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When meth becomes a family affair

• When last week's speaker, Sara Hejny, cancelled because of the snow in the Twin Cities, four people, who came to hear her Message of Hope about life after meth addiction, offered one of their own. Hejny has been rescheduled to come to Park Rapids April 13, but what three generations of recovering addicts had to say also gives a message of hope.

Meth nearly destroyed Paul Schultz's life, and before he quit using, he introduced his girlfriend to meth and her son got hooked as well.

That made three generations, said their father and grandfather, a recovering alcoholic. "If meth had been around when I was into drugs, I'd probably have tried it too," said Melvin Shepersky.

Paul began using crank, a form of methamphetamines, about 15 years ago.

Paul said he was drinking, doing pot and other drugs when he first tried crank. It was a "recreational thing" he did with friends, some of whom are now in prison.

Several crises in his life didn't jar him out of the addiction. Paul said his brother committed suicide, but that wasn't enough to make him quit.

"I was in three auto accidents in six months. I watched my son (8 at the time) bounce off the dash. He was taken by helicopter to Minneapolis, but that still wasn't enough," said Paul.

At one point, he lost the job he'd had for seven years. Paul said he was so caught up in doing meth, he quit paying his bills and started buying meth to sell to pay for his own.

"Pretty soon you start doing everything you buy, so you go into manufacturing," said Paul. His addiction was a slippery slope and he seemed to have no power to stop sliding.

"I'm sure I destroyed many others' lives dealing," said Paul.

"I felt dead: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually."

It wasn't that he didn't get caught. Paul went to prison three times, and he's lost track of how often he went to county jail. He was hospitalized, saw psychologists and went to treatment to get out of jail or avoid it. Once, when he was supposed to go to treatment long-term, he talked his way out of it.

"Addicts are good actors," said Paul. "They can make others believe whatever they want to get what they want for themselves."

But the last time he went to treatment, he asked for it himself. He called Wadena County and asked to go. "I couldn't quit. Every time I took a hit off a pipe I was committing suicide. It was the only option I had left."

Paul spent 33 days at Pine Manors, gained a pound a day and realized how empty he had become. Paul said he was so devoid of feelings, he identified them on a chart filled with faces: happy, sad, confused.

After Pine Manors, he went to stay with some friends. The friends were "clean," he said, "and they were very supportive."

But he only stayed a week, "I knew I wasn't in a good spot," he said. He called Wadena County again and, miraculously, he believes, got into a halfway house the next morning. He stayed for four months, attending 90 12-step meetings in 90 days.

"If I hadn't, I wouldn't have made it, but I decided to try to do it the best I could."

Paul has been "out" since June, taken care of three arrest warrants by turning himself in and is nearly finished paying off his court fines.

"I have no urge to use," Paul said. "It feels good to be free."

Paul will celebrate his 41st birthday in April.

Juanita's story

Paul introduced his girlfriend, 34-year-old Juanita Shepersky, to meth six years ago.

"In a very short time, I was 100 percent addicted. I didn't want to be without it," she said. "It was crazy."

Juanita sold her house for $10,000 and used half to pay bills and buy food and the other half to buy meth.

"You don't realize what it does to you until afterward," Juanita said. "Life got out of control."

She split up with Paul and put herself into treatment three years ago, but it didn't work. She spent the next two years getting high; every penny she could get her hands on went for drugs or gas to get drugs.

Without a house of her own, Juanita and her two children slept on the floor of someone else's trailer.

At a low point, Juanita remembers going into depression. She made sure her kids were fed and made it to school, but she spent her days sleeping and crying. "I was trying to quit by myself."

That didn't work.

Finally and fortunately, she said, her parents stepped in. On Jan. 31, 2005, they came to the trailer and told Juanita she could live under the spell of drugs - it was her choice. But, her mother told her, she wasn't going to let her kids live that way anymore.

Juanita decided she couldn't live that way anymore either, took her children and moved back home. About a month later, she went into treatment in St. Cloud, and, like Paul, gave it everything she could.

"I wanted to know about addiction so I could fight it with everything I have because it is life or death and today I choose life," she said.

For the first six months, Juanita added, recovery was a struggle. She had dreams and cravings and still does, but less often.

"Before, I kept thinking what will I do with my time and now I can't imagine having the time to get high.

"I have a wonderful support system," she said, crediting her family, Paul and others in recovery for her continued sobriety.

Caught in the cycle

Brandon Shepersky got swallowed in addiction as well. It seemed inevitable, given the circumstances.

It was so easy to find drugs.

Now 16, Brandon said he was 9 the first time he smoked marijuana.

"I didn't like it or get high," Brandon said. He didn't try it again for a year. One day, while taking out the garbage, there was a bowlful of weed on the counter. He rolled a joint and smoked it while the garbage was burning.

"It was downhill from there," Brandon said.

By the time he was 13, he had been introduced to every drug, including meth. Like marijuana, he tried meth earlier but got sick when he was coming down from being high. When he tried it again a year later, he was hooked.

"My life became unmanageable," Brandon said. He got money for babysitting and other jobs and spent it on drugs, including meth if he could find it.

One summer he worked and saved $700. He bought a CD at the bank, but changed his mind, took it out and spent $300 right away on drugs.

Juanita knew about the money, took the rest away and put it in a safe in a bedroom. One night, when she and her boyfriend left, Brandon said he broke into the safe and it wasn't there. "I tore the whole room apart looking for money to get high." She had hidden it elsewhere.

At one point, Brandon said he made a deal with his mom, offering to give the money to her if he could stay with a friend who was using drugs, too.

It worked, but things went from bad to worse. Brandon got into serious trouble, committing crime beyond using meth.

He went with friends tubing down the Crow Wing River. He smoked a gram of meth, drank a fifth of Vodka and decided they were tired of being on the river. They went to a house he recognized, but the owners weren't home, so they kept walking. Hungry, they broke into a trailer. "We trashed the place," said Brandon. They smashed a TV, walls and windows and stole things.

About three days afterward, the sheriff came. Brandon went to court. He was placed on probation and ordered to do Sentence to Service, write a letter of apology and pay restitution.

"I still didn't care," Brandon said.

Paranoia set in. "It was extreme," Brandon said. He imagined there were cops sitting in the trees in the yard.

Back with his mother, living in the trailer, he drank bleach or collected his brother's urine to be clean for urine tests. He went two or three weeks without sleep.

Sometimes, he rode his bicycle miles to buy a gram of meth.

Brandon went to several schools and said no teacher or administrator seemed to notice his skeletal condition.

"My pupils were like pennies," he said. He had lost weight, had scabs on his face and was sleepless.

His probation officer recognized what was happening. Knowing he was using meth, she asked him if he had ever used. He denied it and refused a urine analysis (UA).

So he had another court date, because refusing the test was a probation violation.

Two weeks before he was supposed to go to court, Jan. 31, 2005, he made up his mind to quit.

"I was sick of trying to pass the urine tests, sick of the drama that came with it."

That wasn't all, though. Brandon said he looked at the people around him: younger, his age and older. What he saw were "evolving meth addicts" and what he might become.

He substituted water for drugs and drank gallons of it. "I passed a UA honestly. It was the best feeling I'd ever had," he said. "Drugs were all I knew."

Even though he kept hanging out with the same friends, he also learned who his true friends were. "They were the ones not pushing me.

"It's beyond me how I stayed clean in a meth house," Brandon said of the circumstances in the trailer.

He still struggles, but Brandon said he finds support from his family and in meetings.

Looking back and ahead

Marvin said he started drinking heavily when he was 14, but didn't like the effects right away. That changed, though, and by the time he was 16, he started stealing from the liquor store to supply his habit.

Marvin never got caught. "I didn't look at myself as an alcoholic. I could go a month without drinking, but every time I did drink, I drank to get drunk."

The cycle continued until he was 32. "I had beaten my wife and didn't know I'd done it. That was the turning point," he said.

He quit drinking, but his addictive behavior continued. An over-the-road truck driver, Marvin started using speed. He would drive to Los Angeles and back in four days without sleeping.

"I realized I had to quit both - driving and using."

But he started gambling. "In four years, we were bankrupt," he said.

Somehow, he didn't lose his home or his spouse and never lost a job, "so I never thought I was an addict."

Now in recovery from all his addictions, Marvin takes no credit for fighting them on his own. "I give credit to a higher power and attend four meetings a week," he said.

"I would like the cycle of addiction to be broken," said Marvin Shepersky, 57. "It can be done through education."

Disappointed the speaker couldn't make it to Park Rapids, Paul said they had come to sit up front and hear her. "It's a support thing," he added. "You've got to give it away to keep it."

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