Amid South Dakota’s meth epidemic, recovering addict helps others find sobriety
MITCHELL, S.D. — It’s been nearly 20 years since Teri Leuning tried methamphetamine for the first time, but she remembers every detail like it was yesterday.
“I was a sophomore in high school, and I felt fearless after I tried it for the first time,” Leuning said of her first experience with the drug. “It was easier to get than beer, and I fell in love with it right away.”
While she’s been sober for six years now, the cravings and dark memories of her meth addiction don’t go away. But the 35-year-old mother of two has found that sharing the story of her past meth addiction has not only helped others overcome their meth use, but eased her own road to recovery as well.
Leuning is the chairwoman of Mitchell’s Narcotics Anonymous, where she’s been leading groups once a week for the past six years for people that have experienced past narcotic use and are seeking help.
“It’s almost hard to put into words how impacting NA meetings are because you can go there craving meth with like-minded people, and you leave feeling better knowing that you’re not alone in this struggle,” she said.
Leuning is far from alone in becoming addicted to methamphetamine. The ongoing meth abuse has reached epidemic levels in the state of South Dakota, which prompted Gov. Kristi Noem to allocate $4.6 million for anti-methamphetamine efforts Wednesday, Jan. 23, in her first budget address at the state Capitol in Pierre.
In 2017, former Attorney General Marty Jackley launched a methamphetamine awareness campaign called “NO.METH.EVER,” which featured commercials that were scripted with actors explaining the dangers of the addictive drug. But a year ago, a plea to make the commercials more authentic led to the state seeking former meth addicts to replace the actors, and Leuning volunteered to assist in those efforts.
“Through sharing my story, I have helped people addicted to meth start their recovery,”said Leuning, who was featured in a March 2018 NO.METH.EVER commercial.
Leuning’s long road to recovery
Upon graduating from Mitchell High School in 2001, Leuning became hooked on meth right before she moved to Lenexa, Kansas. Though she moved to another state, her meth addiction followed, and she began using heavily during the years she lived in Kansas working as a waitress.
“That’s when it got really bad,” Leuning said.
It was then Leuning said she knew her meth addiction was spiraling out of control, which prompted her to move back home and live with her father, Jeff Leuning, who watched his daughter ache and battle cold sweats for a week during her first detox.
After going through the horrors of detox in front of her dad, Leuning was seemingly on her way to sobriety for good. But 10 years later, she relapsed.
Unable to control the craving, Leuning fell back into her old ways as an addict. Only this time, she was tasked with managing the duties of being a mother of her two children, Oakley, 12, and Lennon, 7.
“I was using and selling meth for the next 11 months straight, every day,” Leuning said.
Plagued with a second round of addiction, Leuning’s boyfriend, who asked to remain anonymous, began to notice warning signs that she was using again.
In desperation to help his girlfriend overcome her ongoing addiction, Leuning’s boyfriend had to force a strung-out Leuning into her parents’ van, which took her to rehab.
“I wanted to quit, and I knew should have, but I just couldn’t. It controlled me,” she said. “My boyfriend literally had to drag me in the van to go to rehab.”
Having spent a little over a month in a rehab facility in Aberdeen, Leuning was ready to face life and her meth addiction on the other side of treatment walls. It was then that she stumbled upon a career as massage therapist that she credits as a catalyst in overcoming addiction.
“That was the only time my brain would just shut off and be in the moment, because it was so therapeutic for me,” said Leuning. “I’ll be six years sober in May, and the struggle is real and will always be there, but so will the fight in me.”