CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bernadette Scanlan-Hodges feeds Christian Otis, son of Nancy Nakihei, with the help of social worker Julia Yoshimoto at the Perinatal Addiction Treatment of Hawaii Clinic in Kaimuki. The PATH clinic, which offers perinatal services to women battling substance-abuse problems, is a recipient of a $5,000 grant from the Women's Fund of Hawaii.
Shame of drug use gives way to hope
Amanda Tapec is one of the PATH Clinic's success stories. At 21 she calmly recounts her life in a meth house in Pupukea with the baby's father -- a user and dealer. They did drugs all day, every day, sometimes staying awake for 10 days at a stretch. "Every once in a while, we'd have to come down for a day or two," said Tapec. "It starts to wear down your brain. You start seeing things, you start hearing things. It's a hard, evil drug. I don't remember anything of last year."
When she learned she was pregnant, she knew she needed to escape that life. Despite objections from the baby's father, she found her way to a domestic violence shelter and to PATH (Perinatal Addiction Treatment of Hawaii), one of several 2008 grantees partly funded by the nonprofit Women's Fund of Hawaii. The fund celebrates the work of such grantees at its annual fundraiser Thursday.
"I feel a lot better," said Tapec, whose mother has invited her to live at home again now that she's sober. She'll also start classes at Honolulu Community College in the fall, and has earned back her part-time job as manager at Jack in the Box.
"Here they are open to you," Tapec continued. "Even with relapses, they don't judge you. They just want to help."
Tapec would know. She relapsed once after her arrival at PATH when she temporarily returned to her former boyfriend, but quickly got herself back on track. Getting off the drug is "extremely hard," she said. "When you're on it, you're so energetic. And when you're not, you're sad, depressed, angry and violent -- until the brain adjusts."
The classes she attended at PATH explaining the dangers of drugs on the fetus refocused her attention on the potential brain damage, heart problems and physical abnormalities that could result with her continued use. The group discussions and counseling also helped.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Amanda Tapec, left, talks with Nancy Nakihei in the PATH clinic. The comfortable environment fosters open discussion.
"You're comfortable and relaxed here," said Tapec. "When you talk to these people, you know they really care. It's that support that you need when you're an addict. It's usually the lack of love and support that draws people into drugs."
On a recent Wednesday, several women trickled into the living room area and settled into chairs and couches while social worker Julia Yoshimoto made sandwiches for everyone, setting plates not far from a bowl of packaged condoms and informational pamphlets. Staff members showered babies with attention so the new moms could participate in the upcoming hour-long class.
Discussion topics vary, covering everything from addiction and behavior to making your environment baby-safe and achieving healthy relationships with boyfriends, parents and friends. There's also an arts-and-crafts session, where women learn to sew and make things with their hands -- activities that prevent boredom, which can trigger drug use.
But even the simplest activities carry deeper meaning. Sewing and beading also build self-esteem and help the women open up in a class setting, said nurse manager Renee Schuetter. "They learn that something doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, and they generalize it to themselves and their babies. There really is a lot of shame about using substances ... and we provide unconditional support. And that really is the key to being able to lift out of that black hole and make choices that are good for them."
The incentives don't hurt either. A clean urine analysis, for instance, earns a woman a gift card at Wal-Mart.
For Tapec, it's working. She tells her story because she's not ashamed anymore. She's no longer hiding and lying. "It feels good to let it out," she said. Constantly aware of a possible relapse, she plans to continue her relationship with the clinic for a long time because she can't imagine a day without a visit to PATH.