Essence Romans

Archived Story

Dowagiac woman shares meth battle

Published 10:36pm Monday, December 12, 2011

Essence Romans is one Dowagiac Chieftain who vows to never wear orange again.

It’s too painful a reminder for the 35-year-old mom of time languishing in jail jumpsuits after a methamphetamine arrest.

Determination to regain custody of her daughter drove her progress through Cass County Family Treatment Court.

At the Lions Club’s inaugural Christmas party for Hope’s Door Ministry in December 2010, she had to use a visit to see her daughter, an honor-roll student.

Now, she and Macey are reunited.

She moved into Hope’s Door in September 2010 and moved out in February.

Essence works as a wellness resource coordinator in the Shape-Up Shack behind Woodlands Behavioral Healthcare Network. She has started a Narcotics Anonymous group for an average 15 people three nights a week and will be presenting at a conference in East Lansing in March and marvels at resources available in Cass County of which she was unaware.

Hope’s Door Executive Director Patti Whitcomb, who met the articulate Decatur graduate at her lowest point, when Essence accessorized that orange jumpsuit with ankle shackles, gets “goosebumps” when she mentally measures her rebound.

“Telling my story keeps me grounded and grateful,” Romans said.

“I have a new energy I’ve never had before, and I want to do things with my life and mentor someone else. I isolated myself and was never out and about in the community, let alone be a productive member of society. There’s light at the end of the tunnel that’s beautiful. I’ve been clean for 18 months in February and have never felt better in my whole life. I’m happy about life and grateful for little things. I never thought possible that life could be as good as it is. This would never have been possible if I hadn’t gotten arrested. Getting arrested saved my life and helped my daughter’s life tremendously. She’s been through so much. I don’t ever want that type of life again. My best day using can’t compare to my worst day clean. I like what I have right now. Life, trying to help others, is my new drug.”

Romans, who used to drive backroads scouting places to commit suicide, feels high on life for the first time, awakened to opportunities she lacked the capacity to even imagine.

Exercise aids recovery
“Exercise and nutrition are tools for recovery,” she said of the part-time job she started a month ago. “They get the reward system in your brain going again for a natural good feeling. Exercise helps fight stress, anxiety, depression. Using meth ruins those synapses. I’m going to catch EOP (Enhanced Outpatient Program) for 90 minutes Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and Wednesday after court,” for yoga to strength training and Zumba.

Her work background runs more toward waitressing and bartending — she worked at Lindy’s for years — and office work as receptionist for a metal fabricator in Elkhart, Ind., in 2006.

“I can encourage and motivate,” she said. “I know that now, but it’s new. I’ve always been high-spirited, but I’m excited about my life now, so I want to push people to be excited about what they’re doing. When things get bad in Family Treatment Court (FTC), it’s going to be okay if you stay strong.”

Growing up in Henderson, Nev., her father exposed her to meth at 14, a high school freshman. When her mother moved to Michigan, Essence’s two brothers and sister were separated.

“I met him and kind of wanted to belong and know who my father was. We drank and smoked marijuana together because I kind of did a little of that through high school at parties. I had never seen meth before, but they told me to try it, that it would keep me up longer and I would feel fine. I was angry for a long time, but you gain forgiveness in recovery. I don’t blame him. I’m not really sure how he’s doing, but I think he got out of prison in July 2009. He sent me a posting on Facebook. My grandma had three sons who were into drugs. I used to think it was crap, but they’re not lying when they say marijuana’s a gateway drug. Once you open that door, you surround yourself with people who will introduce you to cocaine or meth. You assume you can try something and put it down.”

‘Stuffing’ her feelings
Meth “makes you feel good, like you can get anything done,“ Romans said. “It gave me energy and made me feel like I could focus. Then, once you start using it for those reasons, it gets to where you use it because you need to. You don’t like coming down because you feel depressed, you cry, you just want to sleep. I always wanted to use, whether it was alcohol or meth. I was emotionally vulnerable. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings about being left in Nevada, then meeting my father and wanting to fit in. I went from that to a chaotic lifestyle of staying in motels or on friend’s floors when my dad went into a rage and scared us. I was angry with my mom because she wasn’t available for me. Once I used, she was ashamed of me. Her husband now has never done drugs. I was the black sheep. She was a great mother to my brothers, but our relationship was damaged. I went to my grandmother during Christmas break. She bought me a plane ticket to come out here.”

Her mother lives in Decatur.

“I love my mom, and we have a relationship, but I don’t put much into it. I became a ‘stuffer.’ I never dealt with my feelings.”

Essence graduated from high school in Decatur, though she began  living with her boyfriend during her senior year, then moved to a friend’s “neat” family.

“We had chores. We had to chop wood. They were country, and it was so different, old-fashioned and fun. He made grits for us in the morning. When I graduated, I moved all over, to Paw Paw, Constantine, Elkhart. Coming to Michigan made it better at first. I wasn’t doing any drugs, but I smoked pot senior year and drank on weekends. I started doing cocaine at 19 when I worked in a restaurant. That’s why I always thought I had control over it and could put it down. I drank a lot and used marijuana all the time. I had my daughter at 23 and didn’t drink or smoke through that. But six months after that, my friends started coming back around.”

Around 2006, a friend she did cocaine with began dating a meth user. Her “other half” had gone to jail for a DUI.

Consequences coming
“I was working 40 hours a week and coaching my daughter’s Little League team,” Romans said. “My sister was about to get married, so I was helping with all of that. It was chaotic, so I started doing meth quite a bit then to keep going. People I got my meth from had an abusive relationship. I stopped doing meth to distance myself. I wanted to hide what I was doing. I’ve never made it, never seen it made. People offered to teach me, but I was always afraid it would explode” and disfigure her face.

Her daughter will be a teenager in June.

“I tell her everything,” Romans said. “What it does, what it can cost you. She’s seen me go through it. The last time I used meth in 2010, I was at a really low point and tired of life. No goals. Nothing to live for except my daughter. Everything was a struggle. Paying the bills. Being a mom. I didn’t care about anything anymore.

“Really quickly this time, meth became more important than anything. My daughter didn’t want to be around me because I was angry, moody and verbally abusive. We had always been really close. I remember driving back roads, listening to music, getting high and looking for a good place to hang myself. That’s how bad it got. My other half (Matt, with whom she reconciled) moved us to Saginaw to get me away from this, but nothing mattered but partying and using. The day I got arrested (in July 2010), I drove four hours to Elkhart to get enough meth to hide and last me a little bit.”

Speeding to get her car into a shop and obtain a rental car before heading back north, Romans was driving on a suspended license when she realized the police car she passed turned around to pull her over.

“I think I had been red-flagged” because her vehicle was observed in locations under surveillance for drug activity.

She tried to pass her small purse of meth to her daughter to avoid detection.

“Meth makes you self-centered, and I didn’t care about anything else,” just self-preservation, Romans said. “It was all about what I needed, which was usually more meth. I was numb to anyone else’s feelings. My empathy and compassion were gone. It was not pretty having my daughter see me get arrested. The detective who put me up against the car said, ‘We’ve got a Mother of the Year here.’ It didn’t really set in at that point. I don’t know why, but I didn’t think I was going to get in much trouble. Losing my daughter hit me hard.”

Family Treatment Court
Romans leaped at FTC, despite being admonished, “It’s not an easy program. We’re in every aspect of your life.”

She would come to feel like a horse being broken.

She spent July 9 to Sept. 15 locked up.

“Those couple of months were enough to make me not want to go back,” she said. “I got released to Hope’s Door and a meeting that night.”

Her “journey” had officially begun. One-on-one counseling. Parent counseling. Navigators, a women’s support group. Church twice a week. Meth group at Woodlands on Wednesday nights. It’s called “90 in 90” for 90 meetings in 90 days.

“If you weren’t at a meeting, you were working at the thrift store” in downtown Dowagiac. “They keep you busy from morning to night. By the time you got home, you were exhausted, but you had chore responsibilities there, too. After about three months, it starts getting personal and they dig deep, pointing out character defects you pick up using that you need to address. Stuff if you don’t work through, will lead you right back. Because I’m a stuffer, things came out sideways, but I let loose for the first time and said how I felt, to accept responsibility and how to process and deal with life on life’s terms and not just react. I hurt the people I love most more than I hurt myself. My parenting changed. I had to learn to be a mom instead of a friend. I had to learn to deal with my shame and guilt on my own and not put it in her world. I grew in faith for the first time, and that really did a lot for me, too. I wasn’t a bad person, but I made a lot of bad choices. I couldn’t wait to graduate from FTC so these people would be out of my life, but when I did, I worked hard to stay close.”

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