Breaking ‘the grip’

Stacy Hale shares how she finally broke free from her 'self-made prison' of addiction. Today, she helps others with their journeys.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Stacy Hale, of Fort Dodge, began using methamphetamine at age 16. After years of struggling with addiction -- in her own words, she "lived to use, and used to live" -- she entered treatment at the YWCA of Fort Dodge on April 9, 2016. Now, she's an outpatient counselor for the STARS program at Community and Family Resources, helping youth affected by substance use disorders navigate recovery.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series on substance use recovery. September is National Recovery Month, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). To learn about your options for recovery and get connected to resources, visit YourLifeIowa.org.

When Stacy Hale was “in the grips” of her addiction to methamphetamine, all she cared about was her next high — nothing else mattered. Not her kids, not her home, not her job — or lack thereof.

“It’s a self-made prison is what it is,” she said. “The last 10 years of using (meth), I was just walking around as an empty person. I had no joy. Nothing. Sometimes I felt like a robot.”

After battling with addiction her entire adult life, Hale walked into the YWCA of Fort Dodge for substance use treatment on April 9, 2016. All she had was a backpack full of dirty clothes and a desire to escape that “self-made prison” for good.

Hale was 16 when she tried meth for the first time. She’d used marijuana and alcohol before, but this was the first “hard” drug she tried.

“Right away, I was addicted right away to meth,” she said.

At the time, Hale was a teen mother and attending an alternative high school in Des Moines. That’s where she started spending time with classmates she describes as “troubled.” One day, those troubled friends invited her to use meth with them.

“I didn’t think about not doing it,” Hale said. The addiction was immediate. “I liked how this made me feel and I just always wanted more.”

At 22, Hale moved to Fort Dodge because she liked the schools for her two children — whom she had custody of at the time — and because it was closer to her kids’ grandparents. Hale had a few periods in her life where she didn’t use drugs for an extended period of time, and for a while, this was one of them.

Hale earned her GED and began attending college at Iowa Central Community College. She wasn’t using drugs, but she was drinking heavily and partying with her classmates.

Eventually, Hale began using methamphetamine again. She started finding excuses for why her kids would need to spend the night at their grandparents’ so she could use meth. By this time, she had three young kids and the Department of Human Services got involved.

“Today, looking back on it, I can thank them because I was not a good mom,” Hale said.

After DHS took the children, they went to live with their grandparents permanently. “I’m thankful for their grandparents because they gave them what they needed. I was just very unstable. I was not reliable — all those things that come along with addiction.”

Over the years and through her recovery journey, Hale has been able to restore some of those broken relationships with her older children. Her oldest daughter is 26 and lives in Webster City.

“She was just at my house last Sunday,” Hale said. “We grilled and I spent time with my grandbaby. In recovery, I’ve learned to be present and not focus on the things that happened in the past.”

Hale’s oldest son lives in Fort Dodge and she talks to him from time to time. She has a 17-year-old son she hasn’t seen in many years and hasn’t had any contact with him, but she hopes that could change one day. Her youngest daughter lives with her in Fort Dodge.

“I’m grateful for what I have,” Hale said. “I don’t have all my kids in my life, but maybe someday that will be different. I have learned in recovery that I can’t dwell on the ‘what ifs?’ I just need to be present, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Hale first entered treatment for her addiction in 2006. After graduating the program, she moved into the YWCA of Fort Dodge, which she said was more like a homeless shelter at the time, until she was accepted into a transitional housing program and moved into a place of her own.

“That first day, as I was moving in, I saw people that I used to hang out with and I got high that day,” she said. “We were moving in boxes and getting high.”

Before moving into her new apartment that day, Hale had been “clean” from drugs for five-and-a-half months and regularly attended recovery meetings. And then she started hanging out with people she now says she shouldn’t have, which then “veered” her back to where she was before.

“I had started gaining things back in my life,” she said. “And then I lost them right away — I have kids that were removed from my care that I never got back. I had family that didn’t want to talk to me.”

Looking back, she understands why the Department of Human Services removed her children, and at the time she knew they were being taken care of, so she didn’t feel that they needed her.

“I was in the grips of my addiction,” she said. “Nothing else mattered.”

Eventually, something changed.

“It was just weird,” Hale said. “One day I woke up and I was just like, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ … For so many years, that’s all I did. I lived to use and I used to live. That’s another thing they say in recovery.”

It was spring of 2016 and her boyfriend, who had also struggled with addiction for many years, had just entered treatment and suggested Hale look for help too. Hale credits her “higher power” for giving her the clarity to listen to what her boyfriend suggested and follow through with seeking treatment.

“When I decided I didn’t want to use anymore, I was homeless,” Hale said. “I had a backpack with dirty clothes in it. There were times I didn’t eat or have anywhere to sleep.”

She started by visiting a few meetings of a 12-step program. There, she connected with a sponsor who also worked at the YWCA of Fort Dodge and helped her apply for the treatment program there.

“They gave me a bed — I was so grateful to have that bed,” Hale said. “I had my own room there. I felt rich.”

Five months after entering treatment at the YWCA, Hale graduated in September 2016. Her boyfriend had also recently completed treatment and they got an apartment together.

“Life happened the way it was supposed to after that,” Hale said.

Before they moved in together, Hale and her boyfriend established “house rules,” created boundaries and worked on budgeting together. They weren’t going to let anyone using drugs into their home.

Hale also started working as a housekeeper.

“I really didn’t work (when I was using),” she said. “Half the time I didn’t even have a cell phone. I couldn’t tell you where my ID was or my Social Security card was … and those things cost money, so I couldn’t afford to get stuff like that.”

Hale would apply for jobs, but most weren’t able to get in touch with her since she didn’t have a phone or a home. The few times she was able to find employment, if she learned that someone she knew was nearby using drugs, she’d walk off the job to go get high with them.

In her recovery, Hale learned to be reliable — with her work, with her relationships and with her recovery.

“I got really involved with my recovery and got connected with great women who I consider my family,” she said. “All I’ve done is surround myself with healthy women that I want to be like. I’ve learned from these women how to be a good girlfriend, a good mom and a good employee — all of the things that I had to relearn how to do.”

After completing treatment in 2016, Hale decided to go back to school. She now has an associate’s degree in human services and is a licensed counselor for alcohol and drug addiction. For several years, she worked at the YWCA of Fort Dodge as a childcare worker, then a treatment technician and finally as a counselor. Now, she’s the outpatient counselor for the STARS unit at Community and Family Resources. The STARS unit is a treatment program for adolescents that specializes in substance abuse treatment and mental health disorders.

“This is like the beginning of their journeys,” Hale said. “I’m kind of planting seeds of what I wish I had somebody to educate me on when I was younger about using and what it could lead to.”

Hale and her boyfriend have been together nine years, and for the last seven years have helped each other through their recovery.

“We have this good journey together,” Hale said.

Resources for recovery

YWCA of Fort Dodge

826 First Ave. N.



Services: Clinically-managed residential treatment for women and women with children; intensive and extensive outpatient care for males and females.

Community and Family Resources

211 Ave. M West



Services: Prevention and education; detox; outpatient substance use treatment; recovery housing; mental health services; residential substance use treatment.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Visit www.aa-iowa.org for local meeting information.

Narcotics Anonymous

Visit www.na.org for local meeting information.

Rainbow to Recovery

An LGBTQ+ focused addiction recovery support group. Meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays at the Vincent House, 824 Third Ave. S. Search “Rainbow To Recovery” on Facebook for more information.

Your Life Iowa

Help for alcohol/drug/gambling concerns, suicidal thoughts and more.

Call 855-581-8111

Text 855-895-8398

Chat yourlifeiowa.org

Resources in other parts of the state can also be found at yourlifeiowa.org.

Did we miss an organization or program?

Email kwingert@messengernews.net.


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