'I was grimy': BoMar manager Donna Coleman shares her bumpy road to recovery

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Donna Coleman (left) and her daughter Patricia Jenkins work at the BoMar together.

RIPLEY  Grimy. That's how Donna Coleman described herself when she was still using.

Meth, alcohol, pills. She'd grab anything she could find to make reality disappear. It all started when she was a child. She was one of seven. But there was a large age gap between her and the second youngest 10 years. Her siblings felt more like parents than brothers and sisters.

She felt alone.

Her parents divorced when she was 2, and after that, her mother was too tired to parent anymore.

Coleman said her mom was an alcoholic. There were plenty of bottles lying around the house. It didn't take long for Coleman to take her first sip. At the age of 6, she was found passed out under the kitchen table with a bottle in her hand.

Throughout her childhood and part of adulthood, Coleman chose drugs again and again.

Later, her own daughter, Patricia Jenkins, didn't realize something was off with her mom until she was a teenager.

She and her brother would stay with her grandmother several times a week. Eventually, she caught on. 

As she got older, Jenkins started nailing the windows in the house shut. Too many people were starting to sneak into the house that way. One night she awoke to a stranger trying to open her bedroom window. 

When she was 14, Jenkins confronted her mom.

"Can you just tell me the truth about what is going on?" she asked with anger and resentment in her voice. 

But it was no use, Jenkins said. Her mom would look her in the eyes and lie. She would tell Jenkins she was just selling drugs. That's why so many people were coming to the house. 

Jenkins knew there was more to it. 

Jenkins felt like she was alone, but she wasn't. On average, one in four children in the U.S. lives in a home with a parent battling drug addiction, which adds up to 18.25 million kids, according to Voice for the Children

Hitting rock bottom, losing everything

Things were bad.

Jenkins as an older teenager wasn't living at home, rather she was staying with her then boyfriend's grandmother up the road. It was May 2016. Jenkins was heading to the house to grab clean clothes and take a shower — that's it — she didn't want to be there any longer than she had to. She knew her mom was high.

Her brother called her before she got to the house. 

"Stay away from mom," he said.

Jenkins didn't think much of it. She had been around her mom when she was high countless times. She just needed to grab her things and leave.

She walked into the house and was packing her clothes when Coleman came in the room and started yelling. 

"Can we do this another time?" Jenkins asked with no intent on actually circling back. 

The laundry room and the kitchen were attached. Jenkins walked into the laundry room to grab more clothes when she heard her mom pick up the bottom shelf of the dishwasher. It was filled with dishes. 

Jenkins turned around to see her mom throw the full dish rack at her. She took half a step to the left and barely missed it. She felt a slight wind brush against her side as the dishes crashed to the ground.

Jenkins had enough. She left, and as she was walking back up the street, Coleman stood on the porch screaming.

She couldn't understand a word she was saying, but at that point, Jenkins was scared her mom was going to hurt herself or someone else. She had no other option.

She unlocked her phone and dialed 911.

Coleman was in jail for three days.

Jenkins packed up her belongings and moved in with her dad while her mom was in jail. When she walked into her mom's house again, she decided to make a point.

She dumped all of her pills in the medicine cabinet into the toilet. She didn't flush it though  she wanted her mom to see.

She started running the bathwater.

She opened her mom's bedroom door and immediately saw little boxes with padlocks on them. One by one, she gathered the small boxes and tossed them into the bathtub. 

Jenkins took a broom and swirled the boxes under the water. If one would float, she'd use the broom to hold it underwater for a few moments. Yellow and white water started seeping out of the boxes.

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Choosing recovery every day

Coleman was sitting in South Central Regional Jail when one of her sisters picked her up. 

She still didn't think the drugs were the root of her problems, but her sister knew. That's why her car took Coleman to BoMar, an addiction resource center in Ripley. 

She said her sister dragged her inside. Coleman knew what the place was before she stepped foot inside. She didn't want to go in. Recovery wasn't for her yet. 

"That wasn't my story," Coleman said with disapproval in her voice. "I came here to manipulate the court system and my family and something stuck." 

A meeting began shortly after Coleman arrived. She sat in the far left corner of the room with her head down. While other people were working the 12 steps, she had her red, runny nose pointed toward the ground as she bawled. 

At that point, she had no idea that this place and these people would become her second home. 

It was real work to get to that important moment, in no small part because Coleman had struggled her whole life with control issues. She always wanted to control a situation, people even family.

"It was a vicious cycle," Coleman said. "I would think I was controlling something and of course when it all went wrong it was everybody else's fault."

Coleman kept going to meetings, but she sat in the corner in denial for a month. 

She shakes her head with disapproval when she talks about her past self. 

Luckily, she said, she was able to detox at her brother's house. She isn't sure how she was able to convince him to let her stay, but she's thankful he did.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, more than 11% of Americans 12 and older have used illegal drugs. There have been 700,000 drug overdose deaths since 2000. 

She was about 90 days in when she realized her life was falling apart because of her addiction. 

"That was a real hard pill to swallow," she said with a runny nose and teary eyes. 

Addiction stole 30 years of her life. She wasn't going to let it steal any more. 

At 38 years old, Coleman spent months at her brother's house and going to meetings. As she was becoming sober, she had an epiphany. All her life she thought she had to get high.

"I didn't know that it was an option that I didn't ever have to get high again," Coleman said. "There is a way out this don't have to be your life."

Her detox is foggy. She doesn't remember much. She remembers going through a phase where she was constantly hot. It felt like her body was on fire, and she would jump in her brother's pool at 3 a.m. some nights to cool off. The heat was unbearable.

Food was a coping tool. She ate constantly and gained 40 pounds in the first 30 days.  

Her blood pressure rose. It got so high that her doctor wanted to put her on medication, but Coleman refused. She didn't want to put any more pills in her body. 

She had to relearn how to do simple, everyday tasks, like washing clothes.

As time passed, she was finally able to accept that she was the root of the problem. She lost her house, most of her family members wouldn't speak to her, including her own daughter. When she went to BoMar meetings, she started sitting at the table and joined the discussion. 

Eventually, she picked up a couple jobs. She would work at Ponderosa in Ripley five days a week and she became a peer support specialist at BoMar two days a week. 

Her two days a week turned into three, and then she was able to quit her other jobs. 

After working at BoMar for about three years, Coleman was promoted to manager in August 2020.

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Recovery always comes first

She's in meetings two to seven times a week. 

Coleman has been in recovery for five years. She wakes up every day and chooses to stay sober. 

Finding a balance between recovery, work and family has been a challenge for Coleman, she said with a shaky voice. 

Someone told her that to recover, she has to put her recovery first. Ever since then, she doesn't think twice when it comes to events that are scheduled at the same time as her meeting. She always picks the meeting. 

This strained her and Jenkins' relationship. 

Her daughter grilled her with questions and accusations.

"Why are you choosing these meetings over me?" 

Her mom had finally become sober, but Jenkins felt like their relationship hadn't changed. Her mom still wasn't choosing her. 

"She didn't know who I was," Coleman said. "I didn't know who I was." 

They had to relearn each other. 

Sobriety came with plenty of changes. When she was using she thought she would never have a relationship with any of her family members. She was wrong. It took time, but her family gave her another chance. 

Coleman has been sober for five years, but she and her daughter's relationship was on the rocks until a year ago.

Jenkins wanted nothing to do with her mom after she came out of jail.

Once sober, Coleman still continued to struggle with control.

Jenkins felt like she was being suffocated. It was too much too late.

Over time, as Jenkins and Coleman became more aware of how their actions affected each other, their fights didn't happen as often and they spent more time together. The only things Coleman knows she can control now are her actions.

About a year ago, Jenkins joined BoMar staff. Now the two spend at least 40 hours together every week.

Determined to help 

BoMar has become a safe haven for Coleman. 

She sees people every day walk into BoMar it's like looking into the past. "A lot of people that come in here remind me of where I came from," she said. 

BoMar hosts meetings several times a week, has a small food bank, provides one hot meal a day to visitors and has a shower upstairs. 

Being the manager involves more paperwork than Coleman anticipated, but she said she's grateful for the opportunity to help people. 

When Coleman was using she thought she was alone. She couldn't feel her emotions. She was in the dark. She goes to work every day making sure other people don't feel that pain.    

She often weeps when she shares her story. 

It doesn't phase Coleman when she cries she's not afraid to show her tears. She's just happy to feel her emotions again. 

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.

For more information on BoMar, call 304-372-3722.