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Addiction in Franklin County

Recovery is what she does

Mom takes on 12 steps to keep her family

  • Melissa O'Malley bottle-feeds her one-month-old granddaughter Aaliyah at her home in Greenfield. O'Malley has been sober almost five years. A large factor in her recovery was wanting to do better for her children and grandchildren. She says she's happy to have the chance to be there for her granddaughter as a 'Nana'.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Melissa O'Malley bottle-feeds her one-month-old granddaughter Aaliyah at her home in Greenfield. O'Malley has been sober almost five years. A large factor in her recovery was wanting to do better for her children and grandchildren. She says she's happy to have the chance to be there for her granddaughter as a 'Nana'.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Melissa O'Malley bottle-feeds her one-month-old granddaughter Aaliyah at her home in Greenfield. O'Malley has been sober almost five years. A large factor in her recovery was wanting to do better for her children and grandchildren. She says she's happy to have the chance to be there for her granddaughter as a 'Nana'.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Melissa O'Malley bottle-feeds her one-month-old granddaughter Aaliyah at her home in Greenfield. O'Malley has been sober almost five years. A large factor in her recovery was wanting to do better for her children and grandchildren. She says she's happy to have the chance to be there for her granddaughter as a 'Nana'.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Melissa O'Malley bottle-feeds her one-month-old granddaughter Aaliyah at her home in Greenfield. O'Malley has been sober almost five years. A large factor in her recovery was wanting to do better for her children and grandchildren. She says she's happy to have the chance to be there for her granddaughter as a 'Nana'.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Melissa O'Malley bottle-feeds her one-month-old granddaughter Aaliyah at her home in Greenfield. O'Malley has been sober almost five years. A large factor in her recovery was wanting to do better for her children and grandchildren. She says she's happy to have the chance to be there for her granddaughter as a 'Nana'.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

Melissa O’Malley begins each day with prayer and continues it with 12-step meetings and recovery groups at The Grapevine on Chapman Street and The RECOVER Project at the corner of Federal and Osgood streets in Greenfield.

Recovery is what she does. Keeping her family intact after twice losing and winning back her children is a big part of the reason for that.

O’Malley, 40, was living on the Cape when she began her descent into addiction, beginning with a prescription for opioid painkillers to treat back pain from a bad fall in 1994. Her addiction escalated until she began injecting heroin, and she finally found herself facing a superior court indictment and 10 to 15 years in prison.

In jail awaiting trial, the court allowed her to enter a residential treatment program. After a period of sobriety she returned to court and heard the charges against her with a clear head.

After months of sobriety, hearing about the home invasion some drug acquaintances had committed after borrowing her car, how she had dealt crack and powder cocaine, heroin and pills, and about drug deals she had made with her young son in the car was all too much.

“It was horrible. I couldn’t recognize that person they were talking about, and I had a mental breakdown. They had to stop court,” she said.

“Really, for the first time the fog had lifted.”

Jail time, recovery time

O’Malley found sobriety in jail, began recovery to avoid prison and stayed sober because she has something bigger than herself: her children. She says she knows and has the utmost respect for people who are able to get sober for themselves, but doesn’t know if she could have done it.

After a long spell in residential recovery programs, O’Malley did what many recommend, and left town for good. She moved to Greenfield, where she concentrates on her recovery, parenting and volunteering full-time.

It took two years, but she and her husband have custody of their children again.

Recovery does get easier. She no longer obsesses over the memory of getting high.

“This is the Alcoholics Anonymous book that tells me the obsession can and will be lifted,” O’Malley said, indicating a marked and dog-eared volume.

“And for me I think it has. I don’t wake up thinking about a drug, a drink or a pill. I wake up thinking ‘what amazing things are going to happen today?’”

Alcoholics Anonymous is a faith-based program stressing the idea of a higher power. Originally religion, this can be whatever works for the individual, sometimes even a sibling or friend lost to addiction. O’Malley was raised Catholic and for her, it’s God.

She prays daily and participates in the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings — Narcotics Anonymous meetings are scarce locally — and it works for her.

“I feel like the life I’m living today is so very different from the life I was living 4½ years ago that there’s got to be something to this,” she said.

At the same time, she sees what happens to people who relapse. There’s the risk of losing her family and her life.

Since navigating the difficult waters of recovery and winning back her children, O’Malley has tried to help other parents in the same situation.

Regaining custody

She co-facilitates a family group for parents struggling to regain control of their lives and custody of their children, a 16-week program meeting Tuesdays, 1 to 2:30 p.m. in The RECOVER Project. The focus is nurturing yourself so you can nurture others, she said.

She has seen the start of a new peer-to-peer support group for parents in recovery, and she hopes the group can support a children’s component. The idea is a separate group where kids can safely air their concerns about their own or their parents’ addiction problems.

“A place where they can go and talk about their stuff and know that somebody’s not going to come into their house and rip them out of there tonight and the parents will be in the other room,” she said.

That’s still in the planning stage.

Related

Series at a glance: Pushing Back

Friday, May 2, 2014

A year ago, we reported that addiction to heroin and its painkiller cousins was ravaging lives in Franklin County.  Now, this new six-day series asks “what can we do?” ... to reclaim those ruined lives and beat back the threat of chemical enslavement. … 0

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