News Column

Addiction: One survivor's story

June 8, 2014

By Mary Catherine Brooks, The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.

June 08--To look at Kegan Cantley today, one would never know that she has climbed from the pits of substance abuse and left behind the hellish nightmare of addiction, jail time, deaths of loved ones to overdoses and losing her children.

It is a story she shares in an effort to steer others from her own horror and despair.

Today, Cantley is happily married to a man she adores, has three children and is attending college in order to obtain a counseling degree.

Only a few years ago, at the age of 18, she began seeing an older guy who had experience with drugs, Cantley said.

What started off as a way to connect with him escalated quickly and spiraled out of control.

Cantley can spout off the names of prescription painkillers and synthetic drugs as well as any pharmacist -- because she abused all of them.

"I would do anything for $40 or a pill, whichever you had," she recalls of the addictions that gripped her for nearly a decade.


At the age of 19, she became pregnant with her first child.

"I quit doing the big stuff because I was afraid it would hurt her," Cantley said. "It didn't, thank God."

The birth of her child, however, was not enough to coax Cantley into coming off the pills.

She ended up going to jail for nearly eight months as a result of burglary to support her habit and tried to stay clean after her release.

"Addiction is so powerful," she emphasized.

Before long, the addiction ruled the young woman again.

This time, when she became pregnant, her baby was born addicted to methadone.

"It was devastating to watch him," she recalled as tears slid down her face.

He cried and jerked almost constantly, she said. The baby was given meth to treat his addiction until he was 4 months old.

Still, the addiction ruled Cantley.


A 20-year-old cousin came to live with Cantley's family. Her mother was in rehab and her dad had died of an overdose, Cantley said of her cousin.

Cantley took her to a party and left her. When she returned the following morning to pick up her cousin, Cantley found her in a bedroom, naked and dead from an overdose.

Still, the addiction ruled.


A few months later, her boyfriend -- the father of her two children -- died from an overdose, she said.

Cantley fell deeper into the pit, trying to escape the pain of loss.

As a result, she neglected her children.

A sheriff's deputy appeared at her door one morning and informed her the welfare office was right behind him.

"They took my baby from me," she said. "They went to the school and took my daughter; I didn't even get to tell her 'bye."

In a fit of desperation, Cantley fought with the officials and was charged with obstruction, among other things.

"I woke up in jail," she recalled. "I was dope sick, very sober."


Her turning point finally came when the children were allowed to visit her and began to scream when she walked them back to the van that had brought them for the visit.

"We want to go home, Mommy," they screamed as Cantley had to let them go. "We'll be good. Just let us go home."

It finally dawned on Cantley that her children were all she had. She spent two weeks in jail. When she appeared before the judge, he gave her 12 months to clean up her act or lose her children permanently.

"I thought of my kids calling someone else mommy," she said. "I couldn't have a birthday party for my daughter."

Immediately, she went into a detox facility in Princeton, then to a facility in Fairmont and finally a long-term facility in Gilbert.

At first her children were in foster care. The foster parents couldn't handle Cantley's children -- the environment in which they had been living caused them serious problems as well.

Angie Johnson, who oversees the Wyoming County Day Report program, took the children.

"I can't ever thank Angie enough," Cantley emphasized. "I knew my children were safe with Angie and I could do what I needed to do to get clean."

Cantley obtained her GED and her driver's license.

"I pushed myself to the max," she said.

She was allowed supervised visits with her children at first, then short unsupervised visits. Finally, she had her children returned to her.

Today, she is married to Chris Cantley and they have a child.

"He holds us all together," Cantley emphasized of her husband and three children.

"He's had issues and we're in this together. We're building a new life. We're re-doing our house."

Does she ever want to use drugs to help her get through her busy schedule now?

"I know I'm only one pill away from losing everything I have," she emphasized.

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Source: Register-Herald (Beckley, WV)

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