Life after Meth: Few escape addiction

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - For many meth users, the day they get caught can become the best day of their lives, because it can be a ticket to recovery. But that journey isn't easy. In fact, many former meth users spend years repairing the damage they've done to their families, careers and even their health.

As six former meth addicts told WLOX, life does exist after meth, but not without  its challenges.

"When you're using meth, you think you're on top of the world," said Bubba Killingsworth, who's been free from the drug for nearly four years.

Many former meth users say it doesn't take long for the drug to take hold.  Many of them say once they tried the drug, their lives quickly disintegrated into a chaotic whirlwind.

"Started out buying a gram," said Debrah Hayes of her battle with meth.  "Now I [was] cooking three times a week."

Some of them quickly lost their careers and became completely consumed with addiction.

"It will end up being your job," said Stacey Randall, another former meth user.

"It was chaos all the time," said Swen Thomas of his 15 years addicted to methamphetamine.

Many of the people who spoke to WLOX said willpower just wasn't enough to break the cycle.

"Anybody who is on meth has got to hit rock bottom," Brandy Valentine said.

The six people who spoke to WLOX were all arrested and convicted on felony drug charges. Instead of landing behind bars long-term, they found their way to Jackson County drug court.  Several wanted drug court to help them reclaim their lives.  Others wanted to slide through the program and continue using.  No matter what they wanted when they started, all six of them told WLOX they have dramatically changed their lives, and they credit drug court's strict program with their progress.

"You have to just completely separate yourself from everything, the people you were with," said Debrah Hayes, who suffered a long addiction.  "You know, a whole new lifestyle.  And that's the first step."

The following steps aren't easy.  Each person we spoke to said learning to live without meth is a constant uphill battle.

Drug court itself isn't easy.  Participants stay busy with community projects, reading assignments, weekly meetings, and scheduled and random drug tests.  In drug court, there's very little room for error.  Even small mistakes could land a participant in jail, at least for a short time.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Krebs said the rules may be strict, but he wants each member to rise to the challenge and succeed.

"They're not stupid people," Krebs said.  "You can't be stupid and survive on the street like they have. But what they're confronted with are the things that you and I have to do every day.  Get up, get the children off to school, go to work."

In drug court, relearning structure, order and discipline is the foundation for repairing an addiction-torn life.

Counselor Jim Hite mentioned another challenge that could arise in recovery.

"They will have urges," Hite said.  "They will have times when they are stressed and frustrated and seriously want to go back to using."

Hite said the complications never completely go away.

"They're probably going to have to go to group therapy and meetings for the rest of their lives, in most cases," Hite said.

"If you let your guard down, it's like a monster in the closet," Hayes said.  "It'll come back out.  It wouldn't take a lot."

As former meth users fight to stay clean, many also face regret about the permanent damage they may have done to their health.  All six of the people we interviewed said they regret putting their health in limbo while addicted to meth.

"I still have a lot of problems," Hayes said.  "And I don't know for sure, but I think it's from the meth. You know all the chemicals and stuff.  I still have a lot of stomach problems and stuff."

"Memory loss, dental, you know that's a big thing in meth," said Stacey Seback.

"I've seen friends of mine that look 90 years old," added Stacey Randall.

Other problems could stem from all the sleepless nights synonymous with a meth high.

"You go without sleep long enough, and you'll get psychotic," Hite said.  "And that's another thing that typically happens psychologically with crystal meth addicts is they become paranoid and they have visual and auditory hallucinations.  And that's irreversible."

It's hard to tell what these six will face in the future. After all, not many people have successfully walked the road to recovery from a meth addiction.

"We haven't seen the sum of it yet," Seback said.

"The verdict's out," added Hayes.  "Doctors don't know what it does to your body. You know, it could be some major health problems."

They said they're concerned about what lies ahead, but will gladly accept it in exchange for their lives.

"I did meth 15 years, every day,"  Swen Thomas said.  "And I've been clean for like almost two years now.  And I can remember more in the two years than in the 15 years.  I like this life better."

Two of the six people profiled, Stacey Randall and Bubba Killingsworth, are brother and sister.

Be sure to tune in Wednesday night at 10pm or Thursday on Good Morning Mississippi for a closer look at their new lives.  You'll also see the eerie ways addiction still haunts them.

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