‘This Place Saved My Life’ : Portraits of Recovery
Six Oxford Center alumni in early recovery share their stories
It’s kind of weird to be back here. Since I left, I’ve been doing IOP, going to NA meetings. I got a sponsor, and I’m working the steps. Just staying plugged into the program. Just working the program. ‘Cause they say if you don’t work the program, you’ll die. And I strongly believe that.
When I was 7 years old, my mom and dad split. That night, I saw some things I wish I never would have seen. It’s kind of engraved in my head, seeing my dad point a gun at me and my mom, then at himself. I didn’t see my dad for another three years.
I took my first sip of alcohol at 13, and from that point I was pretty much an alcoholic. My step-father would discipline me by beating me with a belt buckle. I would wake up the next morning with bruises and sores where it had cut me open. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him, joking around. Then all of a sudden he’s like, ‘No, you shut up.’ Next thing I know, I’m getting punched in the mouth.
I started smoking pot. I’d get high and not have to think about my problems. When I was 15, my mom and him went out of town for the weekend, and I threw this big party. That’s when I tried cocaine for the first time. I just absolutely fell in love with it. I began to use cocaine on a daily basis. We didn’t live but two blocks from the projects, so that’s where I would go to hang out. I got into the gang-banging lifestyle — selling drugs, carrying a gun sometimes.
When they found drugs in my room, and they told me my dad was coming to get me. So I went to live with him. I felt like my mom had abandoned me, ‘cause I’d always been there for her, protected her. So I got this resentment against her. I went into this I-don’t-care mode. I don’t care if I live or die, or make it to the next day. Each time I changed schools, I tried to make new friends. I thought it could be a fresh start. But it was always the same. I didn’t fit in. So I reverted back to the same people I always did — the druggies. You can always pick them out.
“I’d get high and not have to think about my problems.”
The first time I tried crystal meth, it changed my whole life. It became the only drug I ever truly thought that I had to have. That’s the way I lived for two or three years. I was smoking crystal meth just about every day, but still to an extent where I could hide it from people. Just enough to get me by.
When I met my wife now, I hid it from her a long time, until we moved in together. I got to where I was doing more cocaine than I could really afford. But every time I’d give it up, I got sick. Then someone taught me how to cook crystal meth, and that began a downward spiral I’ll never forget — robbing people, going to certain lengths to get the things I want. Things I thought I would never do.
About five years into our marriage, we had a miscarriage. Instead of being there for her like I should have been — like a good husband would have — I was more worried about getting high. I was isolating myself and burying emotions inside myself, which made me an angry person over the years. I was holding resentments against people I should have.
We had our little boy, and then we had a little girl. When she was pregnant, I was cheating on her. I was doing my drug of choice, crystal meth, but I was also smoking pot, taking pills, basically whatever I could get my hands on. By that point, my addiction was full-blown.
My wife told me if I wanted to stick around, I had to get clean. At that time, I didn’t know about these rehab facilities. I didn’t know about these meetings or the AA program. I just said, “OK, I’ll do that.” So I switched jobs, got clean. I white-knuckled it for six months. I started back smoking pot, thinking it’s no big thing. It was once a month, then once every couple of weeks, once a week, once a day, twice a day. Then that’s not good enough. I got introduced to crystal meth again. I was drinking, smoking, taking pills, tripping acid — all of this at the same time. I mean, doing all these combinations, I should be dead. Meanwhile, another girl starts talking to me.
“I was going to die if I didn’t get help.”
hen I’m clean, I don’t think about nothing but my wife, my kids, and how I can better my relationship with them. ‘Cause my wife is like an angel sent from God to me. She has always saved me from everything I have done. I know if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today. But this whole time, I’m talking to this girl and doing these drugs, because all these things from the past are going through my head and I don’t want to think about that stuff.
We split up, and for six weeks, my addiction spiraled out of control. I’m selling drugs to support my habit. My uncle’s letting me live in his house for free, because otherwise, everybody knows I’d be living in my truck. I’d give my wife a little child support money we agreed on, but everything else is going toward my addiction.
Then — I don’t know why, but I think it was my Higher Power working, who I choose to call God — she called me and told me she wanted to work things out. I told her I needed help, and she knew it. She could see it in my physical body: I was going to die if I didn’t get help.
I got to Oxford Treatment Center through a referral from my job. Things look different for me now. I have a sense of enjoyment now. I think for once in 18 years, I am happy. For once in my marriage, I am happy, content. My wife and I are closer than we’ve ever been. In February, we will be married 12 years. I feel like a changed person. When I was doing drugs, I was a self-centered person. It’s all about me, or it’s nothing. Now, I put other people first.
I don’t think I’ll ever know what it means to be truly serene. But I’m at a level of comfort, a level of balance, in my life. My life has direction today, because I do have a Higher Power, which for me is God. The AA program is so powerful, and the steps I’ve taken with my sponsor and in finding my Higher Power — they’ve brought me to a place where I don’t have to rely on alcohol or any other substance. I don’t have to hide my feelings or mask myself, and I can just be who I’m supposed to be today.
I’m such a people-pleaser, but I don’t have to do that today. The only ones I have to please now are me and my Higher Power. I wake up every day with a smile on my face and ready to go after the day. When I first got to Oxford Treatment Center, I was real resistant. I detoxed at another place, and I didn’t want to go to 30-day treatment. I’m a marathon runner, and my plan was to go home to my son and start running. My parents said, “No. You’re going to 30-day treatment. We’re sick of this crap.” So I said, “The only place I’m going is to Oxford Treatment Center, if you can get me in there.” I thought, “No way.” Well, they got me in.
I quickly started listening, and I became open, honest and willing. I extensively did the work. I really enjoyed spending a lot of time up late doing my homework and being alone. Taking pen to paper is essential, I think. And sitting outside by myself. The teamwork on the ropes course was also important to me. And listening to Garry.
“I stayed in sober living, and I found me again.”
I still come back ever other weekend to volunteer with Oxford Treatment Center’s family program. Dee and I sit outside and have great talks. She’s still huge in my recovery. She told me: “Put God first and recovery right next to it, and everything will flow from there.” That was the case for me after treatment. I didn’t want to go to sober living. My plan was to come home and run. And I felt like I needed to get home to my son, because that was the “responsible” thing to do. I know now that if I had gone home, I would have been drinking again within a couple of weeks.
At my family program, my parents told me: “We will love you from a distance and we will fight like hell to remove your son from your care if you ever drink again.” Beer was my thing, and it always had been. At one point I was up to 36 beers a day. There was another family in our program that day that didn’t stick to their guns later. But my parents still hold firm to what they said. I tell them, “Mean it. Because this is life or death.” I know that today.
My parents wanted me to go to sober living, and I agreed to stay without much coercing. I stayed in sober living, and I found me again. I had never known me before — even when I wasn’t drinking, I didn’t know me. I had always been such a people-pleaser. I’d always done what I thought other people expected of me. Part of it is the childhood trauma that I went through: I was sexually abused as a child from early on by my biological father. I began dealing with that trauma here. I wrote about it, and we buried that when I planted a tree. It was the 14th tree planted down the hill. I’ll visit that tree today.
hen I left here, I really wanted sobriety. But I wasn’t willing to stay for any kind of sober living. I still thought I could do what I wanted to do. I thought I had learned enough I could beat my disease. So I went back home, to the same job. I kept the same habits. I started going to meetings, but I didn’t get an active sponsor or start working the steps. Within a month and a half, I relapsed.
I had started smoking pot at 13, and about four months later I got drunk for the first time. I enjoyed getting drunk, but when I smoked pot, it was almost like I’d found the answer to life: This is my personality, laid back. I loved it. When I was about 15, I started doing it on a daily basis. I tried some mushrooms and other things. But staying stoned all the time was my thing.
When I was 21, I joined a fraternity, and that was the first time I ever moved on to harder drugs, like cocaine and the pain pills. I liked cocaine, but it wasn’t something I just loved. But the pain pills, I absolutely loved. It turned into a daily habit pretty quick, and I moved on from Lortab and Percocet to oxycodone real fast. I wasn’t an IV user at the time, but I was using opiates on a daily basis. I tried to stop on my own several times, but I just never could make it through the physical withdrawal symptoms.
When I found out that my first child was on the way, and I went to a doctor to get prescribed Suboxone to come off the opiates. He also prescribed me a lot of anxiety meds like Klonopin. Realizing I was going to be a dad, I kind of freaked out. I ate a handful of pills and got at DWI. That was my first and only legal consequence from the drug use. I felt like if I was prescribed them, then I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But I was behind the wheel, and I could have killed someone. I’m grateful that didn’t happen.
Eventually, I was able to wean myself off the Suboxone. I went to a doctor and was prescribed Adderall. At the time, I thought my prayers had been answered. Life was good. I was able to quit using opiates, which I was chained to. With this Adderall I’d been prescribed, my mindset was: “I’m not using drugs anymore.” This went on about two years. On the outside, life was good. I bought a house, I was married, had a good job. I got to witness both my daughters being born. I was sober — quote, unquote. Now, looking back, I know using the Adderall was just another crutch. It prevented me from realizing just how big of a deal my drug addiction was.
“I didn’t have any legal means of getting the prescription I was getting. So I went to the street.”
hen an opportunity present itself for me to go to a doctor and legally get opiates, I seized it. As crazy as it sounds, my initial plan was to go to this doctor and sell these opiates and make a lot of cash on the side. I knew that was wrong, but I was going to do it anyway. That plan quickly turned into me becoming a full-blown addict again. For two years, I was doing very significant amounts of oxycodone. I lost three or four really good jobs. But then the doctor I was seeing was investigated by the DEA and shut down. I was stuck. I didn’t have any legal means of getting the prescription I was getting. It was such large amounts, no other doctor would have done it. So I went to the street.
There became a time when the only opiates I could find on the street, the only way you could feel the effect was by IV. So I began doing that. It opened up a lot of doors for me. Heroin’s a lot cheaper than these pills, and more potent, so it was kind of an obvious choice when it became available. I was a little bit hesitant to move to it — it has the stigma of being the ultimate bad drug. But once I tried it, I realized there wasn’t a lot of difference between it and oxycodone. The fear of the drug was gone, and that became the drug I could afford and really get high.
I remember one day, I was sitting in my car. I was in outside sales and was on my own schedule. I didn’t do a lick of work that day. All I did was sit in my car, in the same parking space in the parking lot, for hours — just shooting up heroin and cocaine. I remember closing my eyes and just crying out to God, to just do whatever it takes to change this. I believe in divine intervention, because I got a text that day from someone I went to church with, and he sent me someone’s name to contact about a rehabilitation center. That person put me in touch with Billy Young. At that time, I had no idea who Billy Young was; I thought he was just some guy that could get me into a rehab place. I called Oxford Treatment Center, and I came on my own terms.
“I enjoy recovery to the point that it’s my life now.”
I learned so much here about my addiction and myself. I mean, Garry Reifers — I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that man and look up to him. Such a brilliant individual who’s been through the struggle and can relate it very well.
But after I relapsed, things got bad, and then they got worse. I lost my house, my marriage, my job. Three more jobs; one of them was a really good one. The rock bottom I thought I had hit when I was at Oxford Treatment Center — I hit a new completely new low. One day I called someone I was at Oxford Treatment Center with, who I had gotten really close to here. I knew he was still clean and working at a public treatment center. He took me in there. That was when I started working the steps, and I did get a sponsor. I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone to both places within a seven-month time period. Everything I learned at Oxford Treatment Center was still fresh on my mind. The biggest difference is, I’m now willing to do the things I don’t want to do. The things that make me uncomfortable. The things that people who have been there advise.
As far as financial stability, I really have less than I’ve ever had. But I’m more at peace right now than I’ve been in a long time. I don’t have any desire to use drugs. I really appreciate the way I feel, to the point that I’d be scared to change that. I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I enjoy recovery to the point that it’s my life now. I’m around people in recovery, and they’re really the only people I associate with right now. I just take it day by day, moment by moment.
I tell people about the things I’ve done, and they just look at me like, ‘Really?’ I don’t look the part I’ve played. I mean, if you hear my story, and you hear all the things I’ve done and what I’ve been through — no, I don’t look like that. Looks are deceiving.
The first time I used drugs, I was 13. This is my first time in recovery. So, 28 years in drug use. I was the child of a drug addict. It was just normal for me. One day, I was in my dad’s closet looking for cigarettes, and I found some marijuana. It was just normal for me to roll up a joint and smoke it.
From 14 to 17, I did various drugs. I drank and smoked pot. I still did good in school, for the most part. I tried cocaine for the first time at 17, and that was pretty much it for me. I’ve been doing cocaine ever since, basically. I got my first drug charge at 18. I’ve been in and out of jail. I’ve been in very abusive relationships — beaten really bad, almost to death, because I dated drug dealers. I wouldn’t go to the hospital because of how many drugs were involved. I was kidnapped and gang raped in retaliation to a drive-by that one of my boyfriends did. Just a very hard life — a life that I chose, you know, I’m not making excuses. It’s sad these things happened to me, but it was ultimately the life I chose. I’m not a victim.
“I’d been killing myself for so long. I was tired.”
I got pregnant at 22 and had my first child. I stayed abstinent for a while, then when he was 18 months, I started smoking crack. I gave custody to my mom, and it was just a downward spiral from there. Prostituting myself for drugs. My life was nothing but just smoke crack, crack, crack. I got pregnant again in ’99. I thought I would be clean again. But when I was four months pregnant, my aunt shot herself and died. I started smoking crack again while I was pregnant. Thank god my son tested negative when I had him. It was a miracle, because I smoked that day.
In 2000, I spent 15 months in the penitentiary on drug charges. After I met my husband, my addiction turned into more of a binging thing. I was still living the life, but trying to hide it. I wasn’t a mother to my children. They love their mom, but I didn’t raise my kids. My children are 19 and 16, and I didn’t raise them. I’m still trying to rebuild those relationships and trying to work on my marriage.
I used drugs really to focus, because in addition to my disease of addiction, I am also manic depressive. I have PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder. So I just medicate. That’s what I do. For most people, crack is a speed drug, but I would use it to numb everything and to keep me focused. But finally, I was just exhausted. I’d been killing myself for so long. I was tired. I talked to a friend of mine I used to use with. He’s been in recovery for like eight years, and he helps people now. He knew somebody that knew somebody that knew about Oxford Treatment Center.
This place saved my life — the education I got here and everything. It was absolutely amazing. I went on and did sober living. I don’t know where I would be otherwise. I should be dead so many times over. It amazes me that I’m even here today and can talk to you.
Since I’ve been home, it’s been hard. I’m still adjusting right now. I’m working my program, but it’s different at home. Because I’ve changed and nobody else has. I put limitations on myself. I don’t drive; it’s just not something I need to do. And I didn’t go back home to where my husband and I live — because my drug dealer lives half a mile down the street. So I live with my mother, on a mountain in the woods.
Really, I just want to be here. I’ll continue to come back here as often as I can. When I think about all the things I’ve done, I amaze myself: “Why are you not dead?” There’s a purpose for me to be here, and if I can help anybody with my story, that’s great. I’m drawn to the young people here at Oxford Treatment Center, ‘cause I’ve been where they are. And when I was here, everybody called me “Momma.” “Rehab mom.” It was great. Knowing that I felt like I was such a horrible mother, a lot of these kids are like, “I wish I had a mother like you.” It made me feel so good. They are getting to see a different person that my own kids didn’t get to see.
For me, I see life this way: In my past, at one point, I felt like I was in a world by myself. I felt like nobody cared, and that made me not really care about anything. Now, in the present, I’m in recovery, helping people. I’m trying to get people who are in active addiction to get help in some way. For my future, I see me and my kids living a wonderful life together.
I started drinking when I was 13. At the time, I didn’t think it was a drug. But it is. When my dad died, I started doing hard drugs. I’m close to my mom, too, but he was my go-to person. Of everything he left me, his sister took everything except his wheelchair. I have nothing that belonged to my daddy except his wheelchair. That kind of took me down.
When I was in my weak stage, I ran into a crowd of people I thought were my friends. They said they had something that would make me feel better. I didn’t care at that point. I felt like I was living in a world by myself. I started doing crack, and within one day, started doing $100 a day. Then I went to pawning stuff. Taking my husband’s stuff and pawning it. Pawning my kids’ games and Nintendos. Lying. Then it went from crack to crystal meth. I started snorting it, smoking it. Then I was introduced to pills, like Xanax, Lortab and Percocet. I snorted those and popped them.
Somebody reported me to DHS, because my water had gotten cut off, and me and my kids were living there like that. I was going to different stores and getting water from the outside, to flush the toilet with. I was too ashamed to tell my mom, and my husband worked away, so he didn’t know much about it. When he got ready to come home, I would go out and cut the water on myself, so over the weekend we would have water.
DHS came to the door, and I was getting high when they came. Something just came over me that said, “Open the door. There’s no use in still hiding.” So I opened the door. My house was just a wreck, ‘cause I had stopped cleaning. I was just focused on getting high. So when she came in, she was like, “Oh, no. This is not livable.” And she said I had to bring my kids up to the DHS office within 30 minutes to an hour. And I did that. They were dirty. I was dirty, ‘cause we didn’t have water, so we had to wash up the best way we could. They were gonna place them in foster care. I begged them to please put them in the house with my mom. They offered me treatment as a way to get them back.
I was already in the process of getting to rehab, bit I just couldn’t afford it, because a lot of rehabs don’t take my insurance. But I ended up being able to come here. The first week, I cried. I wanted to go home. I think I was going through withdrawal. I would wake up, and my bed would just be soaked with sweat.
I went on and stayed. When I got out, I started going to meetings the next day, and I’ve been going to meetings ever since. I go to 12 meetings a week. I got offered a job by one of the churches that I was going to to attend my meetings. I’ve re-enrolled in college for the fall 2016. Next week, I get my CNA license reinstated, so I can go back to work.
My husband and I separated through all this, and when I got out, he chose not to get back with me. I can understand why, ‘cause I put him through a lot. I was stealing his stuff. He would hide money, and I would find it. He hid $500 and I found it, not knowing what it was for, even though I don’t think it would have mattered. Come to find out that was the money for the kids’ Christmas. They had a poor Christmas, because of me.
“If I feel any stress coming back up, I talk about it and don’t hold it in.”
Now, my life is a lot better. On my way down here, I changed my number, so that when I got out I wouldn’t have texts and stuff from my old smoking buddies or my dope dealer. Nobody has my phone number now but immediate family. Anyone in addiction, I don’t hang with them at all.
I talk to my therapist, and if I feel any stress coming back up, I talk about it and don’t hold it in. I tell a lot of people in the meetings I go to now — new people and old people that are still having problems — I tell them once you’ve been to treatment and you’ve got everything out on the table, leave it behind. You’ll never forget it, but you don’t have to take it with you. Just leave it behind and get on with your life.
One girl had lost her father. I told her, “Write your amends to your daddy. Read ‘em off. He’ll still hear you. Let it out.” She came to the meeting and read it to all of us, crying. She’s doing a lot better now.
I’ve been a heroin addict for over 30 years. I should not be here talking to you. These scars on my arm — it’s like Jesus Christ’s hands to me. I’m here to tell a story I hope can touch another addict. Because I’ve gotten hope here at Oxford Treatment Center — just a little glimpse, and I want to open that door wider. I’m happy to be here.
Right now I’m staying in a sober living home. I’ve met some really nice people. I’m in a little town about the size of Mayberry, USA. And I love it. I put Christmas lights in front of the Baptist church last week. The people have been so nice to me. It makes me feel human again — to be able to talk to church people without them looking at you, looking at your arms.
I was brought up Pentecostal. You know, spare the rod, spoil the child? It was kind of funny, because my father was a partier: When the cat’s away, the mice will play. My mom would leave town, and then it was open game to do anything you want. You could have keg parties. There’d be women sitting on his lap. So I was very confused growing up as a child.
When I turned about 12, I tried marijuana for the first time. I thought I was on top of the world. Fast-forward a couple of years, and it was hallucinogenic drugs. The Doors was my favorite music. I tried to live like Jim Morrison. I really looked up to him. He was kind of an idol to me, to be honest about it. That’s kind of a hard person to live your life after. I hallucinated on mushrooms, acid. I was drinking, smoking pot, and started snorting coke. When I was about 16, a buddy of mine came to me: ‘You got any money?’ I went and asked my dad for money, saying it was for pizza. Then my buddy went out and scored some dope. We did some heroin together. I got real sick and threw up, but every time I threw up, I got higher and higher. I loved it. I felt very creative, almost like I did off the hallucinogens.
So I lived my life like a gypsy from 16 till about 28 — in and off of people’s couches, staying in Laundromats, putting quarters in dryers to stay warm. Didn’t really care, you know. I had my first daughter when I was 26. My girlfriend and I were tripping together, drinking together. It was a very turbulent relationship. I always promised myself I was going to be the best dad ever. You can’t do that when you’re drugging and drinking. I wasn’t there for her.
I hit my 30s, and I was drinking and using heroin, and when I would do that, I would fall out. I OD’d three times in my 30s and they brought me back; one time I had to be put on a breathing monitor. In my 40s, I OD’d twice more. They’d been putting fentanyl in the dope where I lived, a lot of fentanyl.
My brother died in February, and he was my world. I just lost it from there. I would try to go to work high — and I work 800 feet in the air, building scaffolds around Navy ships. So I was high both ways. When he died, that part of my soul was ripped out of my body. I’m sorry, I’m very emotional right now. My emotions are still raw. I never grieved over him properly. My girlfriend at the time, at my brother’s viewing she was followed me around the whole time, begging me to get dope. She followed me in the bathroom, asking for dope. Finally I said, “Get in the car. I’ll go get some dope.” So I used at my brother’s viewing.
“I was their guinea pig. I could test their dope and fall out and come back, and tell them how good their stuff is.”
I was going to NA, trying that, had a home group. I was going to NA high, apologizing at the end, because I knew it wasn’t right. When I came here, I was 46. My brother had died. We were getting that heroin with the fentanyl in it. I was falling out with needles in my arm all the time. But people would come to me to be a guinea pig. I’m a 30-year heroin addict — and that’s a good thing to them, because I can test their dope and fall out and come back, and tell them how good their stuff is. I was their guinea pig, and didn’t care. Wanted to die. A death wish.
My sister OD’d, and they brought her back with narcan. She was on the ground, lips purple as an eggplant. That’s my baby sister. If I had lost her, I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now, ‘cause I’d have taken a gun and blown my brains out. Cause I was a bad brother, for using around her. I feel very guilty about that and shameful.
This whole time I’m going to NA meetings high. All they keep telling me is, ‘Keep coming back. Keep coming back.’ So I kept coming back — but there’s going to be a time when I’m not going to be able to come back, because I’m gonna be gone.
Right before I came here, I called a non-emergency number. I had gotten the syringe drawn back to 100 units — the whole thing full of fentanyl and heroin — and I do half of it. Then 10 cops show up at the front door, calling my name. I just lost it. I said, “My brother’s dead. I no longer want to live.” I let them handcuff me. They took me straight to a psychiatric hospital. I was put on suicide watch. I kept trying to leave to go use. I was treated like an animal, pretty much — and I was probably acting like an animal. I don’t remember a whole lot of that time.
“I feel like I’ve been re-inflated.”
I was diagnosed with PTSD. I’ve been jumped numerous times, as you can see from the stitches. I just shouldn’t be here right now. God has a purpose in my life, and I feel a calling to help other addicts.
In the hospital, the social worker comes to see me. I begged her, “Please, please get me help. I don’t want to be this person anymore that I have become.” So she called American Addiction Centers, and they talked to me over the phone. I had insurance through my job. She said, “Do you mind going to Mississippi?” I said, “I need to get away from here. Please, God, send me.”
So I was sent here. At first, I came here closed-minded. You know, they do art therapy, horse therapy. I was like, what is this going to do? Then the first time I ever rode a horse — it was so beautiful to me. You have to be firm and gentle with the horses, and that teaches me how to treat people.
I can’t say I had a huge spiritual awakening. It happened gradually, over the 30 days. I feel like a totally different person today. I feel like I’ve been re-inflated. Today, I have hope — just a little sunlight poking through a closed door, and I’m ready to open it wider. I need to work around addicts, to be able to remember where I came from. But this story has a happy ending. I’m so glad to be here today. I’ve got nothing in my heart but love for people now. And I love me today. I can look in the mirror and say, “You’re an all-right guy.”