PORT ANGELES — Prolific drug use had torn apart Sandra “Tina” Schroeder’s family, but last week they sat together in a Clallam County court room to celebrate recovery.
Schroeder, 35, sat alongside her 6-year-old son, her mother, her father and her grandmother — all people she had alienated during her 17-year stint with methamphetamine and heroin — before being called to the front of the courtroom.
“When I came into this program — drug court — I knew I needed more than just me and myself,” Schroeder said, wiping tears from her eyes as she addressed the courtroom.
“I needed something else to take control of my life because my life was so out of control I didn’t know how to pick up my own pieces.”
She told those in the courtroom that drug court has helped her do everything she ever wanted to do, including securing a job at a drug treatment center, regaining custody of her son and, most recently, earning her driver’s license.
Today she has 995 days free from illicit drugs.
“This program has given me everything and I’m super happy,” she said. “I’ve built relationships with people. I’ve mended relationships with my mom and dad, and they’re the ones I hurt the most.
“I’m sad today that my brothers couldn’t be here because they still choose to be in active addiction.”
Overseeing the graduation was Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brent Basden, who also oversaw custody hearings for Tina Schroeder’s youngest son.
Basden told Tina Schroeder that change is difficult and often becomes an obstacle for people in recovery.
“I have respect for people who can make the change necessary to graduate from drug court,” Basden said. “I’m not sure if I were in that situation I’d be able to do it.
“I see what you’ve done and just know you are an amazing lady. You have a son here and a family that loves and adores you,” Basden continued. “That’s what you get for all your hard work.”
She had been involved in Clallam County’s drug court longer than just about anyone else in that room, but Sept. 26 she graduated from the program and had her felony drug possession charge from January 2016 dismissed.
Her drug court graduation was a day that her mother, Sandy Schroeder, had thought she would never see. For years Sandy Schroeder — who has 32 years sober — feared her daughter would die before she ever had a chance to get better.
“There’s been several incidents where Tina probably shouldn’t be here today,” Sandy Schroeder said in an interview earlier this year, recalling hearing of times that her daughter had overdosed.
“God himself was probably standing in those rooms at those times and kept her alive, because certainly the people around her didn’t care.”
People had told her of times that her daughter was found overdosing in bushes or in a hotel room. She had heard of times that people had used Narcan — a drug that rapidly reverses opioid overdoses — to revive her daughter.
Once Tina Schroeder joined drug court and began her recovery, there were still fears that should would leave and start using again, Sandy Schroeder said.
She often took her daughter to drug court out of fear that her stubbornness and frustration would lead to her quitting the program.
“Now look at you,” the elder Schroeder said to her daughter during the graduation. “You’re amazing. I’m so proud of you.”
Addiction started early
Tina Schroeder’s addiction began when she was 16 years old. It started with meth, but when that wasn’t enough she began using heroin.
“As soon as I was given the needle I fell in love with it,” Tina Schroeder said in an interview earlier this year. “It was a fun thing — until tragic things started to happen.”
She used heroin to numb her feelings and emotions, but as her drug use continued over the years she faced more and more trauma, including sexual abuse and rape, she said.
She said she did whatever she could to get drugs, including prostitution.
“All those things added up and I hated myself,” Tina Schroeder said. “I couldn’t walk into a police station and say ‘this man raped me,’ because I was high. I felt disgusting.”
Tina recalled attempting inpatient treatment at one point, but she left after five days when she learned her boyfriend was going to be released from jail.
Her drug use led to her losing custody of both of her boys. It was when she lost her youngest son that things began to change.
She was arrested in January 2016 when someone called for Port Angeles police to check her welfare.
When the officer made contact with Tina Schroeder, the officer learned she had a warrant for her arrest. While searching Tina Schroeder, police found a small amount of meth.
Shortly after her arrest, she agreed to participate in drug court and spent several months in inpatient treatment before returning to Port Angeles.
“As soon as I came back to [Port Angeles], as soon as we got here, I felt my anxiety kick back up,” Tina Schroeder said.
She started immediately with Klallam Counseling. She also met with her doctor, who she told that she feared she would use again.
Tina Schroeder’s doctor, Dr. Samuel Epstein, has her on long-term buprenorphine therapy, which he said in a letter helps her maintain sobriety and manage chronic hip pain.
“Once I got on Suboxone I felt motivated,” Tina Schroeder said. “I didn’t want to be on Social Security any more. I wanted my son to see me get up every morning and go work a job.
“I don’t think, honestly, without having this medical part of it, that I could have these things today.”
Her mother credits Epstein and Suboxone with much of the progress she has been able to make over the last three years. Suboxone has also helped her husband rebuild his life, Sandy Schroeder said.
Suboxone has helped Tina Schroeder feel “normal” and “motivated.”
“Had it not been for the Suboxone, Tina would have gotten back from treatment and would have went right back to using,” Sandy Schroeder said. “I’m not saying the medication does it all for her. She has a heart. She’s a very generous, loving, kind caring person.”
During graduation officials told Tina Schroeder that when she started in drug court she was often resistant to the drug court team’s recommendations, but eventually she took control of her recovery.
She was told she was her “own worst enemy” at the start of the program and that she frequently pushed back.
“Before long, it was like it became your idea and you latched into this recovery thing,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kimberly Ortloff. “You’ve been here a long, long time and I thank you for that, for sticking with it.”
Ortloff told Schroeder that she was “light years” from where she started and that she has become a role model in the recovery community.
“Keep walking that path because … if you keep doing what you’ve bee doing, holding onto those tools that got you to this point, you’re unstoppable,” Ortloff said. “I’m so very proud of you.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].