Colleen's clear vision

Saturday, December 8, 2007
Colleen Riordan, left, shopped for new shoes Thursday with Theresa Taylor, director of Vision House of Cape Girardeau, to wear at a benefit dinner. (Fred Lynch)

Two hours after her older brother Mark overdosed on heroin, Colleen Riordan was upstairs in their mother's house with the same drug. Her family found her 20 minutes later, already turning gray.

Now, a year and a half after that overdose, Riordan can hardly sit still. Her eyes dart around the room and she rubs her thighs or wrings her hands when she's not waving them in the air. It's not a drug-induced high this time; it's excitement. Riordan, who grew up and lived in Philadelphia, will get custody of her four children back Tuesday, after a year of getting and staying clean at the Vision House in Cape Girardeau.

Riordan's children were taken away from her in March 2006 after her brother -- the same one who later died from a heroin overdose -- came to her house and found her passed out with the children at home.

Her parents were shocked, she said. They were active in her life but had no idea about her habits. She said she came from a "good family." Her father worked at the post office, and the family attended church regularly.

Still, Riordan started using heroin with siblings when she was 16. She's now 32 and sober.

Before her children were taken away, she got money from her mother by telling her she was sick and dying and needed to go to the hospital. She would use the money to buy more heroin.

"I would be up for days," Riordan said. "Just days, days, days."

She turned to prostitution. She still has a two-inch purple scar on the otherwise smooth skin of her right forearm where she broke a heroin needle off in her arm. If she couldn't use her forearm, "I didn't care. I would use up here," she said, grabbing her bicep.

Riordan's parents called Theresa Taylor at the Vision House after a relative told them about the program.

"We don't ordinarily accept people from across the country," Taylor said.

The Vision House is Taylor's creation. After she conquered an addiction to methamphetamine 12 years ago, she wanted to help other women. The Vision House opened in March 2005.

Parents planned her funeral

Riordan had nearly died four times. Her family had already planned her funeral and bought a burial plot; they were just waiting for her body to show up on the streets of Philadelphia.

"Her father called in tears," Taylor said. She couldn't say no after hearing the story and the pleading. Riordan had been in nine centers to try for sobriety.

"My mother drove around Philadelphia showing my picture to my drug dealers," Riordan said.

The last time she ran away from rehab, Riordan found herself collapsed on a curb, crying out to God, "Have someone come grab me."

She said she cried and poured her heart out until she was shaking and couldn't breathe. Then she stood up, went back and kept shooting up. Her parents finally found her and told her she was on the waiting list to get into a detox facility. She didn't run, but she made her mother buy her drugs while she waited for a bed.

She finally got into detox for seven days. She was sedated and her family drove the 15 hours to Missouri to get her help.

"She weighed 86 pounds and had scabs all over her face," Taylor said.

She put Riordan in detox at Southeast Missouri Hospital for seven more days, the longest time hospitals will keep someone in detox.

"She was still withdrawing," Taylor said.

So Taylor took Riordan to her own home. She talked to her, read her the Bible and brought people over to pray for her.

"She literally took me into her house," Riordan said. "She cared for me."

Waking up sober and in a state other than Pennsylvania, Riordan was confused and angry. Now she is just thankful.

"The way I appreciate things today, it's just, it's amazing," she said.

She stayed in the Vision House transitional housing for nearly a year, and just a few months ago was able to move into her own three-bedroom home through the Rental Assistance Program, which the Vision House pays for with money from the Missouri Housing Trust Fund. The Vision House will pay her rent until Riordan and her husband, Matt, can afford their own place.

Riordan and her husband have been married for four years. Both were users, though Riordan said she was the one who dragged him into that world. Matt got into trouble for assault.

"He went to jail, and she went to the streets," Taylor said. She knows the story as well as Riordan.

He was released and worked for City Team Ministries helping people in recovery. He moved to Cape Girardeau in May to be with Colleen. The Vision House made them date all over again before they would approve the relationship.

"They've never known each other sober," Taylor said.

Now they have decorated the new home for Christmas, and Colleen Riordan will return from Philadelphia with the children Dec. 21.

"While I'm up there Matt will be buying the presents," Riordan said. She has four children: Alyssa Callahan, 15; Matthew, 10; Derek, 9; and Jayden, 5.

"I'm ready to be a mommy," Riordan said. "It's the biggest desire of my heart. I can be a Christian mommy."

The Vision House is a religious recovery program and gives a Life Recovery Bible to all the women who come to the program. Anywhere she sits at her new home she can reach over and pick one up.

Riordan has been taking sign language classes at Southeast Missouri State University to be able to talk to Jayden, who is deaf. She has already filed the papers to put the three boys in school in Missouri, and her daughter will finish high school living with Riordan's mother in Pennsylvania.

charris@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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