This story contains discussion of drug use and addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling, please call the Indiana Addiction Hotline at 1-800-662-4357 or seek out area resources.
Sobbing in the shower of a Chicago hotel, Brandi Moran begged for her life.
A yearslong addiction to crack cocaine, meth and heroin was wringing the life out of her. Over the preceding decade, Moran’s substance use had landed her in and out of jail. Her four children were being raised by different family members and had lost interest in a relationship with her. She’d set fire to every bridge.
With open warrants in Indiana, Moran and her husband took off for Chicago, where they were spending as much as $1,000 a day on crack and heroin. Their use had grown so excessive, they believed death was around the corner.
Moran had finally reached the end of herself.
Through tears, she prayed.
I’m going to end up killing myself doing this, she said. God, you’ve got to help me.
Moran would find help. But her path to redemption wouldn’t be easy.
Early in her life, Moran made a choice.
She was born in Brazil, about 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis. Her biological father, who struggled with his own demons, wasn’t in the picture. Moran describes her single-mother upbringing as “dysfunctional.”
When Moran was 11, her mother remarried, and the family moved to Indianapolis’ east side.
Moran went to Lutheran High School, where she made decent grades and played volleyball. But she found herself choosing between friends: A studious, structured group with strict parents, or a girl whose parents gave her the run of the neighborhood. She chose the latter.
“I was trying to find something,” she said, “that made me feel loved.”
Moran started smoking weed when she was 15. By the end of her junior year, she was around 7 months pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Braiden, on what would have been the first day of her senior year, in the fall of 1996.
Moran finished her diploma at Warren Central High School and secured a job as a dental assistant. Two years later, she had a daughter. Her drug use was consistent, but her lifestyle remained steady.
Until she smoked a joint laced with crack cocaine.
“And then,” she said, “it just went to hell from there.”
Crack cocaine, as Moran puts it, almost stole her soul.
The drug numbed her. Obliterated her impulse control. She started selling her belongings. Took out payday loans. Traded sex for a fix.
“There was never, never enough,” she said.
Around 2002, attempting to flee the dysfunction of her addiction, Moran moved with her children, then 3 and 5, back to her hometown.
But that freedom was short-lived. Within months of arriving in Brazil, she’d traded crack cocaine for meth. Her children moved in with the mother of her now-husband and father of her second child, Robert Godme.
Without the kids, Moran fell deeper into her addiction, using meth intravenously almost daily. Without a job, she stayed awake for what seemed like days on end, shooting up.
For years, Moran and Godme were on-and-off, struggling through cycles of their addiction.
From a young age, Maci Godme was prepared to get a call saying her parents were dead. Their presence in her life was so inconsistent that it became easier to shut them out completely.
“You would never know,” she said. “They would be home for Thanksgiving, gone for Christmas.”
She was never sheltered from the realities of her parents’ drug use. For years, Maci and her older brother watched as her parents poisoned their bodies.
“You watch them lose weight and you watch their faces sink in and their eyes glass over,” Maci said. “You see your parents and you see the bruise marks on their arms and you know they’re not doing well.”
One of the hardest parts to reckon with, Godme said, is that they chose drugs over their kids. Both knew it was wrong. Both knew that their children were suffering.
“That’s the crazy part of addiction: no matter how bad it hurts you, it’s still what comes first,” Godme said. “Your family, your kids, you watch it destroy their little souls — and yourself — and you just do it anyway.”
Moran gave birth to her third child, a daughter named Chloee, handcuffed to a bed at Wishard Hospital.
She had been arrested in 2003 on possession charges and placed on home detention. For more than a year, she was “successful,” she said, living in her own apartment and working a warehouse job in Terre Haute. But she skipped her last probation appointment, and a warrant was issued for her arrest.
She was in labor for eight hours at Indiana Women’s Prison before she was transferred to Wishard. Chloee, born in April 2005, spent her first five months living with Moran’s mother.
After her release, Moran went back to a relatively stable life. She moved in with her mom and infant and began working at a gas station. She appreciated that, despite a drug felony, someone gave her a chance. She loved the productivity of it, enjoyed interacting with customers.
But the cycle of her addiction continued.
This time, it started with pills — opiates that re-opened a door to heroin — and, eventually, crack cocaine. She was using again. Every day.
She had another son in 2008, and by 2010, both he and Chloee were living with separate relatives. The next year, Moran and Godme went to Chicago, spending the money Godme was awarded in a workplace injury settlement on hotels and heroin.
They didn’t know who they were buying from or what was in the drugs. They could have been robbed. They could have been shot and left for dead. The addiction meant they didn’t care.
At their most selfish, they debated making a video to send to their families, a message to their loved ones in case their excessive drug use finally killed them.
She didn’t want her kids to bury her. She wanted a life outside of this hell. So, on an early November night, Moran cried out to God, asking Him to save her from herself.
The next day, divine intervention appeared in the rearview mirror.
Chicago-area officers took umbrage with the tint on their car’s windows, and the traffic stop resulted in Moran and Godme being extradited back to Indiana on open warrants. Moran got a year, Godme got two.
In prison, she had no choice but to get clean. Moran dug deeper into her faith and planted seeds of recovery rooted in her relationship with God. She awoke one night with echoes of Galatians 6:9 in her head: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Moran was determined to change her life. Do good. Just don’t give up.
While she was in prison, Moran’s mother-in-law shared with her information about Higher Ground, a monthslong residential recovery program at Wheeler Mission that focuses on healing through Scripture. Moran secured a spot in the program prior to her release, and arrived at Wheeler’s Center for Women and Children in Nov. 2012.
“Until the day she walked in these doors,” said Bethany Nelson, Moran’s Higher Ground case manager, “her choices and her past were just an evident reminder of who she was, but not who she wanted to be.”
Research has widely shown that, in addition to environmental, social and genetic influencing factors, addiction is a verified medical disorder, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Despite advancements in research, there is not a consensus on what causes some individuals to develop compulsive habits.
“I’ve never met anyone … who just woke up one day and (being addicted) was what they wanted to do,” said Nelson, who is now the Center’s family services program director.
The state itself is desperately trying to grapple with the opioid crisis. Indiana saw a 75% increase in overdose deaths from 2011-17, according to a report by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation. Some say the state — which in 2017 accounted for 4% of the nation’s overdose deaths — is critically underfunded in its fight.
In Higher Ground, women spend a minimum of eight months participating in group and individual counseling and Bible studies. Once graduated, women can opt to stay with Wheeler for internships and can take advantage of aftercare services as long as needed.
Moran stayed with Wheeler as a program assistant, working with the women in the second phase of the program. She was hired as one of the program’s case managers in 2015, and has since dedicated herself to helping others on their road to recovery.
In September, Moran’s family watched from the audience as she accepted the Diamond Service Award from Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, which recognizes individuals who have overcome homelessness and is now giving back.
After years of chasing a form of validation she couldn’t pin down, Wheeler helped Moran find herself.
“They showed me what love was,” Moran said.
Eight years sober, Moran is now leading women as they walk through their recoveries.
On a recent afternoon, she led a conversation on Genesis Process 11: How Your Past Affects Your Present. The goal was to understand why certain people or things are triggering and to understand that it’s possible to change those reactions by discovering their source.
Nothing, Moran said, goes away until it’s resolved.
Knowing that, she said, what are some of the behaviors that our brains are still telling us we need to survive?
One by one, the women answered: Anxiety. Anger. Isolation. Replacing drugs and alcohol with food.
“I’m still afraid of what the outside world’s gonna look like when I do get out there,” one of the women said.
The conversation continued. They explored relationships with their parents, ex-husbands, extended family members. Children placed for adoption. Children on the way.
One of the women paused. It had been difficult to open up, she said, for fear of being judged by the other women at the table.
“We’ve all been at the bottom of the barrel,” another woman answered, “so who’s got rights to judge the other person?”
Stories of addiction are sometimes portrayed as black-and-white – they were once addicts, now they’re not. But Moran and Godme know that’s far from the truth.
Godme was released from prison around the time Moran finished her first year at Wheeler. Again, she had a choice: Stay at the Center or risk her recovery by leaving.
Moran stayed. He relapsed.
The couple were estranged as he returned to drugs, but when he finally reached his breaking point, Godme said he looked to Moran as an example. He’s been sober nearly three years.
They moved into a house on the city’s northeast side, not far from the school where they met as children, last spring. Though they’ve been married almost 10 years, they’re still figuring things out. More importantly, they’re re-establishing trust with their children.
Maci and her older brother had closed themselves off to the idea of a relationship with their mother. When she graduated from Higher Ground, they were waiting for the bottom to fall out. It’s taken years and countless difficult conversations to reach a common ground.
“You want to be happy,” she said, “but it doesn’t change the fact of years and years of instability and inconsistency.”
Things are different for Chloee. She went from living with her aunt to living with her mom seemingly overnight, and four years later, they’re still learning to co-exist. Conversations often escalate. Confrontations are tense.
It’s not that Chloee isn’t proud of her mom. She’s afraid of getting hurt again.
“It’s just really hard to make a relationship with somebody who was never there,” she said.
Moran is confident these relationships will be repaired in their own time.
“It’s not gonna be all roses,” she said, “but it could be a few roses, at least, on the way.”
After years of constantly being on the move, Moran and her family don’t mind that life has slowed down. These days, they spend their time at home, work and church, watching “Forensic Files” and “90-Day Fiancée.”
The new normal has taken a while to get used to, but the changes were welcome.
“You sleep way easier,” Maci said, “when you know that they’re in their own home and they come home every night.”
Moran, now 40, received a scholarship to attend Ivy Tech, where she’s studying social work and hopes to transition to legal studies. She and Maci, a nursing student, sometimes run into each other on campus, both with their backpacks and homework in tow.
For the first time, Moran is seeing a bigger picture. The sky, she said, is her limit.
Moran, Godme, Maci and Chloee spent a recent Sunday morning reflecting on their journey and the challenges that still lie ahead.
“At the end of the day, that’s what I can do, is just do the next right thing,” Moran said, “even when it’s hard.”
As the conversation came to an end and she gathered her things, Maci gave each of her parents a hug and a peck on the cheek. “Bye, Daddy, she murmured. “Bye, Mommy.”
It’s taken years and countless heartaches to get to this point, and they all know the work isn’t over. It’ll take time to completely rebuild the bridges they burned. But Moran is proud of how far she’s come, and that she can show other women there’s life — and redemption — after addiction.
“I’m thankful that I have the very breath in my lungs,” she said. “That I have the capacity to be able to think clearly. That I can actually make a difference in this world.”