Although Lauren Russak Adamson grew up in a nondenominational church, she started smoking marijuana and drinking around age 13. By the time she learned how to drive a car, she already had mastered sniffing coke and snorting pain pills. At the age of 25, she spent over $200 a day on heroin.
But everything changed when Adamson had to choose between losing her 2-year-old daughter and getting clean.
Adamson had just passed out from shooting up when a friend from church arrived at her apartment. Her friend could hear Adamson’s daughter playing in the living room and the television on, but no one answered the door. She called police, fearing something had happened to Adamson and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, the father of her child, got into a physical altercation with one of the officers, who uncovered illegal drugs in the house. As Adamson sat handcuffed in the kitchen, she learned Child and Youth Services removed her daughter from the residence.
“I remember thinking, I wish I wasn’t so high, because I was having a hard time comprehending everything that was happening,” Adamson says. “Seconds later, when I was alone in my apartment, I thought, Why couldn’t I have just overdosed?”
The next day, she sold her cellphone for money to get a fix. A few days later, she sobbed in her daughter’s room — at the crossroads of either fighting to regain custody of her child or committing suicide.
Adamson told her parents she wanted to get clean. That’s when a family friend came over and helped Adamson find Beauty for Ashes Women and Children’s Home, one of only 11 Teen Challenge centers in the U.S. to allow mothers to have their children with them during treatment. Teen Challenge is a department of U.S. Missions.
“I recall thinking, I am really going to have to get clean now,” Adamson says. “I didn’t want to do it. I only did it because I wanted to have my daughter back.”
Adamson thus far had attempted 20 other treatment programs, with minimal impact. However, she says Beauty for Ashes didn’t feel like an institution that considered her a patient.
“It felt like my home; it was my daughter’s home,” Adamson says. “God’s presence was so penetrating.”
Cindy L. Zello, the program’s executive director and co-founder, along with her husband, U.S. missionary Michael T. Zello of Teen Challenge North Central Virginia, counts Adamson among the worst female heroin addicts she ever saw.
“When Lauren arrived at BFA, she was fragile and weak,” says Zello, 53. “Heroin had stolen everything in her life that was meant to be good. She was nothing but skin and bones physically. She was a shell of a person.”
At the time, Adamson seemingly had little hope for straightening her own life out, let alone a future in which she could be reunited with her daughter.
“She was a guilt-ridden mom full of shame because she’d chosen drugs over a better life for her and her child,” Zello says. “She couldn’t — even for the love of her child — break free of this monstrous addiction cycle."
Zello recognized that Adamson, like most mothers in the program, came in focused on keeping her daughter. Because addiction causes all relationships in these women’s lives to break, they often believe their young children are the only people who love them unconditionally. The program helps them fall in love with being moms.
Through Beauty for Ashes, Adamson came to view her daughter in a new, healthier way.
“She developed a passion for being a mom and her daughter became the deserving recipient of a fully engaged, God-redeemed mom,” Zello says. “It wasn’t about losing her daughter anymore; it was about having her for the rest of her life.”
Zello recognized other transformations in Adamson as well, including a tenderness toward others. Adamson broke free from unhealthy relationships that had kept her tied to addictive patterns.
“What God said about her defined her,” Zello says. “She found new life. Now she wants to share it with everybody.”
Adamson, now 27, graduated from the program and is working to continue a drug-free life. Last September, she wed a friend she has known has since high school. She and Mike are raising two children in Pittsburgh.
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