Pamela Aldridge looked into the green eyes of the young man, a stranger it seemed to her at the time, who had been following her around the Kum & Go convenience store.
As she moved through the store, the young man kept stopping in front of her.
Then she looked closer.
The boy’s eyes resembled hers.
Years later, and long removed by several life lessons, Pamela can recall exactly what she thought at the moment.
“I know you,” she said. “You’re mine. You’re my kid.”
At the time, Pamela was in the throes of methamphetamine addiction. She weighed 72 pounds, and was usually awake for days on end.
“That was a horrible feeling,” she continued. “Once you realized you (had) looked your son straight in the eyes and had no clue who he was … that’s how far my mind and drug use was.”
The storybook version would go that the moment at Kum & Go changed Pamela’s life forever, and prompted her recovery. And, her life did change, and she did recover.
But, it came after time. First, she had to fall further.
She spent the next few years dealing with criminal issues.
She continued using.
She lived under a bridge for four months.
“I didn’t have a job, the court took my kid away … I didn’t have dope,” she said. “I ruined everything. I was prepared to die.”
Those last few words she said to her middle son, Trace Christensen, also of Craig. The words marked the moment Pamela’s children stepped in to nurture her back to health.
Now 45, Pamela said her children saved her life.
Trace, 24, helped his mother stay clean, and so, too, did his half-brother, Shawn Christensen, 26, the son Pamela once saw at Kum & Go and didn’t recognize. They have been successful — and Pamela, too — for about five years.
For the last two-and-a-half years, Shawn has helped Pamela keep her addiction at bay by working out with her at Trapper Fitness Center.
The process has helped them mend parts of the past, and look forward to the future, they said.
Pamela said a healthy lifestyle agrees with her. She works out every day. She can bench press 205 pounds. She weighs 148 pounds.
“So I am twice the person that I was,” she said.
Her children are a big reason why.
“They loved me enough to (help me) grow into someone that could have something to offer them,” Pamela said. “They gave me my life back.
“At this point for my children, all I can do is pick myself up and become someone that they can look up to.”
Pamela said she was a hardcore addict. Dependency started early.
At 5, she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and prescribed tranquilizers each day. When taking the pills was no longer an option, she started medicating herself.
At 9, she started smoking marijuana and it wasn’t long after that she began to drink.
Fast forward some years, and she came across meth.
“It was instantaneous,” she said, of becoming addicted. “The first time I smoked it, I was in love.”
She hung around an auto body shop, where she said there was a drug culture.
Over time, her addiction worsened.
“I really damaged both my body and my brain,” she said. “In just four years of use, I still, five years later, have trouble. What I used to call normal is just a really strange thing.”
Throughout her use, she distanced herself from family in fear that her addiction would drive her to stealing and taking advantage of people she loved.
She served a short stint in the Moffat County Jail, and was released on probation.
She slipped back into using, and missed probation appointments, leading to a warrant for her arrest. Custody of her third son, the youngest, was taken away.
Her life was out-of-control, she said, and she had a foot in the grave. That’s when she said the words that she did.
That’s when Trace pulled her out.
Her son’s words were forceful, but loving.
“Trace took me with his big old arms and picked me up and shook me and told me, ‘Mom you’re not dying, you’re not done and you have to be here,’” Pamela said. “‘I need you and you’re going to make it.’
“He wasn’t nice about it and that’s probably what I needed. He made me live, he made me promise, and that’s the first promise that I ever kept.”
That night, after Trace spoke to her, Pamela did something she had rarely done — she prayed.
She “asked the Lord to take away the pain, make everything stop hurting,” she said. And the next day, she added, she believes He did.
Clean, armed with purpose and faith, and vowing to keep a promise, she saw things with a clear mind, and had a concept of the future, even if it was just a day or two down the road.
Trace and Pamela lived together, and the son kept an eye on his mother while she tried to rebuild her life.
Court-ordered classes through a counseling center started to make an impact, she said.
But, sobriety isn’t easy and doesn’t come easy. Make no mistake about it.
“There’s no fun in it,” Pamela said. “There’s responsibility, there’s facing all your mistakes. It’s facing the real world. It’s looking through the eyes of the people who love you and feeling bad, sorry and guilty for what you put yourself through … and for what you put them through because you weren’t there.
“When you start facing your real self, you’re either going to run from it or you’re going to make a change for yourself and the people you love. You’re faced with the question, ‘Will I do dope again?’ I decided I would rather live than die.”
While working a construction site clean-up job in Steamboat Springs, Pamela injured her hip. She heard that weight training could help rehab her injury, and asked Shawn, a frequent lifter, if he could help her with a routine.
Again, she found a firm but loving son willing to help.
“When she approached me I said, ‘That’s fine, but you’re going to do it my way,” Shawn said.
Pamela said Shawn’s stern hand at their workouts helps keep her straight.
After time, her relationship with Shawn, like that of her relationship with Trace, began to improve, Pamela said.
“Day by day, dumb joke by dumb joke, I opened a window into him and trust began to build,” she said.
Mother and son, son and mother, go to Trapper each day to become stronger people. They laugh and joke, and sometimes they remember hard things from the past, but each day they get better.
Pamela gets better.
“It just kind of fell into this really good friendship … and now I know that my children are some of the best friends I will ever have,” Pamela said.
“She’s my mom,” Shawn said. “I’ve never thought of her as (someone other than) mom. She never raised me like a mother, but she’s still my mom. I’m probably happier now than when I started working out with her.”
Today, Pamela said she feels grateful her children let her back into their lives.
She hopes to build on her positive momentum and someday be capable of helping others get out of desperate situations like she faced.
They will need support, too, and she hopes others find loving people like she had to help them.
“I pray that other people will have at least one of the many things that I had to get out because (when addicted) you don’t have anything,” she said. “It’s all dope.”
Pamela said she doesn’t have bad days anymore. She’s had plenty in the past, surely, but being clean and sober surrounded by loved ones is enough to keep her happy.
“You have to take it day by day, do your best and wake up every day with the attitude that something good is going to happen,” she said. “Even if you see just one cool thing throughout the day, it’s a lot more than you would see if you were dead.”
On the eve of Mother’s Day, she urges people to reach out to their mothers. It’s a seemingly simple request, but one that life circumstances can sometimes get in the way of, as she can attest.
“There’s no one in the world like your mom,” she said. “Good, bad, or indifferent, that’s your mom, and that’s what my children have said to me. They’ve told me, ‘I don’t care what you’ve done, you’re my mom.’
“Now that I’m better, I have a huge responsibility to be their friend and help them through the things they are going to face and help them through things that I didn’t do and I missed.
“But, that is the most awesome thing in the world, for a child to say, ‘You are my friend.’”