Famous for the wrong reason
Selena Humphreys’ name and face have popped up in the state and national news for about a decade. Most recently her story appeared on the front page of the Tennessean, and just a few weeks ago, a follow-up story to that one. Her photo has been in Newsweek, Time Life, USA Today and it also appeared on Channel 4 News and on Oprah. Selena acknowledges she’s fairly famous, but says all she wants is to be able to lead an everyday, simple life. Her yearning for an uncomplicated life, however, is not because she’s a celebrity smothered by paparazzi, nor is she a member of the royal family. There’s another reason.
Selena Humphries washes a window at Winchester Inn where she lives and works as a maid to earn a free room. The 28-year-old former meth addict’s face was badly scarred in a meth lab explosion when she was just 15 years old. Laser specialists in Nashville are providing their services free of charge to help improve her appearance. She hopes by sharing her story, she can pass on the message that meth is the “Devil’s medicine” to spare another person from the fate she has encountered.
—Staff Photo by Brian Justice
“I just want to be someone’s wife someday, to have a home and dishes to wash,” she said. “I want to lead my life as a normal citizen and be able to walk out of my home and wave hello to my neighbor and go to my job — I want to know what it’s like to be loved and to feel normal — and to go to Wal-Mart and get groceries without having to worry who’ll see me.”
Selena sits in Winchester Inn’s room 109 surrounded by everything she owns. It is cramped but neatly stacked, and she knows exactly where to retrieve her scrapbook and photo album. She points to a school photo of a bright-eyed Selena around 10- or 11-yearsold. Turn the page and it’s several years later, and it is not easy to see the resemblance to that little schoolgirl because her face has been so drastically scarred due to burns from a meth lab explosion when she was just 15-years-old.
The old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” does not usually seem to stick for any child. Selena was a curious 12-year-old. While watching the adults in her life enjoying drugs, one day she decided to try a little of this magic substance called meth, which belonged to her late mom’s boyfriend at that time.
“Being 12 of course I was sticky-fingered and thought, wow, what’s that? My mother was depressed, so she didn’t recognize anything different was going on with me.”
Selena discovered meth was indeed magic, pure exhilaration and, not knowing the extreme dangers, she wanted more and more.
“My first couple of hits gave me so much energy and a rush — it felt like Superman energy — I felt like I could do anything in the world —mentally and physically. My train of thought was higher, and I could think faster and my motivation was high —everything just comes so quick when you’re high on meth,” Selena recalled.
When her mother did find out, Selena simply stood her ground and told her not to even try to stop her because she was going to keep on using.
“Mama tried, but she was going through her own problems,” Selena said.
Soon, she was skipping school and eventually dropped out of seventh grade. By age 13, with the help of friends, she learned to make meth. It quickly became all she cared about and all she lived for. She kept using and started doing all the things adults do — and it felt like pure bliss — but for just a short while.
Selena was an experienced meth cooker by age 15, but cooking meth is always a gamble. She remembers the day a batch went bad.
“I was at a friend’s house cooking meth in a flask — the oldschool method — these days the shake and bake method is used. The room was draped off on all four sides with plastic all around to help keep the smell down.”
Selena talks about every detail.
“When the explosion happened, it started raining melted plastic that covered my body like a sheet. I looked down at my hands and saw my face melting like lard, dripping into my hands. The pain was so intense that I fainted, and when I came to a few minutes later, I was rolling around and that helped put the flames out — I guess I have a guardian angel.”
Selena ran outside and up the road, which helped save her life.
“I remember people trying to get me into a vehicle, and then an ambulance pulled up and I got in and then a few minutes later, I could hear a chopper coming.”
In critical condition, Selena was taken by helicopter ambulance to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center burn unit. She woke up two months later from a drug-induced coma. All her muscles had deteriorated.
“I had to learn how to walk, talk, eat, sleep — I was like an adult trapped in a baby’s body — it was so scary — imprisoned in my own body, I was helpless. I wouldn’t look into the mirror at first and when I finally did, I crumbled — both my mind and my heart were destroyed — I didn’t want to live any more, but try telling God that. The only thing that got me through was reading “Our Daily Bread,” which I did every day — still do.”
After a three-month hospital stay, she was discharged with a badly scarred face and claw-like hands with fingers permanently bent due to ligaments being burned into.
And yet, she still craved meth.
Life went on, and Selena managed to get a nursing degree and work at a nursing home.
The grip meth had on her would not let up, and she soon was back to using and making meth but was still able to function as a nurse.
However, one day it all caught up with her when she was stopped by the police who found iodine and other meth lab components in her car. She spent two years in prison and got clean once again, but when she came out, she went right back to her old lifestyle.
“They did provide some counseling in prison, but it didn’t help,” she said. “I still struggle today to overcome my cravings for meth. I’m clean, but I’ll battle it ’til the day I die — that’s how powerful it is. It’s the devil’s medicine. I’ve took pills, marijuana and drank, but no drug is as powerful.”
Selena is happy to report that through sheer determination, she is drug free today for the longest period since she was 12 years old.
She recently was asked to accompany Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller to the state capitol to provide visual testimony to lawmakers as they debated legislation to tighten the case of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient for making meth. The law passed and she feels her presence helped.
A group of laser specialists happened to also be in Nashville attending a medical conference at the same time and saw Selena’s scarred face after she was photographed at the event and that photo appeared in the Tennessean. They offered her free laser therapy to help improve her appearance. She has had several treatments and believes it is helping to loosen the scar tissue.
“I can only open my mouth this far,” Selena says as she leans her head back and opens her mouth about one fourth the width an average person can open. “I have trouble eating and can hardly bite into a hamburger.”
The treatments are painful and it keeps hurting afterward.
“Right now, it’s like a solid toothache, an agitation and distraction,” Selena said. I have to deal with pain on a daily basis.”
In addition to the horrible scars, meth has rotted many of her teeth. Selena recently received a free consultation from a dentist who also wants to help.
The Sheriff’s Association heard about Selena and donated $300 toward transportation costs in getting from Winchester to Nashville for treatment.
Finding a purpose
Selena is not proud of what she has done and admits she still has low self-esteem, yet she makes up for it all in bravery and determination. She does not let her disappointment in life show on the outside, but confesses that she saves all the tears for when she is alone.
“Meth has scarred me not just on the outside, but mentally, emotionally and psychologically,” she said. “I believe the reason God has allowed me to live is to save someone. If telling my story will spare another person from what I’m going through — if I can save just one human being from meth — then it will be worth it all.”
Selena says she’s willing to make appearances and speak wherever teens might gather to include churches, youth centers, schools or on an individual basis. She says her appearance alone should be enough to deter any potential drug use.
“Oh, I could preach all day long about the dangers of drug use, but once (teens) get in that state of mind, they don’t hear anything. But, when someone actually sees the results of meth — that makes a statement.”
Selena is struggling to make a life for herself and to move forward. She lost her nursing license with the drug charge, but offered to clean rooms at the Winchester Inn in exchange for a room to stay in. She has no spending money for toiletries and depends on friends to help out.
“I don’t take life and people for granted any more,” Selena said. “When I see someone, I speak and look in their eyes and smile and try to encourage them by saying something nice. Before, I wouldn’t have done that.”
Her motivation comes in the form of talking with others and a desire to help someone else. She has gotten a few breaks in life and now wants to pay it forward.
“I would love to have anyone to write to me at 700 S. College St. in Winchester.”
At 28-years-old, Selena has a long life in front of her and a few dreams to fulfill. They are simple, but serious.
“I have a couple of things on my bucket list,” she said. “In addition to trying to save someone from meth — I’d like to see the sun rise over the ocean, and touch a dolphin.”
Life is a day-to-day struggle, but Selena has already demonstrated her determination to overcome.
“It’s going to take a lot of time, but I’m not giving up,” she said. “I will hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. I’m moving in the right direction. One day I just want to feel normal and have a normal life.”