Road to Recovery: 'With sobriety comes the bonus of being a mom'

MOVING FORWARD: Recovering methamphetamine addict Keilani Simmons recalls her 25 years of drug use and her path to recovery. Photo courtesy of Keilani Simmons

Keilani Simmons is a recovering methamphetamine addict, but she also is the mother of 11 children. Her addiction took control of her life for 25 years and landed her in prison for eight.

She first smoked meth at age 22, when she was a young mom of two.

"I was starting my life. I had a full-time job, and as my meth addiction grew and started to increase, I lost that job six months into first trying. And then, it just started getting larger; my desire for it was more and more," Simmons said. "I became isolated."

She smoked meth socially, introduced to the drug by a group of friends. Wanting to be accepted, every time she hung around these friends, she used meth. Eventually, the desire to smoke grew, and nine months after that first taste she was a full-fledged addict.

"I used to do lots of things, especially with my children, but I started isolating myself. I would buy drugs and smoke by myself," said Simmons.

At first, she was ashamed about her drug use – thoughts of what people would say or think flooded her mind.

"That drugs are for losers, only people that have no lives use drugs," she said. "And I didn't want anybody to know I was using drugs, so I just decided to smoke by myself so that nobody would know. But it came to the point where I was in full-blown addiction, and I didn't care who knew." 

Methamphetamine use became an everyday affair, one that seeped into her home and affected her children.

"The impact was complete devastation. In the beginning, I thought it wouldn't affect my children because, for the most part, I felt that being present would suffice to be a mom. If I was there every day, that was me being a mom, the best mom possible whether I was high or not. Boy, was I delusional," Simmons said.

'I had devastated this family'

Her drug addiction led her to believe that she was dependent on it to function.

"Raising my kids when I was on meth before prison was like – I was basically using them as my reason for getting high. Like I needed to get high so that I could do something for them. I needed to smoke so I could function for them. I needed to go look for drugs so I could sell it to feed them. I needed to steal to feed them, to house them," she said. 

However, as her drug use increased, her presence in her kids' lives decreased. 

"I was just doing things for them," she said. "OK, if I go and sell a gram, I can feed them for two or three days. Never mind being there, just as long as they were housed." 

Her addiction led her to commit crimes, eventually landing her in prison for eight years on a burglary conviction. But the ultimate cost, she said, was losing her children.

"I am a mother of 11; I was incarcerated for eight years, so, of course, being incarcerated for that long, these children were taken away from me. Many of them were put into foster homes and raised by other people – three of them in my own family. I had devastated this family, and I had wrecked my family so much that they didn't believe in me," she said.

Before incarceration, she said that she was every kind of drug user. It was so bad that she brought drugs into her home; her children would sometimes walk in on her as she used.

At the time, she didn't realize how devastating her drug use would be to her children. She said her children began to think that drug use was normal.

"Yes, it's safe to say that, because when they did go to my family's home where there was no drug activity, I know they felt out of place because they felt like our lifestyle was normal," she said.

During her drug use, she and her children found themselves homeless, moving from place to place and having food one day and not another.

"They didn't understand; they thought the lifestyle that I was allowing them to live was normal," said Simmons.

Because of this, she said, she is terrified that her children may one day follow the path of drug addiction.

"I don't ever want to see them go through the heartache and the pain of what I had experienced. Although I did bounce out of it, I did snap out of it, I worked hard not to be in that lifestyle or have that kind of mentality," she said.

Throughout her 25 years of meth use, she said she was sober for 18 months, but getting sober was not her choice.

"There was always a requirement from (Child Protective Services) when they got involved – when I got arrested for burglary, just doing the stuff that I did when I was high. Just doing what the court imposed on me was the only reason why I sought recovery," she said. 

"That 18 months I was clean, that was because I wanted my kids back. But right after I got them back – I did the whole system and did everything they said I needed to do – and I went back to using once I got them back and, of course, they were taken away from me again."

Too ashamed to ask for help

Simmons said she didn't have the support that was needed and felt overwhelmed by the responsibility.

"When you use, what's attached to it is a shame and weakness; I was ashamed to ask for help in areas that I needed. When I needed a ride, I thought that no one would give me a ride because I was a drug addict. So I never reached out to ask," she said.

She didn't go to meetings and didn't get treatment for her addiction. Just staying clean didn't address the addiction, causing her to delve further into methamphetamine use, Simmons stated. 

"You know, not having the kids around and having other people raise them was really devastating to me and, in fact, contributed to me using drugs more. Because I was a complete failure and the only way I could forget that was to get high," she said.

She smoked meth to numb the pain, and the more she thought about her children, the more she smoked to forget.

"I knew that at that time I believed there was no coming back, I could never be a mom, a mother to these kids. That's a complete lie from the devil. Now that I am sober and I see that there's restoration, and now that I do have my kids back, I know I worked hard, I was incarcerated for a long time, and I did things now that I didn't do before," she said.

She turned to God to build up her faith as a foundation for her treatment. She decided that she needed help from people who knew how to help. She accepted that it was time for a change.

"I wasn't getting any younger. I had tried every single thing that the courts had forced me (to do). It didn't work, so now if I wanted to, this would work, and if God led me, it was sure to work," she said.

Journey to recovery

With her parole granted early, Simmons was released from prison into the inpatient services at the Oasis Empowerment Center, where she found accountability and the support she needed to begin her recovery journey.

"I was released Dec. 10, 2018. I never used, never touched, never picked up – my desire to use is gone. I am not saying that I am cured. I do things now that keep me away from that. I don't socialize with people that I used to; I basically do what I feel needs to be done in my recovery," she said.

It wasn't until she completed her treatment at Oasis and the Guam Adult Reentry Court Program that the blessings of recovery began.

"I have my own home, my own car. I am gainfully employed, but it was a process," she said. "The more I built my faith, the more I understood patience was going to be important. It took 25 years to wreck my life. I am not going to fix it in two."

Simmons said through her journey she realized that "with sobriety comes the bonus of being a mom – a mom with the right state of mind, the heart in the right place."

"Every day I aggressively chase them," she said, speaking of her children. "I am on them, letting them know they are loved."

She has been sober for three years and is focusing on rebuilding the relationships she lost with her children.

"I feel like that has changed in a way that warms my heart every morning. They know I am coming home at the end of the day. They know where I am going before I leave. I feel that whenever they are going through something, they will call," said Simmons.

She can now participate in some of her children's lives, their graduations and childbirths. But she recognizes that the work continues.

"There are several of my children who I haven't seen since I've been out, but God's timing – I know he has a purpose for everything, whether it's to continue to build my character and integrity, I am here to do it," she said.

Simmons said she has put her heart and soul into her recovery and reminds others struggling with meth addiction that life gets better with sobriety.

"I would tell them that it doesn't have to be like this. You are not trapped. This is not your destiny. There is help out there, there's people that want to help. There is no shame in saying, 'I need help.' Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. We do recover. We can do it, we can make it."

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