JAY BARTELS

The summer heat baked through my car windows as I turned off the AC to save fuel, in hopes of coasting into a gas station. I left the house early that morning knowing this could be the most life defining day of my life. There was so much at stake, and here I was sweating and regretting, that I didn't fuel up on the way to the courthouse. Some one was looking out for me that day, and I first realized it when I coasted into the gas station and my car stalled right at the pump. I was 5 minutes away and still had 30 minutes to spare.

The anxiety was beginning to swarm over me, stealing my breath, pounding my heart. I had waited over two years for this day, and I knew this was my last opportunity. My life and the lives of two little girls would be decided upon today. It was my last shot at getting custody of my daughters, otherwise they were going to be split up and put up for adoption. But how did we get here in the first place? How does anyone put themselves in a position like this?

It began about 4 years ago, and neither I nor my wife could ever imagine that anyone would ever think about taking our babies away. Our relationship had fallen apart along time ago, when she found a new love that she put before her husband, her children, and her own self respect. His name was heroin. Before I paint my wife as the sole culprit, I should say that I had my own addiction that I was battling. And that's what I was doing on the day the state took our children. I was in a 6 month intensive rehab, which seemed to be my only chance at recovery.

The drugs were making all of my wife's decisions and none of them were for the good of anyone. The state contacted me and told me they had taken the children from my wife. When I attempted to leave the rehab to get my girls back, they informed me that due to the situation with my children being exposed to an atmosphere of drugs, they were requesting that I finish my commitment at the rehab, which at that time I had 4 months left. I was sick to my stomach and have never felt so helpless in my life.

Four months later I left the rehab feeling healthier than I had felt in years. My mind was clear and I knew I had to avoid all the people, places, and things from my time before the rehab. On top of the list was my wife.

Eventually my wife dropped out of the picture and chose not to complete her case plan to get custody of the girls back. My case plan was going right on schedule and I stayed clean and focused at the task at hand. I began to struggle with extreme anxiety and depression, which I soon went on medication for. I was able to visit my girls once a week supervised, but I was a nervous wreck. With seven months clean I relapsed. Yes, I relapsed, I used drugs again. My daughters were the most precious thing in my life and they were counting on me, and I would choose drugs over them. What kind of person in his right mind would do such a thing? None. But when the disease of addiction takes control of our lives, it's safe to say "we are no longer people in our right mind". The guilt made it even harder to quit the drugs. It was an endless circle and I could see no way out. I struggled for one full year, putting together a week or two of clean time, and in a flash I was using again.

In no time at all I lost my job, and I found myself sleeping on the beach. I ran my car into the ground and I had to abandon it. I would go the narcotics anonymous meetings right down the street. I was always welcomed there. I was 6' tall and my weight was down to 144 lbs. I was dying and I was hopeless, until that one miraculous day, the day I surrendered my will to God and some friends took me to a detox. I felt so sick and so weak, but I had hit a horrible bottom and I could barely walk. I spent almost three weeks detoxing, the self inflicted poison seeping out my pores.

As soon as I left detox I went straight to an N.A meeting. I was welcomed with open hearts and loving hugs. I went to at least one meeting every day. I moved into a halfway house and 1 month later I had my old job back. Within 90 days I had a car and an apartment, miracles after miracles. Now it was time. It was time to get my girls and bring them home after almost 2 1/2 years. I was ready to fight for them and I was determined, even against the odds, that one day I would leave that courtroom with my precious girls by my side.

I began to get supervised visits, then eventually I took them for the day on my own. We had been to family court many times and we were having a problem with the way the system was set up. The statute said after a year’s time I cannot get my children back, because the children were now being placed for adoption and they already had a family go through all the adoption procedures. The judge had a new admiration for me and every agency was on my side, we just had to find a way to get through the red tape.

Finally, it was judgment day. It was now or never. The state attorney told the judge that the children should be with their father, as did everyone else who testified that day. The Judge looked at me and smiled. He glanced around the courtroom until his eyes found mine again. He said "sir, in all my years on the bench I've never seen a parent go through as much as you did fighting your addiction, sleeping on the street, and still show enough perseverance to be here today fighting for your children. I'm confident that your love for your children, somehow defied all odds. How would you like to have your girls back with you, where they belong?" Those were the sweetest words I have ever heard.

It's been FIVE years now that I've been raising the girls as a single father, and the three of us cherish every moment. We haven't seen their mom in over two years, but we keep her in our prayers. I could have never done this on my own. I had to turn my will over to God and trust that he could manage my life better than I could. I feel so blessed to have my children back, to be able to provide for them, and to get a hug and a kiss each night before they go to bed, only 20 feet away, from the luckiest man in the world.

If you would like to read Jay’s journals, which include “Mister Mom”, “The Family Guy”, and “Jays Addiction”, as well as many others, please visit his site at http://www.jaysplan.com">Jays Plan

Jay is a single work at home parent and devotes his Jays Plan - Secrets of a Single Dad web site to parenting isues and many other issues that he feels need to be written about. Also be sure to stop by Family Health With Mister Mom

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