WILLIAMSPORT – Parents often hold their kids hostage to the same vices and demons that have plagued them for so long, and for Jennifer Stack, her mom’s demons followed her from childhood until she also became a parent.
“You can’t direct your children in a positive direction, if you’re not in a positive direction yourself,” Stack said. “Children look at everything. We’re watching you. We’re learning from you.”
Born in New York City, Stack’s family introduced her to a life of addiction and hardship. She didn’t know anything different, but even as a child, Stack knew something was wrong. She knew the abuse was wrong, but she didn’t know where to turn. She knew her mom’s boyfriend shouldn’t hit her, but as a child, how could she fight back? She knew drugs were bad, but she had no way of knowing what they would really do to her.
From NYC to Wilkes-Barre
Stack’s mother left New York and moved to Wilkes-Barre to take care of her own mother, leaving Stack behind with her then boyfriend. But years of darkness and abuse followed and when Stack was 15, she ran away to the best place she could think of, Wilkes-Barre with her mom.
With her mom, and her mom’s new boyfriend, Stack found more abuse, more darkness. Eventually, the abuse became so bad she jumped out a window to safety and called 911.
“If I had known that 911 call would take me away from my mom, I would never have made it,” Stack said. She was put into the system. Institutionalized as a juvenile when, at that time, she had not done anything wrong.
Running to the streets
Unable to find a place with family, or through the system, Stack ran away to the streets.
“The streets welcomed me with open arms,” she said. While on the run, Stack found identity with others who struggled with the same demons and then she found drugs, becoming addicted to cocaine at 17.
Soon she was introduced to heroin and it was then that Stack said she had found what she was looking for – numbness. A numbness to the world that had failed her again and again.
Stack took her demons with her into adulthood, eventually getting pregnant and then losing each of her three children to the system.
“When I became pregnant I was caught up in the grip of the disease and they were in the way of me getting high,” Stack said. “It took me a long time to be able to say that.”
Remembering her own struggles as a child, Stack said she had a “moment of clarity” and decided to give her children a better life than she had. She gave each of her children up for adoption and hasn’t seen them since.
“I hope that if I keep doing the right thing, they’ll come back,” she said through tears.
Road to recovery
Stack’s journey to recovery has been long, but wouldn’t have been possible without people to support her along the way. She was addicted to heroin for seven years and then crack cocaine for many years after that.
A total of 13 years were spent in various state and local prisons, until she was finally able to win the battle against drugs nine years ago. But it would be another seven years of alcohol addiction before Stack could say she was completely clean from any mind or mood altering drugs.
Being drug free doesn’t mean you’re drug proof though, and Stack’s struggle with drugs will be with her for the rest of her life. It is constantly there, waiting for something to go wrong so it can knock on the door and come back in.
The need for suport
Stack’s life is full of the names and faces of people she’s lost along the way. Fellow addicts who lost their battle to the disease.
But it’s the kids who she holds a special connection with. “I was that kid,” she said. After growing up without a support system, Stack tries to be that support for other kids as much as possible.
After two years completely sober, Stack now works with victims of addiction and abuse. She is learning that the best way to help people is to meet them where they are.
“I wish I could breathe this stuff into people. It took me so long to get to where I’m at today,” she said. “But until they make that admission for themselves … It’s something that you have to accept that you have for the rest of your life.”
After many years apart, Stack has also found reconciliation with her mother. She now visits and calls her often. They are both completely different people, pushing forward with their new lives together.