By Terry Simpson
You will usually find her smiling, laughing and encouraging others. She always seems to be in a great mood and ready to dig right in and get to work when something needs taken care of. If you know Stacy Crews, you know that smile, but you may not know the hard times behind it.
She is a mom, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend — and a recovering drug addict. Yes, harsh as it sounds, she notes, that is what she is and will always be. Not an addict but in recovery. A term not always spoke of openly. Sometimes being swept under the rug, she says. Though it is hard for her and she says she really struggled with the decision to do this interview, she sets down on the porch swing and shares her story.
Her hands shake a little as she takes a deep breath, deciding just how much of her story she wants to share. She starts off guarded but soon opens up as she pushes the swing back and forth absentmindedly rubbing the tattoo on her wrist, a red infinity symbol dated 7-20-16 with a semi colon opposite the date.
Semi colon tattoos have become more and more popular in recent years, symbolizing the person could have ended their sentence but chose to continue writing. Or as those branded by the punctuation note, “my story is not over yet!” Crews could have ended her story in 2016 but instead began again.
Sometimes hitting rock bottom is the only way for some to find their way up. And that was how things happened for Crews, the mom of four. It took losing her home, her possessions and her children to snap her out of the only life she had known—the only life her children had known– since she was 19 years old.
She smiles, remembering her childhood, “I had a good childhood. I was loved and close to my parents. I started smoking at 15 but I never did drugs.” She continued, noting that she started smoking marijuana at 19 and it became a daily habit. “I never felt like I fit in and I really wanted to. Doing pot made me feel like I was part of a crowd, but it was the wrong crowd.”
Crews became pregnant with her first child at the age of 20. After his birth she found herself suffering from Postpartum Depression. However, she didn’t realize it at the time, as it went undiagnosed until years later. “I was a new mom and all I did was lay around.” At 21 that all changed. Unfortunately, although she did not see it at the time, it was not for the better.
It was then that she was introduced to meth, “that was my first feel-good drug and I quickly became addicted.” She continued, explaining how feel-good drugs work and why in her opinion, and as some experts agree, are so addictive and hard to quit.
Crews explains that some drugs can almost rewire our brains by creating dopamine. That happens because a part of the brain sends out feel-good signals when we do something we enjoy, such as eating a good meal, playing sports or video games, listening to music or other activities we enjoy. Drugs trick our brain into feeling good and in turn the brain makes the body crave it.
She explains, “This is where a chemical dependency comes in. It does start with a choice and it doesn’t happen overnight, but you will get to a point that you will do whatever it takes to get that reward — the feel-good feeling. And with meth—well those feel-good levels are sky high.”
She continues, “A lot of people will call pot the gateway drug. I don’t like that term. A lot of times it is environment, in my case, a friend visiting from out of state introduced me to it.” She sighs, “I didn’t even know what meth was. I didn’t decide to become a drug addict.”
Yet, that is how a lot of people view addiction — a choice, but what most people do not know is that it has been classified as a disease since the 60s. Crews feels that this is due to the taboo of addiction, the shame of addicts and their families and lack of education.
She states that she feels there is no real recovery in Monroe County, “A lot of people here want to focus on addiction and the wrong that people have done. They will be the first to post a mug shot but never a story of recovery or trying to help people.” She stops for a moment, and continues, “that is why I agreed to this interview. I don’t want to put anyone down but so much is just not talked about.” She pointed out the number would be staggering were the community to do an anonymous survey asking community members if they had a friend or family member who was an addict or in recovery. “I want this to be about recovery. It is real and it does work.”
She noted that she would love to see more recovery-based programs and a state of mind in Monroe toward helping addicts like her former self. “The environment here is negative and if we are ever going to make a dent, we have to change that.”
She again rubs her tattoo before continuing, “I think there is a lot of shame associated with drug users. I know there is for me.” It was obvious the emotions swirling in her head as she continued to speak, “I’m ashamed of the things I have done to people and I didn’t want to face it, but this is a small town and my arrest was very public.”
Drugs controlled her life for 17 years with the last eight before her recovery being the worst. She described herself as a heavy drug user even with having four young children.
On July 19, 2016, she was arrested for public intoxication and her children were immediately removed from her care.”
“Meth was incredibly hard to get off and the consequences are huge. You won’t get help until you see a problem and I didn’t until I went to jail.” To her, that was the breaking point. She hit rock bottom, she says, and decided to turn her life around.
“I have only been to jail once, and I am never going back. At that point in my life the drugs didn’t even make me feel good. I didn’t know how to stop, but I knew I was done.” She says that she had actually gotten to that point a few months before her arrest. She was clean for a month and a half before some personal issues she prefers not to share made her backslide. Drugs seemed to always be her fallback in hard times such as the loss of her mother, Robbie England and brother, Donald Swiney, within a year of each other, several years before her arrest.
Yet, it was through her mother that she found God and would eventually find recovery. In 2014, when her oldest son Christian was 13 years old, she joined the Mudlick Church of Christ-West. He is now 19 years old and attending college to become a minister.
Crews notes that she was attending church while in active addiction, “the devil grabs a hold of you any way he can.” She knew she needed help, and that her church family would help again, as they had in the past, but she was too ashamed to ask for that help.
This eventually led to the arrest that would change her and her children’s lives. She came out of that jail cell with nothing but her car. Her husband was on his way to treatment, she had lost her home and possessions and worst of all, her children were taken by the state.
At that point she felt hopeless but a caring friend who Crews says would not want to be mentioned by name, but that she knows who she is, stepped in and gave her a place to live. She found a job and started working on saving herself and getting her children back. She was considered “too clean” to go into inpatient services like her husband but started treatment through Lifeskills in Tompkinsville, who she credits along with her friend from church, Dyshel Thompson, for saving her life.
Thompson introduced her to a program known as Recovery Through Christ (RTC)-a 12 step faith-based recovery program with three lessons for each step during a 36 week class. It was founded in 2010 and available in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and now here in Monroe County.
Together, along with Mudlick Church of Christ-West Minister Jonathan K. Page, the two researched the program, originally began by Jamie Harper of the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ and decided to start their own group. Crews says that at first it was just her and Thompson but that she wanted it to be open to the public, to get others involved. Harper agreed to come to the church and train the three of them and a few other volunteers and the program was opened to all other denominations in the county, although it is based on Church of Christ beliefs.
“I like RTC because we take anyone. We deal with all kinds of addictive behaviors and recovery as well as fear, depression, anxiety and codependency to name a few. “I know that my recovery would not be possible without the Love, Grace and Mercy of God. I still do daily meditations and even though I have moved to Scottsville, I still drive to Mud Lick every Friday for my meetings.”
Crews says that she is hoping that through the program and sharing her story that she can end the stigma surrounding recovering drug addicts. “I want people to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That there is hope for families.”
Crews was finally able to get her own family back together. She notes that she and her husband went through recovery together, “We have been married 24 years, but it is not the same now. We are different people. He has actually dealt with a lot more than me but he has gotten help through RTC too.”
While getting treatment, working full time and setting up a program to help others, she was also fighting to get her children back. “I fought social service tooth and nail. I did everything they asked and more.” After four months she was able to bring her children home, “Social Services—they do their jobs—and I am truly grateful for the family who took my kids in while we (she and her husband, Tommy) took care of ourselves. I don’t know how I would have done it without the support of my work and church families.”
Of course, the obvious question arises when the kids are mentioned—how she will prevent her own children from following the same path she did. “I don’t think I will have a problem. They lived it. They know how bad it was.” She shares that the RTC program meetings are kid friendly and that she always brings hers along. “I don’t hide anything from them. Christian is even certified as a leader in the program. The younger two don’t get as much but they will know as they grow.”
She proudly notes that her older two children are kept busy with church activities and are active in Monroe County Cares (a youth drug prevention program) and Lads to Leaders. She herself is also active as a coordinator of those events and a Sunday School teacher.
She continues praising the RTC program where she takes her children each Friday night, saying that when it opened, it was very small. While nervous, she surprised herself by approaching Monroe County Drug Court Case Manager Arlyn Mink. “I couldn’t believe me, a small-town drug addict, was in his office, and not in trouble.” Yet she pushed through that anxiety, like she has so many other obstacles, and the RTC program is now Drug Court approved and open to the public with many more attendees.
She considers herself one of them, rather than just a mentor or teacher. “I am always going to be in recovery. I am always going to have this disease. There will never be a cure—it is a struggle, but you keep going.” She wants others who may be struggling to know that there is hope. She says that those in recovery can live normal lives, “they can be a better mom, dad, friend, employee…they can live their best life even with this disease.”
Crews is living her best life, which she notes is not perfect but is as perfect as it can be. She completed treatment at Lifeskills and expressed an interest in becoming a Peer Support Specialist. She was persistent and finally was hired and placed at a facility in Bowling Green. She and her family moved to Scottsville to be closer to her job as well as to get out of what she felt was a negative environment.
After two years of being clean, she was sent to school and received training. She now has a job doing what she loves and was perhaps meant for—helping others. “People know where I have been. I meet them on their level and take them where they are going.” She says that it took over a year for her to get the job but now every day she helps others with recovery. “We want everyone to live a well-balanced life, to share experiences and to set and achieve goals.”
And RTC offers those same opportunities. “I want people to know that there is help. If I can inspire one person to reach out and their lives get better…” She trials off as emotion overcomes her again and continues, “I didn’t think I had a problem. They have to want to get help. Just look at me now. I love my job. I love God and my marriage. I have a better understanding of both, and I want others to know that.”
As she celebrates three years, as the tattoo on her wrist reminds her each day, she continues to fight for herself and others. She encourages anyone who feels they need help to come out to the RTC meetings, “It will be hard, but if you are willing to put in the work, we are here to help you!”
Recovery Through Christ meetings are held each Friday from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Mud Lick Church of Christ- West, located at 7239 Mudlick-Flippin Rd., in Tompkinsville, with the public invited and welcome to attend. Crews will be sharing her story, tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 23, at 6 p.m., during a special meeting.
Stacy is married to Tommy Crews and they have five children, Christian, Ashlyn, Harley and Peyton. She lives in Scottsville.
If you would like more information about RTC go to https://recoverythroughchrist.org/ or make plan to attend a meeting. If you would like to speak to a Peer Support Specialist, contact Lifeskills in Bowling Green at 270-901-5000.