Muncie couple uses their story of addiction and recovery to help others

<p>The Flemings used to be addicted to opioids. Now they use their story to help others recover. <strong>Joseph Fleming, Photo Provided</strong>&nbsp;</p>

The Flemings used to be addicted to opioids. Now they use their story to help others recover. Joseph Fleming, Photo Provided 

Cel Fleming rarely left her bedroom in 2014. Her once beautiful Muncie family home transformed into a trap house — no electricity, gas or running water. Scarce remains of food were all that filled the kitchen. 

But she had methamphetamine, opioids and a husband who spent all his time chasing their next high, and at that point in her life, nothing else mattered. She just existed.

“I spent a year in my room,” Cel said. “I didn’t come out of my room. I had a box of Ho Hos and needles. That’s all I needed.”

It was a low point. The then 33-year-old had stopped caring about anything unrelated to getting high. Her husband, Joseph, had a new full-time job: keeping himself, his wife and at least three or four other people high at all times.

“I just wanted to be in my house and be high,” Cel said. “I didn’t want to do anything else. That was the just existing part.”

Then prison happened and everything changed.

Opioid horror

Rarely do addicts begin their addiction on meth or heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately three out of four new heroin users misused prescription opioids prior to using heroin. 

The National institute on Drug Abuse classifies an opioid as a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain relievers available legally by prescription such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine.

After initially breaking his back, Joseph received pain pills. At that point, the high was enjoyable, but not a necessity. But taking sometimes 12 pills in one sitting, the oxycodone and morphine the doctor was prescribing wasn’t enough.

“Sooner or later it wasn’t enough, we needed more,” Joseph said. “Sooner or later we needed more than we could get from our doctor.”

Turning to the streets to get their fix, the Flemings decided to enhance their high by injecting the drugs, though Joseph was skeptical of his wife’s idea.

“I told [Cell], you don’t come back,” Joseph said. “That’s it, you lose everything. It was a continual decline into chaos.”

Chaos that included vivid hallucinations. Chaos that included their worst fear — dope sickness — diarrhea, muscle aches and the sensation of crawling skin that wouldn’t go away until getting high.

“Hours and hours of just being stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck and crying because I’m so dope-sick,” Cel said. “It’s like the worst flu you ever had and nothing, nothing will make it go away except more dope.”

Still, the high was worth the hallucinations and skin crawling sensations.

When the opioids got too pricey, the couple began incorporating meth into the mix. Not too long after, they were addicted to making meth, but were still dependent on the pills.

Praying for death

In 2013 the couple got arrested for the first time. Joseph got pulled over leaving WalMart.

Upon searching his car the police discovered lithium batteries, Coleman lantern fuel and pseudoephedrine — three ingredients used to make meth.

According to Indiana State Code, Law enforcement officers need to find at least two ingredients to charge a person with possession with precursors to make meth. He was arrested and a warrant was issued to search the Flemings’ property.

According to data from the Indiana State Police Department, in 2013 Delaware County tallied 109 meth busts. That number skyrocketed to 234 in 2015.

When Joseph never came home from WalMart Cel knew what happened and prepared for the worst.

“I packed up my kids and I sent them to my mom. I cleaned everything up as best I could,” Cel said. “And I let [police] come.”

Busting the front door down, law enforcement held Cell at gunpoint before taking her to the Delaware County Jail.

Still, the Flemings weren’t ready to change.

“I posted bail as soon as I could, but I didn’t have the money for Joseph’s bail so what did I do? I went straight back to making meth because it was the only thing I knew how to do,” Cel said.

A little over a year later, the police were back at the Flemings’ trap house.

“I had hit rock bottom ten-fold and I was praying for death before the police because I didn’t want to go to jail,” Cel said. “I didn’t care about overdosing, didn’t care about what I did to anybody.”

After both received charges of a Class B felony conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine; Class D felony possession of precursors and Class D felony maintaining a common nuisance, prison was unavoidable.

Two separate worlds

The Flemings’ life now is nearly unimaginable compared to when they were using. After regaining custody of their four children, free time is filled with busing them around to activities, going out to eat and running the new family business. 

Before recovery, it was only drugs. The couple now voices their story to those who may be struggling preaching that recovery is possible, even as the epidemic continues to worsen.

“It’s hard to get over that stigma,” Cel said. “People think of us and they think we’re junkies. They think that’s all we would ever be and they don’t see us for how we are now.”

But, how they are now is remarkable compared to where they were three years ago. The couple of 17 years is ready to show others recovery is possible and that no one method of getting clean is right for everyone.

Their recovery was made possible through the services of the Madison Women’s Correctional Facility and Plainfield Correctional Facility.

Cell was in Madison, Indiana, at the Women’s Correctional Facility — a level one facility in terms of security, meaning it has the minimum amount of security required. 

“Her prison was cupcake camp, she was a level one,” Joseph said.

As prisons go, it probably was. She was in a therapeutic community, a drug rehabilitation program for those who are incarcerated. Separate from the general population, inmates follow a strict regimen similar to that of a school day and completion of the program meant an early release.

However, Jayne Meranda, forensic drug court manager for Delaware County, said it’s not extremely common for people to thrive in therapeutic communities.

“There’s drugs in the therapeutic pods,” Meranda said. “It’s peer driven, so if you’re in a bad peer group you may not be learning as much and be as beneficial as another group. It is less common for people to come out and succeed.”

Not only did Cel thrive in therapeutic communities, she became a teacher and mentor for other inmates, though her mom, Madonna Rothwell, didn’t think she would do it.

“I didn’t think that she would embrace it,” Rothwell said. “All I could pray is that she would get clean and come home straight. She surprised me, she really did.”

Joseph’s situation fell at the other end of the spectrum. Plainfield Correction is a level five prison, meaning it has a higher level of security. Gang members, murderers and people who had committed unspeakable crimes filled the cement walls in Hendricks County, Joseph said.

“We had on average a murder a month,” Joseph said. “Multiple overdoses a month. If you had people on the outside that could give you money, you could get high everyday.”

But the worst part of prison for the Flemings was the lack of contact between each other. As codefendants in a crime, the two had to have permission to write letters to one another and they didn’t always make it.

“I would get at least four 60-page letters a week,” Cel said. “All we did was write, and I kept every single one.”

Joseph jokes someday he will wallpaper their family home with them.

Aside from the letters, Cel’s days could be broken up with visits from their children. Rothwell — who gained custody of the children — would bring the three youngest to visit her.

“Saying goodbye to them was the hardest thing I ever done in my life,” Cel said. “I hated it. I still remember it they would cry.”

In May 2016, after 22 months, Cell was released from prison. Joseph was released four months after Cell. When she visited him for the first time, it was a moment Joseph was unable to describe.

“When I first came into that visitation room, I hadn’t seen her in three years. That was unreal,” Joseph said.

Recovery

The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Health and Drugs stated that only 10 percent of people suffering from drug addiction actually seek treatment. While the problem may be getting worse in the country, the Flemings are proof that it can be done.

“We think about how bad we did have it at one point and there’s no question this [sobriety] is what we want,” Cel said. “We have our kids back. I come home to a house full of boys. That’s all worth it.”

Prison forced them to refrain from using, but upon re-entering society, the Flemings had to make the decision to continue their recovery.

When Cell first got out, she had to submerge herself in Narcotics Anonymous. 

“Now that I’ve been clean so long, I can’t do that anymore. I have to learn how to live my life,” Cel said. “I have to be able to come sit down at Olive Garden and say, ‘No, I don’t want any wine, thank you.’”

Joseph’s journey was different. Joining groups and therapy wasn’t going to work for him.

“I have always been in control. l I feel like I need to be in control, so for me to just throw it all out there and say I have no power over this just went completely against the cream for me,” Joseph said.

The Flemings want others to understand that while there isn’t a universal method of recovery, whatever one chooses takes work.

“We went through hell. We walked through the flames of hell together and came out smiling,” Cel said. “That’s what drives me; I don’t ever want to give this up.” 

 Contact Elizabeth Wyman with comments at egwyman@bsu.edu or on Twitter at @_ElizabethWyman.

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