BRAINERD — Nobody wants to be an addict.
Dawn Powell-Bowman knows that better than anyone. The child of an addict, the parent of an addict and an addict herself, the Nisswa woman has lived every aspect of addiction.
“And the pain is no different in all three scenarios,” she said during an interview Thursday, April 7, at Loco Espress in Brainerd. “And the stigma is just still really bad out there, and I just wish that the people that never lived it would try to understand it more.”
With six years of sobriety now, Powell-Bowman still works her program and does what she needs to do to stay sober, but she also helps others do the same.
“I know I change lives,” she said. “Not only in my job, but in our community.”
As a peer support specialist at Northern Pines Mental Health, Powell-Bowman works with people who have mental health issues and guides them on their wellness journeys.
As a member of the lakes area recovery community, she supports those who also struggle with addiction and is quick to connect people with the resources they need.
But it took her a long time to get to this point.
Originally from Devils Lake, North Dakota, Powell-Bowman was born into addiction. Her dad was an alcoholic and addict, and her childhood was full of physical and verbal abuse.
She had her first drink in ninth grade.
In 10th grade, her parents divorced, and she moved to the Brainerd lakes area with her mom.
“I feel like my first addiction was I got in with the wrong crowd,” she said. “Being new, moving in 10th grade from your hometown, it was tough. And so I just started drinking a lot, and I started smoking pot, and that continued all through high school.”
She continued partying after high school and got pregnant at 20, having her first daughter just a month before turning 21.
While she stayed clean during pregnancy, she fell back into her old ways once her daughter was born. Her dad moved from North Dakota and essentially took over raising her daughter while Powell-Bowman continued her party lifestyle.
A couple years later, she was introduced to methamphetamine and was using constantly.
After a five-year stint in Missouri with her daughter’s father — and five years free of meth — Powell-Bowman became pregnant again, had another daughter and moved back to Brainerd to get out of a bad relationship.
“And you come back, and you hook right up with the same kind of friends and get back to the same kind of life,” she said.
That’s when she fell back into drugs, frequently shooting meth.
Her daughters were essentially raised by babysitters before their father sued for and got custody of them.
“They ended up coming and getting my kids out of school, and they moved to Missouri,” she said through tears. “And I feel like that made my addiction worse, obviously. And that was my coping mechanism.
“I hurt a lot of people during this time — my mom, everybody that loves me, and myself, worst of all.”
After a run-in with the law while carrying drugs in her car, Powell-Bowman decided it was time to get her life back on track.
“I was just thinking a lot about how my life really freakin’ sucked,” she said. Like, I have kids that I loved very much. I was just in a lot of pain, and I knew nothing was going to change that if I didn’t take the steps.”
She took upon herself to get a Rule 25 assessment, which is a state-funded chemical dependency evaluation that provides recommended courses of treatment.
She went to the Liberalis rehabilitation treatment facility in Cloquet, but getting clean wasn’t an easy fix. After shooting up on the way there and calling everyone she could think of to come get her out, she finally surrendered.
“I surrendered to Jesus. I got this recovery Bible, and I Just kept reading it at night, I feel like I surrendered,” she said. “… I just felt like Jesus had — I know it was him — touched me on the shoulder and said, “You know, it’s gonna be OK.’”
The next day, Powell-Bowman felt like a whole new person.
She worked her program, graduated from treatment, spent time with her daughters, went to church and got a job she loved at a nursing home.
She was sober for 15 and a half years.
And then it started to unravel.
Her dad died, her oldest daughter battled addiction herself, and her youngest daughter got pregnant at 16. Powell-Bowman began raising her granddaughter and focusing on everyone except herself.
“Addiction is a disease. You’re never cured,” she said. “You have to keep working on your program, working on yourself.”
Nov. 26, 2015, is a day she’ll never forget.
A friend showed up at her house with a needle, and that was that. A relapse.
It lasted through March, when she had another run in with the law and found herself in jail.
“It was the best thing that happened to me because who knows where I’d be today,” she said.
She’s been sober ever since and has watched her daughters go through treatment programs at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and walk their own roads to recovery.
Powell-Bowman goes to meetings four to six times a week, is active at church, volunteers in the community and helps empower others who are struggling by sharing her story.
“I’m in recovery, and I’m loud and proud,” she said.
She is proof that second chances are available and change is possible. The key is to ask for help and never give up hope.
For those who love someone with an addiction: “Love them unconditionally. You can do that without enabling. It’s hard, but they’re already feeling worthless, that they don’t value themselves. They don’t care if they live or die. … Love them through their struggles, and love them when they triumph too.”
And for those dealing with it themselves: “The promises of recovery are true, and I’m living them, and I’m receiving them.”
Reaching out is the first, and usually hardest, step to take, but Powell-Bowman encourages reaching out to treatment facilities like Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, or a place like the Lakes Area Alano Association, which hosts regular meetings and usually has someone present who’s willing to help. She also invites anyone to reach out to her through Facebook.
“There’s so much stigma in our community, but you know what?” she said. “I’m loud and proud because there’s lots of people ashamed of their addiction, and if one person that is struggling has the courage to reach out to me because I’m not, then I feel like I’m making a difference.”
April is Second Chance MonthApril is known as Second Chance Month, both nationally and in Minnesota, reaffirming the importance of helping those with criminal backgrounds re-enter society and have a second chance at a better life after paying their debts.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at [email protected] or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .