BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Trilogy Center for Women in Hopkinsville is celebrating five years of helping women kick substance abuse so they can transition back into healthy lifestyles.
Heidi McCormack, 49, sits on campus at Western Kentucky University, where she is expected to graduate in May. Five years ago, McCormack was one of the first women to stay at Trilogy Center for Women, a transitional living program for substance addictions
With a big celebration and open house coming up at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, one of the first women to go through Trilogy told her story of addiction and the long road back to normalcy.
The beginning of the end
Growing up, Heidi McCormack, 49, was “a very spoiled kid.” She got pretty much everything she wanted and enjoyed an affluent life with her parents in Bowling Green.
When she was in high school and her parents decided to move to Arizona, McCormack decided she wasn’t going.
“I didn’t want to go so I graduated as a junior and moved into Bemis-Lawrence (Hall) up here and started college,” she said. “But, as a 16-year-old without any supervision, I just didn’t have what it took.”
After three semesters, she dropped out of Western Kentucky University, got married and had her first child, Carrie.
At that point, McCormack viewed herself as a “functioning addict.”
She used marijuana recreationally for years with no major consequences. But when the millennium hit and methamphetamine made its way to Bowling Green, she developed a serious addiction.
“That was the beginning of the end,” she said.
McCormack got a feeling of “euphoria” from using meth. On top of the high, she experienced rapid weight loss and lots of energy. She didn’t need sleep.
“It was very appealing — in the beginning,” she said.
Soon, she started to lose her ability to reason.
According to www.methproject.org, the use of meth provokes delusion, hallucinations, paranoia and psychosis.
McCormack also experienced withdrawal from her normal life. She didn’t want to work, isolated herself from anyone who didn’t use, and experienced “huge” mood swings.
Within five years, she was a regular meth user and dealer. She was divorced, loving a new man and raising her children — Carrie and two sons, Robert and Michael.
She also landed her first set of felonies.
One morning, she woke up to someone beating on her front door, but she was certain it wasn’t a customer looking for their next hit.
“It was early and it wasn’t a pleasant knock,” she said. “I went to the door, looked out the peephole, but somebody had their thumb over it so I didn’t answer the door.”
Later that day, she and her boyfriend strapped Robert, who was 1 at the time, into his car seat and started to leave the apartment complex when a police cruiser pulled sideways to the nose of their Honda.
“He got out and pulled a gun and said, ‘Heidi McCormack, get out of the car,’” she recalled.
She said a million things were going through her head, but called it an “aha” moment.
McCormack was charged with trafficking in a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance. She was lodged at Warren County Regional Jail and later sentenced to one year of drug court from 2003-04 and five years of probation.
Kentucky’s adult drug court is set up in three phases that take at least a year to complete, according to a report by the Legislation Research Commission. Each phase requires “less-frequent monitoring and less-rigid requirements.”
McCormack was required to take random drug tests, attend weekly meetings and maintain a job. She said it didn’t change much.
“For me, it was a matter of getting through and being compliant (with) the consequences I’d been given,” she said. “In the back of my mind, I was going right back to the life I was living.”
After passing, she went back to selling meth.
In December 2005, McCormack’s mom died from cancer and that following August, her boyfriend died.
The single mother of three said her coping skills were shot and the spiral started.
“I just decided I would numb it away,” she said. “Once you get to that state of trying to numb, you continually try to just stay numb. It’s a very deceptive mindset.”
Her only semblance of a support system was her circle of meth-using friends and customers. She found herself saturated in the high life.
McCormack said her days began to revolve around meth.
“Most nights you don’t go to bed,” she said. “In the morning, your kids get up, you fix them breakfast, you get them where they need to go, and you continue on through your day doing the same thing … deal after deal revolving through the front door.”
By this time, McCormack said Carrie was in her early 20s and knew about her addiction. However, her sons, who were 5 and 3, had no idea.
The day everything changed
One day during the summer of 2008, McCormack and the boys decided to have a water balloon fight.
The front door was propped open for them to run back and forth filling up with more water as needed, but an unexpected visitor quickly dried up their fun.
Their mom’s parole officer walked right in for a surprise visit. McCormack remembers locking eyes with her “P.O.” at the end of her hallway.
“I’d been up for about 10 days,” she said. “She took one look at me and knew.”
Police searched the house and Carrie came to pick up her brothers while McCormack sat on her loveseat in handcuffs.
“I knew everything was over,” she said.
She was set to do a minimum of 10 years in prison. She was lodged in Warren County Regional Jail for four weeks and then moved to Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Pee Wee Valley.
For the former spoiled kid, “prison was a whole new world” and it wasn’t where she wanted to be.
McCormack started going to every church service in the prison’s chapel and applied for the substance abuse program.
The end of a long road of drug addiction
In December 2008, McCormack was transported back to Warren County for her last hearing in front of Circuit Court Judge John Grise. She was a familiar face, and it was the last time he wanted to see her.
Grise sent McCormack to Hopkinsville’s Trilogy Center for Women, which had opened just two months before. It turned out to be the help she didn’t know she needed.
“It was so different from drug court … like a breath of fresh air,” she said. “There wasn’t razor wire or guards with guns that would shoot you if you ran.”
Director Holly Perez-Knight said Trilogy stands for sobriety, self-sufficiency and safety. The program, which is now six-months long, is a part of the Recovery Kentucky initiative and women must be homeless or at risk of homelessness to live there.
Many of the staff members have recovered from substance abuse, which McCormack said made them seem more genuine.
“They had walked in my footsteps in their own lives and that lent them credibility with me,” she said.
For nine months, she followed a daily routine
that included cooking, cleaning, learning and recreation.
She and her classmates “trudged” past Western State Mental Hospital to sessions that taught them the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and how to implement the program into their lives.
Although everyone was there for a different drug, she said the addiction was all the same.
Most of all, she said she found positive ways to fix the dysfunction in her life and develop normalcy.
Now, McCormack is a senior at WKU and expects to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
Afterward, she hopes to land a job or internship at a similar treatment center; however, she said her felonies are still on her record for another year.
Despite the possible setback, she plans to work toward her master’s degree.
When her daughter faced a similar addiction, she begged the judge to send her to Trilogy as well.
Perez-Knight said Carrie graduated from the program earlier this year.
“You’ve not just changed Heidi’s life, but you’ve changed a family,” the director said.
McCormack said the program has been invaluable to her family.
“It makes you remember that everybody’s here with a greater purpose and it’s not to be sticking dope in your body every day,” she said. “It reawakened something in me that had been dark and dim for a long time.”