This coverage is supported by the Recover Alaska Journalism Project fund at the Alaska Community Foundation. Contributors to the fund are Alaska Children’s Trust, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Providence Health & Services Alaska, Rasmuson Foundation and Wells Fargo. More information can be found at www.recoveralaska.org. The two young women show their matching tattoos. Hillman/KSKAThis week we’re exploring the Blind Spot, a look at teens who are abusing substances, but aren’t being caught by the system set up to help them. In this story, KSKA’s Anne Hillman spoke with a couple relying on each other to end their methamphetamine addiction.Download AudioTwo young women sit in an empty classroom, their hands entwined. A knit cap is pulled low over Madison’s shaggy hair, and a Batman belt holds up her baggy pants. Kylie wears a pastel hoodie over her thin body and tight jeans. Neither of those are their real names because one of them is a minor.They just started school again after they both dropped out more than a year ago, before they even knew each other.They met when Madison joined her friend for dinner at Kylie’s dad’s house. “They had meatloaf,” Madison said, laughing. “And I met her.”By then, Madison had already started using meth.“I was downtown Anchorage, in the JC Penny stairwell,” Madison said. “Believe it or not, a lot of people do drugs in all those places. So if you ever see people standing in the stairwell, they’re probably doing drugs.”But then, after meeting Kylie, Madison stopped. She knew Kylie had grown up in a house where her father and older siblings frequently used drugs. Madison didn’t want her to have to deal with a girlfriend who was using, too.Then Madison relapsed. With Kylie’s dad. And that was when Kylie decided it was time for her to try it, too. “For me it was more that I was closer to my family if I did it,” she said.She felt left out. “I had younger siblings that were allowed around our family because they didn’t know what everyone was doing. But I did… so I wasn’t allowed around them. But being on it, I was.”Don’t miss the rest of the stories in our series, The Blind Spot.That started Madison and Kylie on a six-month bender with friends and family members. They estimate they used thousands of dollars worth of drugs but paid almost nothing for them. The meth helped them escape.“It makes you feel cut off from your emotions,” Madison explained. “You just kind of get lost in this different world.”The two of them would go days forgetting to eat or to sleep. For Kylie, it all started with wanting to try it just one time.“And six months later you’re like 100 pounds and nobody—your own family—doesn’t want to be around you,” Kylie recalled. “It’s awful.”They didn’t even like each other. They said they were awful together. Madison is whiny and needy, according to Kylie.Madison described Kylie as really annoying. “She’s just everywhere, and then she’s not everywhere. And she’s always writing letters. Always writing, writing. And then she never sends the letters anyway.”The two women chatting. Hillman/KSKABut when Kylie is off drugs, she’s a completely different person, a person Madison loves.“She laughs a lot and she’s really goal-orientated, too, when she’s sober. She wants to get things done,” Madison said. “She looks out for herself.”On the days they didn’t use meth, that’s the person Madison would see. And she’d see changes in herself, as well. She says she always knew using meth was a bad idea, and seeing the differences in the people around her made her realize she needed a change if she was ever going to reach the goals she set for herself.So Madison set an ultimatum for Kylie.“She said that if we were ever adults she would not want to have a family with kids with a mother who’s as messed up as I had been,” Kylie recalled.“I know, it sounds really harsh,” Madison chimed in.“But it’s the truth,” Kylie added. “She said that we didn’t need to set goals for when we had kids, we needed to do it before, so we were ready to have kids.”Madison wanted to show Kylie a better life than she’d had. But Madison is also the one who first prompted Kylie to try meth. So why does Kylie still trust her?“Nobody’s ever told me that they supported me or they believed in me,” Kylie explains, “but she has.”In order to get clean the young couple had to get away from everyone who was still using, so they went to live with friends in Wasilla.“If you try to quit and you’re still around all those people that do drugs”—Kylie starts.“–It makes it a thousand times harder,” Madison swoops in, finishing the sentence for her. It’s part of an increasingly normal relationship between the two of them, squabbling over housework, and supporting each other through what Madison says has to be a personal decision.“You have to make the decision to leave and get better for yourself,” Madison says.Madison has relapsed since trying to get off meth. But she knows that is part of the process, and she just has to move on.Both women say it’s hard, but that together they’re trying.Update: The two women moved back to Anchorage, found secure housing, and are planning their wedding. Hear their update here.The Blind Spot: Spaces Between StatisticsThe Blind Spot: A System of Order Over ChaosThe Blind Spot: Harm Reduction at the Transit CenterThe Blind Spot: Beyond No-Man’s Land
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