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Annual sobriety run fuels Leech Lake woman’s desire to get clean

Teena LaPointe spent six years struggling with methamphetamine addiction. She's been sober for less than a month, and is trying to rebuild her life from a mobile home on the Leech Lake Reservation. (John Enger | MPR News) 1 / 2
Teena LaPointe has struggled with addiction for years. When she got sober, she moved to the Onigum point, near the shore of Leech Lake. (John Enger | MPR News) 2 / 2

ONIGUM --  Teena LaPointe blew out her knee on the first day of the Anishinaabe Spirit Run — a 200-mile trek from Red Lake, to the Mash-ka-wisen Sobriety Powwow, near Duluth.

She ran on that injury four straight days, and a week later, she was still limping.

"I felt it go," she said. "I could almost hear the ligament tear."

She's been taking ibuprofen for the pain. That's all she can take. Anything else would be too risky. Her last hit of methamphetamine was just six days before her sobriety run.

LaPointe, 32, eased down on an old picnic table, in the front yard of a tan 1970s trailer on the Leech Lake Reservation. She's been staying there a few weeks, with the grandmother of her fourth child. It's a complicated living situation, but then again, LaPointe's life has never been all that stable.

"There's a belief in the native culture, that we pick who our parents are, before we get here," she said. "If you believe that, I must have thought I was a real badass, because man, I've been through a lot."

What we know about LaPointe is from her. There may be a few inconsistencies in her memory, but this is her story, as she recalls it.

She grew up in Minneapolis. Her mother struggled with addiction, so LaPointe took care of her three younger brothers. She ended up in foster care -- bounced from home to home, ran away a few times. She lived at her estranged father's place for a while, on the Red Cliff Reservation in northern Wisconsin. She hardly saw him. He was in prison for most of that time.

Along the way, friends introduced her to alcohol, marijuana, prescription pills. She had three kids by 21, and a $200-a-day oxycodone habit a few years later. It's something about her personality, she said. She's always attracted bad influences.

"I would give my shirt off my back to somebody," she said. "If I can help you, I'm gonna help you. And if I can't help, I'll help you figure out who can."

She's trusting and loyal and somehow, the wrong sort of people always figured that out -- abusive boyfriends, and eventually drug dealers.

Six years ago, LaPointe used methamphetamine to kick her oxy addiction. It was cheaper, easier to get, and she loved the feeling.

"It's like a hyperactive kid," she said. "You know how they're just bouncing off the wall? Energy! Nonstop. Full force. That's what that meth high is for me."

She's been on and off it ever since. Eventually, social services took her five children. She spent some time in jail. She recently moved in with her brother in Cass Lake, but he threatened to kick her out when he realized she was using.

Spirit rocks

She needed guidance, she said. And so, six days before LaPointe set off on her 200-mile sobriety run, she walked to the shore of Cass Lake with an armful of rocks.

The Ojibwe culture has a unique view of what's living and what's dead. LaPointe said some rocks have a spirit. She can tell which ones.

"In the Native American spiritual way," she said, "these are called grandfather rocks."

She collected these grandfather rocks for years. Their smoothness and heft -- their energy -- always brought her comfort. But recently, they started weighing her down. She said, the rocks had soaked up her own bad energy. So she took them to the water and threw them in, one at a time.

"I held each one in my hands and said a prayer," she said. "Every time I threw a rock in the lake, I was letting go of one thing that was holding me back."

She tossed away the memories of a family member sexually assaulting her and the time a boyfriend kidnapped her, and locked her in his garage. Trauma she'd forgotten almost completely, in the haze of addiction.

She had dozens of these rocks. When they were gone, she said, she knew it was time to get sober.

LaPointe has been sober before -- sometimes for months, even a year or two at a stretch, but it never lasted. She hopes this time will be different. She has support. A sober place to live. She's even been applying for work.

In fact, right at the end of the interview, LaPointe got a phone call. It was the hiring office at the local casino. They offered her a job as a security guard.

"I just got hired!" she said. "I'm happy right now. It's awesome."