Pubdate: Sun, 21 Oct 2001
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2001 The Olympian
Author: John Graber

Part 2 Of 2


'All I Could Think About Was What A Horrible Person I Was'

Lacey Woman Escapes Addiction, Finds Partner

LACEY -- Two-year-old River Russell slips his feet into the size 8 yellow 
rubber boots that have caught his eye, smiles and dances gleefully back and 
forth in front of the couch in his living room.

He raises his hands and triumphantly announces, "Mommy!"

At close to 30 pounds, River is happy and healthy now. But things weren't 
always this way.

He was born four months premature at just 1 pound, 10 ounces. He was born 
so early that his eyelids had not completely developed and were still fused 

His mother, Millisa Maninger, had gone into labor after she fell down the 
stairs in her home. She was still unsteady after having stopped using 
methamphetamine just two weeks before. She had been using so much of the 
drug, she can't remember how much her daily dosage had grown to.

After the baby was born and the doctors told her River would need 
open-heart surgery, she says she hit the lowest point in her life.

But River's problem only strengthened her resolve to deal with her problem 
with meth once and for all.

"All I could think about was what a horrible person I was," Maninger said.

Two weeks later, she checked herself in to a drug abuse clinic. Except for 
one relapse about four months into her recovery, she's been clean and sober 
for two years.

How It Started

Her troubles with substance abuse started when she was a teen-ager. She 
says she was living in an abusive home, and she was trying to deal with an 
undiagnosed bipolar disorder that caused wild mood swings.

Eventually she moved in with a foster family, but the pain of the abuse she 
had experienced didn't go away. She turned to alcohol and marijuana to 
self-medicate, but it only led to more problems. She was married by 17 and 
pregnant by 18. She dropped out of Timberland High School in Lacey during 
her senior year to care for her new daughter, Sunny.

She says she wasn't ready for the responsibilities of marriage and 
motherhood, and she slipped into alcoholism before finally leaving her 
husband. She moved to Seattle and says she remained sober for three years. 
She began drinking again when she started traveling back to Lacey 
periodically for work.

She met the man who would become her second husband when she attended a 
party at his home. When he initially laid a couple of lines of 
methamphetamine out on the coffee table, she thought she wasn't interested. 
But the idea seemed less dangerous the more she drank.

"I knew the very first time I used methamphetamine it would be a problem," 
Maninger said.

She was on top of the world. She could talk to people without hesitation, 
she felt in control of her life, and people seemed to like her better when 
she was on the drug.

"It was like somebody gave me a Superman cape and said, 'Go for it,' " 
Maninger said.

She managed to stay off meth while she was pregnant with her next three 
children, though she did smoke marijuana while pregnant with her third 
child, Mariah.

Things weren't too bad back then. She could still hide her use from most of 
her friends and family, and was active in her children's school activities.

"I just kind of dosed myself," Maninger said. "I still slept at night. I 
took vitamins and went to work. I was thinking, 'I'm not like those people. 
I'm not picking at my skin. I'm not stealing from people.' I just thought I 
was totally unique."

But her husband turned abusive shortly after their wedding. That marriage 
eventually ended, too.

In an action she can't explain other than to say she was not thinking 
clearly while on the drug, Maninger sold her house, even though she didn't 
have a place to stay. Her two older children went to live with Maninger's 
sister, Angela Rivera. The two younger children, who were 4 and 2, lived 
with Maninger in her car.

Rivera now figures that, at the time, she was just as sick as Maninger 
because she needed to help her as much as Maninger wanted to be helped. "I 
was a single mother of three, and I was taking care of her children," 
Rivera said. "I was giving her my savings."

Rivera now thinks that she only made things worse for her sister by trying 
to make things easier for her.

"It was like I was swimming in a lake holding her over my head so she did 
not have to feel the cold or the wet and I was taking all of it," Rivera 
said. "When I finally dropped her, it was a big shock for her."

Lost Control

Eventually, Maninger moved her children into a home off College Street, 
where she lost all control of her habit. By then, she was using as much 
meth as she could get every day.

There was almost no furniture in her home other than a television and a 
couch. The electricity was on only sporadically because she didn't pay the 
bills. They went for four months without water at one point because she 
didn't have the money for the service.

She had her meth, though.

Maninger cut herself off from her children by moving into an 8-by-8 room on 
the side of the house. Users and dealers were coming over at all hours; she 
thought they were being nice by getting her high. What she didn't realize 
at the time was that they were stealing everything she owned while they 
were at it.

In her mind, her children basically didn't exist anymore. Her oldest 
daughter had turned into the mother in the home.

"Thinking back on it, I can't remember ever cooking them a meal," Maninger 

"There were tiny handprints on the door," she said. "It was them begging me 
to come out and make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, just to 
cuddle with me."

Mariah, who was 4 at the time, was found by Maninger's ex-husband walking 
down College Street by herself. He then obtained legal custody of his 
biological children.

"The day I went to court to redeem myself and tell the judge I wasn't using 
drugs, I got high," Maninger now admits.

Ready To Quit

At that time, Maninger was five months pregnant with River and weighed 
about 95 pounds. She was ready to come down and quit using.

"Quitting wasn't hard," Maninger said. "Life was hard. My emotions were 
hard. I was responsible for myself for the first time. I had been such a 
good manipulator that I had never had to be responsible for anything."

The day Maninger graduated from a rehabilitation program was one of the 
happiest days in her sister's life. Rivera had stopped talking to her 
sister by then because she couldn't bear to see Maninger destroying herself 
and everyone around her.

"We looked at each other, and we started bawling," Rivera said of the 
graduation. "I couldn't help it, not because she was sober but because of 
the person she had become."

That's when another longtime meth user, Jack Marney, started showing up at 
her house, talking about getting off the drug, too.

"Not one person I have ever used with didn't say they want to get off this 
drug," Maninger said.

Marney had been using the drug for about 10 years and living out of his 
car. He had tried to kick the habit a half-dozen times and figured it was 
just going to be a fact of life.

But he did quit.

Once clean, he turned himself in to the police because several warrants had 
been issued for his arrest for trafficking stolen property to support his 
habit. He spent two months in jail for the crimes.

Now he's out, has a full-time job, has been clean for almost a year and is 
Maninger's partner. Maninger is active with her children's Parent-Teacher 
Association and is a Girl Scout troop leader.

Marney and Maninger say they are relying on each other, not 
methamphetamine, to help them through their problems.

Maninger has gotten to know herself and her children for the first time. 
She enjoys being a good neighbor, but doesn't think there is anything 
extraordinary about her.

"I guess I have a normal life now," Maninger said.

That's just the way she likes it.
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