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A mom gives back

May 1, 2008
by Brion P. McAlarney
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Kris salisbury

Kris Salisbury

As a mother who had her children removed from her home, Kris Salisbury proved to be an ideal member of the inaugural “Moms Off Meth” support group in Ottumwa, Iowa nearly a decade ago. The group (

http://www.momsoffmeth.com), which has now expanded into other areas of the state and also into other states, was formed to offer mothers working their recovery from methamphetamine addiction some additional emotional and practical supports that overwhelmed state and county case-workers could not provide.

The founders of Moms Off Meth were Judy Murphy, now a meth specialist with the Iowa Department of Human Services, and Cheryl Brown, director of the Crisis Center and Women's Shelter in Ottumwa. Salisbury had known Murphy before they both attained sobriety during the 1990s—Murphy well before Salisbury. Salisbury achieved her sobriety on Aug. 16, 1999, but struggled for years prior to that date.

“Everybody that I knew from the mid-1980s started using meth and I got into using,” says Salisbury, now 43. “Somebody brought some meth in from California and it just started from there.”

Salisbury used methamphetamine for 12 years, and says her three children “went through my addiction with me.” On Dec. 3, 1998, her home was raided by a drug task force, who removed her children and placed them with her parents. The task force had been tipped off that Salisbury was manufacturing meth, though this was not happening in her home.

A Department of Human Services worker asked Salisbury if she needed help. “I was tired of living that way and I was devastated, and I was living with a man who was really, really abusive,” she says. “So I went into treatment.”

Group dynamic

The first Moms Off Meth group started in July 1999, and Salisbury knew she wanted to be part of it. “I knew when I got sober that I wanted to help other people because I felt finally like I was alive and I had a purpose in life,” she says.

The original group had four members and two facilitators— Murphy and Brown. Salisbury stayed in that group for several years. The groups are designed for the women to take ownership and decide how they are run. “We have expectations that we talk about at the beginning of the group and things that we just won't stand for, but everything else comes from them—what they want to see in the group, what they want to do, who they want to come to the group, so it's strictly about them,” says Salisbury.

Though originally intended for women with children who were recovering from addiction to methamphetamine, the groups are now open to all women with substance addiction. The dynamic of the groups is one of women helping other women.

“If a woman comes into the group and she's at the beginning [of her recovery] and there are other women who are further along, these other women will help this woman work through issues that she is going to have to work through, [such as] being involved with the Department of Human Services,” says Salisbury. “These other women are experts in what's going to happen, what you can do, that kind of stuff.”

The participating women are encouraged to move forward with their education and careers, and many are able to attain their GED and attend college. For many of these women, it's the first time they have heard others tell them that they believe in them.

A new life

Salisbury benefited from the emotional support of her Moms group, receiving a college degree and becoming certified as an addiction counselor. “The encouragement of other women say- ing ‘You can do this’ and ‘I believe in you,’ and when you're using you feel like nobody believes in you and everybody treats you like you're worthless and useless, and you get into these groups and other women are saying ‘Way to go!,’ your life changes and you start believing,” she says.

Salisbury now facilitates Moms Off Meth groups in the Iowa communities of Ottumwa and Fairfield, and trains other women as group facilitators. She also works for First Resources Corp., a child- and family-serving agency, as an in-home counselor, help- ing people in rural areas obtain treatment and support services. Moms Off Meth continues to grow, and Salisbury believes such groups are needed in every community.

Brion P. McAlarney is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.