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‘A family in recovery' -- Former meth addict puts pieces of her life back together

Journal & Gazette

Debbie walked back to her two-story, four-bedroom house in a lovely older section of Paris. She opened the door, her senses assailed by the musty smell of the one room where she had been living.

"I looked at the mattress that I had dragged down from upstairs that was laying on the living room floor.

"And I thought, ‘If you lie down there, you're not getting back up, Deb. My God, if you do you're not going to make it out of here.'"

That was when Debbie finally ask for help. She had been addicted to methamphetamine for more than 20 years.

Today, Debbie, 48, of Charleston is married to a man she met in treatment — a teacher and a recovering alcoholic with 19 years of sobriety. Her three children, all grown and all recovering meth addicts, are nearby.

"Ours is a family in recovery," she said.

Clean and sober for 2˝ years, Debbie has shared the dark days in a speech for her English class at Lake Land College, where she is a student, and for other groups. Her willingness to talk about her life is part of her recovery, she said, something she does to help her "stay clean for that day.

"I know there must be other families out there like us, and I want them to know there is hope."

Debbie started taking diet pills when she was 12 years old.

"I didn't really have a weight problem," she said, "but I liked the energy they gave me.

"I'm a multi-tasker, and my mom was sick, so I kind of took over the household things and took care of my brothers and sister."

A straight "A" student, Debbie said she did the best she could at home.

In her early 20s, working a construction job and hanging out with bikers led to her introduction to methamphetamine.

"I'm also an alcoholic," she said, "but I stopped drinking after I was introduced to meth. I didn't want (the alcohol) to bring me down. I liked the real, real high that meth gives you.

"My cousin was a biker and I could stay up all night and drink with them," she said, "and this particular biker club was pretty infamous for their meth. I hung out with them for a couple of years.

"Then, my cousin, the one I always hung out with the most, killed himself.

"His wife came and got me because she said he was acting crazy," Debbie said. "He was sitting with all his guns around him, and she was afraid.

"She and their child left the house and came to get me because I was the only one who could reason with him."

But no amount of reasoning helped.

"I wasn't afraid at all. I sat down on the bed with him and we were talking about when we were little kids. I thought I was taking him back to a better time.

"We were sitting there talking and he said, ‘I'm going to go visit a few dead friends.'

"I really believed that as long as I sat there and talked to him, as long as I was present, it wasn't possible that he would do anything.

"He was eating a bunch of Valiums, too, and I thought, ‘Go ahead and pass out, because that way I can keep you going until help gets here.'

"But, he felt himself slipping and he took a 9-millimeter gun, put it behind his ear, and pulled the trigger. There was nothing I could do."

Debbie wonders now why the shock of the tragedy didn't make her want to stop doing the drug. "But it didn't."

Describing different kinds of meth, Debbie said the biker form had an entirely different taste than anhydrous meth, which she used.

Anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer used by farmers, is a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Most addicts smoke anhydrous meth by putting it in foil, lighting it and using a straw to suck up the smoke, she said.

"They also put it in a lightbulb," Debbie said. "They knock the bottom out of it and put salt in the frosted part of the bulb and shake it around until all the frost is gone. Then they put meth in it, light it, and suck the smoke out. That way, the smoke doesn't get away. They get every bit of it.

"My preference was shooting up," she said. "That's how my children and I did it.

"Toward the end of our addictions, we were in the bathroom shooting up together. We thought that was our quality time, our bonding time.

"That's how sick our family got," she said. "The boys made the meth; we all used."

Both of Debbie's sons received prison terms for meth — for manufacturing, for selling, and for stealing the anhydrous ammonia.

"Actually, after the boys went to prison, I kept doing it," she said. "My daughter got into trouble with the law, and she was going to be sentenced if she didn't go into treatment."

Debbie's ex-husband was also a meth addict.

Both worked construction jobs and he had received nearly $100,000 in a settlement from an injury on a job, making it easy, at first, to indulge their addictions, she said.

"The boys used to make it, but after they were gone, we had to buy it. We went through the money fast, and then we didn't want to waste our money on electricity and water — things like that.

"I know that's crazy, but that's the way we were thinking."

Meth — as much as would fit in a tiny restaurant sweetener package — would cost $100, she said. "Shoot, we would go through that in an afternoon, easy. He smoked it and I shot it up."

Debbie's arms bear the scars of the needle she used.

"I had my own needle, and after so many times it would get old and have burrs on it.

"One of the ingredients in meth is lithium, and I would think there were little black specks on my skin. The meth would make my skin blister because it's so toxic, and I would look at the blisters and maybe there was a little drop of blood or something there and I would imagine it was lithium.

"I would actually set up a magnifying glass so I could look at my arm. And I'd take tweezers or a paper clip — whatever I could find — and try to pick it out. As a result, I just mutilated myself."

Research shows that prolonged methamphetamine use not only causes symptoms that resemble schizophrenia — anger, panic, hallucinations and thoughts of suicide — it can cause brain damage, heart failure, stroke, fatal kidney and lung disorders, and a host of other serious ailments.

"In my mind it got to the point where I didn't want it any more," Debbie said, "but I really needed it. Without it I would sink to such a low, low depression and I was so tired that I couldn't function.

"I needed the meth just to have enough energy to get up and look for more."

Then one day Debbie was lying on the couch, too tired and too depressed to go on. She was praying, "begging God to just please take me to be with my mom," she said.

"Addicts reach a point where we're not afraid of death. The worse thing for us is to live."

That day, God answered her prayer, she said. "Because that day, the old Debbie died."

As she was lying there, she heard a knock at her door. The visitor was her younger brother, an officer with the drug task force.

"He never, ever came to the house," she said, "and I wouldn't answer the door. I thought he was going to arrest me.

"He said, ‘Please, Deb, open the door. I just want to talk to you and see how you are.'"

So, she opened the door and walked outside. "See. I'm OK," she told him.

"He just looked at me and said ‘Oh, my God. No you're not, sweetie. You're dying.'

"He told me he had just come to the house to tell me good-bye because he wasn't going to watch me die," Debbie said.

"He told me he wasn't going to argue with me. ‘I remember that girl who was a straight ‘A' student,' he said, ‘the one who helped raise me and used to let me grab the back of her coat and run with her because I wasn't fast enough to keep up with the other guys. I just wanted to tell you that I love you and I'm going to miss you.'

"I turned around to go back into the house and when I opened the door, I knew he was right. If I went back in the house and laid down on that mattress, I'd never get out of there.

"I told my brother I needed help and that I wanted to go into treatment."

Today, like every day now, is a miracle for Debbie. It was a 12-step program that helped and is still helping her.

"I've got a balance that's working for me. It's church, people in the fellowship (AA), and my job.

"My children and I were all together last week for the first time in 11 years, and it was wonderful. This is the first time they've had a real home to go to.

"My grandbabies have never seen me high. All they know is here's this woman who loves them more than her next breath."

Contact Bonnie Clark at or 348-5727.

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