Ever wonder what it is like to live every second of every day with a craving for a substance which has not only destroyed your life, but which has destroyed the lives of those around you? What is it like to wake up every day with the sole intent of finding something that has taken away everyoneís trust in you, and labeled you with a title that includes you in the same categories as the lowest members of society?
Brenda Manning of Birmingham, Alabama can relate. Her family has disowned her, the business which once held her as a top, valued employee, and which gave her employee of the month plaques three times in two years finally dismissed her. She has been evicted from the apartment she lived in with her children, and just this past November, she lost custody of her twelve year old daughter by a decision within the Family Court System of Jefferson County.
She now lives in a friendís home which has no power or water service because the bills have not been paid by the eight adult residents. Rather, any money accumulated has been used to purchase cocaine. Brenda is a 42 year old Caucasian female, and is noticeably restless as she sits down on the couch in the small, dirty livingroom. Our surroundings seem to lack everything, as if all the valuables and appliances that once sat in this small, old house has been used to barter for more drugs.
JSC: When did you first start getting high?
BRENDA: I started smoking pot when I was in junior high. I guess I was about twelve or thirteen. I got in with the wrong crowd, you know what I mean.
JSC: Did you finish school?
BRENDA: No, I dropped out when I was sixteen. I really stopped going when I was about fourteen. I just dodged the truancy people. They give up after a while. Well, when we were kids, anyways.
JSC: What was your home life like back then, Brenda?
BRENDA: My mama worked a lot, I guess. I didnít know my father too good. She had too much to do and couldnít keep up with me, really. It was alright, but I didnít have anyone telling me what to do too much, so I got to do what I wanted.
JSC: When did you decide to try harder drugs?
BRENDA: I guess I was around eighteen, at a party, you know. I had been scared of the harder stuff, but then when I tried it, it didnít kill me. I liked it too much, too.
JSC: What drug was it that you tried at the party?
BRENDA: There were folks free-basing cocaine and some of my girlfriends talked me into trying it. Itís owned me every since.
Two males had entered the livingroom from a far bedroom, and as Brenda commented on the cocaine owning her, they nodded in understanding, then made their way to another room to my left.
JSC: When did you have children?
BRENDA: I got pregnant with my first kid when I was twenty-two. I was workiní truck stops and all for money. She went to live with my mother when I had her Ďcause I didnít think I would be no good for her. My second daughter was born when I was 25, well almost 25. I knew her father and he was an okay guy. She stayed with him most of the time and he let me see her some. He was just real nice about it all.
JSC: But you picked yourself up a couple of years ago and went into treatment, is that correct?
BRENDA: Well, I had to either go into treatment or go to prison because I was arrested for trying to sell coke to an undercover. I did a twenty-eight day program and the people helped me get an apartment and a good job.
JSC: How long were you clean?
BRENDA: About three years. My kids were staying with me and we were all just doing real good. They were making better grades in school and never got in any trouble.
She wipes away tears with the back of her hand and I hand her a tissue. When she is composed, she continues with her story.
BRENDA: Then I went out one night for drinks after work with a few people I work with and the drinking got me to wanting something else. I kept telliní myself it would only be this one time. But the next day, I looked for some more.
JSC: And you didnít try to stop between that time and now?
Brenda shakes her head no in response while using the tissue to dry her face.
JSC: Do you have a relationship with your family?
BRENDA: No, they were done with me years ago. I went to see my mama when I was clean, but we didnít talk none after that. Iíve just worried her too much over the years and one time she said she just didnít want to hear all the gossip and stuff about me anymore. She just tried to forget about me because she was worried about me getting killed or overdosing. I guess I embarrassed her some, too.
JSC: What do you suggest parents and teachers say to children about drugs?
BRENDA: Oh, man Thereís just so much but they sometimes just donít believe it until theyíve already messed up Life is never, ever the same again Thereís no happy days unless that drug is in your body. Itís like the boogeyman is in control of drugs and if you ever open that door, the boogeyman will have you But whatís bad is that we knew better but did it anyway. Spend a lot of time with your kids. Show them how to live without wondering what will make them feel better. Show them lives like mine. I always thought Iíd get it together and go back to school or something, but cocaine wonít let me. Itís a big trap. A big lie. And the boogeyman won't let me go.
JSC: If you could go back and change something, Brenda, that happened while you were using drugs, what would that one thing be?
BRENDA: I'd be a mother to my kids instead of them being raised by other people.
Brenda answered the last question quickly and confidently, as if she had spent long periods of time dwelling on that particular regret.
JSC: Thank you, Brenda. I appreciate you telling your story. I know itís hard to do that, but you are helping many others by making the decision to do so. I wish you all the best.
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