Havre Daily News
When he started using it, methamphetamine was a "miracle drug" for Jeff.
"In the beginning, meth was great," he said. "Meth made me feel like Superman."
Jeff began using the drug on weekends with friends, but eventually the parties grew to encompass the entire week. Soon, Jeff was staying up for a week or more at a time. He rarely ate. He threw away his marriage, family, jobs and everything that mattered in life. Almost everything.
"Somewhere along the line, the fun ended and the addiction took over," Jeff said. "If I didn't have meth, I couldn't function. The only thing meth ended up giving me was a life of chaos, pain and devastation."
Jeff was one of six recovering methamphetamine addicts who volunteered their tales of addiction, pain, loss, relapse and redemption at a community forum Tuesday night put together by Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson.
By sharing their stories and answering questions, they attempted to humanize a growing local, state and national problem: the scourge of a highly addictive drug made with common household chemicals. Meth often hooks users on the first try. It has the potential to destroy families, neighborhoods and communities, and can hold users to the pipe, snort tube or needle until they're locked up or dead.
"Quitting life was easy, but quitting meth was the hardest thing I've ever done," Jeff said. He began using the drug 17 years ago and has been clean for 2 years.
The panel members are all members of Narcotics Anonymous and chose to be identified by their first names only. Peterson said she was grateful that they courageously volunteered to share a painful part of their lives.
"Our speakers did a phenomenal job," she said. "This is hard for them, but they stepped up to the plate. This put a face on the problem here in Havre."
Daniel smoked his first joint at age 12, after his mother died. Within six months, he was highly involved in cocaine. His first stay in jail was at age 18.
"In the early '90s, methamphetamine hit Havre and most of the United States," Daniel said.
The drug was cheaper than cocaine, but it landed him three stays in prison and three stints in treatment centers. He said he's done more county jail time than he can remember. Pot and alcohol led him to use harder drugs, he said. Eventually, he hit rock bottom.
"Without drugs and alcohol, I could've been anything," Daniel said. "Drugs wrecked my life. I've lost everything so many times."
Sue came from a family that did drugs, and it didn't take her long to catch on. She began smoking marijuana at age 15. Subsequently, someone very close to her cut her first line of meth, she said.
"I was instantly addicted," Sue said.
As a sophomore in high school, Sue was getting high on meth before, during and after school. She eventually moved to Alaska, where she cleaned up for a while, met a man and had a daughter. She eventually came back to Montana, where she started hanging out with old friends and using again. She went into treatment, cleaned up and had a son. Soon, however, she settled back into her old habits.
"This time, it was worse," Sue said. "It was worse than you can imagine. I wasn't a very nice person. I didn't care about myself. I didn't care about anything. I lost cars. I had no friends, except those who used. I know the jailers here on a first-name basis."
When someone asked her young daughter what Sue did for a living, the girl told the person that Mommy's job was to do drugs.
"You have no idea how that made me feel," Sue said. She has now been clean for six months.
Diane has been clean for nearly two years. She started doing the drug on the weekends at age 20, and eventually started using daily. She initially hid the habit from her family, but she couldn't for long. She served jail time for two felonies and lost custody of her daughter. Weekly one-on-one sessions with counselors have kept her off meth.
"What stops me from using is my 4-year-old daughter," Diane said.
Jodi got hooked nine years ago. For her and other addicts, meth was expensive and dangerous.
"In two years I spent $125,000," she said. "That still didn't make me quit. I've been through a lot of stuff. I've seen people get shot. I've had guns pulled on people who were in my car while I was driving. I had guns in my house. The drug controls you. It takes over your life."
Jodi sought help after she lost the job she had held for 10 years, along with her kids. She no longer bothered paying bills, and had no power in her house. She went to TLC Recovery. She went to group meetings. It wasn't easy.
"When I first stopped using meth, I couldn't complete sentences," Jodi said. "I wouldn't get out of bed. I couldn't stop crying. My life now isn't perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better." She has been clean for three years, she said.
Dave started using drugs at age 16. Over the last 20 years, he has been in and out of 10 treatment facilities to deal with meth, alcohol and other substance abuse problems. When he was hooked, the most important thing was the drug.
"My fear wasn't of going to jail," he said. "My fear was of not being able to use. It's wicked. It's devastating." Meth addiction is a hard thing to comprehend for anyone who hasn't been there, he and the other speakers agreed. "It is a bizarre world. I don't expect anyone to be able to understand it."
Counseling, treatment and the help of other recovering addicts are what have kept him clean for the last five years, Dave said.
"I don't endure recovery," he said. "It's become a part of my life. It saved me."
When an audience member asked if the addicts had recovered their ability to feel a sense of joy, Dave said that, slowly but surely, the capacity to feel well without a chemical has come back to him.
"It's getting better, but it has taken a long time," he said. "I've been so messed up for so many years. I don't know anymore. It has gotten better, but it didn't happen real quick. I know that my life is worth living. I feel joy. I smile."