|| Drug counselor knows what it's like to be on both sides of treatment
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ROCK ISLAND -- Debbie Coleman remembers watching fireworks on July 4, 2001. She wasn't in a park. She wasn't with her family or her friends. She was in a cell at the Rock Island County Jail.
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Debbie Coleman is a counselor at the Rock Island branch of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Services. Ms. Coleman began using drugs at the age of 10 and spent 26 years trying and failing to get off drugs before she finally kicked the habit.
"I remember watching the 4th of July fireworks through that little slit of the jail," said Ms. Coleman.
She spent that Independence Day in jail because she had been arrested for stealing several checks from her father, making them out to herself and cashing them in order to obtain money to buy drugs.
Ms. Coleman said that police officers put her in the back of a squad car, where she attempted to strangle herself with her own shoelaces. Officers managed to subdue her and she was put in a cell at the jail for suicidal people.
"It was so lonely," she said. "It was so hopeless. I know I didn't eat for several days."
That was hardly the first run-in with the law for Ms. Coleman, who says she began using drugs when she was 10 years old.
In her time as a drug user, Ms. Coleman said she obtained money for drugs any way she could. She said she stole money and dealt drugs and even got into prostitution.
Ms. Coleman, now 45, has come a long way since then. She has worked as a counselor at the Center for Alcohol and Drug Services in Rock Island for the past two years. She wanted to be a drug counselor, she said, because she wanted to provide help rather than seek it.
Much of what Ms. Coleman does is share her story with other addicts, she said. She also evaluates them and helps them plan and carry out their treatment.
Ms. Coleman said she started using drugs when she was a grade school student at George O. Barr school in Silvis. When she reached eighth grade, her parents put her into a Christian school.
"I wasn't there very long," she said. "I got caught selling weed to a schoolmate."
By 14, Ms. Coleman said she was already a chronic alcoholic and using speed, LSD, all sorts of pills and marijuana.
"If I could get it, I did it," she said.
After being kicked out of the Christian school, Ms. Coleman said she and her mother moved to Monmouth.
"The theory was that I would be away from the crowd I was going with," she said.
That theory turned out to be wrong. Ms. Coleman said she just found more drug users in Monmouth, and soon, she and her mother came back to the Quad-Cities. Ms. Coleman then started at United Township High School in East Moline.
"I lasted about half a year and things got bad and I dropped out," Ms. Coleman said, adding that she never went back.
It was either 1982 or 1983 -- Ms. Coleman is not quite sure -- when she entered an inpatient drug treatment facility. Though she managed to remain sober throughout her time there, it only took a couple months until she was using again, she said.
Ms. Coleman said she started using drugs again so quickly because she did not really want to stop.
"I wanted to stop getting in trouble," she said. "I wanted to stop getting caught."
Not even motherhood could keep Ms. Coleman, who has three daughters, from using drugs. Though two of her daughters were born without incident, in 1994, her youngest came along. "She was two months premature," Ms. Coleman said. "She wasn't fully developed. She was intoxicated with alcohol, cocaine and marijuana."
After her baby was delivered, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was notified and the children taken out of Ms. Coleman's home. Luckily, she said, they wound up living with her parents, who fostered them for four years.
"They always had hope I'd straighten out," Ms. Coleman said.
Ms. Coleman said that as much as it hurt, giving up her kids was the right thing to do.
"Giving up my children was probably the only unselfish thing I did during my active addiction," she said.
Getting sober allowed Ms. Coleman to reconnect with her children. Her oldest daughter, now 24, came back into her life in 2002, while her middle daughter (age 21) and youngest (age 17) both came back into her life about three years ago.
Ms. Coleman said that while she has been sober for 10 years, she always will be an addict.
"I will never be recovered," she said.
Ms. Coleman said if she ever believes she has beaten her addiction completely, she will be at risk of starting to use drugs again.
"For me, it's too risky to think I've got this under control," she said.
Ms. Coleman said that even though she very nearly wound up dead, all her struggles have been worth it.
"Absolutely," she said, flashing a quick smile. "I really think I needed everything to happen to me. I really like who I am today. More than anything else, I really like the way I connect with me. I feel like I know who I am."
Ms. Coleman said she never hesitates to share her story because she wants people who are struggling with addiction to know there is help.
"Our society at large really needs to know that there's a way out," she said. "Reach out. It's OK. We all need help every once in a while. We can do more together than we can alone. I know that."
Supporting the dream
Who: Debbie Coleman, counselor at the Center for Alcohol and Drug Services in Rock Island
Quote: "We all need help every once in a while. We can do more together than we can alone. I know that."