ELLSWORTH, Maine — Lori King and Monica Johnson are recovering addicts.
Both of the women have lost custody of children because of their drug use and both came to the Open Door Recovery Center to get or stay straight.
King, now 36, began drinking at age 11 and quickly moved on to using marijuana and eventually intravenous drugs such as cocaine and heroin. She lost custody of her son and was in danger of losing her young daughter.
“She saw it all,” King said of her daughter in a recent interview. “She was there with me when I shot up. She knew what a hypodermic needle was.
“She was with me, going from flop house to flop house, from dealer to dealer.”
It was New Year’s Eve 2001, when six police officers came to her house and took her daughter away.
“I actually was clean for three days. I didn’t want to lose my daughter and I was pretty proud of myself when they showed up,” she said. “When they took her, I went out and got as much heroin as I could. I was hoping to check out.”
Instead, intent on regaining custody of her daughter, King entered the Portland-based Crossroads for Women treatment program, then came to Open Door in Ellsworth for its 10-week recovery program followed by a six-month aftercare program.
At Open Door, she said, she found the support and the discipline she needed to stay clean of the drugs that had ruled her life.
“They showed me who I could be. Without them I never would have gotten it, ever. They saved my life,” she said. “They helped to build my self-esteem in order to make it seem doable. They convinced me that I wasn’t a bad person trying to become good; I was a sick person trying to get well.”
King regained custody of her daughter after completing the Open Door program and has been clean for the past six years. Until recently, she had been working for Open Door at Hills House, a shelter for women in recovery who are pregnant, have a child or are in the process of reuniting with a child.
Monica Johnson’s road to drug use started with alcohol. She began drinking when she was 12 and progressed to “smoking weed,” then to several other drugs. As a result, she lost custody of her three children and ended up in federal prison for three years on drug charges.
Although she attended self-help groups and completed a relapse prevention program, when she got out of prison, she immediately started using again.
Then, she learned she was pregnant.
“I was still using while I was pregnant, and I knew I would lose him. My life was going right back to the way it was,” Johnson said. “I was not ready to lose another child. That was a desperate point in my life. I knew I was powerless. Prison, the fear of losing my child. Nothing was stopping me.”
A call to her probation officer got her into a treatment program at Wellspring in Bangor and she then arrived at Hills House. While she was there, her son was born.
“They gave me the support I needed. I was going to meetings and they provided child care. I was learning life skills. And there was someone to talk to when things got bad, or when they were good, just to talk about things that were happening with my son,” she said.
With that support, Johnson was able to stay drug-free and kept custody of her son. She returned to Hills House during her next pregnancy and received the same type of help and support.
“Any time I felt like I was going to stumble, I was able to call Hills House and they were more than willing to help me,” she said. “They helped me to stay clean, to be a mom.”