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‘My biggest supporters’: Mother of 7 rebuilding family after addiction

For much of their 23-year marriage, Melissa Rodgers and her husband, Gary, managed to appear at times to outsiders as having a typical family life.

They were raising seven children in Huber Heights. She worked here and there as a waitress while he maintained fairly steady employment as a mason.

But cracks started to show: A lost job for not showing up, arrests for misdemeanors, then calls to police for domestic fighting, and eventually the removal of their kids by Children Services.

READ MORE: The Path Forward: Addiction Crisis

What was really going on inside their marriage, Melissa Rodgers said, was a cycle of dependency and addiction from which they’ve only recently been able to break free by choosing to live apart in recovery.

Left: Melissa Rodgers in a 2015 mugshot after she was arrested for escaping a Miami Valley Hospital police officer. Right: Melissa Rodgers today, more than one year in recovery.

She celebrated one year of sobriety in late May while staying at a women’s sober-living home in Dayton run by Third Chance Ministries in conjunction with Circle of Vision Keepers and Cornerstone Inc. He’s living at a men’s sober home several blocks away run by Good Shepherd Ministries.

“He keeps the focus on him and his recovery, and I keep the focus on me and my recovery,” she said.

Seeking acceptance

For Melissa, 43, her addictions began as a teen seeking a sense of belonging, she said, and progressed over the years as she suffered personal losses she didn’t know how to cope with — other than turning to drugs.

She was a teen mom twice-over, giving birth to her first two children when she was 16 and 17.

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“By the time I was 19 I was a full-fledged alcoholic,” she said. Her childhood included mental and physical abuse that was swept under the rug, she said. “I was raised in a home where drug addiction was something we did not talk about. … We didn’t talk about our problems.”

She met and married her now husband at age 21. The drug use got worse as their family grew.

“It progressed from marijuana and alcohol, to cocaine and crack, to methamphetamine,” she said. “And that went on and off for some time.”

In 2009 she made her first real attempt to get treatment. But when her grandmother passed away the following year, she said, “I just kind of went off the rails again and stayed in and out of addiction.”

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After her mother’s died in 2013, she turned for the first time to heroin. A few months later she was near death in a local hospital; she’d intentionally overdosed on pain pills and heroin.

Melissa Rodgers was near death in March of 2014 after an intentional overdose on pills and heroin. More than four years later she shares the photo to remember how far she’s come. CONTRIBUTED

“Things were quickly spiraling out of control. I had given up I truly wanted to die,” she said. “The doctors told my children when and if I came out of my coma I would never be the same.”

She did make a full recovery, but lost custody of her children again that year. Huber Heights police responding to a domestic incident found their house was too messy and unsafe for young children.

Rodgers said even that tailspin and health scare weren’t enough to make her stop using drugs.

‘Push his buttons’

Part of the issue, Rodgers now recognizes, was that she and her husband enabled each other and even derailed each other’s progress on occasion.

“I would always go to him and tell him my cravings, knowing good and well that that would push his buttons … he’d fall down and use with me,” she said.

That’s how it always played out. One person would make an attempt to get counseling and stay sober, but the other wasn’t in the same place in their desire for recovery, so they pulled each other back in.

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Melissa’s been through addiction treatment six times, she said, mostly by order of a judge in lieu of conviction. She’s been charged with theft, forgery, escape and other crimes connected to supporting her drug habit.

The courts usually left it up to her to choose which program she wanted to attend, she said, which meant her stays in rehab were always as short as possible.

“Of course being the addict, I chose the short and sweet,” she said. “Knowing good and well that I was not done (using).”

One previous attempt to stay at a sober-living home in 2015 lasted only three months, she said.

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“I didn’t keep the focus on my recovery. I chose to go out there and use and I was arrested May 28 of last year,” Rodgers said. “I caught more felonies. My judge was to the point that he didn’t want to offer treatment. He was for the prison time.”

After some begging, Rodgers got her cases transferred to Montgomery County’s Women’s Therapeutic Drug Court, where treatment was recommended. But now the program was picked for her — she was to be screened for the MonDay Program.

Run by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, MonDay is a 250-bed residential facility for felony offenders on probation that uses a cognitive behavioral therapy model. CBT focuses on treating substance abuse disorders and any coexisting mental-health disorders. Residents are taught to practice newly acquired cognitive behavioral skills as they encounter stressors associated with relapse.

Melissa Rodgers (back left) and three of her children on a recent trip to Kings Island. “This was the first time in many years that we were able to get out and do fun things without my addiction getting in the way,” she said. CONTRIBUTED

Rodgers credits this model and her six months there with turning around her thinking, and her life. She specifically participated in the Thinking for a Change (T4C) Integrated Cognitive Behavior Change Program, developed by the National Institute of Corrections and the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The treatment that I received there was amazing. I can honestly say that I use it every day,” she said. “I use the thought process in ways that I deal with things today. I second-think things, through.”

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Rodgers also got her GED while in the MonDay program and finished her coursework this spring at Sinclair Community College for a chemical dependency counselor license. She’s working at Frisch’s until she can get a job in that field.

She’s still on probation, but counts her probation officer and Judge Mary Wiseman among her biggest supporters.

“Every time I’m in there they’re always telling me how proud they are. They see the positive change in me,” she said. The court’s program includes more accountability than just completing a 30-day treatment, Rodgers said, and has helped her stay on track in recovery.

Rodgers’ husband had a near-fatal overdose while she was incarcerated last year. After that incident he entered Woodhaven inpatient treatment and is nearing his own one-year sobriety mark.

‘That picture was terrible’

Living separately from her husband and their children is difficult, Rodgers said, but it’s what she needs right now to focus on her own recovery.

“We make time for each other. We still are husband and wife, we love each other dearly,” she said. “However, we are in the fight for our lives.”

HOW TO GET HELP: An opioid addiction resource guide 

Part of her recovery has been working to repair her relationship with her children, who range in age from 11 to their late 20s. She said it’s only been in the past year that she’s understood the picture of her they saw for so many years and how it impacted them.

“That picture was terrible,” Rodgers said. “But in my addiction, I didn’t see that. I thought I was doing perfectly fine.”

She tears up when talking about the support she now feels from her kids.

Melissa Rodgers listens to one of her sons talk about the effects her addiction had on the family. She said repairing her relationship with her children hasn't been easy as they work to trust her again. (Katie Wedell)

“My seven children that had basically given up on me are now my biggest supporters. I am rebuilding my relationship with them in a good way.”

Several of them went with her on a recent trip to Kings Island.

“This was the first time in many years,” she said, “that we were able to get out and do fun things without my addiction getting in the way.”

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