One day last fall I went to an anger management class. It was in a neighborhood where I used to get high. It didn’t even go through my mind that this could be a trigger for me. I believed I was strong but I was not.
At the time, I was consumed by feeling powerless and alone. My son, Brandan, had been in foster care for about a year. ACS took him when I was jailed for credit card fraud. Months before that, ACS had investigated me for neglect but had closed the case. When I was released from jail after four months, I was told that I needed to prove myself capable of raising Brandan.
I Expected Recognition
Once I completed my service plan and secured housing in a program designed to support me in reunifying with Brandan, I started to feel that the efforts I put forth had gone unnoticed. I expected recognition. But when my accomplishments were presented in court, it seemed like the foster care agency just kept bringing up my long history of addiction and incarceration instead of focusing on the five years I’d been clean before I had Brandan and the progress I was making.
After court, my attorney would make lame statements like, “I’m very sorry, Ms. Reddick. If it was up to me I would give him back now.” I’d think to myself, “If, if, if! That word is empty to my son and me.”
Feeling Abused Again
The worst was hearing about my history over and over again in court. I had to endure fancy people not caring about my story, people misjudging me and categorizing me and making decisions for me. I had to answer to people who seemed to loathe me. That was hard. I struggled to smile in the enemy’s face.
As time passed, all of my experiences of being powerless—being abused and gang raped and going to prison—came together in my mind. I was reminded of being told when to eat and sleep, of not getting to make a phone call for days, of having someone scream in my face and not be able to knock their teeth out. Being told when I could and couldn’t see my child and what I should and shouldn’t do during visits came to feel like another kind of abuse.
The pain in my chest got tighter as the days passed me by. I felt completely alone.
Pain, Time and a Few Dollars
Pain, time and a few dollars don’t mix. As I stepped off the train to catch the bus to my anger management class, my stinking thinking told me, “It’s f-ed up how ACS and the agency are treating you. You should have your son right now. You deserve to feel good for a day or night. You have a few dollars in your pocket. Who will know if I get one bag of dope? F- it!”
Vulnerable and alone, I convinced myself that escaping just one time wouldn’t hurt. So I bought heroin and then jumped in a cab, not wanting to be late to my class. Heroin gave me the feeling that I could handle anything that came at me. I didn’t have any intention to continue to use. But two or three days later, once again alone, that craving came up again and then again.
Drugs have a way of clouding what’s inevitable. Once I had used more than four or five days in a row, I became convinced my secret was safe with me. “They’ll never know,” I told myself. “I deserve not to hurt.” Before I knew it I was addicted again.
On the Sneak Tip
At first, I manipulated the system so that I wouldn’t get caught. I knew who was testing me and when. I still attended all meetings, visits and classes. I stayed sober briefly to do these things. I kept planning to stop, looking for ways out. Could I not use as much? I even tried “cold turkey.” That was a joke. As soon as I opened my eyes and realized that my life was where it was, I flipped out and went and got high.
During the three months that I was using, I spent quite a bit of my family’s money under false pretenses. I told them I had rent where I lived when I did not. That’s where drugs had taken me. I lived to use and used to live daily. I did some really irresponsible things that were unsafe for me.
Somehow, I had reality turned around in my mind. I thought that by using, I was hurting the people who had taken my baby from me. Boy, was I wrong.
The first tox that came out dirty was at my residence. I convinced them not to divulge that info to the agency right away, but they said I had to go to an outpatient drug treatment to regain my clean time. But I didn’t attend the treatment, so my program disclosed the dirty tox to the agency. Probation also found out that I was getting high.
Soon I was under pressure from all sides. My lawyer was the last to find out and she was furious. She threatened to drop my case if I ever withheld vital formation from her. I felt threatened and even more alone.
Everyone on my case kept asking me, “Do you want to go to jail? Do you want to screw up your service plan altogether so that ACS will terminate your rights? Or do you want to get sober and fight for Brandan?”
Afraid to Surrender
I knew that if I didn’t get it together, I would never get Brandan back, my greatest fear. I might even go to prison, my next biggest fear. Still, I was not thinking rationally. I just felt controlled, backed up against a wall. I knew that I needed to fight for Brandan, but I didn’t want to stop getting high.
I kept looking for a way out. I always said, “Just one more time.” Finally, I realized that I had no more chances. I felt trapped and scared.
But at last I surrendered to the disease of addiction. I found an inpatient program and I stuck with it. I have been clean for a year now. I think my recovery is going well. The urge to use when I get upset has subsided. I’m not in as vulnerable a place anymore. I have obtained gainful employment and have lived in my own apartment for four months. I pray nightly and take life one day at a time.
But my months of drug use took their toll on my case. While I was in treatment, the agency filed to terminate my parental rights. The trial has not yet started, but I am scared that I will lose my son. I am angry and overwhelmed every day. The hardest part is controlling my anger. Everyone says, “Be nice, don’t show your frustration.” That’s very stressful.
Trying to fight back in a positive way, I spend hours overloading my brain with information about the system. I make phone calls and send letters. I am searching for someone powerful to care about my case and intervene. I never stop planning in my head, thinking, “What else can I do? Who can help me?”
One More Chance?
What scares me most is to imagine Brandan, who is now 7, growing up without me. I want to nurture, love and educate him. I feel that he’s already forgetting who I am. He has been in care three years now. We only have visits every two weeks. Our relationship is so rocky. He calls his foster mother, “Mommy.” That really bothers me.
During visits, I get to kiss all over him. Brandan clings to me at times. He also gets defiant. I truly understand why. I do all I can to show patience to my little boy. I am angry at myself for putting our relationship in jeopardy.
When I look back at the past 19 months, I think, “If I had just stayed clean a little longer, Brandan would be with me.” Still, I’m angry that the agency is pushing to terminate my rights when I’m clean again and working to reunify with my son.
I know I made this bed I’m lying in. But should I have to sleep in it forever? I just keep begging the agency, “Give me one more chance to prove myself. Have faith in who I’ve become.”