Heather Morton is studying welding at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) while living at Marvel Way with her daughters, ages 2 and 4. Every morning, she drops them off at daycare on the way to her welding work and classes, which she looks forward to every day. In the evenings, she’s grateful to come home to her own apartment, in a safe and secure building. She’s used to living in chaotic shared living spaces with up to 10 others, where “everything I’ve ever owned has been destroyed or taken away from me.” She explains, “This is the first time I’ve ever had my own place, my own house that nobody was going to take away from me.”
Heather’s life hasn’t always looked like this. For her and so many others, a safe and affordable place to live is an essential step in establishing a clean and sober lifestyle.
Here’s how she got here:
Heather’s parents are both recovering addicts. When she was 13, she started drinking and smoking weed, and things escalated from there. When she turned 18, she became a stripper with her then-best friend and “it kind of fueled everything.” She tried a variety of drugs, had bouts with some of them, and despised meth, until her son’s father introduced her to it at 29 or 30. According to Heather, “It was the most powerful thing I’ve ever done. I couldn’t stop.” Around this time, her sister became addicted to heroin, and Heather saw “some really scary stuff” with both substances. She’s spent time in two domestic violence shelters, had a close friend die, and has attempted suicide.
When she knew things were bad, Heather sent her kids to live with family members. When her son was 3 years old (he’s 8 today), she sent him to live with his grandparents. And, when her daughters were ages 2 and 6 months (now 4 and 2), she sent them to live with her Aunt. A CPS worker saw that Heather wanted to change her life, and helped her by closing her case so Heather could transfer custody before entering treatment programs. Heather’s sister was already in recovery at point – and was a huge inspiration in helping Heather to get clean.
From here, Heather entered treatment at New Frontier, the Ridge House, then Crossroads. Between the 3 programs, she was in treatment for a year and half, working through them back to back. At Crossroads, she was allowed to have her girls with her. She received specialized therapy for domestic violence, traditional therapy, EMDR, relapse prevention, and parenting classes.
When Heather completed each of these programs, she didn’t feel ready to live independently and wasn’t sure where to go next. But, she says, she’ll “always remember the day at Crossroads when they had a big meeting, with 30 or 40 girls, and announced that the community was going to open a complex for people like us.” For the next step out of transitional living. “I remember getting goosebumps everywhere. I was like, I’m gonna live there!”.
Learning to Weld
Growing up, Heather always did well in school and began welding with her dad at 13. She was awarded a scholarship for welding in High School, before her life took a different turn. A big piece of her recovery was getting back to working towards her goals. While in treatment, she received help applying for FASFA to cover her educational costs and enroll at TMCC.
Heather felt passionate about returning to welding from Day 1. After the first semester, she approached one of her instructors, feeling awkward in advocating her herself, and asked “Hey, can I have a job here? I don’t care how much you pay me, I just want the experience.” Of course, they told her, she was a fantastic welder and they had plenty of work for her. Today, Heather is working as an Instructor’s Assistant at TMCC.
About TMCC’s welding program, she notes “I’m surrounded by all these professors, and successful people, and a lot of them are in recovery too. It’s the greatest place on the planet.” She’s learning about different types of machines, how to repair them, fabrication, and more. “It’s like the whole world is just right there for me, everything I’ve ever dreamed of, and all I had to do was quite using.”
Heather Today & Looking Forward
With the help of her FAFSA grants, a Jacobsen scholarship, rental assistance from the Housing Authority, and her affordable Marvel Way 1-bedroom apartment – Heather is excited to be completing her Associate’s degree, job training, and welding certifications. Next, she aims to earn a bachelor’s degree so she can become a welding instructor. When Marvel Way Phase II is completed, and Heather is taking home a welder’s salary, she hopes to transition from her 1-bedroom apartment to a 2-bedroom unit in the new building.
In everything she does, being a good mom is Heather’s top priority. She knows her girls see what she does and are proud of her. They know she takes her laptop with her everywhere, and when they don’t see it on weekends away visiting family, they ask why – and remind her to do her homework! She’s reconnected with her son, and recently saw him for the first time in 4 years. Her girls came with her and met their brother for the first time.
At Marvel Way, Heather enjoys community events like BBQs, is looking forward to the Phase II playground for her girls, and appreciates living in a supportive community. At NA meetings, she “can’t wait to be one of the people in the room that gets to stand up when they have 5 years clean, or 10 years clean, or 20.” She’s inspired by Richard, Marvel Way’s Housing Director, as living proof that she can live the rest of her life in recovery, and not ever have to go back. And, she looks forward to helping her kids understand addiction, so they can make better choices and break her family’s cycle.
Advice from Heather
Heather’s advice to anyone struggling with addiction is not to give up. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you’re worth, because you get to decide what you want out of life. And don’t listen to the statistics and the numbers and what people say about addicts. Just listen to yourself and believe in yourself.” She encourages people who are struggling to take advantage of therapy, counseling, and meetings. In time, “it’s only going to benefit you, and everything will fall into place.”
Her favorite quote is – “Work hard in silence, let success be your noise.”