Small-town boredom, teenage angst and the desire to fit in led a good-natured girl down the destructive road of drug use.
Stacey Prieur started using drugs when she was 15 years old. At 18, she realized her life had spiraled out of control. She hit rock bottom when she resorted to living out of her car and stealing money from her mom and stepdad to maintain her habit.
Run-ins with the law and living a life she was no longer proud of motivated Prieur to abandon her six-year addiction to drugs and alcohol and get clean. But she discovered that the consequences of her past lifestyle do not simply vanish.
Twenty-seven-year-old Prieur has been clean, or drug free, since 2005. Though she experimented with a variety of drugs, her drug of choice was cocaine.
“I didn’t really feel like I had control, but I knew what I was doing,” said Prieur.
Since deciding to get help and stay clean, Prieur enrolled in classes at Southeast Technical College and maintains a 4.0 GPA, and is the school’s president of Phi Theta Kappa, an honor society for students enrolled in two-year colleges. She expects to graduate in May and continue her education at another college.
She originally dreamed of being a probation officer and wanted to work in drug courts with the hope of helping others who are on the same road she was on years before. But after a lecture in a criminal justice class taught her that her past would make obtaining a job in any law enforcement or criminal justice position nearly impossible, she was discouraged.
“It’s prevented me from everything I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Prieur.
Recovery from addiction is not just about kicking the habit of using drugs or alcohol, but also about resuming an active life now limited by previous decisions. Addiction is something that lingers and haunts the addict their entire life and restoration isn’t something that comes easy.
Jacob Crail, a 26-year-old recovering addict from Mabel, Minn., who was recently released from prison for four counts of driving while intoxicated, said his drinking accelerated when he was 19 to help numb the pain and heartbreak of losing his grandmother. At 22, in addition to his struggle with alcohol, Crail became addicted to prescription pain medication.
“It wasn’t to get high, it was just to numb it out,” said Crail.
The lingering repercussions of Crail’s former lifestyle have slammed doors on many opportunities. He struggled to find a decent job and a place to live because of the criminal record.
According to Richard Dahl, Director and licensed substance abuse counselor for Winona Counseling Clinic, addicts are usually unable to fully understand the consequences to their actions.
While in prison, Crail maintained his high for free as a trade-off for “taking care” of those who owed his roommates money for the drugs they were selling. He remembers a fight that left him injured and bloody.
“I looked in the mirror (at the infirmary),” said Crail. “This ain’t me, I ain’t doing this anymore.”
At that moment, Crail realized his drug use had caused him to become someone he did not want to be. He wanted to change. He requested to switch roommates and began a treatment program in the prison system.
“Prison was like a re-birth for me,” said Crail. “I just got the motivation to live.”
Crail is still learning to cope with and manage a drug-free lifestyle after recently bypassing 18 months of clean time.
“Normally people can’t do it by themselves; not because they are weak but because addiction is so powerful,” said Dahl.
Dahl compared recovery to quitting smoking; some people can do it on their own but others need assistance, from nicotine patches, gum or other aids to rehab or groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Prieur said that once she became part of the recovering community she watched her friends relapse and “drop like flies” from overdosing. Both Crail and Prieur have experienced the loss of others who were using drugs and the reality of death is further motivation for staying clean.
“The thought of going back out and using and dying is very real to me,” said Crail.
Every morning Crail says the names of seven of his friends who overdosed and died from drugs while he was in prison, one of which was his best friend.
The thought of using again occasionally crosses Crail’s mind but when the temptation begins to burn he thinks about what’s at stake and how using again may create even more challenges in the future.
“I have people around me that are reminders of what I can lose,” said Crail.
It’s a life-long internal war to fight the cravings of slipping back into the numbing state that allows for escape from the hardships of reality.
Crail and Prieur each experienced their own series of relapses in the past.
Dahl said addiction should be treated as a chronic illness and relapse should be thought of as part of the disease although it is more common for some then others.
“People may do well at times, and then they may have a set back,” said Dahl. “A set back isn’t failure, it’s a mistake.”
According to Dahl, relapse typically happens in one of three ways: one-third of recovering addicts will get help and stay clean. Another third will have set backs but will eventually get it together and stay clean. The last third will relapse periodically their entire life.
Many addicts feel desperate or hopeless. Dahl said many people seeking help come in with cases of the “F--- it’s,” meaning they think their life is bad enough or recovery is too hard so they might as well just use. But there is help and there is hope; addicts seeking recovery just need to figure out exactly what kind of help they need.
It’s important for recovering addicts to learn how to “get enjoyment out of life without depending on a chemical fix,” said Dahl. “(To learn) how to deal with the daily challenges of life without going back to drinking or using.”
“The biggest (temptation) is when I think about how hard my life is,” said Prieur.
Crail said when he stopped using, the emotions numbed by drugs and alcohol came flooding back and “you don’t know how to deal with it.”
“Getting clean is hard,” said Crail. “(But) I surround myself with people who are going to help me.”
A strong support system is vital to the success of a recovering addict and “it’s crucial to never give up on somebody,” said Dahl.
Prieur said every tool she uses to remain clean she has learned through treatment programs. She credits her strong friendships and family ties, especially with her mother as powerful influences of staying clean.
She also holds the belief that her now deceased stepfather is always watching over her and that by staying clean she is giving him a long, overdue thank you for helping her get on the right track.
Crail dedicates a lot of his time to work and an intense daily gym regimen but his 3- and 4-year-old sons, Jacob and Cameron, are the biggest motivators for staying clean and getting his life back on track.
Prieur worries her past will prevent her from obtaining many kinds of interesting careers and she is unsure which path would be worth her time to take.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money to go through school to find out no one’s going to hire me,” said Prieur.
She tries to remain positive and ignores the doors that may have closed.
“I’m going to find something I can do,” said Prieur. She’s determined to find that door that’s still open for her.
The closed doors motivate her to stay clean. She knows using drugs again could demolish her GPA and academic standing and further prevent her from getting or keeping a job.
Despite the obstacles and hardships of recovering from addiction Crail and Prieur are determined to pick up the pieces and create a life that they can be proud of.
“I’m going to look forward instead of staring at the past,” said Crail.