krystal and her son laying in the grass in the empowerment center's backyard

How Krystal Paetz is Celebrating Life & Being a Mom in Recovery

“After I graduated the program, I worried I wasn’t going to be able to laugh and be who I was before. That I had lost me in all of this. And I get to see now that I’m absolutely still as bright and colorful and wild and crazy as I ever was. It’s just now I get to do it in a responsible way that’s not going to jeopardize everything that I work so hard for. And I get to do it with friends who are on the same page,” explains Krystal Paetz, an Empowerment Center graduate 6 years into her sobriety.

As a mother to her 10-year-old son, Krystal enjoys “finding the messiest way possible to have a good time.” For Easter, she got her friends and their kids together for a paint egg fight. They emptied out eggshells, filled them with colorful paint, went out to a field, and threw them at each other – getting photos and videos of everything. When we spoke to her, she raved about Reno’s Festival of Colors, a local take on an Indian holiday where revelers throw paint powder at one another. She loves camping, fishing, dirt biking, and off-roading. New for this summer, Krystal bought her son his first mini-dirt bike. She’s starting to take him to local outdoor music festivals.

Overall, her life is looking pretty great.

krystal and her son laying in the grass in the empowerment center's backyard

How Krystal’s Story Began

Krystal grew up in Carson City and Reno and has lived most of her life in Northern Nevada. She says she “has a life I never thought I’d have. Because I never wanted it. I started doing drugs from when I was really, really young. And I was OK with that. And selling drugs. I was OK with that for my life. I didn’t want kids. I was OK with working and partying and just doing me.” She says that her drug of choice was “all” (but she never got into opiates) and what she did every day was meth.

She recognizes that while a lot of women can stop using when they have kids, that wasn’t her experience. She tried to stop a few times, but it didn’t stick. She went through a drug court in Carson City, but afterwards went right back to the lifestyle she wanted. It wasn’t until she went to prison that she knew she needed a change. Paetz explains, “Prison saved my life and gave me the chance to sit down and think about the things that mattered most to me.”

Two years ago, Krystal came to The Empowerment Center (TEC) from prison through the 184 Program, which allows for early release. She had received two consecutive 3-10 year sentences and already served 4.5 years. This program allowed her to finish what would be 6 years served while working on her recovery and beginning to build her new life.

krystal headshot

Recovery at The Empowerment Center

The combination of the 184 Program and her stay at The Empowerment Center were exactly what Krystal needed. They gave her the support system she needed to gradually reintegrate into society, providing a network of people she could lean on for advice.

Krystal came to TEC when it was a 4-month program with a 30-day blackout. She felt the blackout was one of the most important features for her. “This is one month to show you how to live,” she explains. These 30 days allowed her time to focus on herself and her recovery. Not just learning about addiction (she’d already heard it!) but being guided to dig into herself: identifying her personal triggers and reg flags, processing past losses, and preparing to deal with life, emotions, and friendships differently. She says she benefitted from 1:1 counseling and support, not being pushed to find a job right away, and taking the time to learn and adopt healthy routines.

At the end of her 30 days, Paetz shares, “I felt ready to go to work, ready to start my new life.”

Her remaining time living at TEC continued to be a gradual transition for Krystal. TEC supported her first in finding work, then a 2-bedroom apartment. She talked to our Workforce Development team about her goal: to earn enough for her son to have his own bedroom. She found a job, and then a better one – first working at an eco-friendly foam manufacturer and then working in quality control at a company that produces materials to be made into dialysis tubing and other medical supplies.

On working while living at TEC: “It was coming home to a sisterhood of people that were happy you were there, that were happy you were doing the right thing. And if you had a bad day, or you were in a bad mood, it was alright. It was OK to not be OK. At TEC, I found my best friend, my family, and my foundation. To this day, it’s still my foundation. If you truly want to change and get help, this is probably the best place to do it.”

Staying Connected

Until recently, Paetz ran The Empowerment Center’s Saturday night AA/NA meeting. She reflects, “Coming back here keeps me humble, because it keeps fresh in my mind what I went through.” She remembers how intimidating it was to hear recovery statistics in her early days at TEC and feels it’s important to continue to come to meetings to show her newly sober peers what success can look like. In coming to meetings, she’s modeling what their lives could be if they work their programs, take advantage of available resources, and stay committed to sobriety.

While she’s stepping away from running Saturday morning meetings to spend more time with her son, Krystal looks forward to finding new ways to stay connected to TEC. She also continues to talk to her Peer Support from TEC regularly and spend time with her best friend and others in her TEC community.

krystal and her mom in the empowerment center parking lot

Krystal’s Family

Krystal’s family is one of the most important pieces of her life. They’ve supported her and stayed with her through everything. While she was away, her son lived with his father, and later with Krystal’s mom.

Krystal says her son “Is the strongest person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s been through a lot and he never gave up on me, never quit wanting me home.” Her mom brought him to visit to her in prison as often as she could. And she brought him to visit Krystal at TEC every weekend. Krystal describes her mom as her rock and her cheerleader, recognizing that she wouldn’t be as strong as she is today without her.

Krystal’s dad was also an important influence on her life. He passed away while she was in prison. In one of their last conversations, Krystal remembers him telling her how proud he was of her. She asked, “How could you be proud of your only daughter sitting in prison, away from her son?” He said he was proud of the woman she’s worked to become since this all happened, and the woman he knew she would continue to be when she got out.

Here at The Empowerment Center, we’re so proud of Krystal – and know her dad would be too.