Editor's note: This is the second story in a series highlighting an individual's experiences on the road to substance abuse recovery on Guam. The series aims to shed light on Guam's need for resources to effectively administer its drug treatment programs.
On Saturday nights, around 6:30 p.m., the conference room at the Wyndham Garden Guam Hotel is rocked by warfare.
Each participant would take in hand a colored flag and twist and swirl and cut the air as the room flowed with song and worship. And when the music faded, they sat and they prayed for friends and family, and for children and those afflicted with addiction. This was "warfare" at the Wellspring Church, where Maedean Cepeda had become a recent member.
A brief affair with methamphetamine almost cost Cepeda her mind; but that encounter, she said, also led to a closer relationship with God.
Cepeda, 26, works as a legal secretary for a local law firm while studying at the University of Guam as a part-time student. She began working at the office at just 19 years old.
It was simple curiosity that drew her to the drug in November 2017.
"You looked in the newspaper and you see people get busted for drugs and I wondered what was so good about it. Like it turned people that low," Cepeda said. "It was the dumbest decision I've ever made."
The drug was easy to find. Cepeda had no history of drug use but knew people she could get the drug from, and they gave it to her free of charge.
Once she had it in her hands, Cepeda hunkered down in a hotel room and tasted meth for the first time.
She hated it.
"I couldn't see anything. It blurred out my vision for some reason. My eyes were super dilated. I couldn't even read my phone. That's how crazy it was. And then it made me like, anxious," Cepeda said.
She doesn't remember how much of the drug she used but the high lasted about a day. Cepeda told herself that would be the last time but, about two weeks later, she tried it again. And this time, she liked it.
"I don't know why I did that. But my very first time I said I wouldn't do it. But I ended up doing it again and that led to an addiction problem."
From then on, Cepeda used meth every other day. She was buying the drug at this point and it gradually impacted her financially. Some of the people she befriended in her new circle began telling her that she needed to stop and that her addiction was uncontrollable. At some point, Cepeda needed meth just to function, just to work.
"I've even had somebody tell me I was dangerous because of the way I smoked. And I almost lost my mind," she said. "Almost, but God is good."
Voices and visions
She had tried abandoning meth twice before - once around May 2018 and the other, around September of the same year - but each attempt lasted only a month or two. Both times she was still in contact with certain friends - other drug users - people who she has since learned to keep her distance from.
But Cepeda's drug use also led to unforeseen side effects. She began experiencing the paranormal, and it frightened her. There would be visions, lingering voices and at times, the overwhelming sense of dread.
To Cepeda, it was as if all her fears had come into reality. She relates this to teachings in the Bible.
"I see this drug as more of the devil's drug. ... The Bible says the devil cannot read your thoughts but he can hear your words. ... It was almost unbelievable. Everything I spoke when I was on that drug manifested in my life," Cepeda said.
Some time last year, around midnight, Cepeda asked her father to take her to a 24-hour chapel in Tamuning. But when they arrived, the chapel was closed. For about two hours, Cepeda's father stayed with his daughter as she cried out of fear.
The experiences continue even without drug use but, with guidance from her pastors, Cepeda said she is no longer afraid. To her, methamphetamine and drug addiction are not just earthly diseases but are part of a larger spiritual conflict.
"If you're asking my opinion, I think it's a spiritual thing," Cepeda said. "I think methamphetamine, just like in the Philippines, 'shabu shabu,' it's witchcraft. That's what I believe. The pastors tell me I have a gift and I can either use it in the witchcraft way or God's way. And I chose to use it in God's way."
The friend, the relapse
Cepeda found Wellspring Church around September 2018. Her mother is a co-worker to one of the pastors - a longtime recovering addict herself.
"My mom asked me if I wanted to talk to her. My family can't relate because, you know. So at least she was somebody I could relate to," Cepeda said.
At Wellspring, Cepeda underwent a second baptism and for about two months, she stayed clean.
It was a friendly visit that led to her second relapse.
"I thought because I was clean I could probably help my friends be clean, too," Cepeda said. "And then I went to visit a friend and all failed. I relapsed again."
Just seeing the drug rekindled old desires and Cepeda fell into using methamphetamine again until earlier this year.
'They were scared for me'
In February, she began attending outpatient classes at Oasis Empowerment Center and returned to Wellspring as well. She dropped out of Oasis for about a month afterward, due to work constraints, but began attending again in early April.
Cepeda was 48 days sober when she spoke to the Post in mid-April.
While she credits her recovery to her faith in God, Cepeda said Oasis has also helped her cope with lingering depression - something she hadn't experienced before drug use. She has also enjoyed support from her parents and employer.
Neither had known about the habit until Cepeda admitted that she had an addiction and that she needed help. Her parents were not angry, she said. They were hurt.
"They tried to help me, they tried ... They were scared for me, that's how I saw it. They tried so hard to get me help," Cepeda said.
Wellspring Church conducts intercessory prayers on Saturday nights at the Wyndham Garden conference room.
Cepeda normally arrives an hour ahead of the other congregants. She places chairs in neat angular rows and prepares the room in other ways.
Flag waving is part of worship at Wellspring. Each color sometimes holds different prophetic meanings: white for purity, blue for the Holy Spirit and so on. Congregants also refer to worship as warfare – a part of that longstanding spiritual conflict.
At the center of the conference room is a whiteboard where prayer topics are listed. Some wish safe travel upon friends and family while others ask God to protect those vulnerable in the community. Cepeda is sometimes asked to lead the prayers.
Methamphetamine had become something of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the drug had severely affected her life, she said, but in some haphazard way, also led to her deliverance.
"Every since I sought Jesus I always felt peace in my life," Cepeda said. "It even falls upon my household. That's why I said drugs is of the devil. Not only did I get affected, my household did. So when I sought God, even peace is on my household. There's a verse about that in the Bible. Where, when I'm saved, even my household would be saved."