Children of addicts are fated to repeat their parents’ destructive patterns. Addiction leaves broken families in its wake. The cycles of poverty and addiction doom the next generation to predictable, bleak fates.
That’s what the studies and stories say.
But Ruthann is more than a statistic, and she’s determined to write her own story. Ruthann is a survivor. A devoted and fiercely loving mother. A testament to transformation and hope for something better.
Ruthann’s family history is marked by addiction and substance abuse. Her mother and grandmother used methamphetamine. When Ruthann was 12, her mother died from drug-related complications. Then Ruthann started using, becoming a part of that painful legacy.
She became a mother in 2001 when her daughter, Kaylee, was born. She had her second child, Kingston, six years later. Being a mother didn’t stop her from using. Even as she used, Ruthann’s smarts kept her employed for a while, but she eventually lost her job.
Soon after, Ruthann experienced a much bigger loss. Because of her chronic drug use, she lost custody of her children to the Department of Human Services. Eleven months passed by the time she could demonstrate she was ready to be a mother again.
But in late-2011, she left her children in the care of an acquaintance she barely knew and disappeared for six days to use. She recalls this choice with regret and shame. When she came back for her children, 10-year-old Kaylee refused to continue living with Ruthann.
“My daughter was done with me at that point,” says Ruthann. They arranged for Kaylee to live with a responsible contact who had been introduced to the family when DHS first intervened.
With only Kingston in tow, Ruthann went on what she describes as “a long, bad run.” For months, Ruthann lived aimlessly: no job or place to call home, and endless time to use drugs. All the while, a DHS worker was trying to locate her.
She and Kingston eventually made their way to a hotel. Their stay was a revolving door of people dropping in to use.
Ruthann began noticing 3-year-old Kingston behaving differently. He threw prolonged tantrums. He slept in the bathtub. Otherwise normal sights and sounds overstimulated him. Knowing that their surroundings were unhealthy and dangerous, Ruthann chalked up Kingston’s behavior to their environment.
Tired, homeless, and nearly broke, Ruthann eventually called the DHS worker. She confessed her most recent months of drug use. She said she’d consider getting help, though she didn’t truly mean it.
The case worker drove Ruthann and Kingston to a local residential treatment center. Ruthann’s first full day in treatment – May 10, 2012 – is also that last time she ever used illegal drugs.
As Ruthann began the arduous process of re-training her body and mind to function without drugs, she also entered into therapy with Kingston to better understand his behaviors. Eventually, Kingston was formally diagnosed with autism.
“At first they couldn’t tell if he had a neurological disadvantage or if I had inflicted so much trauma on him that this was his brain’s natural response to it. I either created [the conditions for] his response or I neglected Kingston’s needs. Either way, I felt so bad.”
While she grappled with her newfound insight into her son’s behavioral struggles, Kaylee visited Ruthann. Ruthann offered her a chance to come live at the treatment center.
“She told me, ‘I’m not going to live with you until after you’re done with treatment. Your mom OD’ed when you were my age. I don’t want to live with you while you do that to yourself,’” Ruthann remembers.
Kaylee’s words stung as much as they were true. Ruthann felt challenged by her daughter and burdened by the guilt she felt about Kingston’s development. She was at a crossroad.
Would she live and die as her own mother did? Would she leave her kids to grow up as Ruthann had?
“I made the choice to be a mom, for my kids to have a mom,” Ruthann says.
A day after Kaylee’s birthday, Ruthann and Kingston moved into the Letty Owings Center (LOC), Central City Concern’s residential treatment program for women who are pregnant or parenting very young children. The move “was the best thing I could have given Kaylee,” Ruthann believes.
Typically, the sense of community that mothers create during their time at LOC becomes an integral part of their treatment. But because Kingston couldn’t get along with the other children, Ruthann found it difficult to build relationships. She was constantly pulled away from treatment classes because he would get kicked out of daycare. Ruthann often felt defensive or guilty about her son’s struggles.
With the help of LOC staff, Kingston soon enrolled in a nearby school that worked specifically with children with behavioral and sensory needs. Ruthann knew that this school, combined with the therapy Kingston continued to receive, was exactly what he needed to find stability and success.
“The date Kingston got into his school is as important to me as my clean date.”
Slowly but surely, Ruthann gathered momentum. She was able to attend LOC’s treatment classes consistently. Her counselor helped Ruthann “learn about myself and about my own worth.” Ruthann became an indispensable volunteer teacher’s aide at Kingston’s school, a role that unearthed her exceptional abilities in a classroom setting. LOC’s environment gave her opportunities to use the skills she learned from Kingston’s therapists.
“We would actually get through a meltdown,” she recalls. “It was empowering. I felt like I was making a difference in my kid’s life. He taught me to love from this other place in my heart that I had never used.”
Ruthann gradually grew to trust the other mothers and one today is like a sister.
In December, Ruthann graduated from the Letty Owings Center. She moved into Laura’s Place, CCC’s supportive transitional housing program for women who have completed treatment at LOC, while she waited for longer-term housing to become available.
She continued to strengthen the foundation of her sobriety by completing an outpatient addiction counseling program through the CCC Recovery Center (CCCRC).
Soon after, Ruthann received the keys to her own apartment at Sunrise Place, one of CCC’s alcohol- and drug-free family housing communities. At long last, she and Kingston were reunited with Kaylee.
Ruthann’s kids now have a focused, sober mother. They have a home and stability. She works with CCC’s family mentors, who provide Ruthann’s family with ongoing support and encouragement. They create community with other Sunrise families.
“This is where my kids and I learned to eat at a table together every night,” Ruthann explains. “My son was able to build friendships. My daughter found friends. Our family traditions were built here.
“All these programs – LOC, CCCRC, housing – allowed a woman like me to stand strong and come out of it on her own two feet.”
Ruthann’s own two feet stand at the edge of a road paved with potential: features of life that her history said weren’t in the cards.
She works now as an assistant claim manager at a local carwash, a position she was promoted to. Her employers know about her past; their lack of judgment makes her love the job more. But it’s no secret that Ruthann’s sights are set on 2017. That’s the year her criminal record will be expunged, giving her the clearance necessary to work as an employee in a classroom setting.
Through her church, she’s begun leading a support group ministry for single mothers. Under Ruthann, the group has grown to nearly 20 moms, most of whom are also on the path of recovery. The group works to “remind ourselves that it’s not about moms getting their kids back; it’s about kids getting their moms back.”
Ruthann glows when she talks about her son’s progress. Kingston is meeting multiple academic and behavioral benchmarks. She gladly picks up extra shifts to pay his tuition because Kingston “is where he needs to be.”
Kaylee is a responsible, studious 8th grader with an artistic side – “an old soul,” Ruthann says proudly. But she sees something deeper in the daughter who, upon visiting her in treatment, demanded better of her mother.
“When I look at my daughter, I feel forgiven. I feel loved,” Ruthann says. “I feel like Kaylee shows that the cycle can be broken.”
Ruthann’s story is of a daughter who never had the chance to be raised by a sober and present mother. She’s determined to make sure that Kaylee and Kingston know that their mother’s presence is unwavering.
“Being a mom means unconditional everything. I get to show up every day,” says Ruthann. “Kaylee shows me that my story is not her story. Her ending can be different.”
The cycle of poverty and addiction began writing Ruthann’s story for her. But the tenacity and love that pushed Ruthann to take full advantage of CCC’s programs to become the mother her children deserve are the very same qualities that have allowed her to reclaim her story.
Ruthann’s ending will be different, too.
“CCC has helped me change my whole life.”