November 21, 2012

Local mom works to build new life


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Not long ago, Crystal Crombleholme lived a double life. 

“A mother during the day and an addict at nighttime,” the Plattsburgh woman told fellow participants in Behavioral Health Services North’s Personalized Recovery-Oriented Services program during a recent photography-themed class. 

The class, one of many offered at the organization’s Morrisonville location, meets once every two weeks and is intended to aid in the recovery of individuals who simultaneously battle drug addiction and mental illness.

Participants in the group are given photo assignments designed to help them gain insight into their struggles. They are asked to compose or gather photographs representing themes in their lives and share and discuss those images with the group.  

Also present for the discussions are staff rehab practitioners and retired Plattsburgh City Court Judge Penny Clute, who created the class. 


To represent her past for an assignment titled “Old Life, New Life,” Crombleholme, who spent much of her first 18 years living in youth shelters, presented to the group a photo of herself and her four children. 

To many, the image might have looked like a typical portrait of a happy family. The photo, however, was taken while Crombleholme’s children were visiting her in prison. 

“I started hanging out with the wrong people, and I also suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and have struggled with lack of energy for years, and I took my first line of cocaine when I was 29 and got addicted to it because it gave me energy,” she told the Press-Republican in a separate interview. 

“My addiction started going out of control because I wanted it more and more, so I started selling drugs to get my drugs.”

“It just spun out of control very quickly.”

Before long, Crombleholme, now 34, found herself locked up for possession and sale of drugs — and she lost custody of three of her children. 

Her fourth child, a son, was born to her in prison. 


While showing a photo of her little boy to the group, Crombleholme said she had considered ending the pregnancy because the timing didn’t seem right to bring another child into the world. 

Nonetheless, she gave birth to her son, and in him, she found strength. 

“He came to me at a time of need and change,” Crombleholme told her classmates. 

While still behind bars, she began working on bettering herself and completed a drug-treatment program. 

“I’ve been clean almost 22 months,” she told the Press-Republican. 

Crombleholme is serving parole, and though she is not required to, she takes part in the Personalized Recovery-Oriented Services (PROS) program at Behavioral Health Services North two days a week. 

“It’s helped me look inside myself more than what I was doing before and sort of look more at my future and help me focus on what I need to do to get my kids back and stay clean and do the right thing,” she said. 


To represent her new life, Crombleholme showed another image of herself with her kids — one that was taken after her release from prison. 

“My children are my life,” she told the photography group. 

Though she currently has custody of only her youngest child, she spends time with her other children and hopes to have them back in her custody next summer. 

Crombleholme is also pursuing a college degree in psychology online and plans to return to a youth-shelter setting to counsel troubled kids. 

“I’m more of a positive person and trying to help other people in recovery, as well,” she said. 

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This concludes a two-part series telling the stories of two women who are using photography in their recovery from mental illness and substance abuse.