Friday, November 6, 2009

Out Of the Dark, A New Dawn

On a bus stop bench on a frigid February morning, a young couple sat together shivering, and counting down the minutes until 9:00.

“How much longer?” Dawn asked her boyfriend.

“Four more minutes.”

Dawn broke into a smile in spite of the stinging cold. “Oh, I can’t wait! Soon they’ll open up… it’ll be so warm inside!”

He smiled back. “In four minutes, I’m gonna be layin’ on that comfy couch and gettin’ some sleep!”

A miserable, exhausting night neared its end. They had spent it at the bus stop on Lancaster Avenue, with all their belongings in their backpacks, and only their coats to keep them warm. But at 9:00, right behind them, they had a place they were welcome in the Brandywine Counseling Outreach Center. Dawn watched the buses come and go, full of people with places to go and things to do. Her plans today were simple: Get warm. Find some food. Hide from probation. Then, find some more heroin. Tomorrow, she’d do it all again. It wasn’t always this way. Six years ago, she had a normal life, a job, and a place to live. But one seemingly innocent car ride led her off course.

“I was working in a restaurant, and one of the other employees was asking me for rides. When he was getting out of the car, he was picking up drugs. I got curious about what he was picking up, and he let me try the heroin just by sniffing it one time. Eventually, he ran out of money to pay me for the rides, so he would start giving me drugs instead of gas money. I started to get sick if I wouldn’t use it, so I started to use it every day.”

“For a little while, I was okay. I could afford it. I started to be late for work. I started spending all my money on only drugs. I had to move back in with my parents, then I started to steal from them. I lost my job. I started stealing from cars and people’s houses, and ended up on probation.”

Dawn’s choices had led her down a destructive path of addiction, homelessness, and being on the run at age 27. She met her boyfriend and they stuck together, but there seemed to be no way out. They weren’t looking for help; only to survive. It was rare to find a friendly face that understood where they were. BCI case manager Sharon Brown was one who did.

“Hey, guys. Need a light?”

“Nah, we smoked our last cigarette hours ago.”

“Here. We’re not supposed to do this, but go on, take it.”

“Oh, thank you so much!”

“It’s too cold for y’all to be out here. Why don’t you come inside? There’s coffee and donuts. I can get you warm clothes, a place to wash up. You can crash on the couch, watch TV, read some books…”

Since that day, the pair became regulars at the drop-in center. “It became like a little home to us,” Dawn recalls. “We would go inside during the day, and sleep in there, and at nighttime we would just stay outside all night.” She began to trust the outreach staff. She began using their services, taking HIV tests, and visiting the needle exchange van. She learned about other services she wasn’t yet ready for.

“They would let us know that the methadone clinic was there, but they never seemed like they were judging us, or trying to push us into anything we didn’t want to do. They knew that we knew the services were there, and that we would use them when we were ready to.”

One day, a probation officer came to the bus stop. He took Dawn into custody, and she served six months in jail. In July 2008, she was released and reunited with her boyfriend. They were both free of drugs for a while, and even found themselves an apartment. But by September, they had relapsed and were using heroin again. They returned to the needle exchange.

“When we started coming back, they knew we were using again. They were a little more adamant this time. ‘You guys really need to try methadone this time, before you end up back in the situation that you were in.’” The couple faced a difficult decision.

“No way I’m gettin’ on methadone. It’s just another way to get high. It’s just as bad!”

“Well, I’ve heard those stories too, but what about the people we know who got on it? Seemed like it was working for them.”

“That’s true. They do look better. They’ve got jobs, they look stable.”

“Why don’t we try it? It’s the only thing we haven’t tried.”

With that, a window of trust had opened. The next morning, Dawn and her boyfriend went in to BCI, and they both started on methadone. She knew it would be a challenge to make her daily dosing, individuals, and groups, but she committed to getting clean as strongly as she had committed to getting drugs. Sharon Brown continued supporting her as her Safety Net Services case manager. Safety Net specifically targets two high-risk groups, women and recently released ex-offenders, often living on the streets. Knowing that willingness to accept help comes and goes, case managers meet clients where they are, ready to connect them to services they need when that window opens.

“Sharon was a big help,” says Dawn. “She’s always checked on us, made sure we have everything that we needed. I’m glad the outreach really latched on to [us].” But there was a big surprise for Dawn on her intake day. Nurse Barbara Garrity gave her the news at orientation.

“Now just to let you ladies know, when you get on methadone, it seems like it’s a lot easier to get pregnant. But Dawn, you’re already pregnant!”

“Oh! Really? Wow, that’s quite a surprise!”

“Yes! But we have a program just for pregnant women."

Dawn was 4 weeks along. Her surprise quickly turned to motivation to stick with treatment. She was determined to deliver a healthy baby. She was transferred to the pregnant and parenting women's program, which assists over 20 clients every year to deliver drug free babies. Her counselor, Aja Redmond, linked her with prenatal care, helped her identify her triggers for drug use, and taught her about FAS and nutrition. Four months into treatment, Dawn was staying abstinent. Things were going well. It was then that the couple received another surprise.

“We’re having twins! Oh, wow… two babies? How are we going to do this?”

“Don’t worry, Dawn, we can deal with it. Just one more obstacle in our way.”

“This is so difficult… I’m staying clean and doing what I need to do, but every day something else comes up.”

“Yeah, it would probably be easier to go back to the streets and start gettin’ high. But look at all the good things we’ve accomplished. We’ve come too far to throw it all away.”

And so, preparing for twins became the latest challenge in their shared journey to recovery. “We were already together when we were looking to get clean. We weren’t willing to separate for any reason, so we had to do it together.” Dawn recalls. “[It helped,] having somebody to walk through it with you, share all the ups and downs, and remind you how far you’ve come and where you still want to go.”

Dawn had support not only from her boyfriend, but from Aja and the women's program. She redoubled her efforts to set and achieve goals, worked on her parenting skills, and cut back on smoking. As her due date approached, a case manager made a home visit, making sure they had food, clothes, and baby furniture. On May 15, Dawn gave birth to healthy, identical twin boys.

“Being in a relationship and having the babies helped me get clean, because it gave me a reason to want to move forward in life,” she says. “Having the children and having a partner that loves you and is there for you, gave me my life back.”

Today, Dawn’s children are 4 months old, and she is nearing one year clean. She is a picture of composure as she tells her story and tends to her sons at the same time. She shifts one baby from her arms into a stroller to pick up the other, then reverses again. As they fuss, she remains calm and soothing, wiping mouths, giving them their bottles, even laughing cheerfully to herself as her son’s expression changes from restless to content. She shows no trace of her former life on the streets, sleeping at bus stops. She looks like a mom.

“I think for the two of us to go from where we were, to where we are now, it’s all pretty much thanks to Brandywine. This is the longest period of clean time either one of us has had. Being able to come up here every day and be accountable for your actions, and have people checking in on you, along with the medication that you get, has made us successful.”

Dawn sees a bright future ahead for her family. Life is not simply about surviving anymore; it’s about building a future for herself and for them. They’ve moved into a relative’s house, and they have a car. She hopes to one day own a home, put the children in a good school, and go back to school herself. For now, she wants to stay clean and sober, enjoy family life, and continue to build her support system. She’s on the right course again, and it all started with a friendly face offering food and shelter, no strings attached.

“It feels like a blessing. It feels that God was with me all along, and He’s looked out for me, and that He made a way for me to get better, and as long as I continue to follow it, things will continue to get better. It hasn’t been easy for us at all, but we’ve been able to get through it. I’m very happy with the way things are now.”

Brandywine Counseling services are funded by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA/CSAT; and Delaware Health and Social Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. For more information, please call 302-656-2348.

6 comments: said...

that is a really wonderful story, thank you for sharing it with everyone... it just goes to show you that when you open yourself up to the universe/the world/god/a higher power/whatever you want to call it, things will happen-people will appear to help guide you to where you need to go, you just need to open yourself up to the process!!! congratulations to dawn on all her hard work, being a mom isn't easy all the time but hey!one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time if that what you need, but you'll get there

Anonymous said...

I was actually in a program with dawn. Im so happy to see she is on the right path. I think I too am finally ready to take that journey of the the life of sobriety. I am proud to say I'm sober today. By having faith and hope, I've came so far...with help from my higher power of course :) Im a new me and can't wait to life sober, happy and FREE!

Anonymous said...

There are angels among us. and it sounds like they are at Bccs

london counselling said...

This is a good example, which shows that an addict can get over his/her addiction with others' support and self motivation. All the addicts have to remember that believing in themselves that they can cure from addiction is the half of the treatment.

Jen Whitehead said...

I've been a client at BCCS for 4 years, and the methadone program saved my life. Thank you for everything you do for addcits, in recovery or not. What a wonderful story.

Amy said...

oh my gosh. This was an incredible with a happy ending. I can only pray that my son also finds his relationship with God and figures out that there is a life to be had without drugs. This story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.