The attraction of addiction
Cleaning up the meth
Loni Avers was a typical wallflower in high school.
“I wanted to be a social butterfly,” she said. “I wanted to be seen.”
At 19, the Seligman resident and her then boyfriend were visiting friends when he offered her methamphetamine for the first time. She tried it.
“I wanted him to love me,” she said. “I was immediately hooked. I knew it then. I liked the feeling. It was walking on clouds, no cares in the world, life is great. I wanted to have that feeling again.”
Physically, Avers lost a lot of weight, which she said she didn’t mind. However, other side effects from the drug linger to this day.
“My teeth are rotten,” she said. “The chemicals used to make meth eat away at the bones and the enamel of your teeth no matter how you use it. Even though I’ve been clean for five years, my teeth are still rotting. I remember spending hours with makeup and foundation trying to look beautiful when I wasn’t. I tried to cover the sores on my face with makeup.”
By then, Avers was using about three grams a day, about the equivalent of three-quarters of a small packet of sugar.
“That’s a lot,” she said.
By the time Avers was married to her first husband, she was thoroughly addicted.
“We would use the shake and bake method to make it,” she said. “I’d go get pills or whatever else he needed. It was enough. Sometimes, we would invite friends over to party. Other times, we’d have to go without. It wasn’t pretty. I had to have it. I needed it.”
She said the first time she used meth was “the perfect high.”
“Over time, it loses its effectiveness, so you have to use more and more,” she said. “You want that perfect high again, so you use more and more to get there. It just keeps going and you just keep chasing that high.”
Avers said she knew there were risks involved, but she had no fear.
“Depending on how and where you do it, it could be fatal within minutes,” she said. “But, I was never afraid of getting to that point when I was using. I was indestructible.”
Avers said there were times she and her husband would have physical altercations while they were both using.
“Deep down, I knew it was the dope,” she said. “I never slept. I never ate. It’s the chemicals used to make it. Lithium keeps you awake. You’re like the energizer bunny.”
Avers admits she has an addictive personality.
“My first addiction was cigarettes when I was eight years old,” she said. “My sister got me started. She handed me one and told me to smoke it. I looked up to her, so I did. She said then that if I told on her [to our parents] for smoking, she would tell on me, because I was smoking, too.
“People say that marijuana is the gateway drug. But I’m truly convinced it’s cigarettes. The taste is horrible, but they calm you down. When my nerves are shot or when I’m angry, cigarettes calm me down.”
When she became pregnant with her second child, Avers went off drugs, cigarettes and alcohol cold turkey.
“My youngest son was born premature,” she said. “His lungs weren’t completely developed. By the time he came home from the hospital, he was perfect, but I used that to justify starting meth again. So I could stay awake and watch him. Addicts will do anything to justify using.”
At one point, she and her husband, who had suffered several heart attacks by that time, decided they were done with meth and quit using. However, he committed suicide in 2010, and she started using again, as a crutch, to get through the pain of losing her spouse.
“My addiction got really bad then,” she said. “I lost my whole world. Although our marriage was pretty much over, we had stayed together for the kids. I think he killed himself because he was tired of being in pain. I had access to meth through [relatives]. I never considered going to a doctor for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. Meth was in the house, always accessible. I had to numb the pain and keep going for the kids.
“You’d think just looking at my babies would be enough [motivation]. It wasn’t.”
Avers said her drug use continued to escalate.
“I was an angry, angry woman,” she said. “I felt horrible. Then, my grandmother told me I was a young, beautiful woman, and that someone out there would want me. That really helped.”
Avers met her current husband through family members. He was also using meth.
“When we met, he stepped up,” she said. “I had to take care of the kids by myself in my first marriage. When he stepped up and said, ‘I’ve got this,’ it was amazing. We were both using, and we never considered stopping. It took getting arrested to change my mind.”
Avers and her current husband were arrested Oct. 23, 2011.
“I was charged with attempted manufacturing and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child,” she said. “They put my babies in the back of an ambulance and took them away.”
Avers and her husband opted to take part in the Barry County Drug Court program.
“I was six months clean when I went into Drug Court,” she said. “The minute they took my kids from me, I was done. My motivation to stay clean, to this day, is my kids. I know I would never be able to put it back down if I picked it back up. Have I had the opportunity to use again? Yes. And I thank God every day that I didn’t.”
Drug Court is not a hand-holding walk in the park for its participants, Avers said.
“It’s tough,” she said. “It’s five years of intense probation shoved into 18 months. You go to counseling, group therapy, call the UA line every day to see if you are going to be tested, attend self-help meetings, get a job and raise your family. It’s intense. If you go to the doctor and get a prescription, in the back of our little addict minds, we know we could be tested and go to jail if we don’t report the medication to our counselors. And nobody wants to go back to jail.
“That’s how intense the program is, because they want you to succeed. It cost us $1,800 to go through the program five years ago. It’s more like $2,400 today. And that’s just part of the cost to run the Drug Court program.”
Avers and her husband entered the program at the same time, and graduated at the same time.
“One of my triggers, identified by my counselor, is anger,” she said. “Others are life-changing loss. My counselor asked what it would take for me to relapse, and I said the death of my husband or my father.”
That struggle was put to the test on Dec. 2, 2013, when her father succumbed to a myriad of complications from cancer.
“At the funeral, most of the people were drunk or high,” she said. “It made me sick to my stomach. This man sacrificed everything for these people and this is how they paid him? It was sad. They offered me a shot of my father’s favorite drink — Hot Damn. I said no. It would have been the first step back into that lifestyle. I said I would only join them if there was something else in the glass. I toasted and took part in commemorating him with a Monster energy drink.”
How did Avers resist taking that one drink?
“I used the tools I was taught in Drug Court,” she said. “My kids also monitor me, now. They question me and hold me accountable. My mug shot also serves as a reminder as to what meth did to me.
“I’m not proud of my drug use. But it is a part of what made me who I am today. I know I’ve harmed my kids. That’s why they were taken away from me in the first place. But, I tried to be the best mom I could while being an addict. There are periods of time that are just missing from my memory. I lost a lot of moments due to being high.”
As an addict, Avers said hers is a daily struggle, but she has a whole community of support to get her through those tough times, including her church family at Union Church in Seligman.
“This church, every member of this church, is amazing to me and to my family,” she said. “If I’m having a stressful day, I can call my sons, or go home and just be with them. I lost them to foster care when I was arrested. I know if I screw up, I could lose them forever.
“My husband and I also support each other. He has been my rock through it all. He has been my strength. I thank God every day that he is clean and sober with me. He’s an amazing man, but we wouldn’t be able to be together if one of us was still using.
“We started attending Celebrate Recovery here in Seligman and we coach others who are also in recovery. I’m now a Missouri Recovery Support Specialist Peer. We find ways to have clean, sober fun.”
While Avers found success, she said not every participant has a similar story.
“Some think they don’t need the support group,” Avers said. “They think they can white-knuckle it, and they can’t. Some have gone back to the lifestyle because meth is so readily available to them. They choose not to utilize the classes, meetings, and recovery efforts. And that breaks my heart. They were clean, they struggled to get clean. And all they had to do to stay clean was call me. I’ll be anyone’s accountability partner. Just call me before you make that choice.
“I will always be an addict. I will be in recovery for the rest of my life. God plays a role in my recovery, and I wake up every day thanking Him for another day of sobriety.”
When many people avoid those they know are addicts, Avers chooses to confront them.
“If I see someone in public, I’ll go up and love on them, let them know I care,” she said.
For those tempted to try meth, Avers has three words.
“Don’t do it,” she said. “There is such a thing as clean and sober fun. All you have to do is go to a Celebrate Recovery meeting. It’s for anyone with hurts, hangups and habits. Get hooked up with someone who is sober and who can show you an amazing life.”
Celebrate Recovery is held from 6-8:30 p.m. Wednesday nights at MOZARK Fellowship Union Church, 28277 Frisco St. in Seligman.