Monday, July 6, 2009

What One Man Can Do

I first talked to M. when I was answering phones for the receptionist. He was concerned about his kids with their mother. They were divorced. He informed me he was four days sober. I congratulated him wholeheartedly.

Just a couple weeks before, I had a two-day training on drug addiction. We had a professor who could give us the chemical and physical traits of addictive drugs and a CPS supervisor from San Antonio. We were given 4 scenarios in the course of the two days, and divided into teams to figure out what we could do. We came up with this and that, but none of us believed in any positive solution. Addicts don't change, we believed. I had been working for a number of years and had had a lot of training in this. I was quite cynical.

And then the CPS supervisor told us these were all off her caseload as a worker, and they all had positive results. And she spelled them out. Wow. It DID take an extraordinary amount of work, but I was galvanized. There was hope. Not always, but sometimes. But, she said, the difference was we had to believe.

So when I talked to M. I was positive and encouraging. He was concerned about their kids, who were still with their drug-using mother.

Coincidentally, a CPS investigation was underway (not instigated by him) and it was decided the kids should no longer be with their mother, but with their grandmother, who was her mother.

Grandmother was in a stable situation. She cooked and cleaned. Most kids of druggies don't have clean sheets or any sheets on their beds. They live in filth, which is weird, considering the amount of energy methamphetamine produces.

I asked for the case and got it. I had a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer working with me.

I had to set up weekly hour visits for each parent separately. The first time M. came in, 6'3" tall, muscular, skin lying flat on the muscle with no trace of fat, with a ponytail and hard eyes, my case aid (she and I were the only staff in the building) said, "Are you sure about this?" I said I was. By then, M. and I had talked several more times.

I knew he would be difficult. In recovery, he was sometimes volatile. He would get angry on the phone, slam it down and call me back five minutes later with a sheepish, "I'm sorry." This happened a lot. But he stayed sober.

M. was unusual. He was staying in a motel one weekend, taking drugs, and had plenty of drugs, which he used up. He tried and tried to get a taxicab to take him to a nearby city for more drugs, but noone would take him. He was high, and big, and scary. He flopped on the bed, coming down, and picked up the Gideon Bible in the drawer of the nightstand. And started reading.

He had a religious conversion. He quit using, and I believe his assertion that he never used again. He was so determined. Four days later, we talked for the first time. By then, he was actively attending AA every day. He had a job--he always worked even while addicted. He didn't have transporation, though and his mother had to pay his motel (she certainly didn't want him living with her), and he had to walk 11/2 miles a day each way to and from his construction job.

His daughters were 3 and 4. Both were already showing early signs of personality disorders. I got them into counseling with a talented play therapist. It took years. Texas has victim funds available for kids. They benefitted from these long after the case closed.

M. taught me a lot, in his recovery. He had little or no money, but he knew what his kids liked. He HAD to work a full shift, so our visits were at 6 p.m. He would go home, cook a Totino's pepperoni pizza and bring it to the visit. He always would read to the girls after, and play with them. He would bring two balloons he blew up, sneaking a dollar bill inside each for the girls to catch and break. 3 and 4? A dollar? They were rich! they knew it was magic. and they went home happy and calm, because their daddy had been a daddy and played with them and fed them and gave them each a dollar.

Their mother was more sporadic. We don't transport parents in CPS. If you care, you arrange it. Seems very fair to me. (I remember a court trial when the defense attorney asked me if I didn't agree two miles walking to the office was too much to ask. The mother was in her 20's. I replied, "It would require effort, but it isn't impossible." The attorney was asking a yes or no question and filed for a non-responsive answer, which the judge agreed to, but I think his lips twitched.) To her credit, B. was pretty good about calling beforehand when she wasn't coming. Many kids taken from a home because the situation is so bad aren't that fortunate.

M. was doing good. He was able to buy an old car. He was finally able to get an apartment.

Meanwhile, grandma wasn't supervising very well, though she was keeping the kids clean and well-fed. A couple of years earlier, she had the kids help her comb the seeds out of weed she was readying for sale, but she wasn't a big time dealer. She told an investigator once that her daughter and three men came home one night to have sex in the living room. All were high. Her then 2 an 3 year old granddaughters were sleeping on the couches in the same room. According to her report, she did not go get her grandchildren. She smoked dope to forget what was going on, and went to sleep. She told because she was angry at her daughter and thought this reflected on B. It never crossed her mind this reflected on her as well.

Sometime later, she told me in genuine puzzlement, "I don't understand why you think I am a bad person."

I responded, "I know you don't."

And I said it pleasantly, because she really had no idea. I just sighed.

I submitter my court report outlining services and describing the situation. The CASA worker submitted her report and recommended removal.
The judge went with her recommendation. I was not displeased.

There was a commotion when we got to the house. Police were called. The girls went to an experienced home where the parents were very loving and very skilled. The girls had moved around so much, been left with so many people, they settled in immediately.

I tried to work with B. who was actively using, although she was sober at visits. She was such a neat person when she was sober. I asked her, "Why would you become this horrible person on drugs when you are such a great person when when you are sober?"

She said,"When I'm high, I'm not there."

She said I almost convinced her to try. But she never did.

Meantime, M. continued to get better. Finally we allowed weekend visits with his girls. Transfer happened in the CPS parking lot. The foster parents delivered the kids, and I was there when M. got out of the car. This big, muscular guy walked up to the foster parents who were both under 5'6". They weren't quite sure how to react when M. walked up to them with tears on his cheeks amd said. "You are angels, I just want to thank you for taking care of my girls."

He threw his arms around them as they blinked in astonishment. It was kinda funny and a lot sweet.

Texas now has a law that says parents come through in a year or we terminate. That's hard on a recovering addict. M. got an additional six months. At first, I scolded M. for his presents, his trip to the zoo, etc. He finally said, "Charlotte, don't you understand? these are all the things I promised them and didn't carry through on."

I shut up. He set up a budget, put money aside, and was ready when the girls came home for good.

But B. had been the custodial parent, and we went to trial to terminate her rights. When it was over, she was impassive. M. cried.

At that time, I had 30 or 40 cases.Not counting paperwork, which is massive, I spent at least four hours a week actively working this case. M. and I agree that it wasn't my expertise,or the system that made him succeed. He says having the same worker throughout and my time and positive support with him did make a difference. We had the same goal. We became friends.

He was at my retirement party. I was at his wedding.

M. is still clean. It's been more than a decade now. He has a good job. The girls are doing well. He still attends AA and has sponsored many a person trying to get sober. You can't bullshit him, they find. He tries to help in the community, in his church. He is happy. He told me this repentance thing means you have to put the bad stuff behind you, not just sit in a puddle of remorse, or he would end up back where he started. He tries to be the best person he can be.

And he made a difference for me. Because of him, I had the hope and energy to work with so many others. Other caseworkers in the office felt the same way. We could believe because we had seen a man recover and straighten out his life and family. So we tried a little harder.

Because of M.


Jean said...

wow. Angels among us. And, you are one.
So is M, bless his heart. I do so hope he continues to be happy.

(pointed your way by A.D.)

medicnurse said...

Wow...just wow. From a crispy, burnt-out nurse who forgets to believe that people can change,a paramedic who gets tired of picking up the pieces, and from a christian who forgets where she came from: THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story. As I read on, I was really worried it would have a bad ending, with a relapse or death or some other tragedy. Glad to see it wasn't so.

Jeff B said...

Absolutely outstanding work.

You deserve to be proud. So does M.

Well done, both of ya.

Epijunky said...

Found you through Ambulance Driver...

You truly are something special. Thank you for reassuring us that it's not all hopeless.

You have a new reader.

AC said...

I also was sent by AD. You are now in my favorites.

Julie said...

here also via AD ....

thank you ....

Old NFO said...

Outstanding job! Glad it worked out for the kids, M and you... Here from AD also

Anonymous said...

Sent by AD as well. My husband is a counselor specializing in drug and alcohol addiction. He's been clean and sober for 23 years. He sits up nights a lot worrying over the ones he can't help. I'm sending him this link. I know it will bring tears to his eyes and will encourage him to hang in there for the ones he can help. Thank you for posting this

grandmamargie said...

Here from AD, too. That is an awesome story. From a former foster parent and adoptor of one of my kiddos, I say that is one of very few cases that do turn around. Good job M and be happy.

Michael said...

Here also from AD.

Excellent story and wow. I am also a new reader.

Aunt Murry said...

Here from AD also. Wow. That was what was left in the box...hope.

Anonymous said...

Also here through AD and this gives me tremendous hope for my son.

Anonymous said...

Another from AD's blog thanks for sharing as a foster parent it is awesome to hear these stories.

clairz said...

What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing, because for those of us not in the social services field this is a whole new thing to learn about.

You're a good person. How nice to be able to look back on successes and to think about people who are better off thanks, in part, to your intervention.

charlotte g said...

I've already thanked AD on his site for the referral, and I thank you all for the wonderful comments. Writers write, but don't we all love to be read? and to be understood with what we are trying to say. Thanks to all of you, apparently I succeeded. And that feels great.

Mike47 said...

Wow. Sent by AD also.

*~*Nicole*~* said...

I, too, was expecting a sad ending but I'm glad it was good. Stories like this restore my faith in humanity, often only for a while. Keep up the good work :)

[Another AD reader here]

Mrs. Who said...


Matt G said...

Mom, you always frustrated me as a social worker, because you cared too much about your cases. I've of course heard a lot about M. over the years. I know that this state got its worth from the work you put into his case, and I know that others benefited, and some likely have thanked their gods, that you did (and do)care so much.

I've hated some of them, for taking some of my mother. But I love some of them, for giving you what they did.

JihadGene said...

Great is the power of God! Thanks for sharing.

AlisonH said...


Anonymous said...

I followed the link here from AD, like everyone else it seems, and over the last few days I've been reading back through your archives. Just finished, and I want to tell you how much I've enjoyed it. You are a delight to read.

- Alastair

Anonymous said...

Another person who found you through AD, great story and so glad it had a happy ending.

Anonymous said...

I was a really screwed-up, angry kid. Did about every drug there is except needles and heroin - but made up for it with other stuff. Finally decided I didn't like what I saw in the mirror, and got cleaned up.

Met a trashy woman in a bar and my daughter was born exactly 10 months and 2 days later, despite her assurances "there's no possible way" she coculd get pregnant. She already had 2 kids - yeah, I was an idiot...

I'm not sure which was worse - living with her or trying to get away - but I finally did. Eventually I got my kids out as well, though she pulled every sick, evil trick in the book (including false molestation-accusations) to keep them from me.

12 years later, both are straight-A students and eldest will go to college in the fall. I've accomplished what I was destined to do - give these 2 young ladies a chance at a decent life. Along the way I've helped a few others -- one stopped by yesterday to bring me a belated "fathers' day" card as he has since I helped him get into college. He's thriving too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I could almost be "M" and - sadly - B is still B...

Thanks for reminding me that I'm not alone!