“I was 13 the first time I tried meth. I tried it and instantly fell in love,” Crystal Lessert, 35, of Morrill, said.
Lessert’s use of methamphetamine was sporadic and recreational in her teens.
“I come from a long line of addicts. Many are homeless, in prison or still using,” she said.
At 16, she was arrested in school for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. Because this occurred in a drug-free school zone, the charges were all felonies.
Lessert was expelled from school for a time and her life spiraled away.
She was sentenced to five years house arrest and had an ankle bracelet. After being granted a furlough, Lessert said she messed up and was sent to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva.
“I was transported (to prison) the day before my 18th birthday and spent my birthday in jail in isolation,” Lessert said.
Methamphetamine use continues to be a problem in the Panhandle, but recovery is possible.
“When I started working here, alcohol was the prevalent drug. In the last 10 years or so, meth and pain medications have increased,” Duane Wirth, licensed alcohol and drug counselor with the Panhandle Mental Health Center, said.
As an intravenous meth user, Lessert remembers a low point in prison when she realized she had a problem.
“When I got locked up, they offered free HIV tests. I got high watching them draw blood,” she said.
After serving her time, Lessert spent 30 days at St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island, after which she stayed clean for about a year.
Early on, Lessert struggled to remain clean.
“I’ve been to two in-treatment and three out-treatment,” she said.
Statistics are not on the side of methamphetamine addicts. Though they vary by study, most put relapse rates at 6 to 13 times before a person stays clean, with an overall relapse rate of 88-92 percent.
On Dec. 21, Lessert celebrated 11 years being clean.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine acts by increasing the release of dopamine in the brain, leading to feelings of euphoria. This surge of pleasure is followed by a “crash” that often leads to repeated use of the drug and eventually to difficulty feeling any pleasure at all, especially from natural rewards.
“You should really know the first time that this isn’t good for you,” she said.
Deciding whether or not to quit causes inner conflict and turmoil. The road to recovery is time-consuming and will not happen immediately. Your motivation and commitment will be challenged and having support is important.
“You spend an eternity in that lifestyle and you hate it. When it comes to meth, it’s such a hard thing to walk away from,” Lessert said.
For Lessert, she says her husband and children are good motivators, but that it is ultimately her decision to remain clean.
Addiction is individualized and it affects people differently. Most commonly, a relapse starts with negative thinking, which can lead to depression or giving up.
“Addiction is biological, psychological and social. It affects all those aspects of a person’s life,” Wirth said.
Wirth said that if you recognize that you’re headed toward relapse, you have a choice. You can ask for help and deter that course of action or you give in.
Services like PMHC offer help to those who risk relapsing.
“We have five AA meetings and one narcotics meeting here,” Wirth said.
Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step, biblically-base recovery program at the Rock Church in Scottsbluff is another resource for those struggling with addiction.
“It covers a large umbrella of issues. Anyone who has a hurt, habit or struggles with addiction is welcome,” said Cathy Arellano, director of Celebrate Recovery.
There is no single treatment that will help everyone, but a commitment to follow through is one of the most important steps everyone needs to follow.
There are doctors, psychologists, clergy, social workers and counselors who offer addiction treatment services in the Panhandle.
“There are many numbers to call. Utilize them,” Wirth said.
For Lessert, she can pinpoint the time when her life began to change for the better.
“It was my choice of men that saved my life,” Lessert said.
“No, it wasn’t. You’re smarter than that. I was just the tool God used,” Jarod Lessert, Crystal’s husband, said.
“When I met him, I had lost my son, was separated from my husband, lost my house, my car, only had a laundry basket of clothes and was bouncing from house to house,” she said.
Crystal Lessert didn’t fall in love with Jarod Lessert right away.
“When I met him, he had something I wanted. I used him at first, but his support and his family helped greatly,” she said.
For a time, Lessert led a support group. Over time, the group dwindled and she stopped attending.
“An addict left to their own company is their own best enemy,” Wirth said.
Lessert didn’t attend any meeting for about a year.
“I didn’t relapse, but I was sick. It’s a disease of feelings,” she said.
During the same time, her husband, Jarod, also stopped attending meetings.
“It wasn’t a fun time at our house,” she said.
Crystal kicked Jarod out of the house and he spent three months living in a camper. In order to save their marriage, they spent the time apart focusing on themselves and getting healthy first.
“If your program is strong and your relationship with God is strong, you can make it,” Jarod Lessert said.
A person will relapse emotionally and spiritually/physically before they return to using. For the Lesserts, each day is constant maintenance. They know that support groups are vital to remaining clean and the groups will always be a part of their lives.
“I never say I’m recovered. I’m recovering. You have to work at it every day,” Jarod Lessert said.
Arellano says that she’s seen people’s lives in the Scottsbluff/Gering community changed.
“They are making progress in their addiction. They come back week after week and tell me about it,” Arellano said.
Individuals turn to drugs and alcohol for many reasons. Wirth said before people decide to stop, the pain has to get greater than the pleasure.
“We look at all different kinds of addictions but most fall into it because they want to escape reality and want to feel good,” Wirth said.
Crystal Lessert knows how lucky she is and how her life could have been.
“Life after meth is amazing and I’m very blessed. If anyone had told me that even four years after being sober I’d have a job as an insurance agent and have my kids, I’d never have believed it,” she said.
For Crystal Lessert, her quality of life continues to improve as she maintains a clean lifestyle.
“There are still hard times, but my best day of using will never compare to my worst day sober,” she said.