- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2015

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - To understand the former mindset of “Teen Mom” reality TV star Amber Portwood, try listening to The Used’s song of anguish, “On My Own.”

An acoustic guitar plays a reliable foundation but the vocal works screams loneliness: “I’m screaming for something / Knowing nothing is better than knowing at all.”

It’s the only song Portwood mentions by name in her 2014 autobiography, “Never Too Late.”

“The song itself is a very sweet song. It’s got a lot of anger in it but it’s emotional,” acknowledged Portwood in an interview with The Herald Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1B5QZ94). “I just connected with that song more so than anything.”

The song was released in 2002 when Portwood was growing up in Anderson and entering her teen years.

On Thursday, she turned 25. She planned to spend time with family and go to downtown Indianapolis.

These days, she doesn’t connect with a specific song. “Music today has changed so much. It’s even hard to find a song with meaning anymore on the radio.”

In 2009, Portwood’s brother Shawn turned down an offer to be on a reality show, “Engaged and Underage.” His girlfriend at the time had applied. However, a scouting agent called the Portwood home and asked if anyone knew of a pregnant teenager. Amber, fitting both categories, sent a videotape that became part of the pilot episode of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant.”

“I didn’t go online. I didn’t search for anything,” she said. “Nothing got real until the cameras came. That’s when everything changed.”

Many of her highlights, and lowlights, were recorded for MTV spin-offs including the current “Teen Mom OG,” following the original girls of the “Teen Mom” series.

However, it was unaired footage - obtained by Anderson police through a subpoena - that led to her being convicted of domestic battery for slapping and punching her then-boyfriend, Gary Shirley. When she missed a probation appointment on Dec. 16, 2011, officers came to her house and found pills, without prescriptions, containing a narcotic and muscle relaxants.

Opting out of drug court, she made a stunning choice to go to prison, determined to take control of her life. She was released from women’s prison in November. She now lives in Ingalls in southwestern Madison County.

“In any 12-step program you learn that you have to change your people, places and things. When I got out of prison I stayed with my grandmother for a little while. I needed to change everything. I didn’t hang out with my old friends. I didn’t go to the same places,” she said. “It’s kind of a good place for me to relax right now.”

Portwood is raising Leah, now 6 and whom she calls “Booboo,” and “a really sweet girl,” with Shirley, the girl’s father. Portwood has a fiance.

“I’m building a lot more trust between me and Gary. When I got out of prison, I had to prove myself of course. Plus I had to have a time of sobriety under my belt. I think that kind of helps people to trust me, too,” she said.

While in prison, she entered and graduated from the Clean Lifestyle Is Freedom Forever (CLIFF) program. She became a facilitator of peer-led therapy sessions notably concerning anger management. She said, “I never would have changed my life if it wasn’t for that program.” CLIFF inspired her to currently seek a college degree in behavioral science.

She offered, “Before I die, I’m going to have rehab programs around the world.”

Portwood answered questions posed by The Herald Bulletin. The following questions and answers were shortened for space limitations. The discussion was monitored by an MTV representative.

The Herald Bulletin: What life lessons have you learned at 25?

Portwood: “Honestly, I still have so much to learn and when people ask me that question I can only give you the short answer of, you know, everything I’ve been through in life, it’s making me who I am today. My story, I can help other people with it. I have so much to learn though. It’s not done yet.

“I feel like there was a lot of immaturity and growth that I needed to get past. I was young teenager and I didn’t know much of anything. I just kind of listened to myself. So I kind of learned to listen to others and take other people into consideration and listen to wisdom, especially when I was in prison. Life lessons and learning from them and growing up and becoming an adult in a way and realizing you’re a mother and a role model. You have to take all that into consideration and better yourself as a person.”

THB: Do you attribute any of the problems to being a TV star?

Portwood: “That would be the easy way out. The truth of it is I was kind of going down this road without the show anyways. Before the show I was already out of school. I was pregnant. I was promiscuous. I didn’t have my head on straight at all. Honestly, I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for the support actually of the show in the end. Some situations of course wouldn’t have happened. But then again, I think where would I be at in my life? I don’t think I would be doing much of anything. So I’m kind of happy I got this opportunity. It gives me an opportunity to share my story and help others, too.”

THB: One of the things you wrote about in the book was your father’s illness (alcoholism). He passed away in December (at 50, following liver surgery). What’s that done to you and the family?

Portwood: “Well, when it happened, it was complete tragedy and it really shook the family. Especially me, my brother and my mother. It was another blow in the face, it was right in front of my face. This is addiction. And this is where you could have been if you wouldn’t had tried to change your life.

“My dad always said that to me before. He always told me you have to change. You have to think about what you’re doing to yourself, to your family. ‘Never Too Late’ is actually from my father telling me that …

“He was showing me that with his life because he was sober for 10 years before he passed due to complications from alcohol. He was a huge supporter and I gained a lot of strength from him.”

THB: What would you have Leah avoid if you stayed in Madison County?

Portwood: “I think growing up in Madison County, you know, teenagers get bored. There’s not exactly a lot to do around here. So, you know, there’s um . you know, you experiment. I’m just gonna make sure she has a level head and she knows when to say no and I’m just going to be involved in her life. I think Leah, when she gets older, she’s going to want to explore the world a little bit.

“She’s one of those little girls you just can’t hold her down. She’s always talking. She’s always thinking about something. She has a lot of energy. I know it’s going to be hard when she’s a teenager. Obviously I’m just going to be there for her and make sure she knows she can talk to me about anything. And try to keep her on the right track, keep her in sports and keep her busy but in the right things.”

THB: What do you wish there had been in Anderson? … What would have helped you if something had been right at hand?

Portwood: “I would like to see more things for teenagers to do …

“Most of my teenage years, I was mostly riding in cars with older people doing the wrong things. There needs to be more interaction with teenagers. There needs to be something to keep them busy other than sports.

“If we go beyond teenagers, there needs to be more help for addicts. There needs to be more cracking down on drugs. People need to pay more close attention to who’s running certain places and what’s actually going on behind them.

“There needs to be more drug-related programs that work. It’s my goal in the future to get that started.”

___

Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com


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