Text and Photos by Kathleen Woodford

When Melanie opens the door to her flower shop, she also opens a door to new beginnings. Melanie Ryan, along with her mother, Lauri Veseth, bought Country Charm Floral and Gifts located on Main Street in Conrad in December 2019. Together, they have faced many challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the country just months after their grand opening. With restrictions on large gatherings, events requiring flowers like weddings and funerals have severely dropped.

“We are lucky that we have such a supportive community,” Melanie says. “Our regular customers have kept us in business during these slow times.”

The store is full of Made in Montana gifts and items created by local artisans. Coffee cups, inspirational wooden plaques, baby clothes, stuffed toys, and picture frames are just a sampling of chic décor found on island displays and lining the walls. There is also a full party section complete with greeting cards, wrapping paper, and Mylar helium balloons.

The back of the shop is where Melanie really enjoys her job. Tables and benches are full of ribbons, vases, and flowers used to make beautiful floral arrangements.

“Putting the bouquets together is like a Zen experience,” she says. “It’s very calming. You can just forget about all the pressures of life and be creative.”

But life for Melanie was anything but a Zen experience when she first graduated from Conrad High School in 2002. That year she was crowned Whoop-Up Queen, a Conrad community tradition that takes place during the annual Whoop-Up Trail Days Celebration. With the honor, came a scholarship for school. But instead of school, Melanie moved to Great Falls and got in with the wrong crowd, which eventually landed her in the Montana Women’s Prison.

She started using meth and then made and sold the drug using a lab out of the trunk of her car. This led to her arrest and 26 months in prison. During this time she was pregnant and ended up giving her son up for adoption.

“I just liked the way [meth] made me feel,” Melanie explains.

Before long she was addicted.

Methamphetamine is a white crystalline drug that has been around for decades. The drug can be snorted, smoked, injected, or taken orally and initially gives users a false sense of happiness and well-being, as well as energy. Unfortunately, both meth and cocaine use continues to rise in the U.S., with approximately 70,000 deaths in 2017 (according to the Drug Enforcement Administration). Meth is highly addictive and burns up the body’s resources, which creates a devastating dependence that only can be relieved by taking more of the drug. It is also one of the hardest drug addictions to treat, and many die in its grip according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Luckily, Melanie found support and inner strength to overcome the drug and is now 13 years sober.

“I want to tell my story because if it can help just one person get out, then it’s worth it,” she says.

Melanie’s “aha moment” to quit using came when she was arrested for a second time and once again faced time in prison. She was picked up high and was at that time a resident of Butte in Silver Bow County. She was also pregnant with her daughter, Kyron, who is now 12 years old.

“She is the reason I quit,” Melanie says. “I didn’t want to put her through me going in and out of prison and in and out of being sober. I didn’t want that kind of life for my daughter. I was bound and determined to do everything I could to change my life for her, and I did.”

The first step was to make a long awaited call to her mother and say, “I’m ready to change.”

Melanie’s mother never gave up on her daughter; “I knew she would come around. She’s a bright girl,” Lauri says.

Melanie was released into the custody of her parents and moved back to Conrad. Shortly after her daughter was born Melanie met her husband, Cory Ryan. The couple also has a 10-year-old son, Kaleb.

It was Melanie’s former employer who suggested buying the shop.

“I thought no way a bank would lend me the money,” explains Melanie. But when she told her mother about the idea, Lauri jumped on it. She has always loved flowers, and the idea of a floral shop appealed to her. Lauri helped get the loan and their partnership was formed.

Melanie’s advice to addicts trying to get off meth is to find someone they can trust and to not give up.

“The first five years are the hardest, and after that it gets easier. In that five years I did a lot of counseling, and I had a good support system,” she says. Melanie talked to church counselors and had a chemical dependency therapist; “He was amazing and made me accountable for what I did.”

She says it is hard to look into a mirror and admit that you screwed up; “You have to do it for yourself—not family or friends, but for yourself—and you have to want it. If you give yourself the chance, you can succeed.”

Melanie is confident that she has overcome her addiction; “I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am and there’s no way I want to lose it all.”

Now the mother and daughter duo enjoy their time together.

“I’m very happy to have her back,” Lauri says with a smile.