Editor's note: This is the sixth 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.
About three days a week, inpatients and staff at the Oasis Empowerment Center take part in morning prayer at the Tamuning facility. The lights are shut off for a portion of the session – Christmas lights hanging in a single row on the ceiling provide dim illumination in the Oasis meeting room.
Sandy Marie Duran would sit with staff and fellow inpatients in that semidarkness. As worship music plays softly in the background, heads bowed down and hands clasped, they say their prayers.
Duran prayed for her children.
This is Duran's third effort at rehabilitation at Oasis, but she is determined that it will be her last. Duran is a single mother with two boys, ages 10 and 7. She sees them every Sunday.
Because of drug use and court charges, her children were placed under the care of Child Protective Services. They were undergoing permanency procedures for adoption, but that had been vacated around the time The Guam Daily Post spoke to Duran in April. Regardless, she is running out of chances.
"This is my last chance to get my kids back," Duran said. "I have to get sober and clean to get my kids back. They said this is my last chance, my last straw."
Self-described as a "party girl," Duran began using methamphetamine at 21. She quit for six years but picked the habit up again at 28 and continued until she was 34. Her best friend from high school had introduced her to the drug.
Duran loved the high.
"I love the feeling of high, like being numb," she said. "You forget about all your problems, your stress."
Not doing 'anything bad'
She would smoke meth every weekend for about a year when she started using the drug. It would later escalate to daily usage.
Duran initially hid the habit from her parents. They weren't particularly strict, she said, but she was afraid they would kick her out of their home or call the police. She was still staying with her parents when she first started using.
At the time, Duran didn't believe she was doing "anything bad."
"I was still working, I was still going to school – college," she said. Her parents know now, she added.
"My mom told me to fix my life for (my) kids. You know how we're Filipinos, and our relatives in the Philippines don't know what's going on. So she told me to fix my life so she can be more confident with me being her daughter," Duran said. "It's OK."
She was with a boyfriend, the father of her oldest son, when she first attempted sobriety. He was also a user, she said, but wanted to stop their habit.
"In order for us to be in a serious relationship, I told him, 'Yeah, we both need to quit.' So we both quit for six years just for the relationship to work out."
The years of sobriety were good. Duran was working three jobs then but another friend reintroduced the couple to meth. The relapse was swift. Duran said she had been wanting to try the drug again. She was also getting bored with her relationship.
"All we did was work, stay home, work, stay home. I needed to have fun, you know?" Duran said.
Brushes with the law
In 2012, she was arrested. By that point, her relationship with her older son's father had ended. A friend was staying with her at her apartment.
Duran was heading home. She had stayed at the Golden Motel following an altercation with her sister.
Police followed and cornered her at the apartment's parking lot. She had her son with her and was pregnant with her second child. Police asked about the man staying with her.
"I didn't know (my friend) was on the run," Duran said. "So they went in my house and they found Ziplocs, straws and a pipe, but no drugs."
Duran was detained for one day but her case would be dismissed.
"They didn't want me," she said. "They wanted the guy."
Her second run-in with the law was last year, after walking out of Oasis for the first time. Duran said she felt she wasn't ready then and that she was finding excuses to use.
Duran was staying at a drug house with a new boyfriend but had maintained her sobriety for 16 days.
"And then we got raided," she said. Someone had tipped the authorities about the operation.
Duran was detained for a day. The raid triggered something in her, she said, and she started using meth again – this return to the drug would last about a month.
"I'm like, 'I'm in trouble already, I might as well smoke.' I felt discouraged, I guess," she said.
Back and forth
Her second attempt at Oasis came in September but she relapsed after meeting a friend at the New Beginnings Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. Duran had a doctor's appointment there.
"I saw one of my friends there that uses – so she made me smoke," she said. "Transport was supposed to pick me back up but I never stayed. I asked my boyfriend at that time to pick me up and I never went back to Oasis because I relapsed."
Duran would go back to old habits again, smoking every day and night.
She returned to Oasis in December 2018. Duran said she is ready this time to complete the inpatient program. She was nearly four months into the program when she spoke to the Post.
About a month before, she ended her relationship with her boyfriend. He told her he couldn't stop dealing drugs because it is his only source of income. Duran said she can't be with him because she wanted her kids back and didn't want them exposed to the drug. She knew she would return to methamphetamine if she stayed in that relationship.
Leaving him wasn't difficult.
"Every visitation, when I see his messages, he's still dealing with the same girls," Duran said. "The drug world is like that. Even if they know the guy has a girlfriend, they'll steal your man just for drugs, you know, they have sex for drugs. ... So it was easy for me to let go."
Her children are her main priority now, Duran said, and she is ready to let go of the "party girl" lifestyle. She admits using methamphetamine around her children previously, but she's grateful they were too young to remember.
She is hoping her children won't be like her when they grow up – she wants to keep them away from smoking meth and ruining their lives. With the relationship with her boyfriend ended, Duran said she isn't too worried about relapsing and she will keep her children away from drug users.
Some staff at Oasis are also recovering addicts and seeing recovery work for them inspires hope in her as well.
Duran was under pretrial status when she spoke to the Post. Her lawyer was attempting to have the case dismissed but Duran was worried about the outcome. It would affect her ability to get her children back, she said.
"I feel complete when I'm with my kids," Duran said. "Before, I would ask God how it would be if I didn't have kids. ... So there, my kids got taken away and my life got destroyed. I was evil and bad. I don't want to be that person anymore. I want to be the mom. The nice person. A loving, caring, decent person. Oh my gosh."