Trapped for six years in the chaos of methamphetamine addiction, Craig resident Tom Cramer now says each day without the drug is both a blessing and a challenge.
He's had nearly eight months of those days.
"To me, it's a big milestone," he said.
Cramer left this month for a six-month Salvation Army program in Grand Junction.
He enrolled himself, willing to give up time with his wife and children to reinforce his recovery.
"Just because you quit using doesn't mean you're recovered. To me, you're just clean.
"This is my journey for six months. I'm going to be selfish about it and it's going to change my life," he said.
Cramer became addicted to meth when he started using it to replace a cocaine addiction.
"It's so much more powerful, so much better," he said.
And it kept him in its grips for a total of six years over an eight-year period.
To quit, addicts must change their whole lifestyle, psychotherapist Gary Gurney said.
In private and group therapy, Gurney tells clients it's important to step away from the world that trapped them in addiction in the first place -- that means walking away from friends and familiar hangouts.
It's an important step, Cramer said. During one attempt to quit, a friend came to his house.
When he learned Cramer was trying to get clean, he handed him a bag of meth.
This time, Cramer started by attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
He's traveled through three of the group's 12 steps, "yet I'm 10 times a better person," he said.
"I'd like to deny everything I've ever done."
Each day is a challenge.
Not so long ago, he was offered $5,600 in meth to use or sell as he choose.
"You need more than a desire (to quit), you need a willingness to take the steps," he said.
The factors that lead a person to quitting -- "bottom" -- is different for each person, he said.
For some it's going to jail, for others it's losing custody of their children.
Still others hit bottom after a brush with death in a meth-induced haze.
Cramer was clean for two years when the death of his brother pushed him back over the edge.
He started using the next day. Two other deaths drove him deeper into use.
Now, each time the urge overtakes him, he takes a picture of his 3-year-old daughter out of his wallet.
Being a good father has become more important than being high.
"I feel like I have a new chance with my kids," he said.
"My kids are my heartbeat. They're my reason to get up every day and they're the reason I don't use."
Cramer has had several brushes with a legal system that is not equipped to deal with addiction.
"The courts can give you tools, but until you change your mind, you won't quit," he said.
And those tools are few. There are six treatment centers on the Western Slope and they come with waiting lists.
Fourteenth Judicial District Probation Officer Mason Siedschlaw has about 15 clients who are in treatment programs now and another 13 to 15 on a waiting list.
That number fluctuates daily.
Siedschlaw said many people get kicked off the waiting list because they've been caught using meth.
It's very difficult to get a meth addict to quit using while waiting for treatment, he said.
"For people who have an active drug problem, it's unrealistic to expect them to wait half a year to get into a program," he said.
Many times, the addicts Siedschlaw deals with will be arrested and thrown in jail where they're held until they can get treatment, he said.
There are out-patient and short-term recovery programs, but they don't have a very high success rate.
"A lot of program are 14 to 21 days and that just isn't effective," Siedschlaw said. "We've had our best luck with a four- to six-month in-patient program."
Getting there is difficult.
Addicts have to leave their homes and families for an extended period of time, often paying rent to keep a home here and paying to enroll in the program which can run as much as $600 a day.
"Unless you have great insurance, that is a huge amount of money to our population," Siedschlaw said.
Some federally funded programs are free to patients and Grand Junction's Salvation Army program offers housing and treatment in exchange for work.
The commitment will be tough for him, Cramer said, because the program prohibits any contact with the outside world -- including family -- for the first month.
After that, he can only have visitors on the weekends.
Beka Warren, patient care planner at The Memorial Hospital, works to connect addicts with services -- if they want them.
But not many do.
"The patient needs to make a personal decision that they want treatment and they want to make a change," Warren said.
"We just make sure they know what their choices are."
There aren't many options locally to help addicts.
They're referred to Narcotics Anonymous or mental health.
What the hospital does usually, Warren said, is help patients overcome barriers to seeking treatment.
That can include finding funding, establishing a support system or ensuring children will be cared for during the process.
In his work at Yampa Valley Psychotherapists, Gurney works with drug addicts in group therapy.
Few can afford private therapy, he said.
Gurney said methamphetamine is one of the most difficult drugs to quit.
He sees less than a 20 percent success rate and has seen some areas where it was less than 10 percent.
"The brain loves the stuff and the brain doesn't forget the high," he said.
Methamphetamine depletes seratonin and dopamine -- the chemicals responsible for the brain's natural high -- which means quitting is often accompanied by depression.
Gurney said out-patient therapy can be successful for a person with a low-level addiction -- someone who has been using for a short amount of time.
Most of those under Gurney's care are not there voluntarily -- they're sentenced by the courts or through probation or they're recommended by a lawyer, a parent or the medical community -- which makes the chances of quitting even lower.
He said going to jail can be a key turning point for many meth addicts.
"If they're in jail or an in-patient facility, some times they keep away from the substance long enough to make a rational decision," Gurney said.
Recovery is possible
Craig resident Kim Oliver was addicted to drugs -- including meth -- for 22 years and has been clean for 10 months.
"I just want people to know there's life after meth," she said.
Members of Narcotics Anonymous said the meth problem in Craig is raging out of control.
One member said local treatment options are needed "in the worst way."
NA, which guarantees its participants anonymity, has been a saving factor for many former addicts.
It has no "leader." Rather it is a support group made up of people in similar situations with similar issues.
"Only an alcoholic or drug addict can help an alcoholic or drug addict get clean," one member said.
A year ago, NA sponsored one meeting a week. Now there are three meetings a week attended by an average of 20 people.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210 or email@example.com