Julie Bendtsen turned 21 in October, and she was obviously proud to report she did so "in sobriety."
The girl who spoke on stage in a somewhat matter-of-fact way about her new life in Prescott, AZ in a recovery community was a far cry from the girl who was addicted to drugs, wondering if there was any hope for girl she saw in the mirror.
A group of more than 60 residents came to Muskego's Atonement Lutheran Church, and heard from Bentsen, whose family is a part of the congregation and suggested the Recovery Life presentation to begin discussing what drugs are doing to Muskego's children.
"We need an event that is honest and frank and open," said Dave Dringenberg, who is an associate pastor for youth and family ministry at the church. Dringenberg said he also had a sister that suffered with alcohol addiction, which put her in jail for a time.
'We're losing our children'
Joining Bentsen was Jenny Reidy, a Muskego mother whose daughter Holly died two days after her 21st birthday.
"We watched her dying in a hospital bed for three days, and our lives have been changed forever, and we continue to pray for answers," she told the group. It was the first public talk Reidy had given but she explained that it was her hope to reach out to other parents who have gone through the same experience, or are still going through it.
"We were a good, strong family, and we gave our children strong morals, but it was like a car accident you watched happen. We couldn't stop it, and we knew it wouldn't end well," she said. "It has become an epidemic in Muskego, and we're losing our children."
Numbers don't lie
Muskego Police Department Detective Shawn Diedrich and Community Resource Officer Ann Shaw were also there to present some of the drug-related statistics, which further painted a picture of rising drug use throughout Waukesha County.
In 2012, the Waukesha County Drug Enforcement Unit arrested 323 defendents, netting 493 grams of cocaine, 11 grams of crack, 928 Oxycodone pills, 50,600 pounds of marijuana and 833 grams of heroin. The last statistic for heroin reflects a sharp increase from just 24 grams in 2011, and 20 in 2010. These are only the arrests made through this agency, and don't include municipal arrests that remain in local courts.
"If you don't think Muskego has a heroin problem, think again," Diedrich said. "It's not that our drug problem is worse than in any other community, it's our drugs of choice that are the problem."
Heroin addiction usually follows the use of prescription medications like Oxycodone, which is one of the most prescribed drugs, and can be found in many families' medicine cabinets. The 'high' from these drugs is similar to heroin, but heroin is far less expensive while far more addictive, not to mention much easier to acquire.
"If you go into Milwaukee, you'll trip over it," Diedrich said. "The trouble is, you'll be tripping over it with other kids from Waukesha County."
Shaw said locally the numbers are just as scary. Since 2005, Muskego has had 33 reported overdoses, 20 of them to heroin, with 11 fatalities. Again, these numbers don't include cases that were taken directly to a hospital without MPD's involvement.
In addition, 2012 drug-related crime has included 106 thefts, 71 retail thefts, 60 burglaries, 127 arrests for possession of drugs or paraphernalia and 75 underage drinking citations. The number not included here is alcohol referrals, which are issued for first-time offenders.
Diedrich also explained to parents what to look for in their children, or their children's friends, to be aware of that could point to drug or alcohol abuse:
- Lying, stealing
- Poor hygiene, or bad odor
- Mood swings or changes in friends
- Missing items from the home, especially spoons (used as paraphernalia)
Seeing the light, seeing hope
However there was also a thread of hope to offer parents, and Bendtsen was living proof that there is a way through addiction.
Despite drinking after 8th grade, 'graduating' to marijuana shortly after and harder drugs that led her to rack up credit card bills, Bendtsen said she came to a realization that there had to be more to her life. Her parents had administered 'tough love,' not allowing her back home until she took serious steps to get and stay sober, and once she did, helped her reach that goal.
"I went to a rehab facility in Oshkosh called NOVA, and at first I did it for my family, then I wanted it for myself. I saw what was possible and that sobriety could work for me," she explained.
Her new life in Prescott has put her in a "positive, recovery atmosphere, and I realized how key it was to get out of the environment that I was living in here."
Reidy also had a life line for parents in an organization called "Holly's Hope," which seeks to provide information and support for parents who may suspect abuse, or are going through it with their own family members. If you wish to connect with other parents, have questions or get involved, call 414-422-9116. All conversations are kept confidential.
Waukesha County drug assistance - call 211
Atonement Lutheran also has a group that meets Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. called "Breathing Under Water" that is a supportive forum for families coping with abuse, and all are welcome.