The headlines and stories of the meth epidemic and its destruction aren’t hard to miss.
As addicts in our community continue to battle their own monsters, one local woman sees her former self in so many of the stories she reads. “Karen” is a Newnan native and survivor of methamphetamine addiction. In September, she celebrated her 13th year of sobriety, but the recollection of her own personal ordeal remains as vivid as ever.
For Karen, her teenage years were no different than many high-schoolers growing up in Newnan in the mid-’90s. Field parties, a little weed, a little drinking – it was all standard operating procedure for so many of her contemporaries. Drugs were never the center of her life, she recalls – they merely orbited that unique time when almost anything seemed possible.
However, times started changing quickly for Karen. Married and pregnant by her senior year, she eventually dropped out of school but got her GED. Life was moving fast and she was doing her best to keep up with the new changes.
She started her own business with the help of her husband and worked hard. Before long, she was a mother of two with a mortgage and a car payment. With the schedule her new life demanded, marijuana was no longer useful to Karen.
“When I started doing meth, everything else just paled in comparison,” she said. “I just wanted to be speeding all the time because I thought I was getting stuff done. I didn’t care that I was slowly killing myself.”
Locked into a co-dependent relationship with her husband, Karen said she was taking care of business to the best of her ability. Her husband had been doing meth for some period of time, but when Karen finally became an addict, the wheels were officially falling off.
“If we hadn’t done the drugs, we would probably still be married,” she said. “He always said that I was the glue that held the family together. When I began doing meth, the glue fell apart.”
Karen said that she never really knew if her family and friends knew the extent of her addiction. She shrunk away from them in an effort to remain hidden. Once her parents found out, that was the end of the line.
“My mom showed up at our house one day and told me, “I don’t care what you do with your body, but you don’t do it in front of my grandkids,’” she said. “I kicked and screamed, fought – but that was it. She left with them and that was my rock bottom.”
At the time, Karen never felt her habits were having any effect on her kids, ages 2 and 4 at the time.
“Had it kept going, I think it would have eventually been a problem for them,” she said. “When she pulled out of the driveway with them, I thought, ‘What have I done to myself? Is this drug so much fun that now my children get to be raised by my mother?'”
The loss of her children was the final straw. She prepared for the fight of her life – the fight to reclaim her identity and sanity.
She didn’t waste time. Divorcing her husband and immediately moving in with her parents, she began laying the groundwork to rebuild a life that was long neglected. She never went to drug rehab, instead attending a series of anger management sessions.
“I was mad at myself,” she said. “I wanted the American Dream and I had big plans for my life. But when I went down this road, everything just stopped.”
She cut ties to old contacts and recalled the unbearable pain of withdrawal, but the goal of regaining her children kept her going. For six months, Karen slept on a twin size bed with her 4-year-old.
“I slept like I hadn’t slept in years,” she said.
For Karen, the most difficult task of her journey was simply rebuilding the trust of her family, friends and children – a trust would take years to regain.
“There were times I would get in the car and head back to a place I knew I could score, but after a mile down the road, I’d just say to myself, ‘What am I doing?’” she recalled. “My mom will never let me see the kids again, and I’d have to go through a court appointed liaison. That’s not the life I was attempting to create for myself.”
She remembers praying to forget the names and numbers of those people and places. Recently unpacking a box from many years ago, she found a caller ID box that still contained the telltale numbers of her past.
“I threw it in the fire,” Karen said. “That was like the devil paying me a visit.”
As the meth epidemic continues to rage around the county, the wake of destruction left by the drug is well-documented. Mothers neglecting children, drug busts and jail time – Karen says she’s lucky to have come out of the fire intact. When she reads stories about the trials and tribulations of addicts, she pulls no punches.
“I should be dead or in prison,” she said. “There were so many things that could have gone differently, and for some reason, I skated by the skin of my teeth and made it.”
In the recent deaths of two infants with meth-addicted mothers, Karen said she empathizes for their current situation. However, she doesn’t feel they should be immune to punishment – far from it.
“That person who has done these awful things, they deserve what’s coming to them,” she said. “But you have to realize, they are someone’s someone. They are someone’s child, sister, or mom. I look back and see what happened to the mother of one of the dead infants and say, ‘That absolutely could have been me – it could have been any of us.’”
“I know the hell that woman has to be going through,” she added. “If my mom had never given me that hand up, I would have been in the same situation.”