This mother stole her daughter’s piggy bank and the savings inside.
The paper and coins totaled about $100, enough to chase those dope-sick days away for a week, and those seven “good” days were rare for Bellaire native Amy Jackson, a recovering heroin addict who has recently celebrated being clean for five years.
“It was one of those moments when all I wanted was to feel better. and nothing else mattered, unfortunately,” the 29-year-old admitted. “Ashlyn was 5 years old at the time, and she had saved that money for her whole life, but that didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want to feel sick. That’s what mattered.”
Jackson, who was graduated with honors from Bellaire High School in 2006, was introduced to painkillers following an automobile accident in which she was the victim, and then she trusted the doctor when he prescribed Vicodin to relieve her back and neck pain. The prescription was extended for two years, but when it suddenly ended, Jackson was left to find her pills on the street.
“That was in the beginning,” she said. “Then, someone who I thought was a friend told me about how cheap heroin was and that it would work on the sickness, so I went in that direction. My life changed completely at that moment.”
Her parents tried to help her, but Jackson resisted their efforts over and over. She stole from them, too, and from her sister, and from anyone dumb enough to place an ounce of trust in her.
Including her daughter.
“I hurt everyone in my life,” she admitted. “The worst part is that I knew it. I was aware of what I was doing; all I cared about was not feeling sick. It had nothing to do with the buzz because that went away after a few times just like it did with the pills.”
For five years now, Jackson has been sober. She readily recognizes that she is an addict and always will be an addict in recovery, but these days she has concentrated on making amends, paying back debts and living a sober life with her husband, daughter Ashlyn, and her 1-year-old daughter, Lilyanna.
“I’m very happy now because life has become fun again. It’s actually fun to go to work because I get to provide for my family,” Jackson said. “It’s so nice to wake up each day and not have to hustle to find what I need so I could start my day. Now, I just get up and go about it, and that’s a much better way to go about life, I can tell you that.
“Plus, the baby is a blast, and we go everywhere together,” she continued. “Life is beautiful, and that’s why I love my life now.”
While her husband Chris stays home with their infant daughter, Jackson works five or six days per week at the Escape Zone in the village of Bellaire. She also has procured an improved relationship with Ashlyn’s father, also an addict but clean for a little longer than she has been.
“The one thing that would make life better is to be able to finally get out of an apartment and get into our own home,” Jackson explained. “I know that’s a little further down the line right now, but I really want to quit paying rent and pay for something we can own instead.
“It’s going to take more time to dig out of all the awful choices I made during the worst time in my life,” she said. “I am slowly getting out of the debt, and I’m definitely making much better decisions now that I’m sober. My parents told me, over and over, about how wonderful it would be, but I was so messed up, so I just thought were trying to control me all over again.”
At one time, realizing the American Dream was, in fact, low on her priority list, but when she was in recovery, mending scars with her older daughter was at the top of that list. Not only did “Mommy” steal her piggy bank, but she also was a consistent no-show, a liar, and she used the child as leverage against her own parents.
Regaining Ashlyn’s trust and apologizing to her parents, over and over, were on the top of her stable-minded list.
“It’s taken awhile, but my Ashlyn finally trusts me again. We’re best buds again,” Jackson said with a smile. “I’ve had to show her stability, and she has seen me do what I’ve told her that I was going to do instead of disappointing her every day. I’ve built it up over time by showing her that what I say, I really do mean, and by doing what I’ve told her I was going to do.
“I still have so much regret over how I treated her when was I an addict. So much regret. If I could go back a million times, I would, and I would change it all,” she continued. “And I do feel bad that Ashlyn didn’t have the kind of childhood that Lily is experiencing now. And I hate that, but it motivates me every day.”
Her older daughter continues to live with Jackson’s parents because that’s the only home she has known. “I didn’t want to turn her world upside down because that’s where she’s always lived. I didn’t want to say, ‘Hey, you can come live me now because I’m clean,’” Jackson explained. “I didn’t want to uproot her like that, but now she knows that if I say I’m coming over, she knows I’ll definitely be over to spend time with her.”
But when this mother and daughter are together, Jackson is very honest about being an addict, rejecting sobriety on a plethora of occasions, and about the crimes she committed. Jackson has even told her that “Mommy” resorted to exotic dancing for dope money.
“She knows everything because I’ve been pretty open with her,” Jackson said. “I just don’t want her to get into that kind of life, so being honest with her is the best way.
“She knows Mom used to take pills before it got a lot worse for everyone involved, and if we see something on TV, I will point some things about it,” she said. “She understands some things, but not other things, so I am very open with her in hopes that she will never make the same bad decisions.”
Jackson, who attracted the attention of local media outlets after she was featured in a Weelunk article in November 2015, has contemplated the “What-If?” scenarios. What if she’s involved in another automobile accident? What if she is hurt at work? What if, in the years to come, she develops the kind of chronic pain relieved legally only with a prescription for an opioid?
“I would never get involved with that crap again because of the all the heartache it caused, but also because so many people are dying now,” Jackson admitted. “This stuff is killing people now. I don’t want to die, and my life is so good right now I wouldn’t want to screw it all up again.
“Now, if I get hurt again, I’ll avoid painkillers no matter what. I’ll put up with the pain and take aspirin or Ibuprofen,” she said. “If I wake up in a hospital with an IV, I’ll make sure it’s removed as soon as possible because I never want that evil, that poison, in my body again.”
So today, Mother’s Day 2018, Amy Jackson is happily married and is loved by her husband and by both of her daughters, and she remains free of the nightmares caused by her addiction.
Today is a very special day indeed.
“And all I’ll want to do is spend the day around the house with them. I can’t think of a better day, to be honest,” Jackson said. “We’ll work on our little garden and just have a nice day together. That’s the only present I want because that’s the best present I can think of.
“My baby is my second chance at being a mother again, and now I consider myself a ‘real mom’ because, with my first child, I wasn’t much of a mom. I wasn’t a mom at all,” she said. “I will not screw this up like I did before because my children are more important to me now than anything else in my life. I know my purpose now, and I am going to do everything possible to be the best mother I can be.”
(Photos provided by Amy Jackson)
• Steve Novotney has been a professional journalist for 23 years, working for weekly and daily newspapers, the official publication of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and talk radio stations in Pittsburgh and Wheeling. He took his journalism to the Ohio Valley airwaves in 2004, and he is a premier interviewer and feature writer. Steve has been married to his wife, Michelle, for more than 20 years, and they have two children, Michael and Amanda.