First and foremost, I want to thank God for another day clean and sober.
It’s really an honor to share a little bit of my story. I’m from Dayton, Ohio which is the number one city in the United States for overdoses. Not exactly something to be known for. Last month I performed a Memorial service for a gentleman I was in treatment with. This was the 50th friend I’ve had overdose and die in the past two years. He was 60 years old, they found his body alone in his apartment. He had been dead for 8 days. A lonely, tragic death. This is the way life ends for most Heroin addicts. Unfortunately, this is an everyday occurrence in Dayton.
I am in Recovery from Heroin Addiction. I am a Recovery Advocate, which means I Recover Out Loud. I try to use my voice and my story to help change policies at the Local, State, and Federal level. Educate the general public on the needs and struggles of those in Recovery, and help with some of the barriers that are raised by the stigma of addiction. I recently got to share my story with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and meet the members of his Heroin Unit Outreach Team. I’m trying to be a part of the solution, because I spent so many years of my life, being part of the problem.
Never in my worst nightmare, did I imagine I was going to grow up and be a Heroin addict. I was a varsity athlete, competed in National Math and Science competitions. In 1995, I left home to study Economics at The Ohio State University. In fact, I never even drank my first beer until I was 18 years old.
I’m not sure if a lot of you are aware of this number, but about 70% of people who suffer from the disease of addiction, went through some form of abuse as a child. I do fall into that category. I was raised by a very violent, abusive, alcoholic father. He was a Vietnam Veteran, and unfortunately he brought some of that rage home with him. I watched him break a man’s leg in a bar parking lot when I was 8. I was thrown through my closet door by my throat. He broke my arm when I was 7 with a baseball, because I was afraid of an inside pitch. He Always carried guns, and me, my mother, and my sisters lived our life in absolute fear. Now, the reason I’m going into detail about some of this, is NOT to use it as an excuse for my addiction. I made the horrible choice to use drugs and to surround myself with other people using drugs. I stole and committed crimes to support my drug habit. I chose a life of drugs and crime over my children. I hurt the ones I loved. I take full responsibility for my actions, I Chose to do those things. The reason I bring up my childhood abuse and trauma to give some of you an idea of who you are dealing with. I’m not talking about the crimes committed and the laws broken, there Have to be consequences for our actions as addicts. I’m talking about on the inside. We are broken. We experienced things in life as kids before we had the coping skills or the support to deal with them. When the temporary solution of alcohol and drugs is introduced, it sends a lot of our lives, mine included spirally downward.
My alcohol use was out of control immediately. At 21, I was leaving a dance club about 2 in the morning, walking a girl out to her car. Out of nowhere, a man put a gun to my head, made us get in her car, and abducted us. We pulled into a dark alley, where he beat me nearly to death with the gun, and pulled me out of the car. So, I’m lying there, blood gushing out, and he’s got the gun pointed inches away from my face…. He didn’t pull the trigger…. He left me lying there, took her and the car down the road and raped her. This man ended up doing this same thing to 6 different couples before he was finally caught. Needless to say, I wasn’t quite right after that. My alcohol use progressed to drugs, until in 2006 I was arrested and sent to prison for one year for Complicity to Theft. I am a firm believer that I deserved consequences for the crimes I committed. I can’t express enough that prison is a horrible, horrible place. I was little. I was weak, and after witnessing something I wasn’t supposed to see, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was violently sexually assaulted by one of the Gangs that ran the prison. They wanted to let me know, to keep my mouth shut, and that they could kill me anytime they wanted. After serving my year in prison, I was not rehabilitated. I was more broken than I had ever been, and I didn’t care about life.
Again, I’m not sharing these stories with you for pity, or as an excuse for my poor choices. I’m sharing with you what’s on the inside of a Heroin addict. My story is not unique. As I meet more and more people in Recovery, their stories are eerily similar. Abuse, pain, trauma… some horrible choices, then tragically addicted to this poison. I know there is a growing number of people who started on prescription opiates from a doctor. When their supply was cut off, they progressed to the cheaper Heroin. That’s just not my story. I had a girl introduce me to Heroin. She said it would take away the pain, and it did. One time. Because that’s all it took, I was addicted after my very first time. That was the worst decision of my life. From that point on, it brought me nothing but pain.
See, Heroin raises your Dopamine levels up 1000%. After my body and my brain got a taste of it, it Ruled my life. It was a never-ending cycle of physical withdrawal symptoms. That’s the evilness of this poison. The mental obsession and the physical compulsion to seek more regardless of the consequences. When the effects of the drug wear off, begins the extreme stomach pains. Pouring out sweat, but your body is freezing cold at the same. It took every ounce of strength I had not to go to the bathroom on myself. Body aches like the worst flu you could ever imagine, pouring out snot, and trying not to cry. Every Single Day of my Life. I couldn’t function as a human being. My brain was hijacked in search of that Dopamine, and my body was rotting away physically. Until finally, I was able to get 20 dollars, worth of the Heroin into my system. Instantly, I mean Instantly. Everything stopped hurting. My mind could function, the knife piercing pain in my stomach and my back stopped immediately. I wasn’t freezing or sweating anymore, my nose stopped running, legs stopped shaking…And this is within Seconds of the Heroin getting into my system. Then a few hours later, it starts all over again.
That was my life as a Heroin addict.
I was brought back to life on 6 separate occasions by the heroic efforts of the First Responders and Firefighters, each time they administered Narcan. The tragic reality is Every single time I overdosed, I woke up in the back of the ambulance on a stretcher…My very first thought was, Am I going to jail. Then, how can I go get some more Heroin. Sickening! See after receiving the Narcan, I would immediately start going into the physical withdrawal symptoms. Each time I was driven to the hospital, released a couple hours later, with NO consequences, and I was back on the drug within hours.
I was Not in control of my life. I didn’t care about my health, the safety of those around me, the businesses and homes I was stealing from. I didn’t care about the wasted resources, the trauma and negative effects I was putting on the First Responders, the Police Officers and their families, my mother’s health because of the stress, the welfare of my children. Nothing, except getting that next shot of Heroin before the withdrawal symptoms started again. At the end, I was down to 121 pounds. I’m 6’2”. Homeless, living from dumpster to dumpster. I remember my teeth were rotting out and chipped to pieces. I had cut my tongue to where it split, I could barely even chew. I had these old shoes with holes in the bottom, with one pair of these yellow socks that smelled horrible. Nobody would let me in their house, businesses would call the cops when I was in there parking lot, people would go clear to the other side of the street instead of walking near me on the sidewalk. My hands had these rips that were infected in all of the creases of my fingers from sleeping outside in the winter. I was a mess. So I spent my days in these dumpsters, ripping through all of the trash bags, my hands bleeding and infected, looking for change that maybe someone threw away. One of the last days of my active addiction, I’m like chest high in trash bags inside this dumpster, this family drives by in a mini-van. Mom, Dad, couple kids, and they’re driving up really slow, in awe…I turned, made eye contact… but I was so desperate, that I just couldn’t stop. So like an animal, like a raccoon or a starving dog, I just went right back to ripping through those trash bags. I will never forget, the look on their faces. It’s like it’s etched in my mind.
By the Grace of God, I was finally arrested a few days later, and put in jail. Now in our jails, the treatment for Heroin withdrawal is not very “comforting.” The deputies and the medical staff tell you, “Drink Water”, and “You’re not gonna die.” No ibuprofen, no Imodium or Pepto Bismol, nothing. It seems harsh, but they’re a jail, not a Detox facility. Their job was not to make my life easier. I’m the one who did this to myself. I’ve got to tell you, that was one of the hardest times of my life. They ended up putting me in the hole because of how of bad shape I was in. I remember running my face into the concrete walls over and over hoping they would release me to the hospital. I just wanted the pain to stop.
After I finally figured out there was no possible way to get out of jail and get more, I started to get a little better. After a few weeks, I began to eat and sleep normally. This was a turning point in my life. I finally asked for help. I asked the deputies for help, I asked the judge, I asked the probation department, I asked my public defender for help. I was given the option of Treatment at The Christopher House with Felony probation, or Prison. I will be eternally grateful for this opportunity. See it took the Judge, the Probation Department, the First Responders multiple times using Narcan to bring me back to life, it took The Christopher House accepting me, it took the jailers not releasing me, it took my family saying NO and not bonding me out, it took years of pain and misery, and it God’s Grace and Mercy just to get me Started in Recovery.
Recovery for me has been a combination of support from so many people in both 12 step fellowships, the amazing staff of the Christopher House, taking directions from my sponsor and mentors, and my church. My life has become very God-Reliant. I rely on God for peace, joy, and strength. I rely on Men of God for wisdom and guidance. And I rely on the Word of God for every moment of my life. There are many different paths to Recovery, some involve Faith-based programs, there are several 12 step programs, there’s no right or wrong way to Recover. I can tell you for myself personally, I practice a program of complete abstinence from all drugs and alcohol.
I would like to mention some of the Huge barriers for myself and for most people getting out of treatment. I think it’s important to discuss these barriers, because there are people in the community that want to help and be a part of the solution, but so much time, energy, and resources are being spent on addicts who don’t want to stop and aren’t willing to do the work necessary to change their life. Some of these barriers are referred as Recovery Capital
The most important of those is having a safe and stable place to live after treatment. I was blessed to have the opportunity to live in Recovery Housing after I graduated from treatment. Greene County only has 9 beds available for men directly after treatment. I can tell you 5 of the 6 men I was in Recovery housing with are still clean and sober, all of us right around a year and a half without drugs or alcohol. That’s 83% success rate. In our area the average success rate of men leaving treatment and staying clean for a year is closer to 10%. I don’t know if I would be alive if I didn’t get this opportunity. Having a place to sleep, accountability and drug screening, having supportive roommates who are in Recovery also, an opportunity to learn budgeting and time management. Most people leave treatment and go right back to the same environment, around those same old friends, and it makes it almost impossible to Recover.
Lack of transportation, very few have a valid driver’s license and it is even more rare that they have their own vehicle, a lack of education, no income, having a criminal record that makes attaining employment very difficult, a lack of a supporting church and relationship with God, a lack of Mentors and positive role models, a lack of purpose, and a lack of healthy relationships that provide support, friendship, love, and hope. These are the cracks that we need to fill. These are the walls that people in early Recovery hit, which often lead to relapse. Many of these barriers do not involve money, but they are vital in the process. This epidemic isn’t going to be overcome by one solution, and one group of people. It is going to take a collective effort from all facets of the community. We are making headway with events like this, but we have to continue to fight like we are in a war. Just over 58,000 Americans died in the entire Vietnam War. In 2016 alone, we lost over 59,000 Americans to overdose deaths. Complacency, or waiting on the government, or someone else to fix it is only going to make it worse.
Let me ask you this, I’m sure a lot of you parents have had the “Birds and the Bees” conversation with your children. How many of you have had the “Danger of Heroin” talk with your children? You just heard my story of how after the Very First Use, I was addicted. You heard me tell you how bad my life got, imagine if that was your child in that dumpster. We have to make this a priority in our homes, in our schools, in our youth groups, in our churches, in our athletic programs. We have to get to these children before they Ever Try Heroin for the first time. Our kids should be so sick of hearing about the dangers of this poison because it is the number one killer in The United States. We Are in a WAR! We have to protect the next generation. We have a responsibility to them. Every child should know that this poison will ruin their life, take everything they ever loved, and ultimately KILL them the very first time they try it. Every year in school, every year in soccer, every year in VBS. Over and over and over.
The last thing I wanted to talk about is my foundation. It’s the most important part of my recovery, and that began with falling in love. Not with my beautiful wife, who I love dearly. I fell in love with Jesus Christ. I found a church, Lighthouse Baptist Church to love me and welcome me in just how I was. I didn’t have to get my life together, all I had to do was walk in their doors. This church welcomes and supports the lost and broken and even began a Recovery Ministry Service every Friday night for both people suffering and recovering from addiction, but also family members of addicts and members of the church who are experienced Christians. They teach us about the word of God and how to live a Christ centered life. Since attending Lighthouse, I have given my life to Christ, been Baptized and become a member of the church, and even got the opportunity to preach. I was a part of leading 9 people to Christ. Lives changed. Families changed. Eternity in Heaven. God is using my life to further His kingdom. I believe with all my heart, That, is my purpose, That is my calling. That’s what I’m doing with this second chance at life.
My story is just one of thousands in Recovery who have taken their life back. They are making a difference in the community, have loving families, work hard, and I am honored to call them my friends.
God bless each and every one of you.