she’s pretty and that she loves her.

Crying is cleansing

Stacie, 30, who is almost four years sober, said she was as deep as one could be into alcohol, cocaine and heroin. She quickly went from drinking herself into oblivion to using cocaine, then oxymorphone and ultimately heroin, a path she said took her to the “depths of hell.”

Stacie’s fit and healthy now and doesn’t look the part of someone who first tried heroin because she couldn’t come down from cocaine. She’s quick to say that she was just as addicted to her previous lifestyle, which includes things she doesn’t want mentioned, as she was to alcohol or drugs.

“It wasn’t just the drugs or alcohol I was addicted to,” she said. “It was the lifestyle that came with it. You know? Everything that …”

She stops as cartoons play on the television in the background of her tidy living room.

“You’re crying,” her daughter said. “I can see it.”

“No, I’m not,” Stacie said.

“Then how come your eyeshadow is smearing,” her daughter asks, while adding Mommy also cries at church and birthday parties.

Tears are OK, Stacie said, especially over her daughter, who she previously wasn’t properly parenting. Before getting sober, Stacie wasn’t coherent or stable enough to be a mom, which at the time she couldn’t see. Stacie said she justified using in front of her daughter as a way to normalize her actions so her daughter wouldn’t tell anyone.

It’s hard to explain, she said, but that’s where her mind was at for a long time. Now caring for her daughter is all that’s on Stacie’s mind. That and continuing to stay sober.

Stacie said she cries often because she finds herself present and full of emotion. Four years ago there were no emotions other than anger and the need to not feel sick, the need to use heroin or find a drink.

Crying is cleansing, she said.

“Mommy gets emotional, huh?” she said to her daughter. “I cry about a lot of things today, don’t I? I cry at your basketball games, or when people talk, or because you’re going to go into second grade.”

A slow fall

Stacie said her maternal grandparents largely raised her, not because of any fault of her parents, but only because her parents were very young when they brought a daughter into the world.

Stacie said her grandpa was an alcoholic in recovery who died with decades of involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous. Her grandma was active with Al-Anon and women’s groups.

She doesn’t elaborate much on her upbringing other than to say it was good, and she said time and time again how much she loved her grandparents.

“I had a really good upbringing,” Stacie said. “I played volleyball, went to private school. I had anything and everything I could ever want.”

Stacie experimented a little with marijuana and alcohol in high school, but it wasn’t until after high school that partying intensified and took a central role in her life.

When she got pregnant at 22, Stacie thought it would be a turning point, a reason to give up drinking and using. It was going to be a life-changing event, she said.

But it wasn’t.

The climb out

Although she stopped using drugs during the pregnancy, Stacie said she now knows that the reason she had a glass of wine every day wasn’t because the doctor said a glass was OK, but because she needed it.

After the baby was born, Stacie picked up where she left off, at first hiding her drinking and drug use, at least in her mind, but then drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly and getting heavily into drugs.

Stacie’s mother stepped in to raise her granddaughter even before Children Services became involved.

Children Services officially got involved with Stacie when her daughter was 2 following a traffic stop when Stacie was using and had her daughter in the car with her.

During the course of Children Services’ involvement, Stacie’s mother received temporary, and subsequently legal, custody of her granddaughter.

Stacie struggled with her addiction, Hunt said, and while she engaged in treatment she was unable to maintain sobriety and was arrested when she used and violated her probation.

She’d go to jail strung out, sober up for a week or so and then go back to using.

“I’ve been locked up from Cook County in Chicago to Lake County, to Cuyahoga and Lorain,” Stacie said. “None of those cells did anything for me.”

Stacie was unable to successfully complete her case plan with Children Services. Hunt said Stacie was full of anger and denial when Children Services started coming over, and she wasn’t ready at the time to hear what anyone had to say.

Stacie eventually went to treatment on her own, which she left the state to do, and she recently filed for and obtained legal custody of her daughter.

She’s raising her daughter for the first time. The two live together full time although Stacie’s mother watches her granddaughter when Stacie goes to work and meetings. A shared parenting order between her mother and herself, which dates back to that traffic stop in which Stacie was under the influence with her daughter in the car with her, ends in January.

Hunt said that unlike many parents Children Services works with, Stacie got sober, got a lawyer and was determined to take full custody of her daughter rather than rely on her mother to continue raising her child.

Not that it was easy. That determination caused problems in her family, Stacie said, mainly because her mother was accustomed to caring for her granddaughter and was worried Stacie would relapse.

Present in recovery

As of today, Stacie said she is neck-high in recovery. She works daily with other women to help them achieve sobriety and keep her own.

Men sometimes come around Stacie’s place because she has her act together, she said, but she tells them to get lost. Women are strong, she said, and she can keep doing what she’s doing without a man in her life.

Stacie said she prays for the father of her daughter to get his act together. Her daughter briefly stops playing hangman.

“He’s dumb,” her daughter said.

“He’s not dumb. He’s just sick like mommy was,” Stacie said.

“I don’t want to talk about him,” her daughter said.

“OK, we won’t talk about him,” Stacie said.

Stacie said honesty and prayer are the keys to sobriety and she remembers clearly the day she decided to seek help.

The day after Christmas, on a frigid morning with snow on the ground, she walked out of her grandmother’s house in nothing but sweatpants and a tank top after exchanging words with everyone in her family.

She walked to a cliff.

“I’m in the middle of the woods, I’ve got a cliff in front of me and I’ve completely lost myself,” she said.

Stacie said she had a moment of clarity, decided not to jump and instead stepped back and entered treatment for 13 months in an out-of-state rehab center.

Stacie was allowed to see her daughter for one day during those 13 months. The night of her visit, they prayed and she said her daughter asked if the two could have one more day together.

“We woke up and we were snowed in from an ice storm,” she said. “It was pretty cool.”

She completed rehab, went home and started learning how to be a mom. There were some things she had no concept of, such as having to be awake before her daughter and awake until her daughter was ready for bed.

Just the other day, Stacie said, another young woman she’s helping at meetings called her in a panic. The woman, who was accustomed to seeing her kids at night and never in the day due to custody arrangements, had no clue how to pack a lunch for school.

It sounds silly, Stacie said, but there are so many little things addicts are oblivious to.

“I told her to get over here and we’ll do it together,” Stacie said. “I’ve got everything we need. Let’s pack some lunches.”

It’s good to be present, Stacie said.

Home and grounded

Today, Stacie lives in the same house she grew up in with her grandparents. She was able to take ownership of the home shortly after she got sober and her grandmother died.

The house isn’t far from the cliff.

It’s a blessing, she said, while pointing out how she recently put up new drywall. She points to the baseboards and laughs — recalling watching her grandpa install baseboards while she was a little girl.

The days aren’t easy, but life is manageable, she said. Getting off heroin is possible, but it means putting energy and effort into sobriety every single day, she said.

Sometimes she’ll see a group of women drinking and carrying on at the restaurant where she works, and she finds herself thinking that maybe she could have just one drink. Maybe alcohol wasn’t her problem. That always will be there, she said, it’s just a matter of being honest and knowing she can’t have that one drink.

But most of the time, Stacie said, thoughts of drinking or using no longer come to her because she’s got a daughter to raise and that’s all that matters four years into her sobriety.

Right now Stacie’s working with a 19-year-old woman in the county jail, a woman just like she was more than a decade ago at the same age. It’s frustrating because the young woman isn’t ready to change.

“Everything in me wants to give sobriety to this girl,” Stacie said. “If she grasps it at this age, the sky is the limit. But I cannot give it to her. The only thing that I can do is love her through it all.”

No one can do it for you, Stacie said. She had to leave society for 13 months, enter a rehab and deal with things from childhood, past relationships and her drug use in order to make it happen.

She continues to deal with things and said it’s far better than just existing and dealing with nothing. “Life holds a lot more weight today,” she said. “I not only have a home; I literally get to raise my little girl in the home I was raised in. My grandparents’ sweat and tears are in this home anywhere I look. God has moved mountains into oceans for me.”

Stacie’s daughter jumps on her lap, whispers something in her ear and hugs her.

“She’s beautiful,” her daughter said when asked what she likes most about her mom.

“Can you talk about when Mommy was sick?” Stacie asks her daughter. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“Mommy was off the walls,” her daughter said.

It’s the kind of phrase that sounds funny coming from a 7-year-old and, under different circumstances, people in the room would probably laugh, but no one does.

The two hug again.

Stacie kisses her daughter and heads into the kitchen to get her a juice box as the cartoons continue to play on the television.

It will soon be time for her to leave and wait on tables.

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com.



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