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“Mom, are these goggles on right?” four-year-old Travis* pauses before he jumps in the pool.
“Yep, hun, you’re good to go!” Shelby* says smiling.
She can hardly believe this little four-year old bundle of energy and joy is the same child she left at home when she went to treatment just two and half years earlier.
“Travis was always running around screaming and crying,” Shelby’s husband George* remembers. “He was completely attached to his mom, wouldn’t let her leave the room. There was so much drama and emotional energy he was picking up on even as a toddler.”
Within a few days of Shelby being gone to treatment, George felt like he had a different child at home. It was hard having to work full time and take care of Travis while Shelby was at Oxford Treatment Center. But George knew it was the best thing for the whole family.
“While Shelby was getting help, Travis was able to get into more of a routine,” he said. “Things were always so chaotic at home, and when she left, he calmed down a lot. It wasn’t because I made him do it; he just felt more peace in our home.”
Shelby had abused pain pills and been a heroin addict in her early twenties. She was sober for two years before she had Travis. At eight months pregnant, she was having severe pain and was diagnosed with sciatica. The doctor prescribed her pain pills, and the rest is history.
“I had the thought that maybe this isn’t a good idea…” Shelby remembers. Although she started taking them as prescribed, pretty quickly she began to abuse them.
“Today, if I were to get pregnant and the same thing happened, I would figure out another way to manage the pain,” she says. “It wouldn’t be worth it.”
Just days before Travis’ second birthday, Shelby checked in to Oxford Treatment Center. She was a difficult patient, she says, and didn’t think she needed to be in a treatment. It wasn’t until she called her husband to come get her during the middle of a winter storm that she realized the weight of her selfishness and how her disease had impacted her family.
“We were under a winter storm warning, and ice was covering all the roads,” she remembers. “I called my husband to come get me, and (Program Director) Garry Reifers said, ‘Do you realize what you just asked your husband to do?’ Then it hit me…I was so selfish.”
Although he knew he wasn’t going to bring her home from treatment, George decided to make the trek through the ice to help Shelby understand her consequences if she tried to leave.
“I didn’t want to get to divorced, and I really didn’t want to go through a custody battle,” George said. “But I told her that if she didn’t complete this and do what they asked her to do, that would be what happened. If she decided to leave, she would not be staying at our house. That decision was not totally for me, but for my son as well.”
Although Shelby didn’t want to hear what George had to say, the thought of losing her husband and son prompted a turning point in her treatment. Her attitude began to change, and although she still didn’t want to be in treatment, she understood what she had to lose if she left.
Now almost three years sober, Shelby uses her experience as a young mom to help other moms who are facing similar challenges. She sponsors other women who have kids who are the same age as Travis.
“Sometimes moms feel so much guilt for the things we did to our children while we were in our addiction,” Shelby says. “We think we should have been able to stay sober. But we were sick. We were truly powerless. In addiction, we did not have the power to not do those things to our children.”
Shelby says her recovery has been possible because she works the steps, has a conscious contact with God, and tries to be of service to others.
“When I got clean, I had never been a mother sober. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to be a mom or be a wife,” Shelby reflects. “I wouldn’t be able to be either of those if it wasn’t for God. Now that I’m clean, I can actually be present with my child and watch him grow and love. The love I have for him just gets bigger and bigger. I wouldn’t have been able to give him that if I were still using.”
George, who is also in recovery, sees Shelby’s change and is amazed at the caring mother she has become.
“There’s a whole lot of love and affection you can see now that was hard to see before she went to treatment,” he said. “She’s a great mom and loves me and Travis. She makes a huge effort in raising Travis and in taking care of herself, and that wasn’t happening back then.”
Says Shelby: “When you start looking at life to see what you can give instead of what you can get, it changes everything. Your life begins when you get sober. You’re able to feel and do so much more.”
*Names and identifying details have been changed. Photos are actor portrayal.