DO NOT PUBLISH Breaking the cycle: Ravenna woman recovers from addiction, abuse

Easter Gibson-Maximovich looks through old photos in her apartment.

Michael Indriolo

Easter Gibson-Maximovich doesn’t remember exactly when she started drinking, but based on a worn, blurry old photo of her sipping a cup of whiskey her father gave her, she guessed she couldn’t have been more than 8 years old.

“I don’t know if it was that he gave it to me to learn to not like it, to hate it,” she said. “I really still don’t have an answer why I was drinking at that age. I think he thought it was funny.”

Growing up in a household wrought with alcohol, drugs, violence and sexual abuse, Gibson-Maximovich fell into a self-destructive cycle from an early age, she said. Although she’s struggled for 53 years to break free from that cycle, with her faith’s guidance, she’s seen her life’s longest sobriety streak the past eight months.  

“I remember a lot of things going on as a child that I was scared and my sisters were scared too, of my dad,” Gibson-Maximovich said. “My mother and dad would fight, and I would hear my mother cry and scream, and I would tell my sisters it would be okay. We were all abused in our own different way.”

Gibson-Maximovich grew up in Cleveland with her parents and two sisters, but to understand her story, she said, one must look back long before her birth to her father’s childhood in Logan, West Virginia. Her’s father’s family struggled among the poorest families in West Virginia, she said.

“My dad was a very poor man,” she said. “There was, I believe, 11 of them and they were beaten, whipped and denied to go to school. (None of them had) clothes or shoes to go to school so they took turns.”

When Gibson-Maximovich’s father began a family of his own, she said, he treated his wife and children the way his father treated him. Being the oldest child, she felt she had to take the worst of his abuse to protect her younger sisters, she said, so she endured years of her father’s violent temper, psychological manipulation and sexual abuse.

“Growing up was kind of rough because there was a lot of abuse in different kinds of ways,” she said. “It was very dysfunctional. I don’t think my dad was in his right mind at that time.”

Gibson-Maximovich’s mother even caught her father sexually abusing her one time, she said. Her father then coerced her to lie to her mother, so Gibson-Maximovich told her that she asked him to teach her how to sexually please a man and that it had never happened before. That sexual abuse throughout her early childhood led Gibson-Maximovich into a life of premature promiscuity, she said.

“Probably in the third or fourth grade I was with boys drinking under the footbridge,” she said.

Despite those years of abuse, Gibson-Maximovich said she made peace with her father years later when he, on his knees, begged for her forgiveness. Her sister Crystal Lynn, however, has not so easily forgiven him.

“The other people in my family will tell you things like, ‘It wasn’t that bad,’ and ‘He did some things right,’ but he was a monster,” Lynn said. “He was a monster, and he was into mental abuse as well as other kinds.”

Lynn recalled one instance in which her father told her that he and her mother were getting divorced. He walked around with her for roughly an hour, she said, and asked her who she will choose to live with.

“Then an hour later, he comes back and he’s like, ‘We’re not getting a divorce. I just wanted to see who you would choose to live with,’” Lynn said. “Who does that to a child?”

Gibson-Maximovich, a “girly girl” when she was younger, never accepted Lynn’s tomboyish personality, she said. 

“What made me feel bad about Crystal was, like I said, I shunned her,” Gibson-Maximovich said. “I didn’t play with her. She was tomboy-like, and I wanted to curl hair and wear makeup. She wasn’t into it, so I pushed her away.”

Once when Lynn was four years old, her father found her crying and threatened to “give her something to cry about” if she didn’t stop, she said.  

“He picked me up and he threw me into my younger sister’s crib on my back,” Lynn said. “I was crying very hard, and I remember asking God to die, at four. I don’t remember what happened next, but mom told me I threw up and aspirated into my lungs, and I got bronchial pneumonia and was in the hospital.”

Doctors later diagnosed Lynn with chronic bronchitis because of that incident and prescribed her codeine, she said. She overdosed on her prescription at 17 years old.

“It was because of a situation that had happened with my dad, and he had said, ‘You’re lonely. That’s what your problem is. Well, I’m going to make sure that nobody here will talk to you,’” Lynn said. “Then he took a glass ashtray and threw it on the table, and it shattered. He did that all the time, breaking things and tearing things off the wall, flip the dining room table while we’re eating.”

Although Lynn and Gibson-Maximovich felt estranged as children, they found common ground as they aged, she said. As they’ve both taken their own paths toward healing, they’ve reconnected after more than a decade and talked about how childhood trauma resurfaced throughout their adult lives.

Gibson-Maximovich struggled for decades with cocaine addiction, alcoholism and her violent temper, she said. She experienced homelessness in three different intervals throughout her life and often found herself in trouble with the law. She frequented Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, she said, but those programs didn’t help her.

“AA and NA, for me, was a place where you see people that are active still on drugs that got their papers signed to say they went,” Gibson-Maximovich said. “It was hookups for drugs and alcohol, and they always talked about what they did when they were drinking and drugging. It just wasn’t working out for me.”

Police arrested Gibson-Maximovich’s boyfriend last year when they found them both in possession of drugs. In jail, he attended a faith-based addiction recovery program called Reformers Unanimous. He liked it and recommended it to Gibson-Maximovich, so since then, she’s attended the program every Friday night at Streetsboro’s First Baptist Church.

“I wanted to do RU because he did RU and when he came out, I thought we could do it together,” she said. “I just go with my heart and where I feel like I’m supposed to be, and this is where I feel like I’m supposed to be.”

For Gibson-Maximovich, faith in God has and continues to save and motivate her to carry on living, she said. Although she wasn’t raised in church, she said her faith and the community at Reformers Unanimous quickly became a cornerstone of her sober life.

Reformers Unanimous works, program director Nat Dennison said, because it addresses more than just physical or psychological problems. Other secular recovery programs may seek to heal the mind and body, he said, but they don’t always address the spirit.

“My job is for The King to live here,” Dennison said. “They don’t need to see me, they need to see Him, and they don’t need what I can give them, they need what He can give them.”

While Reformers Unanimous may work well for Gibson-Maximovich, it’s not a cure-all for everyone, Dennison said.

“Some people, it’s like a switch got thrown and it’s just a New Testament miracle like, ‘wow, what just happened?’” Dennison said. “Other people seem to struggle, struggle, struggle, fall back, struggle, struggle, fall back, so the thing we always tell them is, ‘We’ll always be here, and we’ll always love you.’”

Despite the community’s support, some don’t always follow through with the program, he said, and thus don’t fully recover from their addiction. Some of the church’s jail ministers even run into Reformers Unanimous attendees in jail.

“How many success stories? I don’t know because they leave.” Dennison said. “It does happen. It’s not fool-proof because it’s really dependent upon them.”

Although Reformers Unanimous has been instrumental in her recovery, Gibson-Maximovich said she’s found healing elsewhere as well. She feels herself growing when she helps other people in the same situations she used to be in, she said.

“Every time I do something for somebody else, it makes me have a closer relationship with God,” she said. “It’s like my father, and they’re my brothers and sisters. It comes naturally.”

At Streetsboro’s First Baptist Church, she consoled teenage girls who’ve been sexually abused. She can help them, she said, because she knows how it feels.

She also passes out free Bibles at Ravenna’s First United Methodist Church’s Loaves and Fishes, a weekly free lunch program on Saturday mornings. Loaves and Fishes cofounder Naomi Muster met Gibson-Maximovich more than a decade ago, she said.

“Literally, there were days she’d probably punch your nose,” Muster said.

When she first met Gibson-Maximovich, she said, her volatile temper could flare up in seconds. Muster recalled one instance in which Gibson-Maximovich, initially in a great mood, called her “every name in the book” because she refused to go where she told her to go.

“I mean, she could just flip that fast because she was high,” Muster said. “She was coming off of a high at that point.”

Despite episodes like that, Muster hasn’t lost faith in Gibson-Maximovich and said she’s seen her come far since they first met.

“She was just so erratic, but you could see the goodness,” Muster said. “She didn’t want to be an addict, but she had no idea how to go about living otherwise.”

That faith, Gibson-Maximovich said, helped her find faith in herself when so many others in the church community didn’t believe in her.

She and her sister Lynn have also found solace in gardening. Although Lynn recently moved into a new house, her old house’s garden, is sprawled across her entire front yard. She recently invited Gibson-Maximovich to garden with her and they bonded while replanting trees, they said. She said she’s finally coming to terms with her past and because of this, she’s able to maintain a healthier relationship with Lynn. She hopes to translate that progress into healthier relationships with the rest of her family as well, she said.

“I want to help others, but I want my family back,” Gibson-Maximovich said. “That probably will never happen like the five of us that it was.”

The wounds inflicted decades ago still scar the family, she said. Her father’s abuse drove her sisters and mother in different directions, but when he died 12 years ago, the family became more open to reconnecting, she said. With their mother near death, Gibson-Maximovich and Lynn want to bring the family back together just one more time for her, they said.

“It’s been about 14 years since me and my sisters have been together,” Gibson-Maximovich said. “Hopefully this year we will be able to before she dies. Just one more time, get a tuna fish sandwich or something. We’re not going to talk about the past because the past is gone.”

Beyond her mother’s sake, Gibson-Maximovich said she wants to get her family back together because she misses the childhood she never had. Her rough upbringing stole the opportunity to grow up properly from her, she said, when she lost any semblance of innocence before she was ever ready to choose to.

“Out of everything that I did in my life, if I could go back and play on the sidewalk one more time, I would do that,” Gibson-Maximovich said. “Your youth is everything.”

She said she misses those times but feels as if her inner child is finally maturing.

“We’re children of God,” she said. “We’re real childlike and still can be. It’s like the inner child in me that suffers is actually growing up now, and I can be a strong woman in Christ and live the life that God wanted me to, the life that I want to live; the right way, his way.”

Michael Indriolo covers social services. Contact him at [email protected].