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Consumed Series: Kim's Story

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By Kacie Goode

Addiction can affect people of any background, age and status, and it affects all in different ways. In Nelson County, hundreds face addiction each day. In this series, those impacted by addiction share their stories of hope, struggle, loss and advocacy.

Kim Helton is a wife, mom and grandmother who spends her days trying her best to help others when they are at one of the darkest points in their lives. But it took treading through darkness of her own to obtain that responsibility.

Kim started using drugs recreationally when she was a senior in high school.

“Everybody else was doing it,” she said. “You know how that is.”

She wanted to fit it. She had never really felt “comfortable,” she said. She moved to Kentucky when she was 12, and bounced back and forth between her mother and father. As she looked to find her place, Kim started running with “the wrong group of people,” she said.

“They were heavily into drugs,” and soon, she was finding herself focused on the score.

At just 18, her recreational use that “everyone was doing” had crept into an addiction and the beginning of an emotionally, physically and mentally draining struggle that would extend well into her adult years.

Kim’s own experience wasn’t the first time she had encountered addiction. Without truly realizing it, she was already at risk. Her father struggled with alcoholism, and substance abuse affected members on both sides of her family.

“My uncle who was fighting with addiction committed suicide,” she recalled. And the loss hit her hard. “That is when I really took off in my own addiction.”

Court dates and prescriptions

By 1996, Kim had received her first drug charge for trafficking in cocaine. She entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to five years in prison.

“I did two years of that five, and had three years on parole,” she said.

She completed the sentence and parole without any further offenses and stayed clean for six years, but her struggle was far from over.

She started having back problems, and a doctor placed on her on prescription pain medication to treat the symptoms. It became a regimen for three years before she had back surgery, and by that time her body had become reliant on the pills.

“I’m full-blown addicted at this time,” she said, but the doctors took her off the meds.

Without access to the prescription, Kim began looking for a way to find relief from the hold addiction had over her once again, which led to a new set of obstacles.

“I started stealing from where I was working, and got a felony charge for that,” she said. “They put me on probation.”

While on probation and still dealing with addiction, Kim started using meth, and after testing positive for the substance in a drug screening, was sent to a rehabilitation facility in Louisville for eight months.

In June 2015, she returned home — clean — but her addiction was still only dormant. She began struggling with some unexpected changes in her life and was having a difficult time dealing with those changes emotionally.

A relapse and another chance

Shortly after relapsing, Kim found herself back in court, and the judge revoked her probation from her prior charge. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened in her situation, because it introduced her to the support and help she needed.

In August 2016, Kim was granted shock probation with the condition she join Drug Court, a supervised substance abuse program that helps offenders pursue treatment rather than jail time.

“That is when my whole life changed,” she said. “That program, it’s amazing.”

Amazing, but a rough start. In the very beginning, Kim was homeless and unemployed. She, her husband and their son were bouncing back and forth between hotel rooms and homeless shelters.

She relapsed again, but this time, she was being held accountable. As part of Drug Court, relapsing meant a two-week stay in the county jail.

“I knew something had to change,” she said as she spent those 14 days in a cell. “Something just came over me. My life had to be different. I prayed and prayed for God to give me the will and strength.”

By the time she was released, her husband had found them an apartment, and she applied for a job at a local restaurant that had employed other Drug Court participants.

“I started out working as a biscuit maker — 4 a.m. I had to be there,” she laughed. “I did that for probably a good eight or nine months, and then they promoted me to shift manager.”

With her new role, she was given a key to the store and even had access to the safe.

“I knew then my life was changing,” she said. “No one had ever trusted me with anything. It meant so much for someone to trust me like that.”

It was the starting point of a deep and intentional focus on her recovery. She began attending meetings and sharing her story with others. She was ready to move forward.

Peer support and sobriety

Before long, Kim’s recovery turned into advocacy, and with a year of sobriety to celebrate, she was approached about working as a peer support specialist for a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic in Louisville.

“I am still doing that today. That’s my job,” she said.

While at the clinic, she works with people in active addiction to counsel them and help them find their own way to recovery.

“They think this is the end, but I love sharing my story with them and let them know it’s not the end,” she said. “I’m 51 years old and I’ve struggled with addiction my whole adult life, so it’s not too late. It’s never too late to change.”

Kim has come a long way since before she entered Drug Court and seeking recovery came with its own unique challenges.

While Kim was taking part in the program that helped her find sobriety, hope and healing, her husband was still in active addiction of his own.

“You’re talking about the hardest two years of my life dealing with that,” she said. “It’s different when you are dealing with a stranger than a loved one.”

Kim has learned that, for many, recovery cannot be obtained until the person dealing with addiction is ready to pursue it, and even then, that person needs help, encouragement and support starting the process and staying on track. She hopes to be that connection for some.

Recovery can also be introduced in many forms, and those seeking it must find what works best for them. For Kim, that was Drug Court.

“The not using, that’s the easy part,” Kim said. “But you have to learn how to live again. You have to change your behaviors, your way of thinking. Drug Court gave me the tools and taught me how to live all over again.”

On May 18, she will be two years clean, and her husband, who also joined the Drug Court program has been clean for 10 months now.  

Related: Consumed: Hiding in plain sight