For 20 years, Marie Saxon had a secret. A secret she kept from her 13-year-old daughter, her family, most of her friends, even from the cops who'd arrested her months earlier for punching an ex-boyfriend in the face.
She was addicted to marijuana and methamphetamine.
She'd nearly completed her probation on that domestic battery charge, and she knew what lies to tell and which people to avoid when she showed physical signs of using the drug. There was no reason she had to come clean. But watching her teenage daughter, Kelsi, practically raise herself, and knowing the same fate awaited her infant daughter, Shaina, she desperately wanted to change.
She worried she wasn't strong enough.
So she knelt down the night of Nov. 17, 2005. "Please God, help me help myself so I can be a better mother," she remembers praying, then crawling into bed.
The next morning, she woke up and smoked a bowl of marijuana before even getting out of bed - her routine.
Then there was a knock on the door. An answer to her prayer.
"It was God's way of telling me to stop," she said.
For the first time in her probation period, alternative sentencing showed up at her house.
She was stoned. From her sunken cheeks and sores on her face, they could tell she also used meth.
She denied it at first. Kelsi was in the room, and she never wanted her daughter to know the truth.
But Marie remembered her plea to change her life and knew this was her chance. She went into the bedroom and gathered all her meth pipes for the officers.
Kelsi burst into tears.
• • •
Standing in front of Judge John Tatro on Wednesday, Saxon was trying to calm her nerves. It was the day she'd been anticipating for so long.
"It's a special day," Tatro told a full courtroom. "We've got a graduation."
He stepped down from the bench to award Saxon a certificate for successfully completing mental health court and marking 18 months clean from meth and marijuana and about a year from prescription drugs.
"Everybody who has gone to groups with, and who know her, know she's put everything she has into this," Tatro said. "She has overcome huge obstacles."
Saxon, who plans to continue working as a volunteer mentor to others going through mental health court, addressed her fellow group members.
"Everyone who's struggling right now, I know that you feel overwhelmed," she said. "But it can be done. You can succeed."
Saxon, 38, was 16 the first time she snorted a line of meth, and stayed awake for 38 hours.
"I loved it," she said. "From that first time, I was addicted. I didn't realize the effects it had on my body and mind."
She continued to use off and on for the next 20 years, quitting during both her pregnancies. But, she said, "As soon as I stopped breast feeding, I was right back using."
She kept her "meth buddies" separate from her other friends and avoided her mom when she was "scabby."
Her first priority remained getting high.
"When I was using meth and marijuana, that's all I could think about," she said.
Now, she said, she's free to focus on her children and her goals.
"This last year and a half has been the greatest," she said. "My mind has been so clear."
She's worked the last eight months at Carl's Jr., the first job she's had in nine years.
She's considering going back to school to become a counselor to help others with addictions.
"I just crave knowledge," she said. "I still have so much to learn."
And she has a message to share.
"A meth addict cannot be a part-time user," she said. "That first line I took at 16 got me hooked for the rest of my life."
But it's possible to quit.
"You have to have strength within yourself, and you have to have support from friends and family," she said. "You have to seek help. You can't do it alone. There's a difference between not using and being clean. You have to change everything in your life."
To celebrate her graduation, she planned a dinner at home with her two girls, now 15 and 2.
"Now I cherish the moments with them," she said.
She's cherishing a lot more moments.
"I love my sobriety, and I love myself - for me to say that, it is a big deal."
• Contact reporter Teri Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1272.