This week we’re exploring the Blind Spot, a look at teens who are abusing substances, but aren’t being caught by the system set up to help them. In this story, KSKA’s Anne Hillman spoke with a couple relying on each other to end their methamphetamine addiction.
Two young women sit in an empty classroom, their hands entwined. A knit cap is pulled low over Madison’s shaggy hair, and a Batman belt holds up her baggy pants. Kylie wears a pastel hoodie over her thin body and tight jeans. One of them is still a minor, so their names have been changed here.
More than a year ago, before ever meeting, they had both dropped out of school. But recently they re-enrolled.
They met when Madison joined her friend for dinner at Kylie’s dad’s house. Madison remembers the meal going well. “They had meatloaf,” she recalled, before adding, “and I met her.”
By then, Madison had already started using meth.
“I was downtown Anchorage, in the JC Penny stairwell,” Madison said, recalling her first hit. “Believe it or not, a lot of people do drugs in all those places. So if you ever see people standing in the stairwell: they’re probably doing drugs.”
But then, after meeting Kylie, Madison stopped. She knew Kylie had grown up in a house where her father and older siblings often used drugs. Madison didn’t want her to have to deal with a girlfriend who was using, too.
Then Madison relapsed. With Kylie’s dad. And that was when Kylie decided it was time for her to try it, too. Part of the reason was she’d felt cut out of the family for not using. “I was closer to my family if I did it,” Kylie said.
Younger siblings were allowed to stay around when drugs came out because they didn’t know what was going on. Kylie, however, was older, and kept away when meth was around. But when she started using, she could stay.
That started Madison Kylie on a six-month bender with friends and family members. They estimate they used thousands of dollars worth of drugs, but paid almost nothing for them. The meth made them escape.
“It makes you feel cut off from your emotions,” Madison explained. You just kind of get lost in this different world.”
The two of them would go days forgetting to eat or sleep. For Kylie the whole thing started with wanting to try it one time.
“And six months later you’re like 100 pounds and nobody—your own family—doesn’t want to be around you,” Kylie recalled. “It’s awful.”
They didn’t even like each other. Madison is whiny when she’s high, according to Kylie. Although Kylie is annoying in her own ways. “She’s just everywhere and then she’s not everywhere. And she’s always writing letters. Always writing, writing,” Madison contends. “And then she never sends the letters anyway.”
But when Kylie is off drugs, she’s a completely different person, a person Madison loves.
“She laughs a lot and she’s really goal-orientated, too, when she’s sober. She wants to get things done,” Madison said. “She looks out for herself.”
On the days they didn’t use meth, that’s the person Madison would see. And she detected a similar change in herself. She’d always known using meth was a bad idea, but it was seeing those differences in the people around her made her realize she needed a change if she was ever going to reach the goals she made for herself.
So Madison set an ultimatum for Kylie: If they were ever adults with a family they never wanted their kids to have a mother who was as messed up as she herself had been.
“It sounds really harsh,” Madison chimed in.
“But it’s the truth,” Kylie added. “She said that we didn’t need to set goals for when we had kids, we needed to do it before, so we were ready to have kids.”
Madison wanted to show Kylie a better life than she’d had. But Madison is also the one who first prompted Kylie to try meth. So why does Kylie still trust her?
“Nobody’s ever told me that they supported me or they believed in me,” Kylie explained, “but she has.”
In order to get clean the young couple had to get away from everyone who was still using, so they went to live with friends in Wasilla.
“If you try to quit and you’re still around all those people that do drugs”—Kylie starts.
“–It makes it a thousand times harder,” Madison swoops in, finishing the sentence for her. It’s part of an increasingly normal relationship between the two of them, squabbling over housework, and supporting each other through intensely personal choices.
“You have to make the decision to leave and get better for yourself,” Madison says. Although knowing that does not make it easier. Madison has relapsed since trying to get off meth. But she knows that is part of the process.
Both women say it’s hard, but that together they’re trying.
The Blind Spot: Spaces Between Statistics
The Blind Spot: A System of Order Over Chaos
The Blind Spot: Harm Reduction at the Transit Center
The Blind Spot: Beyond No-Man’s Land
Anne Hillman and Zachariah Hughes received Alaska Press Club data journalism fellowships, which helped them produce this story. The training program was funded by the Alaska Community Foundation and Recover Alaska.