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31 pregnancy COVER mk/

Moving forward

Support group offers help to women

facing life challenges

By Jeffrey Pieters

jpieters@postbulletin.com

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Jess has been sober for 21⁄2 years after spending more than a decade using drugs, mostly meth and cocaine.

The 33-year-old’s new life started in an CRAFT support group, which she joined in 2005 when she had her fourth child growing inside her.

Jess had been alienated from her family, whose members had heard promises other times before that she was going straight. But she was serious this time.

"They didn’t think I could do it," Jess said. "I just opened up and said what I think at group."

That seems characteristic of Jess, whose appearance is someone who’s direct and charismatic. She doesn’t flinch from the details of her past, and looks you in the eye all while telling her story.

CRAFT, which stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Transitions, takes a "soft" approach to helping women address issues ranging from sobriety to parenting to personal finances. Services are offered in one-on-one and group settings. The Olmsted County service is funded by the state Department of Human Services’ Chemical Health Division.

(Jess spoke to the Post-Bulletin on condition that she be identified only by her first name. Fully revealing her identity, she says, could affect her chances of landing a full-time job. She is currently working as a temporary office employee.)

Before going sober, Jess says, she lost custody of two children, one of them born in Olmsted County Jail. A third child died of SIDS at one month old.

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Her fourth child, a boy, is 19 months old and the center of Jess’s life. He was born healthy — free of any defects from her substance abuse — and she "graduated" from the support group in July. She is raising the boy with her fiancee, who is also sober now after a period of drug use.

For the first time in a long time, the future is rosy, but there are regrets.

"I wasted my 20s," Jess said. "They’re all wasted from meth."

"Going to CRAFT is what saved me," she said.

About a dozen women at a time are involved in the support group, said Erica Hansen, a CRAFT social worker. The average age is about 28. More than 70 women in all were served last year.

Group members meet twice a week in a house on Mayowood Road, near Crossroads Bible College, to hear speakers, talk about their issues, or just do some activity together, such as arts and crafts. Often, it’s the latter activity that gets members to open up the easiest, Hansen said.

"A lot of times, when the women get their hands going, their mouths get going," she said.

Jess, meanwhile, said people say she’s the same as she was before she used drugs.

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"I know I could make a phone call and get high this afternoon," she said. "I know that my kids are more important now. I’m not a mom when I’m using. Well, I’m a still a mom, but there’s a big difference."

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