Travis & Mandy Part 2: Down a winding path of addiction

Relapses plague Vancouver couple as drugs' allure consistently proves too strong

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

Journey through addiction

A three-part series

SUNDAY: Winter. Drugs have a stranglehold on Travis and Mandy.

TODAY: Spring. Stuck in the cycle of recovery and relapse.

TUESDAY: Summer. Ups, downs and a turning point.


The Columbian visited with Travis and Mandy again, and updated their story in January 2014.

photoTravis Trenda waits for instructions from a custody officer at the Clark County Jail. The 10 days in jail was the longest time Travis had spent away from Mandy in months.

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BRUSH PRAIRIE — March 2013.

Cigarette smoke danced from Travis Trenda's mouth in wispy waves as he stood outside Grace Lodge, a drug recovery house for women near Battle Ground, on a brisk afternoon.

Without access to heroin or methamphetamine, he'd have to settle for nicotine.

He'd just spent 10 days in the Clark County Jail, a sentence he received for missing a court date while on a 39-day drug binge. When Travis and his girlfriend Mandy returned from their epic relapse, his mother, Taryn, was in the process of having the police arrest him. His father, Allen, watched as he was led away in handcuffs, becoming one of the thousands of Clark County drug users who cycle through the legal system each year.

The jail stint was the longest period he'd spent away from Mandy in months. Now at Grace Lodge, where Mandy was going to live, he yearned to see her again. They were in love, and he couldn't stay away.

Grace Lodge, nestled in a gully down a winding dirt driveway set off by forest, was full of activity. Women and kids zipped around, giving the house a familial feel. Run by pastor Bill Smith and his wife Vicky, the capacious split-level is a place where women can reacquaint themselves with a drug-free lifestyle.

Outside the house, the reunited Travis and Mandy looked like smitten teenagers, canoodling and commiserating. They brushed noses, their way of saying "I love you," and held each other tight.

Through the gauze of sudden sobriety, the events of their 39-day binge seemed like a dream. As the sun set, the two sat outside and watched a cellphone video showing Travis, in a frenzy, verbally berating Mandy.

What they'd done while high — disconnected themselves from friends and family, instead living for the needle — almost didn't seem real. That wasn't them.

"We ended up hating each other," Travis said.

Regret permeated Travis's memories. His son had turned 6 during his binge, but he was too lost in a fog of drugs to remember.

"I didn't even care; I didn't even realize it," Travis said. "The fact I didn't contact him since Christmas scares the crap out of me."

Mandy was consumed by terrible visions and sensations laden with doom. The visions — as unyielding as a wall — seemed like waking nightmares. Her housemates and case manager warned that the vivid terrors were side effects of the detox process brought on by methamphetamine addiction.

"It's not like you're seeing the visions," explained Jeannie Ross, a recovering addict and Mandy's case manager at Grace Lodge. "It's like you're feeling them."

Equally scary, for both Mandy and Travis, was the thought of recovery. They'd stayed clean in the past, for months at a time, but this time there was more pressure.

Travis was staring down months of jail time if he didn't reform. Jail was a demeaning experience, Travis said, which didn't help him with his struggles. He didn't want to go back.

"The justice system is so screwed up," Travis said, his complexion pallid and face sunken from weight loss. His eyes gave a glint of glassiness. "Most of the kids who are doing this don't have parents like mine or know people like Bill and Vicky. With the system, you're pretty much stuck there unless you have help."

Back from the brink, together in recovery, Travis and Mandy had supporters. And while drug recovery experts say that's essential to kicking addiction, it's only one milestone on a long road to recovery.

But as winter turned to spring, Travis and Mandy's new beginning didn't blossom — it wilted.

Jumped fences

In late February, Mandy was scheduled to travel to a residential treatment facility. The night before she was set to embark, she was feeling restless, interested in using one last time. As her grandmother slept, Mandy stealthily slipped out of the house. She'd be sure to be back by dawn.

She returned at 6:30 a.m., just as her alarm began sounding.

The long train ride north, to a treatment center near Everett, was uncomfortable as she tottered from the drugs. By the time she arrived, she knew she wouldn't stay.

"I got there and nothing was going right," she said. "I didn't want to be there and knew I was trapped inside a shoebox; it wasn't working for me."

Less than two weeks into her scheduled stay, Mandy contacted a friend to spring her. Mandy would jump the fence; he'd act as the getaway driver.

As she climbed the fence, cloaked in darkness, she worried it would be topped by razor wire. It wasn't, but she sliced her hand as she hopped over to the waiting car. Once again, she was running from her troubles.

Travis, meanwhile, was having his own tussles.

He'd promised to gain weight and reshape his life after his late-winter drug binge. He wanted to reunite with his son, Parker. Travis didn't want his son to see him ghostly thin and fighting dope sickness.

In late March, around the time Mandy hopped the fence, Travis lost his anxiety medication, and he bought a bottle of wine. When he found the pills, he mixed them with the wine. He became visibly intoxicated. Noticing his condition, managers of the 180 House, a sober-living facility where he was staying, evicted him.

He moved back in with his parents.

Recovery blues

Travis and Mandy's paths to recovery promise to be long.

State figures show a disturbing upward tick in heroin use and related deaths. The number of accidental deaths statewide involving heroin and prescribed opiates doubled from an average of 310 a year between 2000 and 2002 to 607 a year from 2009 to 2011.

While law enforcement officials say methamphetamine use has tapered off in recent years, following the ban on over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient in some cold medications — it hasn't gone away. The state ban has provided an opening for Mexican drug cartels to flood the market with speed.

It's a buyer's market, experts say, making recovery even more challenging for a growing population. In Clark County, there are 10,365 adults in need of recovery services, according to the Washington Department of Social and Health Services.

"Generally there are not enough inpatient beds to serve the people in treatment," said DeDe Sieler, program manager for the Clark County Alcohol & Drug Program. "People go on waiting lists."

There are 16 beds at the Center for Community Health that are set aside for people in detox, while another 48 beds are for inpatient treatment. While the number of beds are lacking, Sieler said, they're representative of budget cuts. During the last biennium, which concluded at the end of June, the county received $7.21 million in state and federal money, a $4 million drop from what was budgeted during the 2007-2009 biennium.

Scott Sims, the program manager of Columbia Treatment Services in Vancouver, said it can take years of ups and downs before addicts fully recover, especially intravenous users.

"The earlier a person stops, the easier it is for them to remain abstinent," he said. "But it's about getting to the point where you do stop and then stay that way for a period of time."

He kicked methamphetamine and heroin 27 years ago, a time when neither drug was as prominent as it is today. In his last year of recovery, Sims said he relapsed an estimated 20 times. He eventually extricated himself from drugs' grasp after spending nine months in an inpatient treatment center. Sims' father, a manager at Weyerhaeuser in Longview, had pulled strings to get his son into the facility.

Travis and Mandy acknowledge they could easily have succumbed to drugs while they scrimped and scraped on the streets. Mandy had already overdosed once, in 2011, when Travis injected her with heroin. The incident landed Travis in court, where he received a deferred sentence for domestic violence.

Mandy had another brush with an OD.

Her cousin, Kevin Pepple, died of a drug overdose when she was a teenager. The family believes he'd become discouraged with his own recovery and had taken too many pills one night, slipping into a permanent slumber. Mandy said the overdose rocked her. She vowed not to end up like him.

Death hangs like a specter over Mandy's family, a harbinger of what could happen to her. When Mandy overdosed, her grandmother felt an unsettling sense of déjà vu. Addiction runs deep and, when a loved one is lost to it, there's a sense of hopelessness, Louise Cooper said.

"It's easy for us to say, 'Why don't you just stop?'" she said. "'Why don't you just stop doing it?'"

But few people can empathize with drug addiction, unless they've experienced it firsthand, Louise said. Families of addicts have to walk a fine line, she said, between using a tough love approach and enabling bad behavior.

For recovery to work, an addict has to first hit rock bottom — or a series of progressively worse bottoms — and then accept recovery as the only option, Sims said.

Mandy would eventually return to, and complete, the treatment she fled. But the urge to stay clean wasn't there.

Under the bridge

Travis found rock bottom under the overpass to the Interstate 205 bridge.

Days before his 31st birthday, Travis was sleeping under the overpass, trying to stay dry from a downpour. With no jacket, no shoes, he was cold, high and alone. His feet were blistered from walking miles. At night, he'd jolt awake and scream.

He hadn't seen his son in days.

Instead, he'd gone on another bender with Mandy. She'd gotten her hands on some methamphetamine, her drug of choice, and asked if he wanted to shoot up.

They slipped into a motel near East Mill Plain Boulevard, where the two had once lived. They injected the drugs. And that's when everything went sideways.

The two had a row while high — Travis said Mandy had been unfaithful — and Travis stormed out onto the street. He vowed to cut her out of his life. He deserved better, he said.

So he wandered the streets, reflecting on his addiction — where it had brought him, and where he'd like to go. His roving led him to the I-205 overpass, where he barely slept.

"I thanked God I did hit rock bottom because I never had self worth for myself," Travis reflected. "It was in that moment that I realized I deserve better than this. I saw the man I'm supposed to be."

It was Travis' birthday when he turned himself into Lifeline Connections, which provides drug and alcohol treatment.

At least for a moment, there was hope.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; tyler.graf@columbian.com

Travis and Mandy share their story of addiction in their own words on The Columbian's YouTube channel.