Finding a Fresh Start: Local mom takes inspiration from her kids to seek treatment and stay sober

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Erica Smith plays with her daughters Legacy, foreground, and Promise on a swing set at Donner Park in Columbus, Ind., Thursday, May 11, 2023. Smith struggled with drug addiction for 15 years. It eventually cost her custody of her oldest daughter. She was able to get into the Fresh Start Recovery Center and on the path to recovery. She celebrated one year of sobriety by play with her two youngest daughters Legacy and Promise at Donner Park.

Millions of moms are receiving flowers, breakfast in bed, fancy cards, appropriate gifts, a fancy meal – or simply a day of rest and loving phone calls from grown children on this Mother’s Day.

But at only 4 years old, a little Columbus girl named Legacy Best has already given her mom the most valuable gift imaginable — her life back.

Erica Smith admits that she was so addicted to methamphetamine for 15 years that she gave up her oldest child up for adoption.

“I was only caring about myself,” explained Smith, 30, who said she was in and out of jail 10 separate times on charges ranging from possession of a narcotic drug to fraud.

There was one caring person in her life who tried to help her, Smith said. But since she wasn’t ready to give up methamphetamine, that person simply gave up on her and walked out of her life.

“It was a crazy, horrible experience,” Smith said. “I didn’t like who I was, and I didn’t really want to live.”

Some time after giving birth to Legacy, Smith entered a drug rehabilitation program and stayed sober long enough to establish legal custody of her child.

But it was just after the birth of her youngest daughter, 18-month-old Promise Smith, that the young mom suffered a relapse. Despite her established custody, a relative of one of the girl’s father took the kids and Smith found herself in a struggle with Child Protective Services to get them back.

And then – everything changed on May 9, 2022. That was the day an addicted young mother first took a hard look at herself before gazing down at the adoring and loving face of her oldest daughter. At that moment, Erica Smith decided to change her life.

“It was Legacy who gave me the motivation to end my addiction,” Smith said. “She was just so loving and understanding – even in my active addiction. And she was always wanting to be around her mother like I was her idol or something.”

As she watched Legacy develop, Smith finally discovered within herself the incentive she needed to change her life.

“I realized enough was enough, and I need to do better,” Smith said. “For both myself and my children.”

Substance abuse was going on in the house where the girls were taken, so Smith fought hard to get her daughters as far away from that environment as possible. In fact, they isolated themselves away from any person they knew that took recreational drugs, she said.

Smith was accepted into a long-term, in-house rehabilitation program at the Fresh Start Recovery Center, located at the former post office building at 703 Washington St., Columbus. Fresh Start has 11 resident rooms, seven activity areas, a treatment room, a medical office and a capacity for 25 women.

But unlike many other rehabilitation centers, Fresh Start clients are allowed to have up to two children age 5 or younger live with them during their treatment.

“We’ve realized how important it is to have your children with you during recovery,” said Fresh Start director Hillary England. “Both mother and child need to be aboard the journey.”

As she began her six-month stay at Fresh Start, Smith found a staff to help her do everything she needed to take care of her responsibilities, Smith said. For example, they helped enroll Legacy into a preschool and provided the young mother with parenting classes, as well as both individual and group therapy.

“They gave self-confidence, which was probably the biggest thing for me,” Smith said.

It wasn’t long before Promise began giving her mother as much joy as her older sister.

“I actually got to watch Promise take her first steps, say her first words, and start learning,” Smith said with a large smile on her face. “When Legacy was that little, I wasn’t there for those times. It’s such a great experience to be there ‘in the moment’ watching them grow.”

Smith paused for a moment.

“Yeah,” she said “Both Legacy and Promise saved me – from myself.”

But Erica Smith should be proud of herself for finally refusing to allow her addiction to control her life, England said.

“Erica really showed potential,” England said. “She’s such a great client. She worked hard because she knew what she wanted out of life, and she went for it.”

Six months after arriving at Fresh Start, the mother and her two daughters moved to the north side of town and became the first occupants of Fresh Start’s first residential recovery house that opened last November off Rocky Ford Road. Seven months later, Smith and her girls are one of five families residing in that house.

“It’s like taking a step down from the inpatient facility toward more independence,” Smith said. “While I’m here, I can go to work and attending recovery meetings.”

But what really gave the young mom a happy surprise was when Fresh Start officials announced they were naming the facility The Legacy House. While it’s true that Legacy is appropriate for Fresh Start’s mission, England confirmed the house was named after Smith’s oldest daughter.

“Oh, I absolutely love it!” Smith said. “I was so proud that was the name they chose. I know Legacy doesn’t understand why the house is named after her. But it is really cool!”

Today, Smith delights in watching Legacy learn to swim in one of Columbus’ indoor swimming pools, as well as taking them to Donner Park and indulging in the simple pleasure of blowing bubbles.

With a year of sobriety behind her, Smith was asked what she would say to another mother who is struggling with substance abuse disorder in regard to a narcotic drug like meth.

Smith said she would first tell the mother that the drug addiction lifestyle she has chosen will always be there.

“But watching your kids grow up and become the people they are meant to be? That will only happen once in your lifetime.”

About the center

Fresh Start Recovery Center, 703 Washington St., is a residential substance use disorder treatment program for pregnant women and mothers with small children. Center personnel describe it as a place where families can heal and thrive.

Research shows effective treatment and coordinated care for women and mothers with substance use disorder leads to:

  • Better birth outcomes
  • Decreased maternal and fetal deaths
  • Lower rates of custody loss and stronger families

Since the center opened in October, 2020, 286 women have been served. Approximately 30% (91) of the women served had their children with them during treatment. About 25% (or 66) of the women served were pregnant. 15 babies were born in the program, and 93% of the babies born did not have a diagnosis of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

The center states their data shows that women who have their child with them complete treatment at a 30% higher rate than women who do not have their children with them.

Source: Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana