SIOUX CITY | A knock at the door used to send Stephanie Bolyard scurrying for a place to hide.
When the Sioux City woman was strung out on methamphetamine, she was convinced that DEA agents were outside her home just waiting for the right moment to arrest her and haul her off to jail.
It was a scary time for Bolyard, 36, whose recollection of her descent into the depths of drug addiction rapidly tumbles out of her mouth as she sits cross-legged on a sofa at Jackson Recovery Centers. Bolyard, who is wearing salmon pink scrubs, bluntly describes herself back then as "a mess."
"For the last two years of my addiction, I cried every single day," says Bolyard who stayed up for four days straight at times, drank household chemicals in effort to pass drug tests and sold her cars to the salvage yard in order to buy dope. "I don't hear voices anymore. I don't see things. I don't get paranoid when the cops are behind me. I can answer my door now. I don't run and hide and I give back."
Bolyard tells her story to teenagers and adults in recovery. She sees a younger version of herself looking back at her in the girls' faces.
Before meeting with patients at Jackson's Child & Adolescent Recovery Hospital, she says a prayer in her head, "God, please let one of these girls hear a message that's gonna make them stop using."
"They're a hard bunch, sometimes," she admits. "Using at that age is normal. They don't really think that it's going to cause any problems."
Bolyard knows otherwise.
Living for drugs
At age 17, Bolyard found herself in a hotel room with "the wrong guy," a pound of cocaine and a gun. She was arrested and charged with a felony.
"I got put away for 44 days across the state of South Dakota. I thought I was never, ever going to return. It was really frightening," Bolyard recalls, brushing a loose strand of brown hair from her face.
Early on, Bolyard says she never thought she was using drugs to cover up her feelings. It was just a way to "have fun" and ease the boredom and loneliness that comes along with moving to a new city.
Bolyard grew up in Hornick, Iowa, participating in cheerleading and volleyball and playing the flute in the school jazz band. Her parents divorced when she was 5. When her mother remarried, Bolyard and her three sisters gained a stepbrother and two stepsisters, as well as a stepfather.
"It was good. We were like the family fun house. Everybody came to our house for the holidays," Bolyard says, before pausing. "Then sexual abuse happened in my family with my stepdad."
When Bolyard's stepfather went to prison, the family broke up. Bolyard, her mother and her biological sisters moved to Sioux City, where she smoked cigarettes and hung out with boys at a skating rink. Soon Bolyard was drinking alcohol and experimenting with various drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and acid.
At 15, Bolyard dropped out of school. She says she used drugs all day with her friends.
"That's kind of what we lived for," she says.
Bolyard caught a break when her 10-year prison sentence was suspended.
She was placed on three years' probation and house arrest until she earned her GED. Bolyard followed the court's orders by enrolling in a recovery program, but she says she continued to use drugs.
She drank gallons of water and bleach, which could've killed her, in an effort to pass probation drug testing.
"All you think about is you need to be clean so you don't go to jail, because if you go to jail you can't use. You almost get an adrenaline rush off that in itself," she explains.
It was also at age 17 that Bolyard met her future husband, whom she would spend the next 13 years of her life with. Four years into their relationship, Bolyard gave birth to a son.
"We didn't expect to have a child," she says. "We're using, I have this kid and he comes out with a cleft lip and palate."
Bolyard thought, "How am I going to take care of this baby?"
Her mother-in-law suggested she enroll in nursing school so she could get a job to provide for her family. While her husband watched their son, Bolyard attended nursing classes high on methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant that was the No. 1 drug in the rural Midwest in the early 2000s. Iowa's small towns and cities were ravaged by the mix of over-the-counter cold medications, cleaners and chemicals that was produced in clandestine laboratories located in home kitchens, garages and vehicles.
In the classroom, Bolyard says nobody noticed that she was under the influence of meth, or if they did, she says they didn't say anything about it.
"When you're on meth, it makes you feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof," she says. "Whatever project you can set yourself up to do, you're gonna do it and you're gonna do it really good."
Bolyard focused on the end goal -- financial stability. With a degree in hand, she could get a nursing job. She didn't think twice about what meth was doing to her body. Looking back, Bolyard has doubts about whether she could've made it through nursing school at the time without the drug.
"I would like to think I would, but I don't know if I would've," she says.
A dark world
After graduation, Bolyard landed a job at a nursing home. She was high while she cared for elderly patients overnight.
Bolyard says her former employer never gave her a drug test, but after 13 months at the nursing home, she lost her position.
When Bolyard's husband started dealing meth to make money, Bolyard says she stole from his supply.
Bolyard's home was broken into and her husband was beaten up. Soon she began hearing and seeing things that didn't exist and became obsessed with the suspicion that her husband was cheating on her.
Eating food, drinking water and sleeping weren't on Bolyard's radar. She drastically lost weight.
When Bolyard could barely function, she reassured herself that she was a good mom. Her son had food and clothing and a TV in his room.
The night before her son's first day of kindergarten, Bolyard set five alarms to ensure that he wouldn't be late for school, but she couldn't get out of bed on time, couldn't focus and felt like she was losing her mind.
"You get stuck in this dark world of all you need is the drug and you'll be OK. It's really sick," Bolyard says chuckling slightly.
Bolyard's relationship with her husband turned violent. She sported black eyes on Mother's Day and New Year's Eve.
"I got really mad and I wrote in Sharpie all the girls names he cheated on me with on his motorcycle tank -- that was like the final straw," she recalls. "His mom came over. I went to jail."
Fed up with the situation, Bolyard's family contacted the Department of Human Services (DHS); and Bolyard entered inpatient drug treatment at Jackson Recovery Centers' Synergy Center. People at the center told her, "This could be the first day of the rest of your life. You never have to use again. There's a better way of life out there."
Bolyard says a light bulb switched on in her head. That first day at Synergy Center, she was excited to have a schedule after living a life where structure was nonexistent. But after some success with recovery, Bolyard relapsed. It wasn't until she was asked to write a goodbye letter to her son in family treatment court that she decided she was done with drugs for good.
"That was it. I didn't want to miss out on any more of his life," says Bolyard, who was 31 at the time.
She has been drug-free ever since.
A new way of life
Today, Bolyard is back working at a nursing home as an assistant director of nursing. She is a single mom to a 5-year-old son, as well as her 15-year-old son, and owns her own home.
Bolyard's involvement in the recovery community is a big part of her life. She offers support to a dozen or more sponsees in 12-step recovery programs and recently joined the parent partner program, which pairs mentors with current DHS clients who have had a child removed from the home.
When Bolyard thinks about the time she wasted using drugs, she still feels tremendous guilt and shame. She says she wishes she could go back in time to when her oldest son was 5 years old, so she could be the mom that she is now to his younger brother.
"I'm still very, very damaged, but I work a 12-step program," she says smiling. "With each step comes a little bit more sanity back."
Bolyard says if she can get clean and stay clean, anyone can.
"Us addicts have a way of wanting what we want when we want it; and we want it now," she says. "If you take it moment by moment, day by day, miracles happen."