Woman goes to extremes to get clean | TheUnion.com
Robyn Moormeister

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Woman goes to extremes to get clean

When she was shooting drugs into her veins, Mariah Sullivan’s idea of a normal day was more like a living nightmare.

This 33-year-old mother of two girls spent 18 years of her life using intravenous drugs ” mainly methamphetamine and heroin ” on a daily basis.

“My habit was about an eight-ball (one eighth of an ounce) per day, and I spent anywhere between $100 to $200 a day,” Sullivan said, sitting under a shady tree outside Manzanita Family Center in Grass Valley, where she lives.

The nightmare manifested in myriad ways, including using meth continuously throughout her pregnancy with her second child, Phoenix, now 4 ” even though Sullivan wanted desperately to stop.

One day, she found herself in a bathtub clutching a needle and crying because she had overused her veins, and she couldn’t find one strong enough to puncture.

The young mother lied, cheated and stole to get the money to fund her drug use ” a never-ending cycle of shame-inducing behavior.

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These are places she never meant to go, she said. But the demon of drug addiction took over and dominated her every move.

Extreme personality sought the fast life

“I’m an extremist,” Sullivan said, trying to explain how and why she started using drugs. “I was always curious.”

Her childhood in Camptonville was relatively happy and free of abuse or trauma, she said. That’s an unusual past for a habitual drug user.

“I was just never quite comfortable in my skin,” she said. Sullivan had undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, she said. When she used meth for the first time at age 13, it made her feel more focused, she said.

“I was really into the punk rock scene,” she said. She moved to New York in her late teens to be around the bands and the partying.

She shared needles with other drug users, but never thought about possible consequences such as AIDS. She dodged that bullet, although she did contract Hepatitis C.

She worked as a stripper to support herself and her ballooning habit.

That’s when the chaotic life she led “just wasn’t fun anymore,” Sullivan said.

“I’d wake up and freak out that I was going to have to get more (drugs), do it all over again,” she said.

Sullivan managed to stop doing drugs when she was pregnant with her first child, Anona, now 11. She white-knuckled the clean lifestyle in San Francisco for four years, but began dating a man who sold meth. Relapse was inevitable, she said.

“It was going to happen sooner or later,” she said. “There’d be four ounces of speed sitting there at the house. It was only a matter of time before I’d go back to the

needle.”

Sullivan’s life, again, quickly spiraled out of control.

“I was staying in hotel rooms, I couldn’t hold down a job, I was jumping from relationship to relationship,” she said. “I did whatever I had to do to pay for the dope.”

After she was born, baby Phoenix went to live with Sullivan’s parents, where Anona also was taking refuge.

Finding her way home

At one point amid the fog of drug abuse, Sullivan had what some people in recovery call a moment of clarity.

“I couldn’t be around my kids and I could see myself going to prison,” she said.

“Things were getting really ugly. I had wasted away to 108 pounds and I couldn’t find a vein anymore.”

She worried her luck would run out and she would lose legal custody of her girls. Child Protective Services staff “were lingering,” keeping a close eye on her, she said.

“The one thing that brought me back was the bond I had with my children,” she said. “I always had a strong connection with my kids.”

With a nudge from CPS, she said, she decided to get clean again.

She checked herself into Hope House, a residential treatment center in Grass Valley, for three months.

Afterward, she lived at a “T-house,” a clean and sober transitional group home, for eight months. She’s been living at Manzanita Family Center for four months, and she now works at Hope House.

She also sponsors six other women, helping them get through the 12 Steps.

“She is a success story,” said Joyce Peterson, a case manager at the family center.

“She’s a role model for other recovering addicts, and she’s got the right attitude.”

At 16 months sober, Sullivan still wears her hair with short bangs and colored hot

pink, and she sports several tattoos.

“They mean ‘finding your way home,'” she said, referring to her ink ” three nautical stars dotting her shoulders and upper chest.

The same woman who used to spend her days copping dope from gun-toting dealers now makes lunch for her children, takes her youngest child to the park and picks up her older daughter from school.

“It’s time to focus on my kids,” she said. She’s getting to know them all over again, she added.

“I’ve learned that they’re really cool,” Sullivan said with mock surprise. “They’re fun to be around, and they’re interesting.”

Sullivan still gets a little nervous doing the “normal things,” such as standing in line to register her daughter for school, but the support she has from other recovering addicts gets her through those awkward moments.

She even enjoys what she calls the “dorky” things, like drinking a soda at the movies and goofing off with her children or clean and sober friends.

“It’s really simple,” Sullivan said. “You take away drugs, and life is kinda cool.”

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To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@the union.com or call 477-4236.