Ex-addicts share stories of decline, recovery

DANYIELLE CUMMINGS’ ADDICTION to methamphetamine eventually landed her in jail, but her fate was not as drastic as that of her sister, who committed suicide because of drug addiction.

Recovering meth addict Bill Umberger talks about how he got hooked on the drug in an interview room at Summit View Treatment Facility.

Danyielle Cummings and Bill Umberger share little in common.

Cummings, 27, was born and raised in the Grand Valley. She earned good grades in high school and loves to play golf.

Umberger, 39, was born in Grand Junction but spent most of his life bouncing from state to state. A cowboy, mechanic and adrenaline junkie rolled into one, he has always liked working with his hands, whether he was riding bulls, racing dirt bikes or building cars.

They share little in common — except that they both tried methamphetamine when they were teenagers and amped up their usage to the point they were snorting or smoking almost daily. Cummings’ younger sister followed her lead and ultimately committed suicide. Umberger alienated his young son.

Both hit bottom when they were locked up in jail.

But both also resolved to regain control of their lives and entered inpatient treatment programs. Both sober for more than a year, they now serve as proof that there is hope for those who become hooked.

“There is help out there,” said Umberger, who graduated from Grand Junction’s Summit View treatment program nearly four months ago and is now serving a four-year community-corrections sentence. “But you’ve got to want to help yourself before anyone can help you.”

Umberger is one of the success stories of the 2-year-old facility run by Mesa County. But like so many meth addicts, he easily could have gone the other way.

He tried it when he was 17 or 18, dabbled in his 20s and immersed himself about four years ago, when he used virtually every day. His downward spiral began after a 2003 car accident that left him with a broken neck and bulging discs in his back. He later hyperextended his elbow working on a natural gas drill rig. Unable to use his arm, the injury knocked him out of work and into depression.

“I used that as an excuse to use. Everything I could think of was an excuse to use,” he said.

Umberger lost interest in his son, his focus solely on making $20 or $30 here and there so he could score his next bag of meth. His joyride came to an end with an arrest on a possession charge in September 2008.

Sitting in jail last spring, he heard about the Summit View program. He was hesitant at first, straining to get out from behind bars and back to work so he could begin making child-support payments that had piled up. He instead asked for the program paperwork.

During the 73 days he spent in Summit View, he learned how to change irrational thinking into rational thinking, to set short-term goals, to realize his actions affect far more people than just him.

Cummings knows that all too well.

The 2000 Central High School graduate picked up her habit while she was a student there. She later married one of the 20-something men who had provided meth to her and one of her friends.

“It was constantly available,” she said. “It was always there.”

At first, meth boosted her energy. She awoke at 6 a.m. to play golf, breezed through her homework and cleaned her bedroom in a flash. Then her usage escalated. The effects morphed.

Eventually, for a six-year period, she used almost daily. She and her husband quit their jobs.

Meth made Cummings angry and paranoid and rendered her a near-hermit. When she left her house, it was to hang out with other tweakers.

“You just stick with meth users. You don’t ever go outside the circle of meth users,” she said.

Her sister, Cally, saw her use and decided to follow her lead. Cummings believes at some point, someone gave her some “bad stuff” that permanently damaged her. Cally was arrested in the spring of 2006. She hanged herself in her cell at the Mesa County Jail in October.

A week later, police picked up Cummings’ husband for possession. He’s now serving a 12-year prison sentence.

Cummings spiraled. She was arrested three times for “things I never would have done if I didn’t use.” She got off with a deferred sentence but couldn’t stand prosperity, freely confessing to her probation officer when she was high and failing drug tests.

Her family loaded her into a car and shipped her to a Pueblo meth treatment facility in the summer of 2007. She was supposed to stay four months but acted up within a week.

She begged to get out of treatment, but Mesa County District Judge Tom Deister resisted and sent her to a different facility in Pueblo. At the time, she cussed him out in court. Today, she’s grateful.

She spent three months in treatment with counselors who showed her what led her to use in the first place and, much like officials did with Umberger, rearranged her thought patterns. She returned to Grand Junction in January 2008 and, within a couple of weeks, found a job at Shiners Car Wash. She’s been sober ever since.

“You’re going to get up in the morning, you’re going to work your butt off, you’re going to come home, and you’re going to go to bed. That’s going to be your life,” she said of adhering to a rigid schedule.

Umberger also has a full-time job, working five days a week at Trade Center Auto Salvage. He spends his days off fulfilling his community service hours at Hilltop Community Resources Life Adjustment Program, working with brain-injured adults. And he’s gradually reinserting himself into his now-15-year-old son’s life.

Eventually, he wants to obtain his emergency medical technician certification. He figures it would be his way to give back to a community from which he took so much.

Cummings is in the process of divorcing her husband.

“I see other people and they’ve got houses and families. I’m just starting again. I’m starting over, and I can’t start with him,” she said.

Both Cummings and Umberger insist they aren’t tempted to use again and vow they won’t relapse. They remember the bad, and it’s enough to make them stay away.

“If you are using, something bad is going to happen,” Cummings said. “There’s going to be no good outcome. Nobody ever has a happy ending on meth.”


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