Shannon started drinking when she was about 15. By age 20, she was using crack cocaine.
Learning she was pregnant strengthened the 26-year-old's motivation to go through treatment again. Holding a thriving baby girl became a measure of the success after six previous pregnancies ended in miscarriages or still births.
"It's just seeing there is some type of hope and inspiration," Shannon said while seated on a picnic table in the grassy open area at the New Dawn Board and Lodge in Brainerd. The program helps chemically dependent pregnant women and mothers of young children.
"They give you an opportunity that you are either going to try to change or not do something. They are giving you an opportunity. ... You have to want to do something with yourself."
Her daughter, Kamari, was born in Brainerd at 27 weeks, weighing 2 pounds, 7 ounces. Nine weeks later the tiny child with a full head of dark hair had reached 5 pounds. Now thriving, she weighs more than 11 pounds.
Now the "old-timer" at the New Dawn Board and Lodge program, Shannon has hopes for her daughter.
"I am just hoping that she would not see any using of any kind," Shannon said of drug abuse. "The hardships I have seen, I don't want her to see."
Shannon worked with support staff members to understand her own past and depression from drug use. Being farther from familiar spots and people from the Twin Cities has helped and Shannon says she does not want to go back there. Now Shannon sees more motivation to go to school or get a job.
"Whatever I do affects her," Shannon said of her baby. Shannon said she worried during her pregnancy after she used drugs on three occasions. "I was worried it would be another I would lose because of my use."
A case manager helped provide ideas about places Shannon could go for treatment and he laid out options for her. She was referred north for treatment from Minneapolis after living in a Salvation Army Center. She went to Wadena for chemical dependency treatment. Shannon had never been to Wadena or Brainerd before. For Shannon, the change came from wanting something better that she knew she was not going to find in the Twin Cities or living on the streets. She asked for help. New Dawn was part of the answer.
"The ones who don't make don't change in any way from when they come in to when they leave," Shannon said. "(New Dawn) will give you opportunities to change if you are willing. People are here to help and do all they can."
Shannon said without the program she doubts she would have had her daughter.
"I knew what I was doing was messing up myself and the baby and I had a lot of guilt. I was finally able to accept that drugs played a part in the other miscarriages. The guilt was there in the back of my mind. Some people don't realize the effect of their drug use until it's in their face."
Another woman in the program found a strength in having her children with her. Three of five children were able to come with her to New Dawn and that made a difference. The 32-year-old said the program has helped her handle problems and tackle them instead of putting everything off.
"Thank God for this place," she said, adding without it -- "I'd be without my children at this moment."
Wendy, mother of twins, wrote back to the New Dawn program after leaving the center. "I'm grateful for my new life."
Some women fall through the cracks, which is hard for counselors who know what those women will face. Others come back to fight addiction demons several times. About half the women at New Dawn are there by court order. They are often victims of domestic or sexual assault. They often come from broken homes themselves and may have been in child protection as youngsters.
But there is always hope for change. Women at the New Dawn treatment program are using their hope for their unborn children to change their lives. Shannon has been an example of that change.
"She is a completely different woman," said Kathy Sauve, lead case manager at New Dawn. "She has goals. She wants to get a job."
For Shannon being in Brainerd means a program where the women have more basic connections than beyond the differences between white, black and American Indian.
"It's like no one is looking at each other with color," Shannon said. "We are just women here. ... It's more like she's a woman. She's a mother. She can help."
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