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COL Robins fights addiction that nearly killed her baby

It's difficult to describe the grip heroin can have on an addict. But I'll give it a try by describing the two lowest points in the life of a Rochester woman named Eloise Robins.

Picture this. Eloise is 19, living in south Chicago and the mother of a 2-year-old. Her live-in companion is a drug dealer who'd turned her on to heroin. She might have been a high school dropout, but she was smart enough to know she shouldn't be using; she was pregnant again and the drugs could hurt the baby. But the seduction of a heroin high was too much for her, and sure enough, her little boy was born with an irregular heartbeat.

They sent Eloise home with a monitor that would go off if the baby's heart stopped or beat dangerously low.

One day, some men came to the door and put a gun to her boyfriend's head. A rival dealer had been robbed, and word on the street was that the boyfriend was the one who'd done it.

"Where's the money?" the men kept shouting. They tied up Eloise and her mother, who was visiting, and one of them kept a gun to the boyfriend's head. Suddenly, the baby's heart monitor sounded, and the men with guns panicked. "They; started yelling, 'What's that?' What's that?' I was afraid they were going to kill us." The men shoved the boyfriend out the door, put him in the trunk of a car and drove off while Eloise and her mother tried desperately to untie themselves so they could help the baby.

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They wriggled free in time to get the child some help.

"My baby could have died," Eloise said the other day. "That's when I threw my hands up and said I just can't live like this."

The second low came about 15 years later, in Rochester. She'd moved here after the close call with the armed men. One of her sisters, who was living in Minneapolis, told her there was no heroin in Minnesota to tempt Eloise. The sister was wrong.

Eloise started using again shortly after moving here. She worked off and on, but didn't earn nearly enough to support a $400-a-day drug habit. So, she supplemented her income by selling her food stamps, stealing, working for an escort service and prostituting her body. She even sold her kids' Christmas presents.

In the meantime, the drug they call Horse was taking her body on a punishing ride. She'd snorted so much heroin that her sinuses clogged, so she started to eat the drug and then shoot it into her veins. "I looked like a sprinker hose," she said. "I didn't want to take a shower because I couldn't stand to see myself naked."

Her children had been taken from her and put in foster care. When a friend came to visit, Eloise was on the run for a probation violation and her weight had dropped to about 90 pounds. She'd been coughing up bile, and her friend said she looked so sick he was going to call an ambulance. Eloise begged him not to.

A few minutes later she heard the sirens.

At first, she cursed the friend. And she cursed the doctors. And she cursed her probation officer, Julie Staton.

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Today, Eloise says the nine months she spent in jail was the best thing that ever happened to her. And she credits Staton and others in the county correctional system for saving her. While in jail she joined Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. She took part in craft groups. She attended parenting classes. She started reading books. A doctor diagnosed her with bipolar disorder and prescribed medication. She reconciled with her children, who are now living with her mother in Rochester. She started going to church again.

Eloise completed her post-jail probation last month, and she's living at Cronin House, a residential treatment center. She hopes eventually to pursue a career in phlebotomy, and wants to volunteer as a drug counselor.

Drug counselors say that one of the most important steps toward long-term recovery is a desire to want to stay clean. Eloise appears to have taken that step.

"I refuse to let drugs be the death of me," she says. "I just refuse. My holy father can take me in any other way. But not that way."

Greg Sellnow's columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at sellnow@postbulletin.com.

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