JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — Brittany Rhodes admits she doesn't have the best track record as a mother, but the drug addiction that hindered her ability to raise her children when she was younger is now tempered by her desire to be the best mom she can be.
"I'm more grateful for my kids today and don't take them for granted," said Rhodes, who recently celebrated four years of sobriety as she now works as a tech and counselor in training at Jackson Area Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (JACOA). "If they have something going on at school or wherever, then I take vacation time or sick time to go be there with them because I think that's what a good mother is supposed to do."
Rhodes has six children ranging from 2 to 15 years old. The mother she is now is very different from the one she was when she gave birth to her oldest son, when she was just beginning her battle with addiction.
Rhodes' story has a tragic beginning. She was a budding softball player in her early teens, excelling on the diamond while playing travel ball and preparing for a top-level high school career at Dyer County High School. That changed when she was hit by a car.
"It threw my spine off line in my lower back, and I was prescribed opiates to deal with the pain," Rhodes said. "By the time I was 16 I was a full-blown opiate addict."
Rhodes' father could tell she was developing an addiction, so he took her off the painkillers.
"And that was when everything began spiraling out of control because I needed the drugs, and I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to get them," Rhodes said.
Rhodes was 18 years old when she had her first child and got married, and that worked for an extended period of time in seeming to overcome the addiction.
"I was able to use having a baby and being married as enough to get me off the pills because I was happy being a mom and being married," Rhodes said. "But after a while, the happy of being married wore off, and I got back into pills."
Rhodes had two more children with her husband over the next four years, but she began taking painkillers again. Soon, she needed more to get her high — more access to more pills from substances with more strength.
"My husband at the time was awesome, and he was the opposite of me," Rhodes said. "He wouldn't even take Tylenol if he had a headache.
"And then I decided to leave him so I could go get what I wanted."
They were living in North Carolina at the time, and after her divorce, Rhodes brought their children back to West Tennessee and began living with another man.
"He was on methamphetamines, and I started doing that too," Rhodes said. "And meth is something that you're hooked the first time you try it."
Rhodes said her meth addiction showed its difference when she was pregnant.
"When I had my first three children, I was able to stay off the pills while I was pregnant," Rhodes said. "But when I was with my second husband and still on meth, I had two kids, and I didn't stop using it when I was pregnant with them."
Rhodes' fifth child, who's now approaching her fifth birthday, stayed in the NICU for a few days after being born. It was during that hospital stay that Rhodes hit rock bottom.
"I was so strung out on meth that I didn't know where I was or how long I'd been there," Rhodes said. "My mom would come to the hospital and give me some time to get home and shower or whatever, and I left and then the next time I checked my phone there was a voicemail from her.
"She said, 'I don't know where you are, but you have 24 hours to get back here or I'm calling children's services.'"
Rhodes said when she got that voicemail, it was already 24 hours old and it took her 24 more hours to get back to the hospital.
"I got back to the hospital after three days being away with my baby girl there in the hospital," Rhodes said.
Representatives from the Department of Children's Services were dispatched to Rhodes' home and removed the children when they all tested positive for meth. The three older children were sent to live with their father in North Carolina. The younger two were placed into foster care in West Tennessee.
Rhodes and her husband, whom she'd married since having a couple children with him, were both arrested. She was out in five days, and he was sentenced to 90 days. They both had to get treatment.
Five days in jail was part of the wake-up call Rhodes needed, but she said losing her children was the true catalyst for her to seek help.
She went through a progression of programs in Jackson including Aspbell Recovery, Recovery Court and JACOA, along with joining Narcotics Anonymous.
"I got the treatment that I needed to get me off drugs and the accountability I needed to stay off them," Rhodes said. "And that's what I didn't have when I first had kids and stayed clean for those four years . . . I didn't have a program to keep me off drugs so it was easy to fall back to them when I had the opportunity."
Through all of that and other programs, Rhodes said she and her husband both have been clean for four years and have regained custody of all her children.
"And he's a different person now and supportive of me, working three jobs and being a good husband and daddy," Rhodes said.
Rhodes said there were issues with her older kids, particularly her oldest son, when they moved back in with her.
"He saw a lot and dealt with a lot that kids as young as he was shouldn't have to deal with," Rhodes said. "And that meant we had to have some hard conversations where he asked me some hard questions, and I had to be honest with him."
Rhodes said the most difficult night was when he was ready to talk, but two of her sponsors in her treatment had to be present to make sure she was honest in her answers as he had the freedom to ask anything.
"It was hard, but it was a big step to getting past everything," Rhodes said. "And in the four years he's been living with me, we've slowly gotten better and gotten a new relationship between me and him."
Something else that's helped the family is when Rhodes gave birth to her sixth child, another son, two years ago.
"He's my little angel, and he's the one that I feel like is my second chance to be a real mom," Rhodes said. "He's the first baby I've had while being completely sober and off drugs, and I want to do everything right raising him.
"And everybody else in the family loves him."
Rhodes is now working at JACOA in different capacities. She hopes to return to school soon after she gets her GED after she quit school when she became pregnant her senior year. She also hopes to go to college and earn the proper certification to be an official counselor at JACOA.
"I want to do what I can to help other people get out of the places I found myself in," Rhodes said. "I want to have a positive impact on people the same way JACOA and Aspbell and Recovery Court and everything else was for me."
Rhodes said she hopes anyone with addiction can see past the perceived hopelessness of their situation and find the way out.
"Addiction is hard, and there were a lot of times I wouldn't be able to get out, but there's hope," Rhodes said. "I never thought I could get out, but with accountability and positive reinforcement and everything else I learned in all my programs — I found out you can get out.
"There were plenty of times when I thought I couldn't get out, but if you want to do it — you see the need for it — and you have the right support around you, you can do it. My children were my reason to get out, and now they're becoming part of my support. I'm so grateful for them."
Information from: The Jackson Sun, http://www.jacksonsun.com