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Thursday, Dec. 23, 2004 12:22 am

A second chance

Aremelder Anderson looks forward to her first sober Christmas with her children

Somehow, Aremelder Anderson survived.

An alcoholic and crack-cocaine user for nearly two decades, Anderson tramped across the country, hopping from one abusive relationship to the next -- "bumming and slumming," she calls it. She's been shot, gang-raped, and beaten. Her husband was sentenced to prison, her older sister -- a mother of six -- murdered.

Anderson, 37, remembers the morning the Department of Children and Family Services arrived to take away her children. She'd stumbled home drunk about 5 a.m., brawled with her then-boyfriend, left to buy more liquor, and returned to an empty nest.

"The biggest crackhead you ever seen: That was me," she says. "Drugs, out all night. Prostituting, you name it."

Much of this horror occurred in East St. Louis, where Anderson was raised, and nearby Alton, where she lived in public housing for six years. But those times now seem distant. One day, about two years ago, she remembers looking into a mirror, feeling desperate and depleted.

"I asked God to take it all away," she says, "and he did.

"It's like my whole life changed in one night."

Anderson checked herself into a rehab center in East St. Louis, where she experienced sobriety for the first time in 18 years. While she was there, a caseworker informed her of an opening at a transitional shelter for women and children located off South Taylor Avenue in Springfield.

Anderson moved into Haven House last August and recently completed its 12-month recovery program. She continued her substance-abuse treatment at the Triangle Center on North 11th Street. She's been dry for 22 months.

Anderson landed a pair of part-time jobs, including a position as a clerical assistant for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission on East Adams Street. She rode the bus to work. Sometimes she made the long trip by bicycle.

"She started from scratch," says Jeleta Robinson, director of supportive services at Abundant Faith Christian Center, which operates Haven House. "She started all over again with nothing."

Today Anderson rents a house on East Ash Street, has a couple thousand dollars in savings, and even drives her own car. Her work ethic so impressed the case managers at Abundant Faith that she received a full-time job in the church's maintenance department.

And the good tidings don't end there.

In September, Anderson regained custody of her three sons, ages 10, 11, and 12. Saturday will mark the first Christmas the family has spent together in three years.

"I got high all their life," says Anderson. "This is the first Christmas they'll experience where Mommy is sober."

The child of an abusive, alcoholic father, Anderson says she was 18 the last time she felt she had a chance at life. She'd been awarded a basketball scholarship to San Diego State University, becoming the first member of her family ever to go to college. But she squandered that opportunity, getting hooked on drugs, becoming pregnant, and losing her scholarship after one year.

Anderson says she's been given a second chance, and she isn't about to waste it. She wants to go back to college and maybe earn a degree in business administration. But most of all, she wants a stable life for her family.

"I want to build a relationship right now with my sons," she says.

"Just being together, that's the biggest gift that I could ever get."

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