‘Everybody deserves to get clean’

One Bloomington woman’s journey to recovery

Ruby Deckard-Bruce is pictured sitting on the porch of her home Oct. 31, 2023 in Monroe County. Her mother and stepfather gave her the house.

Ruby Deckard-Bruce stood between the yellow Malibu ’81 and a red Jeep on the drag race strip. Their engines revved, filling the air with the smell of burnt rubber on the concrete, white smoke surrounding the cars.

The revving engines pierced the air, making spectators cover their ears. Ruby, age 37, held her phone in her hands, videotaping the cars getting ready to take off as the drivers waited for the lights to turn from yellow to green.

A rush of adrenaline flowed through her body as the cars sped away, stimulating all her senses. It was a familiar feeling.

“Drugs make your heart beat really fast, like this,” Ruby said.

In the U.S., 106,699 individuals died from a drug overdose in 2021. In Indiana, 2,811 individuals died from an overdose.

Ruby is not one of them. She has been able to recover from her addiction.

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When she started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, life felt like a disaster, Ruby said. She was actively using both from 15 years old in 2001 until she had her daughter in 2008 when she was 22 years old.

“All my friends, everybody was drinking, going to parties, sneaking out of their houses,” she said.

Her mother and stepfather were supportive parents. However, her father had a history of alcoholism, and her extended family struggled with addiction.

Her family never told her she couldn’t drink alcohol while underage.

After getting out of jail in 2012 for burglary and stolen property, her life went from feeling like a disaster to a spiraling tornado.

She lost custody of her daughter and spent time with people who didn’t judge her for being in jail. They used meth, which influenced her to start using too.

“It was really the only crowd I knew, they were the only people that didn’t judge me.”

— Ruby Deckard-Bruce

From then to 2020, life continued to spiral. She went to prison in 2014 — “wrong place, wrong time” — and could only see her daughter and mother every 14 days. By taking parenting classes, she was able to see her daughter an extra two hours each visit. It was the first time she couldn’t see her daughter on a regular basis.

“When I was in prison, I was around probably 2,000 people," Ruby said. "But I never felt so alone ever in my life.”

Ruby picked up an NOS energy drink from the Marathon gas station on the west side of Bloomington before heading west on Indiana State Road 43 to Speed’s New Hope Indiana Dragway with her now-husband, Robert Bruce who she married this October. They’ve been attending the dragway, located in Freedom, Indiana, for the past three years.

Indiana State Road 43 leads into curvy country roads where two cars can barely fit side by side. Fields of green grass and endless forest surround the roads, with homes popping up here and there.

The GPS signal drops about halfway through the 30-minute drive. Turn right at the first stop sign — then left at the second — left at the third — and arrive at the track.

Still no signal.

The dragway is enclosed by trees. She enters through an opening in the trees on a gravel road; on the left is the racetrack and beyond are grass fields. A metal fence separates the fields. The race takes place on one side, and on the other, cows come out to watch.

As Ruby arrives, she feels free. She has six hours to have fun.

* * * * *

One moment erased Ruby’s 10 months of sobriety in 2019.

Ruby was a participant in the New Beginnings program in 2018, which provided participants with therapy, skills and classes to help them reenter society after being in jail. The program consists of two parts: 90 days of rehabilitation while in jail and 90 days out of jail.

During her time out of jail, she said, she stayed sober and continued to work on herself. She went to court in Spencer, Indiana, one cold morning to regain custody of her daughter in 2019.

The drive was silent and her stomach was in knots.

“I was angry at myself," Ruby said. "I felt like I kept on choosing drugs over my daughter.”

At the time, the judge said she wasn’t sober long enough to show improvement and the judge considered her unfit to have her daughter full-time. She came home to an empty house, feeling like she didn’t care if she ever woke up again.

She had a rough day and got high, she said.

She got caught after using for about three weeks and went back to jail the same time Robert did. Both went to jail for probation violations.

* * * * *

While she was in jail in 2020, she underwent Drug Treatment Court, a two-year program which requires one year of continued sobriety. If a participant fails to comply with the terms of the program, their treatment will either be extended or terminated.

Monroe County Judge Mary Ellen Diekhoff presides over the court, which she said helps participants reclaim their lives.

“Addiction is giving up everything for one thing, and recovery is giving up one thing for everything.”

— Judge Mary Ellen Diekhoff

Drug Treatment Court is an intense program, but it works, Ruby said. Diekhoff kept people in check and participants couldn’t get away with not following the rules, she said.

“Judge Diekhoff saved my life,” Ruby said.

A friend invited Ruby and Robert to go to Speed’s New Hope Indiana Dragway in 2020. Drug Treatment Court allowed her to attend the event, since she was still in the program.

It was her first drag race.

The burnouts the racers do before they race have been Ruby's favorite part of the dragway since the first time she attended the race. She was in shock that a tire could make so much smoke from the friction between it and the ground.

The people at the drag race were very welcoming and nice. Besides the racing, it’s peaceful and quiet, she said. She still attends the dragway three years later; the empty grass fields and cows have stayed the same.

The dragway became Ruby's favorite place and has supported her throughout recovery. She graduated from Drug Treatment Court in 2022.

* * * * *

Ruby has flipped her drug addiction to tanning three times a week and caffeine. Her typical Starbucks order is a venti iced shaken expresso, no classic syrup with eight shots of blonde expresso, five pumps white mocha, five pumps brown sugar and five pumps hazelnut. Her go-to energy drink is usually Red Bull. She has both daily.

When she was addicted to meth, Ruby was completely numb to everything. Now, she views life as endless possibilities. She carries a key chain with all her sober tags everywhere she goes in her purse as a reminder of where she’s been and where she is now.

“I know deep in my mind I will always be an addict, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to use.”

— Ruby Deckard-Bruce

She has not had the urge to use since she went to jail in 2019 after her relapse. As of Oct. 21, she has been sober for four years, and she said she feels lucky that she hasn’t had the urge to get high again.

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A keyring full of sobriety tags sits on a kitchen countertop inside Ruby Deckard-Bruce’s home Oct. 31, 2023. Deckard-Bruce has carried the tags as a reminder and promise to herself to stay sober.

Mira Athmarao| IDS

She and Robert first got together when she was 18 years old, and after 13 years they reunited before she went through the New Beginnings program.

They made a pact to get sober and stay sober together when they went back to jail together in 2019.

Ruby and Robert go to the dragway every weekend during racing season. They put their money into fixing cars, and it keeps them busy.

At the track, Ruby is able to be her energetic self. She’s always talking to people. As a regular racer would drive in, she could name who they were and the type of car they raced.

Robert worked on the red Camaro ’84 for Papa Speeds, or PaPaw, the drag race owner’s father to race it, while Ruby stayed back and assisted if needed.

“I hope when I’m PaPaw’s age I can still be doing stuff like this,” she said.

Around 6:45 p.m. the cars, motorcycles and dirt bikes lined up on the gravel road that leads to the racetrack. The revving engines overpowered the music playing.

“And it begins,” Ruby said as she made her way up to the starting line to take videos of the racers.

* * * * *

Ruby always protected her daughter from seeing her use meth. She never wanted her daughter to see, smell or touch it.

When her daughter would visit her on the weekends while the daughter’s father had custody of her, Ruby never let her daughter come to her house, she said. Instead, she would spend time with her daughter at her mother and stepfather’s house.

“I didn’t want that for her,” she said. “Even though I was a drug addict, I just didn’t want to be that mom.”

She got her daughter back full-time in March of 2023 by making a stable life for herself by staying sober and working. Two years before she got her daughter back, her mother and stepfather decided to move to Florida and gave Ruby their house.

Her stepfather recognized the work Ruby put into her life to be sober and believed she would get her daughter back. Sadly, he died before he could see that he was right: Ruby’s work paid off and she got her daughter back.

“She’s been my whole motivation,” Ruby said. “It took me 11 years to get her home, but I have her now.”

Ruby has a tattoo on her right foot of her daughter’s baby footprint. On the right side of her chest, she has a tattoo of her daughter’s lips as a baby where her daughter’s head would rest.

* * * * *
A brown wooden door with a circular glass window and four large, iron, slightly rusted chain links instead of a handle. In the window, paper signs reading 'Closed on Sundays & Mondays' and 'Please wear a face mask & maintain social distance' are visible.'
Ruby Deckard-Bruce and Robert Bruce pose at their wedding Oct. 15, 2023, at Speed’s New Hope Indiana Dragway. Deckard-Bruce incorporated her favorite part of races by having her family friends do burnouts behind the couple for their photos.

courtesy photo| IDS

Ruby woke up for her wedding at the dragway at 8 a.m. Oct.15.

The drive to the dragway at 10:30 a.m. was not a quiet ride. Ruby sang to Nicki Manaj and Cardi B during the 30-minute car ride.

The wedding party and flower girl walked down the aisle to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” and when the truck pulled up to the racetrack, Ruby walked down the aisle to Dan and Shay’s “Speechless.”

Her mother walked her down the aisle with a picture of her stepfather in her hand, crying.

The flower petals from the flower girl had already blown away by the time Ruby walked down the aisle. Her black veil kept catching on the asphalt, and she was scared she was going to trip and fall over her floor-length black wedding dress.

When Ruby reached Robert, Judge Diekhoff, the officiator of the wedding, nudged Robert to step closer to her. Both nervous, she had to grab Robert’s hands to steady herself.

“Can I take my shoes off now?” Ruby said after they said their vows and kissed.

The couple have been through addiction and recovery together.

“If I have a bad day, she’s there, and if she has a bad day, I’m there for her,” Robert said.

Now, Ruby works as a crisis specialist and recovery coach at the Stride Center, a diversion center that provides resources for individuals who are affected by substance misuse and mental health disorders. Through her job, Ruby said she is able to give others who are in active addiction hope that recovery is possible.

“I want to be a rainbow and just deliver good luck all around the world, because everybody deserves to get clean.”

— Ruby Deckard-Bruce

Staying sober won’t happen unless one changes the people, places and things that influence them to use, Ruby said. Speed’s New Hope Indiana Dragway gave Ruby a community.

Attending the drag races and the people there are a part of her life, a part of her support system.

“These people don’t know us, they don’t have to like us, and they do,” she said. “It’s a genuine feeling of love.”