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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Misti Rininger is still sober after last using meth in November 2013. She volunteers, attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings and has taken a parenting class in the hope of gaining custody of two of her grandchildren.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Misti Rininger is a recovering meth addict. Her son, Gary Forbes, 21, is also trying to stay away from meth. He started using the drug at age 17 on Mother's Day as a way of getting back at her. He and his mother later used together. Now, Forbes is living at his mother's home waiting until there's an opening for him in a treatment program.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Misti Rininger volunteers at Golden Empire Gleaners two days a week fixing meals for staff and volunteers with her friend Lori Reyes, right.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Misti Rininger, left, tells a story about a recent trip to San Diego to her friend, Lori Reyes, right. Both women volunteer at Golden Empire Gleaners. There have been numerous positive changes in Rininger's life since she last used meth Nov. 12, 2013.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Although she is no longer is required to do community service, Misti Rininger continues volunteering at the Golden Empire Gleaners food bank where she helps make meals for the staff and volunteers.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

In mid-March Misti Rininger, right, and Vanessa Sanchez were in Jason's Retreat in Bakersfield trying to beat their meth addiction.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Gary Forbes says he dreamed of playing football at Texas A

Without a doubt, some of the worst things 40-year-old Misti Rininger has ever done happened while high.

She stole, she lied, she forgot how to love.

“(Drugs) affect your mind and your thinking and they don’t let you love,” she said. “They make you hate and they get you to the point where you just want to die. All I wanted was dope, dope, dope.”

Rininger used methamphetamine every day for more than a year and a half.

And her story is all too common.

According to the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, 4,486 meth cases were prosecuted in 2013, a 30 percent increase since 2010. And those are only the people who were caught.

Rininger has been arrested more than 30 times, usually for burglary, theft or trespassing, and almost always while high. She often sold prescription drugs in exchange for meth, although she never got caught.

Her drug use is a family affair. Growing up in Riverside, both her parents and her four younger siblings abused drugs or alcohol, and meth was easy to get when she later lived in California City and Boron. She used meth with her three children and was abused by her meth-addicted ex-husband. Her three sons became addicts; two are in prison and the third is regularly in and out of jail and rehab.

Rininger’s story is unusual, though, in that one day in March at Jason’s Retreat drug rehabilitation facility she shook her head and vowed to leave that life behind for good. And for the past nearly nine months, she has done exactly that.

She first checked herself into Jason’s Retreat in December for 20 days — and later, fearing a relapse, returned in March for a 16-day stay as the anniversary of her father’s death approached.

“I needed tools to help me get through that,” Rininger said.

The process helped Rininger take her first step toward sobriety.

“It can’t bring my dad back, but it can bring my life back,” she said.

She moved to Bakersfield to leave behind her drug-using friends in Boron and California City and deleted them from her cellphone’s contact list.

Occasionally an old friend texts her asking if she wants to party. Rininger always responds, “I don’t do that anymore.”

Attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings several times a week and staying busy with volunteering helps keep her mind off the drug that ran her life for years.

Rininger brushed back her blonde hair, grinned, and said she’s learning to have fun while sober. NA groups sometimes have Friday-night dances and inspirational speakers that she enjoys.

A CHALLENGING JOURNEY

Her drug use that began in 2011 wasn’t her first battle with addiction. After being caught with meth in 2002, she checked into a court-ordered rehab program for 45 days and stopped using for eight and a half years. But when her father died of cancer in March 2012, she decided to numb her pain.

Now sober for 278 days, the color has returned to her face and laughter comes easily.

She’s staying on track with her court-ordered obligations and completed her mandated 147 hours of community service at Golden Empire Gleaners food bank. She still volunteers to cook there Mondays and Tuesdays and will complete her probation in January for two crimes she committed while high. Her goal is to earn her GED diploma.

“It keeps me busy,” she said, “which helps with sobriety.”

Rininger’s biggest challenge now is keeping her family together. She recently graduated from a 48-hour parenting class through Jason’s Retreat rehab facility in an effort to gain custody of two of her three grandchildren.

“My grandkids need me right now,” she said.

They are her biggest motivation to stay sober. But Rininger knows she needs to improve her life in other ways as well.

She wants to finish her GED before finding a job. Once she’s sober for 11-and-a-half months, she is eligible to apply for work at a drug rehabilitation center as a house mom. A house mom’s role is to watch over and support the women at inpatient treatment centers.

“I want to give back what they gave me,” Rininger said.

Her fiance, Robert Horton, is one of her biggest supporters. She met him after she was sober. The couple plan to marry Jan. 4.

Horton, 41 and also a former meth addict, is 272 days clean. He completed a two-month drug rehabilitation program at Freedom House and is working in the oilfields as a pipefitter.

“I checked myself into Freedom House because I was tired of living the way that I was living,” Horton said. “I was homeless for two months and that was when I was really addicted to methamphetamine.”

After her abusive relationships of the past, Rininger said Horton is one of many reasons for her to stay sober. He doesn’t name call, yell or hurt her and most importantly, doesn’t use drugs, she said.

“When I’m with Robert I’m not scared anymore,” she said. “He made me feel safe. I’ve never felt any safer than I am now.