SANTA ROSA, CALIF.
Loaded on amphetamines, Tina Rowan sat on the curb at dusk staring across the street at the American dream she never had: a home with a nice lawn, two cars in the driveway, kids playing, and Mom fixing dinner.
"How do people do that?" she asked herself in a haze of confusion and envy. "How do they pay rent, go grocery shopping, and get clothes? How do they drive a car and really pay for insurance? It's not possible."
Tina's four small children had been pulled from her by the county. As a drug addict on a grim, downward spiral, Tina seldom slept, ate poorly, and lived in and out of dingy apartments, while neglecting her children. Due to her physical condition, her teeth were falling out.
"If you had met me on the street then," she says today, "you would cross to the other side to avoid me."
Meanwhile, not far away in Petaluma at about the same time, Jason Armould was dodging the police, dealing and using drugs in a lifestyle he says today was little help in smothering a fatherless childhood of poverty.
"In school I was a chronic truant and pothead, sleeping at night in garages," he says of his teen years in Long Beach, Calif. "Later I started providing for myself with drug deals, and I was the drug man." He was in and out of juvenile facilities and jail for years.
But jump ahead to the present, to a sunny, light-yellow house with white trim on Yulupa Street in Santa Rosa, Calif. The new owners are Jason and Tina Armould, now married. Open the front door to the sounds of four happy, healthy children. The Armoulds are steadily employed, sober, stable, and a fun-loving family. From the perspective of a mortgage company, they have a superior credit rating.
The Armoulds' remarkable story of recovery from years of heavy drug use to a drug-free, normal family is complex and unusual. "We are so grateful to many people," says Tina. "But five years ago nobody would let me sleep on their couch."
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, for addicts to reach a point of abstinence, like the Armoulds, the length and effectiveness of treatment, combined with support services, are key. But for many addicts, there can be a single turning point, when the depth of their despair sparks a sudden need to stop.
"People come and go to meetings and they miss the whole recovery thing," says Jason about that rare moment when some addicts decide to come clean. "They go out and come back a dozen times, and then one day the light bulb goes on. 'Why am I doing this?' " Often a critical factor in reaching this point hinges on how far down the addict has gone in order for him or her to value going up.
Both Jason and Tina recovered from addiction as "graduates" of residential drug-rehabilitation programs in Sonoma County using 12-step programs.
Tina's chaotic life came to a crashing halt when her children were taken away six years ago. "I vowed then I would never take drugs again," she says. But four days later she was high. "They took my kids. It gave me a reason to feel sorry for myself."
Raised by a single mother who worked at two jobs, Tina had fallen into a double life, an honor-roll student who became an amphetamine user after school and on weekends. Despite being pregnant in her senior year, she graduated with honors.
Eventually married, she had four children by the time she was 24. But her life moved slowly into the world of hard drugs. "I knew it was bad, but I could not stop," she says. "When you have pushed your family away, and nobody wants to see you anymore, you are filled with shame and guilt."
Sitting before a social worker after her children were taken away, Tina was told she had 18 months to get her life in order or lose her children to adoption. "I said, 'OK, get me into one of those programs,' " she says. "The woman looked at me and said, 'You don't understand. You have to do it, not me.' "
Today Tina says, "If someone had done that for me, I might not have taken it so seriously. I believe it was a test of God, saying let's see how bad she really wants these kids."
She continued to use drugs, but applied for a rehab program at Women's Recovery Services, a local agency. Months later she was accepted. To make sure her body was drug-free, she slept for nearly nine days. "It was the only way I could stay clean," she says. The day she entered the program, July 30, 1994, is her sobriety birthday.
Jason's path to recovery, and eventually to Tina, was slower and dotted with time in adult jails and juvenile institutions.
He never knew his father. When his mother lived with another man, who fathered Jason's half-brother, the man had little affection for Jason.
With eyes welling up occasionally as he shares his memories, Jason explains how he slipped in with the wrong crowd at school, resenting his mother and lack of a father, and unsure of right and wrong.
"I dove into addiction," he says, "because it was my mother, my father, my boss, because it gave me money for the things I wanted. That's how I justified it."
By 1990, he had a long list of warrants, convictions, and incarcerations. At one point his mother arranged his bail and provided a plane ticket to Petaluma, where she was living. "I was really trying to get my head screwed on straight," he says. But he started using pot, then cocaine, and began selling it again.
The ax fell. He was caught and jailed, but signed up for Turning Point, a rehabilitation program. Before he went there, he was arrested again.
Two events saved him.
"A guy I knew spoke up for me in court and saved me from going to jail," says Jason.
At Turning Point, a beefy counselor took him aside and said, "Sure, you could be selling and making all that money on the street. But where are you going? What's it doing for you?"
"It just suddenly clicked in me," says Jason, his voice filling with emotion. "I got off the fence and decided to get clean. That was it. My sobriety birthday is April 7, 1993."
After the rehabilitation program, Tina regained her children and was living in a two-bedroom apartment and working. She saw Jason in a coffee shop and liked him. "I thought I was going to be a single parent raising my kids alone," she says. "I had been so selfish all those years while I put them through hell. The best I could do was devote my life to them. But a woman with four kids? Nobody would want me."
But Jason did. "She's the one who has made this a home," he says, seated in their apartment a few weeks before moving into their new house. "What I value the most now is the security of this family, this home, and my sobriety."
Tina and Jason were married July 11, 1998 with Tina's children - Stephanie, Jamie, Kodie, and Austin - participating.
Karen Lockhart, a volunteer at Family Connections, agreed to be part of an advocacy team for Tina after she left the rehabilitation program. "There is something about Tina now," she says, "a deep spiritual safety net under her that lets her know she is not alone. And she is committed to her children."
Ms. Lockhart and Bob Higham, co-owner of The Higham Family School in Santa Rosa, now act as informal financial mentors to Tina and Jason. "It feels so good to be a little part of their family as they raise four wonderful kids and manage their lives," says Mr. Higham, who helped the couple find a house
Tina works the night shift at an optical-coating company and Jason works days building fine display cabinets.
"It's been a challenge," says Tina, "working, and learning how to be a mom and a loyal, honest wife. But even on the hardest days, I wouldn't give it up for the world. Someday maybe somebody else might sit on the curb and look in this house and say, 'How do they do that?' And the truth is we just make it happen each day because it means so much to us."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society