Tina Whitmore, 41, smokes a cigarette while running errands in Smithville, Missouri on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Whitmore, who is a couple months sober from her meth addiction, has been struggling to rebuild her life.

Promises I Hope to Keep

Tina Whitmore and her 11-year-old daughter, Emily, sat in Nice Nails on Jesse James Road in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, awaiting an appointment to fix a broken nail. Tina, a mother of six recovering from addiction and struggling with housing instability, had recently spent $60.00 to get Emily’s nails done, a significant sum, but she wanted to treat her.

Tina knows her daughter wants all the time and attention she can give her. In and out of prison for crimes stemming from her addiction, she has missed important moments over the years. Whitmore, a month and a half sober, is not only trying to rebuild her own life with her family and boyfriend – but also make up for lost time with her youngest.

“Sorry doesn’t matter unless you fix the problem,” she said while driving to court for a probation violation hearing. “I’m reclaiming my spot as her mom.”

I pitched, reported and photographed this story for the 74th Missouri Photo Workshop.

Tina walks with her daughter, Emily Whitmore, 11, and her grandfather, Vernon Stephenson, around Excelsior Springs, Missouri, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in a neighborhood where Whitmore says meth can be easily bought. “It’s hard living at grandpa’s and knowing where I can go,” she said. She was proud of herself, though, when she turned it down three times last week.

An old family photograph of Tina with her ex-husband and their five boys sits on a shelf in her grandfather Vernon's apartment. Emily, her youngest child who is not pictured, has only known her mom after her addiction began.

Emily tries to get her mom's attention as Tina talks with her boyfriend on a video call at home. They get limited time together since Emily also stays at her dad's, Tina's ex-husband. “Don’t feel like I’m paying enough attention to you?” teased Tina Whitmore. “Want some love?” she continued, as she cuddled up to Emily.

Tina chats with her boyfriend as Emily scrolls on her phone. “Me and her, we have our days where I don’t know if I’ll make ’til she’s 18,” Whitmore half-joked. She sometimes finds it hard to reconnect with her daughter after so much instability.

Emily reaches out for her mom's hand in the elevator of their apartment building.

Emily clings to her mother’s arm in the grocery store in as they shop for dinner.

Tina and Emily look at nail tips at Nice Nails, a salon in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.

Emily rests on her mother’s shoulder as they leave a dental appointment in a nearby town.

Emily looks on as Tina walks away from her sons’ home, where she keeps some belongings.

"Breathe" is written on Tina's wrist as she has a cigarette on a particularly hard day of recovery.

Tina noticed this small pouch used to store meth laying in the grass outside her grandfather's apartment, where she's currently living as she navigates homelessness and recovery.

Tina sifts through clothing at Goodwill to find an outfit for a job interview at an Excelsior Springs hotel. She hopes to one day have a home where she and her children can all live together.

Tina empties pennies into a coin-counting machine at a grocery store. She received just over $15 from the coins.

Tina puts on make up to get ready for the day. 

Tina smiles as her boyfriend, Wesley Holt, kisses her on a walk around town. She and Wesley, also a recovering meth addict, find support in each other through their sobriety.

Tina embraces Wesley in the morning after spending the night together for the first time in two months. Her boyfriend has been staying in a sober living home and had just one night to be with her before transitioning to a different home.

Tina anxiously awaits a job interview in The Elms hotel lobby. In the interview, Whitmore said she’s motivated by her kids to get the job and get her life back on track.

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