Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Amber Portwood: MTV's Out-There Teen Mom Star Comes Back Sober
Amber Portwood is returning to Teen Mom at two years sober and after prison — and looking to open her own rehab. She's a lesson in growing up and moving forward.

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For four seasons, Amber Portwood was one of the most controversial characters on the highly polarizing MTV reality show Teen Mom. A September 2010 episode showed her hitting and kicking ex-fiancé, Gary Shirley, while their young daughter stood at her feet, prompting an investigation from Child Protective Services. She was charged with three counts of domestic violence and sentenced to probation, but it eventually became clear that part of her erratic behavior was due to a severe opioid addiction.

The year 2011 proved to be a tough one for Portwood: she suffered the trauma of a suicide attempt, a stint in rehab, and losing custody of her daughter. She was arrested that December for violating her probation, but a plea deal allowed her to dodge a five-year sentence by completing court-ordered rehab. However, she made headlines in May 2012 by admitting to a judge that she had used drugs in rehab and asked to go to prison instead.

But Portwood made the most of her rock bottom moment by completing drug rehab in prison and furthering her education, and was eventually released on parole in November 2013, after serving just sixteen months behind bars. She has largely kept a low profile ever since, but will co-star on a new season of Teen Mom that premieres next year.

Portwood spoke exclusively with The Fix about the role her daughter has played in her sobriety, her struggle to overcome sex addiction, and why she’ll never return to prison.

Where are you now in your sobriety?

I’m over two years sober now. One of the main things I learned in prison and in AA meetings is that in order to stay sober, you have to change your people, places and things. That’s exactly what I did. I don’t hang around the same people that I used to. I moved away from Anderson (Indiana). It’s hard work, but I take my sobriety seriously and doing that was absolutely necessary.

How big of a role has your daughter (five-year-old Leah) played in you staying sober?

She’s my everything. She was the main motivator to better myself and get out of prison and she’s the main motivator for me to continue staying sober. She makes my days better. I look at her and just start smiling. It just reminds me of why I’ve worked so hard these last few years.

It was hard at first because I only saw her three times when I was in prison and she had grown up so much during that time, so I had to relearn a lot of things about her. We’re at a great place in our relationship now, though.

When did your drug use first begin?

My addiction started before I was ever approached by Teen Mom. My dad was an alcoholic, so I grew up around addiction. I did a lot of partying as a teenager and did things like pills and drinking. But it was when I discovered prescription medication that things started to get out of hand. 

My drug of choice was opiates. I had a love affair with opiates. I was eating Fentanyl patches while I was in rehab, on house arrest and in drug court. It took over my life. 

I think a lot of people were surprised to read in the book that you also struggled with sex addiction.

I’m still trying to figure out where it came from and that’s been a work in progress, but obviously the main component is that you want to feel loved. I also just have an addictive personality, in general.

I’d like to start dating again eventually, but it’s also hard for me to get into a relationship with someone or fall in love. I get bored easily. And I’m sure part of that hesitance has to do with the eight years I spent with Gary (Shirley, the father of her child). I need to learn how to fall in love again and trust again.

You received a lot of criticism initially for choosing prison over remaining in court-ordered rehab. Did that bother you at all?

It was frustrating and annoying because people didn’t understand why I chose to go to prison and they made their own assumptions. But I knew why I did that and so did my family. They supported my decision. And ultimately, I had to do what was best for me. I can’t live my life making choices based on what other people think. 

It seems like that decision served you well in the end.

You’re surrounded by hell in prison, but you can choose to live in it or work to get out of it. I chose to get out of it and worked so hard to do that. I completed drug rehab in prison, completed parenting classes, got my GED. I became the administrator of the CLIFF (Clean Lifestyle is Freedom Forever) program, which helps prisoners get sober. Once I got myself clean, I wanted to spend time helping others do the same. I found that my purpose is to help others.

I wasn’t going to just give up on myself. And if I got in there and just lived the prison life, it would have defeated the whole purpose of leaving court-ordered rehab. It was important to make the choice to get something out of that experience.

The other women in there would always tell me that I had to get out. And I promised my friends in there that I would help other people when I got out. They taught me to never give up and that it’s never too late to change. It’s hard work to do that, but it’s possible if you want it enough.

You’ve been open about your faith in other interviews, so how much has that played a role in your sobriety?

I’ve always believed in a higher power, but I wasn’t aware of it as much, until I got into the program. I’ve been through so much for only being 25 and thought there had to be a reason for that. I don’t go to church or necessarily speak about my beliefs, but I do consider myself to be spiritual.

Besides the upcoming season of Teen Mom, what are your plans for the future?

I want to open up a rehab eventually, but I’m just figuring out the first steps to doing that now and know it’s going to take a long time. But I want to have at least one rehab open by the time I’m 30 and want these facilities to be going long after I die. I also want to move more into public speaking and sharing my story. I just want to continue to be a good mom and keep being of service to others. 

McCarton Ackerman has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2011. He last wrote about Bad Grandpas and Jessica Kirson.

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