Oroville >> Sometimes, when Misty Striker comes across a big box of family files at her job in social services, she gets emotional because that box used to be her.
At 6 months old, Striker went into the foster care system. She doesn’t know exactly how many homes she bounced around from, but guessed between 20-30. On top of that, she struggled with abuse and addiction for 24 years. Her main drug addiction was methamphetamine.
Seemingly all odds in the universe were against her, but somehow, she beat them.
She says once she found the “tiny seed of desire” to get clean, there was hope. And now, she wants to share her story, in the hope that it could change the life of even one person.
IN A LITTLE BLUE HOUSE
The Strikers’ home is cozy and full — with 2-year-old triplets laughing, drooling and playing with their dad, every once in awhile reaching to get into Mom’s lap. Their toys are neatly placed in a bin in the corner of the living room, next to a table which she refurbished. Centered above that is a collage of family photos with an “S.”
When she gets off work about 5 p.m., this is what she comes home to. Sometimes the kids are at day care and sometimes her husband, Thomas Striker, who is an electrician, takes care of them during the day. The two met through a 12-step program about four years ago.
“I was drawn to her story and felt deep down inside she was a good person going through a rough patch,” Thomas said. “She has made a lot of progress in self worth and being a better friend to people and companion to me.”
A year of friendship developed into a relationship. At first, Misty wasn’t easy to be with — walls were up, her husband said. It’s become easier for her to show affection and she wants to be a giver.
“She wants people to know that it’s possible to overcome these odds and become a productive member of society again,” he said. “She sees the bigger picture and she’s very optimistic about being able to help people.”
It was a heartbreaking road to here.
UNWELCOME TO THE WORLD, BABY
Misty Jolean Dundom was born on Oct. 25, 1980 in Paradise.
She was born with meth in her system. Both of her parents were drug addicts and at less than a year old, Striker was moved into another home by child services. Her mom was 17 years old when she had her.
Out of the many “parents” she’s had over the years, she’s still in contact with few — her now sober biological mother, a foster parent she lived with in Nebraska, and her adoptive parents, who she has dinner with every Thursday at their home in Oroville.
“My adopted parents are my anchors, whom I love like parents,” she said. “They saved my life. They loved me when I was unlovable. More than anything, I want them to be proud of me.”
At age 12, Striker and her two younger brothers were adopted, and until age 19, she would have no contact with her biological parents.
Finding her father, who she said sexually abused her, did not bring her peace, she said. They’ve never had a relationship.
“He scared the living daylights out of me,” Striker said.
When she found her mother in Portland, her mother was still lost in her addiction, she said. But she also met her sister and two half-sisters, who she now talks to daily. She also maintains a relationship with her mother today.
FOUND AND LOST
At 12 years old, Striker was sneaking her adoptive father’s Black Velvet whisky from above the refrigerator and cigarettes when she knew she wouldn’t get caught. In middle school, Striker said she smoked a lot — cigarettes and pot, drank and downed pills. She used meth for the first time at 19 years old.
“It masked every sadness I had,” she said.
And getting drugs was easy, she said, especially as a woman. Sometimes she would have sex in exchange for free drugs.
Striker said she hid her addiction from her first husband during an 11-year marriage, getting a fix from abusing alcohol and pills. They would go to Apple Hill to get pumpkins and Christmas trees and take many trips to Tahoe. She had her first daughter at 23 and second daughter at 24.
“I was told I’d be lucky if I ever had children due to the sexual abuse,” she said. “I remember looking at my daughter and crying so hard. She was the most beautiful little baby and he had given me this wonderful gift of motherhood. Same when the second daughter was born.”
She and her husband separated in 2010. In 2011, she met her now best friend, Eric Langsam at a strip club where Striker began stripping for the first time in her life.
“We were both going through a divorce so we leaned on each other a lot,” she said.
HITTING THE LOWEST LOW
Langsam and Striker became fast friends, with their similar backgrounds.
“We were really close,” Langsam said. “We’d talk about adoptive parents and stuff like that.”
He didn’t know Striker did meth until a month or two into their friendship.
“She hid it so well – that was the thing. She was functioning,” he said. “Little did I know how bad things were going to get. Around me, she was just unstoppable.”
After a few months using meth, she was like a different person, he said.
“Her attitude and everything started to change. She was this sweet kind person and her appearance started changing. She was getting so skinny and her eyes were always baggy. Her body was exhausted but her mind just wouldn’t let her stop.”
When she was high, she would punch herself and pull her eyebrows out. The hair never fully grew back and she has to draw them in everyday, she said.
Soon after, Langsam gave her a sort of ultimatum to quit meth and escorting, or he wouldn’t speak to her.
“I don’t think I’ve heard anybody cry as hard as I’ve heard Misty cry on more than one occasion. I asked why she felt the need to do it, and I knew the reason she needed to do it was to support her drug habit.”
A few weeks after their falling out, she called. She had overdosed and Langsam rushed over.
“It was a blank slate. Her face was just emotionless,” he said. “She was completely gone on the inside.”
SEED OF CHANGE
In May 2012, Striker returned to Oroville, and in July she headed to L.A., where she would continue to struggle with addiction, living on the streets, until seeking sobriety on Jan. 20, 2013.
She can’t pinpoint where exactly it came from. One day, she just knew she wanted to live.
A year after going into sober living, Misty and Thomas started dating. Fast forward another year, they were making a home together, having babies and getting married, at Misty’s adoptive parents’ home in Oroville. They bargained for one baby and got three, born prematurely at 5 lbs each, but healthy now. Striker just passed her one year mark in her job as an office specialist in the county’s social services department, her first “big girl” job, she said. This month she is four years sober.
“It’s a lot of work, to make something of yourself,” Striker said.
Today, she says, she is the best person she has ever been.
MAKING IT TO “THE OTHER SIDE”
Striker has always desired to be on the other end, helping people, she said. She hopes with her background, she can go on to become a counselor for addicts or sexual abuse victims, and reach people early.
“I think it’s important for people to identify with people who have been there,” she said. “I always knew my calling in life was to help people.”
Langsam says when he reconnected with Striker after treatment, it was like witnessing reincarnation.
“I feel like there isn’t anything this girl couldn’t do,” he said. “It literally felt like she was born again and she has never looked back.”
Striker, now 36 years old, has discovered many talents in her sober years like baking, decorating and writing. She is working on a memoir called “My Best Color is White” which she has shared with an interested producer, she said. If she could go back and change anything, she says she wouldn’t.
“I feel like I went on a journey,” she said. “I would do everything over again. Now I have empathy and compassion.”
If she could tell her younger self anything, it would be that things were going to end up OK, that she was made for something more.
“Life is so much bigger than I am,” she said.