Oregon couple aids other parents battling addiction

From KVAL.com, October 9, 2011

Angela Larecy was grateful when child welfare authorities placed her two children in foster care for the third time.

“I didn’t want to lose my kids, but I needed help,” she said.

The day before, she was drinking alone and frustrated that she couldn’t kick methamphetamine.

“I remember screaming to God saying, ‘I can’t do it alone.’ ”

The Larecy family, from left, Angela, Lena, 5, Rick and Layden, 4, at their Roseburg, Ore. home.

The Larecy family, from left, Angela, Lena, 5, Rick and Layden, 4, at their Roseburg, Ore. home.

Parental drug addiction is the number one reason children in Douglas County end up in foster care. It’s also why some parents never regain custody.

Larecy and her husband, Rick, faced that possibility.

Their drug addictions caused them to end up homeless and in trouble with the law. But they didn’t decide to get clean until their children were on the verge of being adopted.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Rick Larecy said.

In July, the Roseburg couple celebrated three years of sobriety. They’ve been reunited with their children — Lena, 5, and Layden, 4.

They speak openly about their experiences, hoping to encourage parents and others struggling with drug addiction and to help foster parents understand the feelings of birth parents.

“They’re giving back to the community now,” said Fran Palm, a Child Welfare Services supervisor. “They see the value of being there for other addicts.”

The Larecys credit their church and their realization that they couldn’t fight their addictions alone. Ultimately, however, it was the prospect of losing their kids that sobered them up.

Rick Larecy’s sponsor in a 12-step group, Doug Bennett of Roseburg, said the couple made one of the most dramatic turnarounds he has ever seen.

“It didn’t look good,” he said. “Even though it looked like it was against all odds, (Rick) and Angela just buckled down. Usually, people get discouraged, especially when they’re told they’re not going to get their kids back. It usually doesn’t work out like this.”

Rick Larecy, 41, started taking meth when he was 17. Angela Larecy, 33, started drinking when she was 12. Shortly after that, she was smoking marijuana. By the time she was 14, she was doing meth.

At one point, before their children were born, the couple lived in a car parked above the fish ladder at the Winchester Dam. Not even being homeless motivated them to get clean, Rick Larecy said.

“You’d think that would be enough, but the drugs had that big hold on us,” he said.

Every time they were forced to go to recovery programs they just went through the motions. After they had children, they put on a show and pretended to be sincere about staying clean when Child Welfare threatened to take away their kids.

“As soon as we were done with (Child Welfare), we’d go back on drugs again. I just wanted to be done so I could go on using,” Rick Larecy said.

The Larecys’ daughter, Lena, was 6 weeks old when Child Welfare first placed her in foster care. Their house smelled like marijuana when his parole officer visited, Rick Larecy said. The couple failed a drug test.

Angela Larecy went to treatment, but she had no intention of staying clean.

“I came home, and I relapsed in three days,” she said.

Their addictions drove them to sell and do drugs while their kids were in the house, Rick Larecy said.

“I had a real passion for meth,” he said. “I was willing to do anything, sell anything, take anything.”

Angela Larecy said it didn’t occur to her how their drug abuse affected their daughter.

“I thought I was a good mom because my kid was clean, she was fed,” Angela Larecy said. “I wasn’t there physically and mentally.”

Child Welfare intervened again while Angela Larecy was pregnant with the couple’s son, Layden. She was given an ultimatum to clean up her act or risk losing her child after he was born.

She failed to meet the agency’s expectations, and the newborn was taken away from the hospital and placed with Lena in foster care.

Rick Larecy described having his children taken away as “a punch to the gut.”

“I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt terrible,” he said.

Four months after the children were placed back into the Larecys’ care, the couple failed another drug test and the children were once again placed in foster care.

They found out their children’s foster parents were willing to adopt them permanently.

“It was frightening,” Angela Larecy said.

As a child, she lived in 13 foster homes in eight years.

“That was kind of my turning point, watching my kids go through what I did,” she said. “I want to give them stability, and I didn’t want to be that person. I remember being eight months pregnant and sticking a needle in my arm and crying. That was the first time I felt helpless. That I used during my pregnancy.”

After her children were taken away that third time, she sought treatment for her meth addiction in Ontario in Eastern Oregon.

It was a 30- to 60-day program, and she requested to stay for 90.

“It gave me a chance to focus on me.”

She’s been clean ever since.

Meanwhile, Rick Larecy was left alone.

“I was back living at home with my mom, my kids were in foster care, my wife was in treatment, and I was lonely,” he said.

Rick Larecy was also ready to sober up.

“I had to do it for me. Not for my children, not for my wife,” he said.

He didn’t have any friends who were clean and sober and had to cut off contact with them.

“I had to completely drop every single friend I had. It was awful.”

He found solace when he joined Church on the Rise in Roseburg. Getting involved with the church helped him recover from his addiction more than anything else he had tried, he said.

“Before that, the only time I’d been to a church was for a wedding or a funeral,” he said.

These days, Rick Larecy is studying human services at Umpqua Community College and hopes to become a drug counselor. He recently started an internship at Adapt, which counsels and treats addicts in Roseburg.

Angela Larecy said she’s devoting her time to raising their children as a stay-at-home mom.

They volunteer to share their recovery story with foster parents. This helps foster parents understand what birth parents go through, Palm said. Because drug addiction is the main reason why Douglas County children end up in foster care, the addict’s perspective is important for foster parents to understand, she said.

“Foster parents realize that even if people’s children are removed that there is a lot of hope and value of working with the parents, not to dismiss them,” she said. “Also, to let the foster parents know how hard it is to kick the habits.”

The Larecys also go into the Douglas County Jail to talk to addicts through a 12-step group.

The jail wasn’t always a welcome place for Larecy, whose drug use led to a criminal record that haunts him today.

“It’s strange to go into the jail and have them let me go,” he said.

Bennett, Rick Larecy’s 12-step sponsor, said the couple has inspired him.

“They’ve had a model recovery,” he said.

Rick Larecy remembers a judge asking why he and his wife deserved to get their children back after they already had blown so many chances.

“They said, ‘Why should we trust you guys?'” he said. “We said, ‘You are exactly right. Only time will tell.'”

Today their kids are thriving, Larecy said.

“There is no denying that we were very awful parents, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be good parents today.”

His kids make staying sober easier every day, he said.

“We’ve got so much to lose now.”