The strug­gle to sur­vive

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL -

Nikki Kemp was a preg­nant ad­dict with nowhere else to turn when she got a hand up from the Women’s Out­reach Cen­ter of High­land Rivers Health.

Six years later, she’s poised to di­rect a brand new High­land Rivers pro­gram for other North­west Ge­or­gians in need.

“When I first walked through those doors, I didn’t even re­al­ize I liked but­ter­flies or the smell of fresh-cut grass be­cause I was fo­cused on drugs,” Kemp said. “Women’s Out­reach be­lieved in me un­til I could be­lieve in my­self.”

The cen­ter is cel­e­brat­ing its 20th an­niver­sary of serv­ing res­i­dents of Floyd, Gor­don, Bar­tow and nine other coun­ties in the re­gion.

Kemp, her staff and some fam­ily vol­un­teers are putting the fin­ish­ing touches on Polk County’s Mo­saic Place, slated to open next month. It’s named, she said, to re­flect the pos­si­bil­i­ties in re­built lives.

“Beau­ti­ful art has been cre­ated out of bro­ken pieces,” agreed Ans­ley Sil­vers, di­rec­tor of ad­dic­tive dis­ease at High­land Rivers.

Sil­vers said Kemp caught her at­ten­tion as an in­pa­tient and con­tin­ues to im­press. She’s earned state cer­ti­fi­ca­tions as an ad­dic­tion re­cov­ery em­pow­er­ment spe­cial­ist and peer spe­cial­ist for men­tal health. Kemp’s also on track to grad­u­ate from Grand Canyon Uni­ver­sity in April. Her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in hu­man ser­vices will have an em­pha­sis in ad­dic­tion treat­ment coun­sel­ing.

“There’s a lot of pride and dig­nity she car­ries with her,” Sil­vers said. “A cou­ple of things have been hap­pen­ing very quickly with Nikki in her month in this (Mo­saic Place) role, but she stands firm. She has a good foot­ing.”

It didn’t start out that way, said the 28-year-old Kemp, who was born the child of ad­dicts.

She started drink­ing and us­ing mar­i­juana at age 12. She tried metham­phetamine for the first time at 14 — with her mother. By 15, she had dropped out of school and was shut­tling back and forth be­tween her par­ents.

“I grew up in a very chaotic home-life,” Kemp said with a wry smile.

She at­tempted sui­cide, she got in trou­ble with the law, she went in and out of re­hab fa­cil­i­ties. At 17, an abu­sive 27-year-old boyfriend nearly beat her to death. A so­cial worker came to the hos­pi­tal and, since she didn’t have a par­ent who could pass a drug screen, placed her in the Open Door Chil­dren’s Home.

Kemp said that was a wel­come refuge, where she was able to take some classes, find a job and ex­pe­ri­ence sta­bil­ity with peo­ple who cared. But when she turned 18, she had to move out.

She started us­ing drugs again and the next few years are a blur.

“My sis­ter pro­vided a lot of sup­port to me but she got tired of hav­ing to come to the hos­pi­tal, tired of hav­ing to come ... By the time I was 21 and preg­nant with my daugh­ter, I had burned every bridge I had,” Kemp said.

Kemp said she stayed clean while she was preg­nant, but grad­u­ally drifted back into her old ways. She started with al­co­hol, then pills, telling her­self it wasn’t meth. Then some­one of­fered her meth and her last re­sis­tance crum­bled — un­til the Di­vi­sion of Fam­ily and Chil­dren Ser­vices in­ter­vened.

“What it took for me was the day DFCS knocked on my door and took my 18-month-old child out of my arms,” said Kemp, who was preg­nant with her son by that time. “I was done. I didn’t know how to get clean but I was done.”

She was court-or­dered to the Women’s Cen­ter, she said, but by the time she left she was in con­trol of her life. The fa­ther of her chil­dren, Terry Kemp, also got clean dur­ing that pe­riod. The two mar­ried in 2014, he started a suc­cess­ful busi­ness and they’re buy­ing a larger home now.

Sil­vers said ad­dicts in a 12-step pro­gram are told to cut ties with their ad­dicted friends and fam­ily mem­bers. But the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Nikki and Terry showed her the need for in­di­vid­ual as­sess­ments.

“I had an epiphany ... In­stead of say­ing, ‘No, Nikki, you can’t be with your hus­band,’ we rethought it as, ‘What can we do to help,’” Sil­vers said. “It’s part of how we’re evolv­ing to treat a fam­ily unit.”

When Mo­saic Place opens, it will in­clude a cou­ples sup­port group. Nikki Kemp said her hus­band will join her in guid­ing it, to help tell how they’ve been able to re­main to­gether through ad­dic­tion and into what they call their ac­tive, neverending, re­cov­ery.

“Be­ing with some­body you’ve used (drugs) with be­comes your iden­tity as a cou­ple,” she ex­plained. “We re­ally had to get to know each other, and that’s hard. Once you take the drugs away, what do you have in com­mon?”

The new cen­ter open­ing be­hind the old Davita Dial­y­sis and the for­mer home of the Kalei­do­scope pro­gram run by High­land Rivers Health has a lot of fea­tures. For in­stance, the new setup in­cludes rooms for re­cov­ery meet­ings, a small area for com­put­ers for those who use the fa­cil­ity to work on job searches and re­sumes, and even an area for chil­dren to stay while their par­ents are in group ses­sions.

They’ve even got a cof­fee bar.

Mo­saic Place, lo­cated at 321 West Ave., will open on Oct. 1 of­fi­cially with a first ses­sion, Crys­tal Meth Anony­mous, at 5:30 p.m.

Places like Mo­saic Place are de­signed to al­low peo­ple like the Kemp’s to con­nect with one an­other, to find a sense of peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with what hap­pened in the past, and what they look for­ward to in the fu­ture.

What­ever it is, they found it. Nikki Kemp said their lives are dif­fer­ent now, filled with hope and love, and they’ve re­con­nected with fam­ily mem­bers who had given up on them in the past. They take va­ca­tions to­gether, cel­e­brate hol­i­days and spe­cial milestones to­gether, and look to­ward the fu­ture to­gether.

“I’ve strug­gled. I’ve been hurt, but I’m not a vic­tim. I’m a sur­vivor,” she said.

Stan­dard Jour­nal Ed­i­tor Kevin Myrick con­trib­uted to this re­port.

/ Kevin Myrick

Ans­ley Sil­vers, di­rec­tor of ad­dic­tive dis­ease at High­land Rivers, Nikki Kemp, head­ing up Mo­saic Place and Michael Mul­let, High­land Rivers Health Com­mu­nity Re­la­tions Di­rec­tor, gath­ered on couches for a brief break at the new com­mon area at the fa­cil­ity in Cedar­town. This area and more will open in Oc­to­ber to help those re­cov­er­ing from ad­dic­tion in Polk County and the sur­round­ing ar­eas.

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