Betsey Degree is a suburban wife and mother. She has four children, two dogs, and a tortoise. She is also a recovering addict and alcoholic who publicly shares her daily struggles and triumphs on her aptly titled blog, Mom off Meth.
Degree’s addiction didn’t begin with hard drugs, but was rooted in excess: Getting drunk on bowling night; letting loose on weekends. “I was an overwhelmed mom,” says Degree. “It felt good to go out and party—until I felt out of control and close to losing what was precious to me.”
Degree first achieved sobriety in 2007 with the help of Hazelden Treatment Center. She went to 12-step meetings and surrounded herself with sober people. But Degree admits she stopped going to the meetings and didn’t have a plan to protect herself from temptation.
“When my child was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder,” she says, “I should have had someone else administer the medication.” Instead, Degree started popping her child’s pills. Fear of being caught with unprescribed stimulants drove Degree to the street drug known as meth.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine abuse can cause irritability, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, cardiovascular collapse and death.
The bottom for Degree came during a heated family argument. “I could see the pain in my children’s eyes. They knew something was wrong with me,” she says. “They were crying out for help; I could not go on like that for one more day.”
Degree has been sober now for more than two years. She attends regular 12-step meetings and is studying at Metropolitan State University to become an alcohol and drug counselor. “I lost a business but thankfully didn’t lose my house,” Degree says. “My dad generously saved it from a sheriff’s sale. He wouldn’t have done that unless I were sober.”
Degree’s father, Tom Berry, says, “It is nice to have a relationship with someone who makes sense and you can trust. It wasn't always like that.”
“I used to not be able to talk to her,” says her daughter, 14. “Now she is there for me."
Degree realized hanging out with friends in bars would never work for her long-term recovery. She re-committed to following the 12 steps and her life is changed. “I have a better relationship with my kids. They trust me,” she says of her daughter, 12-year old son and 9-year old twin boys. “I am the mom I’m supposed to be.”
Degree considers her blog part of a brand-new adventure. “Blogging has been therapeutic and has benefited my recovery,” she says. “I love it.”
The positive response to Degree’s blog is likely a reaction to her sincerity. Her honesty is raw: Recovery is difficult, drug abuse has affected her marriage (she is separated from her husband) and she occasionally gets depressed. But Degree chooses sobriety and is trying to help others along the way. “I’m an average housewife in White Bear Lake,” says Degree, who will begin an internship as a drug and alcohol counselor in the fall. “This could happen to anybody. But quitting doesn’t have to be so painful. We don’t have to go it alone.”
John MacDougall is director of spiritual guidance for Hazelden Treatment Center. He notes addiction is not a moral failure but a defect of the brain that overreacts to pleasure. “Recovery is learned by repetition,” says MacDougall. “You can’t beat drinking with not drinking. You beat addiction with another way of life.”