On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery follows five women in gender specific residential treatment in San Rafael, CA over three years. The women arrive voluntarily or through drug court, but they all desire the same thing: custody of their children.
The women undergo dramatic transformation as they learn recovery and parenting skills and attempt to become self-sufficient. Interwoven with their three year journey is the progression of drug laws and policies that impact mothers and children. We meet:
Rachel, 22,grapples with childhood domestic violence. Her family used drugs. Just before entering treatment, she fled from her abusive boyfriend with her two baby girls. She expresses concern about freezing up when she gets a job, because she won’t be high.
Lisa S, 41, resolves to take responsibility for her actions after serving time for selling drugs. Hearing the heartbeat of her baby when pregnant solidified her decision to go into treatment. She’s waiting to see how things work out with the baby’s father. Trevor was in prison and is now in a rehab. He loves Lisa and his daughter and wants to be with them.
Leslie, 31, fights shame over doing online prostitution. She endured frequent beatings from her boyfriend. Leslie’s mom, Nancy, recounts how they tried to help her get away. Now, Leslie has lost custody of her three-year-old daughter to her parents. “She’s actually doing a lot better off without me. At first, it used to hurt me saying that, but right now my parents are doing things that I couldn’t do for her and I’m grateful for them. I missed a lot of things, but she’s got a lot more to come and I’m going to be there.”
Lisa R, 38, told herself using drugs helped her ADD. She watched her father self-medicate through a long illness that led to his death. She’s back in treatment after relapsing and has her three-year-old daughter with her. Lisa’s mother, Sylvia, was in denial and could not accept the fact that she was using drugs. Now, Sylvia is caring for Lisa’s eight-year-old daughter, Casey, who says, “I’m always sad when I have to leave my mother, because I love her so much. She’s as rare as a rose and delicate as my heart.”
Julia, 24, became addicted the first time she used meth. She has trouble containing her anger at her mother, who abandoned her for drugs. She was raised by her aunt and later cared for her grandmother, also a former drug user, until she died. “I don’t want my child to be in rehab one day, sitting here wondering why his mommy didn’t love him.”
Harriett Gaines, Program Manager at Center Point, explains that Child Protective Services, CPS, decides when a mother is ready to have her child with her. They accept children up to the age of five. In the six month program the women are encouraged to confront their troubled backgrounds in order to understand how their experiences contributed to their substance use. In addition to learning recovery and parenting skills, they get their GED, write their own resume and get a job to save money before leaving the residency. They then go to the Center Point transitional housing. Later in the film, Harriett reveals that she is also a mother in recovery.
On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery combats the social stigma that mothers on drugs are lost to society forever by illuminating how a gender specific treatment program can help women overcome life’s adversities to claim their dignity and self-worth. Themes explored in the film are substance use and domestic violence transformed through recovery, self-sufficiency and responsible parenting. This groundbreaking film will catalyze a national dialogue on treatment vs. incarceration and help bring about policy changes and encourage public and private funding for more gender specific treatment programs. To date, there are less than 150 gender specific residential treatment programs in the United States.
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© 2015 Sheila Ganz