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Surviving Meth: Local dads win back their lives, their kids



Surviving Meth

Justin Misner, 48, left, and Todd Meyer, 38, met in a Salvation Army program for meth addicts about three years ago and now are best friends and neighbors.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette, March 7, 2010
Barbara Cotter
Photo by Kevin Kreck

Surviving Meth:
On a recent day in the late afternoon, Todd Meyer is deep in conversation with a visitor, and his two young children are hungry. Because he wants to finish the train of thought, he turns to a third adult in the room — his next-door neighbor Justin Misner — for help.

“Justin, will you make ’em a quesadilla?” Meyer asks.

Without a word, Misner gets up, herds 7-year-old Brooklynn and 4-year-old Lain into the kitchen and starts making dinner. Misner doesn’t have to ask where anything is or try to persuade the kids to stay with him and leave Dad alone.

Misner is like family; Meyer and his two kids see Misner and his three young children almost daily, and they move easily between one apartment and the other for quick visits. It’s the kind of close bond that can form when next-door neighbors have a lot in common, and Meyer, 38, and Misner, 48, have more in common than most.

Both are single fathers raising their children.

Both do house-painting and handyman work and are struggling to make ends meet in an economy that has hit their trade hard.

And both are recovering methamphetamine
addicts who also made and sold the drug, accumulating a string of felonies and several stays in jail along the way.

When Meyer and Misner met at a Colorado Springs drug rehab program in 2006, it brought together two souls who understood each other’s demons.

They also share an intense commitment to staying clean. Their motivation to sober up? Their kids.

“If these two hadn’t come along,” Meyer says, nodding at Brooklynn and Lain, “I’d probably still be doing meth.”

Misner echoes a similar commitment to his own children, ages 4, 6 and 7.

For almost three years, Meyer and Misner have been each other’s support system as they navigate the challenging road of being single dads, making it in a tough economy and living drug-free. It’s a struggle but worth it, the men say, because of their children.

Surviving Meth: Change for the worse

For as much as they have in common, Meyer and Misner got into drugs in strikingly different ways.

Meyer spent his early years in Fort Collins with his mother and a stepfather who he says tried to straighten him out with “three-quarter-inch plywood.” When he was about 13, he moved in with his father and stepmother, and got his first job, working as a dishwasher at a Fort Collins sports bar.

He also got his first taste of drugs. A co-worker in his 30s gave him cocaine. Waitresses brought him mixed drinks. A cook gave him a Christmas present of homegrown pot, which he divided and sold.

At 15, he tried meth and found nirvana.

“Meth mixed with me real well,” Meyer says.

By high school, he was using and selling meth, coke, acid, pot and mushrooms at school and parties.

The more he got into drugs, the less time he spent with his family. He’d be gone days, even weeks, without checking in. The family tried counseling. His father and stepmother tried using the gift of a car as incentive for Todd to clean up. Nothing worked.

“Eventually, it was time to pack his bags and throw him out,” says his father, Bob Meyer.

Todd Meyer was 16.

Misner was more than twice that age when he acquired his meth habit. He had started smoking pot in his teens, but gave it up to take a job at a Colorado Springs sheet metal company. By the time he was in his early 30s, he was married, working in management and living the American dream.

“Me and my ex-wife were making $70,000 a year. We owned our house,” he says. “Life was good.”

But the couple eventually got into the party scene, and he became a meth addict at the not-so-young age of 37. In quick succession, he quit his job, his wife of 14 years divorced him and he started manufacturing and selling the drug.

“We had a life — and we got into drugs, and life went down the drain,” Misner says.

Surviving Meth: Convergence

For both men, the years leading up to 2006 are different verses of the same song. They’d get clean for a time, then go back to the only life they knew: using, cooking and selling meth. They were arrested on various charges tied to their drug use, and spent time in jail, all of which did little to stop their involvement with the drug.

Both men also were arrested on charges of domestic violence, which Meyer blames on meth’s ability to fuel rage and distort reality.

“It’s illusions and delusions,” Meyer says.

And they got involved with women who they say were also meth heads, nursing a habit so bad that they used the drug when they were pregnant.

By 2006, both men were fathers several times over, and a life immersed in meth was catching up with them.

Misner failed a drug test, and his probation officer gave him a choice: prison or rehab.

“I was days away from going to prison,” Misner says. “I had to get into a program. I needed help.”

Meyer, meanwhile, was so defeated after spending more than half his life as a drug addict that he tried to kill himself by taking an overdose of antidepressants that a doctor had given him.

“I couldn’t live the life any more. I couldn’t do it,” Meyer says. “I wrote a note to my children, saying it’s not their fault, and put it in one boot. I wrote another to their mother.”

It was 26 hours before someone found him, but he survived — an “act of God,” he says — and quit using drugs.

“After the suicide attempt — whatever it did to him — he said, ‘I don’t have any craving for that stuff anymore,’” Bob Meyer recalls.

Todd Meyer felt he needed support but it was hard to find. A free rehab program through the Salvation Army in Denver was co-ed, which ruled Meyer out because of his domestic violence record. His search led him to the Colorado Springs Salvation Army program, for men only.

Five months after trying to kill himself and four months into being drug-free, he entered the program.

Surviving Meth: The road back

Meyer entered the Salvation Army program about a month before Misner, who recalls a bad first day. It was Aug. 28, 2006, and he got paperwork telling him the mother of his three children was taking them away. He found it hard to care about rehab.

“I was angry,” Misner says. “I wanted to kill my kids’ mother.”

Then Misner met Meyer and told him how distraught he was over his kids.

“That probably sealed our friendship,” Meyer says. “We talked. I told him: ‘You’ve gotta fight for your kids.’”

Misner got it. He let his anger go, he says, and it helped him physically, emotionally and spiritually. With Meyer’s support, he focused on sobriety, motivated by the thought of his three children.

“I told the judge, ‘I’m going through the Salvation Army because I want to change my life,” Misner says. “Their mother doesn’t.”

A month before graduating from the six-month program, Misner went to court and got custody of his children.

Meyer didn’t graduate from the program. He left to have knee surgery. But he stayed clean, went back to Fort Collins and got a job.

Then it was Misner’s turn to help Meyer, whose children had become wards of the state because their mother was using drugs again. Meyer’s dad and stepmother took custody of Brooklynn and Lain. Meanwhile, Meyer fought to prove to the courts he deserved custody and would be a good father.

Though Misner was still in Colorado Springs, the two talked by phone. A lot.

“Todd and I called each other every day,” Misner says. “Sometimes 10 times a day,” Meyer jokes. “There are countless things between the two of us that we’ve been through.”

Lucky break

While Meyer fought for custody in Fort Collins, Misner caught a break in Colorado Springs. He started working for his landlord, painting and fixing up vacant units in the apartment complex where he lived.

He called Meyer to come down and work with him.

Even better, he told Meyer the neighboring apartment was available.

Meyer and his children moved in next to Misner in July, and the two men worked together until business slowed around Christmas. Misner is still working, but barely making ends meet. Meyer is living on unemployment and food stamps, “making it work off $850 a month.”

He’s been looking for work — he worked in cultured marble for 10 years — but has several strikes against him. Jobs in the building trades are scarce, he says, and even though he’ll be clean three years on March 5, his criminal record won’t be.

“Where does a four-time convicted felon go to get a job?” Misner says in his friend’s defense. “You can’t get a job.”

Hindering his job search is the fact that Meyer has no car or driver’s license — a result, he says, of a series of traffic offenses committed while he was on meth. It will cost him $2,000 to get a license, he says.

“I’ve dug such a hole for myself with my driver’s license, with the felonies I have,” Meyer says. “That’s something that’s going to hinder me for the rest of my life.”

Surviving Meth: The road ahead

Besides their current struggles, both Misner and Meyer worry about the future.

For example, they fear the long-term health effects of their meth use. Already, Misner has lost his top teeth.

And will they be able to stay sober?

“They say you always have another relapse in you,” Misner says.

Meyer says he once gave up drugs for three-and-a-half years before giving in to temptation.

Both say this time, sobriety is permanent. That’s because they are doing it for the right reasons.

“You have to get to the point where you’re doing it for yourself,” Meyer said. “You have to want to change. If you’re doing it for anybody else, you’re going to fail.”

It helps that both Meyer and Misner have reconciled with family members after years of being estranged.

Mostly, they’re grateful and relieved that their children are OK, given that they were born to parents who were using meth, and spent their earliest years in what was, without a doubt, a dysfunctional environment.

“My kids were all conceived and raised in the madness of it,” Misner says. “The amazing thing is, our kids are happy. They’re stable. They still play and act like children.”

Perhaps the scariest thing about the future is the inevitable conversations they will have with their children.

One day, Misner and Meyer say they will open up to their kids about their past, as painful and embarrassing as it may be.

“When the time comes for them to know what I went through, they’ll know,” Meyer said. “The only thing I can tell them is, ‘Look, you come from two addicts — me and your mother. That’s a strike against you, and it probably means you’re going to have an addictive personality. You think it starts as fun and games — it does. But at the drop of a hat, it goes bad.”

It’s the same reason they are willing to tell the world about their lives and their mistakes.

“I don’t want anybody to go down this road like I did,” Meyer says. “It’s loneliness, despair and headache.”

Read more: Program that saved them now shuttered.

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