FAIRFIELD — Mel and David Schrum have an agreement. The first one who starts using alcohol and/or drugs ends their seven-year marriage.
The Fairfield residents are among several couples in recovery who regularly donate their time and regularly attend events at Fairfield’s Unity Hall, which serves as a one-stop shop for people in recovery.
September is National Recovery Month. It is designed to promote the benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery for mental- and substance-abuse disorders. Statistics say nearly 23 million American adults report they have overcome a problem with drugs or alcohol.
The Schrums, “the old-timers” at Unity Hall, are among those 23 million.
Mel Schrum, who started drinking in junior high, has been living a sober life since June 24, 1988.
“I am really proud of my 24 years in recovery,” she said. “If I would start to use, I’d go back to being a crankster. I would lose my 24 years, my friends and my husband.”
During her addiction, which spanned about 20 years, Schrum spent times homeless and in jail.
“I was pretty naive about how bad I was. I kept chasing the high I never found,” Mel Schrum said.
At one point, she was clean for two years and thought “normally.” She got her car back, a job and become a contributing member of society.
“Then I scored some dope and I was back on it harder than I was before,” she said. She was back before the judge again, this time given a second chance and mandated to attend 12-step meetings.
At the time there weren’t too many choices for recovery and the prevailing thought was “once an addict, always an addict,” Mel Schrum said. “It’s come a long way since 1988,” she said.
David Schrum’s story is similar. He used drugs and alcohol for many years. He also spent time on the streets.
“I was in so much pain. I didn’t want to live that way. I thought about committing suicide,” he said.
His sister intervened and saved his life, he said. She called Veterans Affairs and was able to get him into a 28-day treatment program. However, after 16 days, he was going to be transferred to another facility and needed his military discharge papers.
He couldn’t find them. While waiting for a copy, his mother, who had kicked him out of her house prior, let him stay with her. He said that helped keep him sober.
Reflecting on his days using drugs, David Schrum said he did “things he would never do clean and sober.”
His clean date is March 24, 1992. David Schrum still attends two to three 12-step meetings a week. Mel Schrum attends about the same number on a monthly basis.
The couple serves as mentors to those new to recovery.
“Dave and Mel have been so involved with helping others for many, many years. They get so blessed because they bless other people,” said Roger Maryatt of Unity Hall. “When young people come in and are introduced to Dave and Mel it gives them instant hope.”
Shawn Snell and Cindy Crist are among those inspired by the Schrums’ length of time in recovery. Both have been sober for about five years.
Snell, who grew up in Suisun City, was introduced to methamphetamine when he was 17.
“I thought it was the greatest thing. I felt I could achieve anything, that I could do anything,” he said.
Crist was the same age when she was introduced to the same drug.
“I felt pressured into doing it and at the same time, it intrigued me,” she said. “I felt like I wanted to fit in. It made me feel like I fit in better. I felt it gave me self-esteem.”
Within a year of finishing high school, Crist had her first child.
“I used in my last month of pregnancy,” she said. Then, she welcomed another daughter.
She moved home with her parents and would use “every day, all day.”
“My girls were with me, but I was not emotionally available for them,” she said. At one point, her parents threatened to pursue custody of Crist’s daughters.
An abusive marriage made things worse, as Crist was dependent on her husband to get her drugs. When they split, she lost that connection.
Looking back, Crist said she did a lot of things she was not proud of.
“I stole left and right (to get money for drugs),” she said. “I was the type who would steal money out of your wallet, then help you look for it.”
Crist hit bottom on New Year’s Eve 2007. She sat in a hotel room and cried, and when she left, she was pulled over by the police and spent a week in jail.
“I had never been in trouble before,” she said.
Snell had made past attempts in recovery that were unsuccessful. He graduated from some residential treatment programs, would get on probation and “get tempted and turn back to drugs and alcohol.” Like David Schrum, he considered suicide.
“I hated where I was in life. I had no driver’s license. My boss had given up on me,” he said. “I was not going anywhere in life. ”
The couple attends at least two 12-step meetings a week. Crist also volunteers at Unity Hall twice a week. Snell is Unity Hall’s treasurer.
The Schrums, Crist and Snell say recovery is a step-by-step process. “It can be successful,” David Schrum said. “It takes a lot of work.”
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.