No one would identify the confident, pretty young woman who faced her audience with a lovely smile and a calm demeanor as a former drug addict.
And certainly no one would ever guess the gentle, sweet lady who sat beside her was a mom who had to face the grim reality that her daughter was, indeed, addicted to crystal methamphetamine.
Jenni Highmoor and her mother Vernita came to Neighborhood Place last Thursday to share their story, a story which they hoped that in the telling might help even one person avoid the hell that lies on the other side of a magic drug called crystal meth.
Jenni grew up in Rimbey. She was a happy teen; popular, fun to be with, and, by her own admission, a girl with a bit of a wild side.
“I was a very spirited girl who was active in a variety of sports and maintained honors through high school. My siblings and I were fortunate enough to have a stay at home mom, who dedicated her existence to ensuring we had healthy and normal childhoods.”
“Jennifer was somewhat headstrong, but she had been an honors student, very involved in sports, student council, yearbook – she didn’t fit what I believed to be the picture of someone who would use drugs,” her mom added.
So why did a beautiful young girl such as Jenni end up in the merciless clutches of a drug that threatened to destroy her life and the lives of those who loved her.
“I suppose it all started with my best friend,” said Jenni. “I loved her, but her troubled life was a terrible influence on me.”
Jenni recalled the first night she tried speed.
“One night we were sitting in a pickup in front of the bar and she made me what we called a parachute. She tore the corner off a Kleenex, sprinkled some of the speed onto it, then twisted the top off so it looked like a stork package and gave it to me to drop like a pill.”
However, this method was inconvenient and soon Jenni found herself ‘ripping rails with the rest of them.’
At this point in her drug use, Jenni said she was unaware that speed was crystal meth. She said she would not have used it had she known, mostly because of the stigma attached to the name.
“Speed, however, had been used since the’70s, so I didn’t think it could be all that bad.”
Jenni’s life did not immediately spiral out of control after she started using speed, and when she became pregnant during her second year in college, she quit taking drugs completely.
When her son was born she devoted herself to being the best mom ever. When the relationship with her little guy’s dad began to unravel, she moved home, bringing her son with her.
She then began working for Rimbey EMS and also began taking EMT schooling.
About that time she hit it off with a new guy. As it turned out her new guy was into speed.
Soon, she was doing the drug, also.
“I began doing a little speed here and there when I needed to wake up, but didn’t want to.”
As it turned out this decision turned out to be the beginning of a very bad journey.
Before long, Jenni, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of working, going to school and caring for her ill grandma, began to rely more and more on the drug.
When her grandma died, the pain became unbearable.
“This was when the addiction began to take hold. I couldn’t stand to be idle for fear of my inner demons catching up, so I pushed on. I didn’t sleep, I ate more than most drug addicts do, but I had a three-year-old to take care of and a picture perfect life to portray so almost no one knew of the turmoil I had gotten myself into.”
They say hindsight is 20/20, and, looking back, her mom reflects that the strange hours her daughter kept could have been a tip off.
“However, she worked for the ambulance service so she had calls at all hours. Her home party business, as well, involved a lot of evenings. Looking back she seemed a little scattered at times, but she was a very busy lady and mom. Yes, it sometimes crossed my mind, but I pretty much justified the behaviors with something that made sense to me.”
However, one day in June, 2007, Jenni came to her mom and told her she had been using speed, but she was done with it.
“I believed her. I’m sure she believed it, herself.”
But the non-use lasted only a month or so, and then there was that fateful time when she decided to it just one more time.
Things went from bad to worse and by the end of August she had developed a drug-induced psychosis.
“I became delusional. I couldn’t sleep at all and I was in and out of reality.”
Jenni’s mom took her Red Deer Emergency and she spent some time in the psychiatric ward at the hospital there before being transferred to Centennial Centre in Ponoka.
It was a long road of recovery, but with the support of family and well-trained caring medical staff, she completed a rehabilitation program and moved home.
It was not an easy time.
“At one point early on in her hospital stay, she crushed her anti-psychotic meds and tried to snort them,” her mom recalled.
After moving home Jenni fell into a deep depression. Her son’s father had gained sole custody of him, she had lost her job, her home, her boyfriend and many of her friends.
“These were the darkest days of my life. I recall bawling for long periods. I would cry until I couldn’t any longer then stare off into space in almost a catatonic state for hours. Life hurt so much. I was lost, I’d lost everything and I didn’t know what to do.”
Life, however, does have a way of repairing itself, and somehow, out of the darkness of despair, the spark that was Jenni’s natural joy of living began to glow again.
She went to work for BEAR Services out of Rocky, a job she has grown to love and still has. She met her future husband in October of 2008.
And now, several years later, she is living a clean and productive life.
In the hopes of reaching at least one person before it is too late, she is willing to tell her story.
“Anyone can fall victim to addiction,” she said. It’s a disease that fills a hole. What started out as a method to make more hours in the day became my coping mechanism to deal with grief and guilt. I needed it to get out of bed in the morning. I needed it to function.”
Addicts, who are masters of secrecy and deception, need love and support, she said.
“I beg you not to judge us. We are EMS workers, doctors, lawyers, oilfield workers and mothers. We are just sick.”
“If you know someone who is suffering from this disease, love them, support them, never give them drugs or money, but let them know you are there for them.”
“Addiction can touch anyone, anywhere,” concluded her mom. “There is no stereotypical drug addict.”