Trisha bounces her wide-eyed toddler at her dining room table as she talks about being a crack addict. Her house is tidy and the little girl is happy and healthy. Keeping this child, and being reunified with three others, is what drove Trisha ultimately to get clean.
That, plus the cocaine was killing her.
“It makes you numb to reality,” Trisha said when trying to explain why she took the drug. “But after the high goes down. . . .”
Trisha rode a roller coaster of emotions: confusion, feeling empty, lonely. “It was hard,” she simply says.
She originally became addicted in 2008, then she was clean for about two years.
But 2010 brought a cascade of misfortune. Her father died. Her husband, whom she had left, started making threats; then he would take her kids out of school and “I’d have to chase him all around Milwaukee.”
She had financial difficulties: she couldn’t find a car or a stable job.
“So, one day out of the blue, I just went to crack. Then I spiraled downward. The more I started to try to get out, the more I went down. This went on for nine months.”
Trisha and her kids moved in with her sister. The sister tried to get her to go into rehab, but Trisha feared this would show up on a record and would keep her from her goal of becoming a nurse. Finally the sister called the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW).
“She said ‘I can’t help you and you need help with the kids.’ And I needed help.”
Trisha went into an outpatient treatment program, and she got her kids back with a safety plan. She got pregnant while in treatment and stopped going because she said she felt it was “odd being pregnant and in a treatment program.”
Being diabetic, the pregnancy was hard. She tried to go back to work, but she couldn’t keep up. Then she went into congestive heart failure. And she fell back into a depression.
“Before you know it, I went and picked up some drugs again.”
Her sister stepped in again and begged her to get help.
“I was tired of starting over; every time I got ahead, I had to start over.”
Once again Trisha’s sister called the BMCW. Police escorted the kids from Trisha’s house, which she lost as well as her job as a certified nursing assistant. The kids went to stay with her sister, in kinship care.
“I was so far gone, I didn’t want my kids to see me like that. I stayed away from my kids and my family. I lost a lot of weight, and I kept telling them I was sick.”
Trisha was ordered into an inpatient program at Meta House, which treats addicted mothers. Her child welfare case opened up on Sept. 12, but because there was a waiting list, she couldn’t get in to Meta House until November.
“Everything was just so messed up. Yeah, and I continued using until I got into Meta House.”
She was able to see her children again, but after two weeks she ended up leaving.
“There were just so many rules, and I wasn’t used to anybody telling me when to eat, when to lay down and all that.” She started using crack again.
But after one week, she called Meta House back and said she could not make it alone.
What jarred her into reality was her sister telling her she was on the way to losing her children permanently. That plus she couldn’t breath, ended up being taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she had to stay for a week because her lungs had filled with fluid once again.
“The doctor said, ‘With all that coke you’ve been doing, I don’t know how you’re still alive.’”
Trisha went back to Meta House and in February of 2013, she got into Family Treatment Drug Court, where a SaintA worker helped her through. Drug court focuses on learning how to do what is needed for a parent to get a child back and taking all the steps that are required. It is based on reinforcement rather than recrimination, and fellow drug court participants play a big role in encouraging and helping each other. Trisha graduated from the program this past August.
All her children are now back with her.
“You want your kids back, you’ve got to be responsible,” she said. This time there was no fooling around. Trisha tore her ACL and refused to take any pain medication.
“If I’d have done what they told me the first time, I could’ve prevented a lot. But I think things were meant to happen this way. I was so into it (crack), that I needed treatment.”
Trisha is in school now, studying to be a registered nurse, and she is active in her church.
At first her kids, were very angry with her.
“They were bitter and there was a lot of rage, a lot of confusion and a lot of emotion.”
The family got through it with prayer and Trisha getting her kids into a number of clubs and activities and spending quality family time with them.
“They’re doing pretty well now, a lot better than when this all started.”
Trisha often asked her kid to forgive her, but, “I had to just let them vent it out. It made me cry, but it was the truth, so I couldn’t get mad.”
Eventually Trisha’s kids did forgive her, but she said it’s still a process.
“Kids don’t really understand addiction. They want to know why you abandoned them, why you let them down.“
A “Celebrating Families” program at Meta House, where the children of addicts come together and get explanations, was a big help. So was Keaira Bonner, Trisha’s ongoing case manager, who will continue to work with the family for a year.
What would Trisha tell other women in her situation?
“Be patient! Hope for the best. And don’t use, no matter what.”
She now sees she has a future.
“With drugs there was no future, maybe not even a life. But going through all of this made me accountable for my actions. I’m really thankful, because otherwise I would have been dead a long time ago.
“It was worth it.”