A PATH TO RECOVERY
My name is John and I’m so honored to share my story with you.
As I tell my story, I’m celebrating 10 months of being sober. It took a long time to get here too.
I am the youngest of 5 boys. I grew up in a small town in Ohio, about 5,000 people small. When you grow up in a small town, there isn’t much to do. Everyone drank for fun, so I did. I started when I was 14. I was good at drinking and the life of the party. By 17, I was a full-blown alcoholic and dabbling in drugs.
I was a lot to handle for my mom. She raised us boys on her own. I was no easier than my older brothers. When I was 16, I came home from school early because I was hungover. When I got home, I saw my mom’s things were all packed and my things weren’t. She was leaving me.
That afternoon, she left me alone in our apartment to fend for myself. I had to grow up pretty fast. I stayed in the apartment as long as I could. I worked at night so I could pay the bills.
A few years later, I met my wife. At the time I was the guy everyone wanted to party with. I think that’s why she liked me. When she got pregnant with our son, I quit drinking. I didn’t want to be like my father, who kept me on a barstool at our local VFW. I didn’t want that life for my son.
I was sober for seven years, for both of my sons. I also lost a lot of friends. Since I wasn’t partying anymore, and focused on my family, I just didn’t see them anymore. I had a good job and things were good. Until they weren’t.
One day, my wife took my boys and left me. I was heartbroken. I’ll always wonder if she left because I wasn’t the life of the party anymore.
I went back to my old routine being the life of the party. It was really easy. All my friends were still partying and I picked up right where I left off. I continued drinking and using.
In fact, my whole life became drinking and using, crashing on friend’s couches and staying wherever I could. My town was so small if someone found you on the side of the street, they knew who you were and they would get you somewhere to stay. It took a long time for me to understand I was homeless.
A few years later, I was talking with my mom. I never blamed her for leaving me, I was a lot to handle. Besides, I’ve always wanted a closer relationship with her. She was living in Sandusky and asked me to come live with her. I felt like this was an opportunity for change, so I moved.
Things didn’t go exactly as I planned.
When I was staying with my mom, I met my second wife. I knew the second I saw her I wanted to be with her. Every day I hoped she’d notice me. One day she finally did. And I was thrilled.
Around the same time, my mom was being moved into a nursing home. And I was faced with a hard choice. I couldn’t stay where my mom was living. My options were to go home to nothing, or to swallow my pride, admit I was homeless and go to Crossroads.
I didn’t want to go to Crossroads, but I had nowhere else to go. The woman I was interested in was living at Crossroads in the family shelter. So I thought I’d move into Crossroads, and I could be with her.
Thirty-three days after we met, we were married. I know you are thinking that’s fast. Everyone told us it was fast. But I wanted to take care of her and her kids. I loved her.
For a short while, we lived at Crossroads. I remember watching the other families move into new homes. I also remember thinking, how come they get a house first? That’s not fair, we’re a family and we need a house too!
But I was missing the point.
I was drinking and using and so was she. We’d lie and tell the staff at VOA Crossroads what they needed to hear. And we’d be angry we didn’t have a house for our family. We didn’t own up to what we needed to do. Eventually, we did get a house. It was rent-free, or subsidized housing, and the only thing we needed to do was focus on our well-being and our children.
But looking back, we didn’t really do anything to better ourselves. In fact, the only reason I would occasionally work was to pay for our pain pills. Buying pain pills on the street is really expensive. When I found out heroine was cheaper, we tried it.
Here’s the thing about heroin. It works. It was cheap. And it’s available. I was pain-free. Completely. But, even using just a little heroine leads to using a little more. And a little more using leads to needing more. And the more you need it, the more you depend on it until you reach the point where you can’t stop, or you’ll get sick.
I was trapped by the disease of addiction.
Believe me, I was feeling awful about myself. I wasn’t a man. I wasn’t providing for my family. I just couldn’t stop.
Before my son’s second birthday, Child Protective Services came and took my son and her children. To kill the pain of this, I used more, and what happens next gets pretty blurry.
Because the housing we were living in was for families we were forced out. No kids, no family housing. We were homeless … again and we were addicted. We slept on park benches, in the woods, at hotels, or wherever we could find a spot. I felt so low watching my wife sleep in awful places. I felt terrible because I wasn’t taking care of her. This went on for a while.
We were in and out of Crossroads. I have no idea how many times we were there because I was using so much. Each time we’d go, we’d tell them we were going to change. We lied. I feel awful about it. They knew we were lying and told us over and over because we were lying, we weren’t getting better.
I should mention, that during this time my son was formally adopted. My heart was broken again. Not much later, my wife and I overdosed on a bad batch of heroin. I was so bad, they had to give me several doses of Narcan to save my life. We both quit heroin right then and there.
And returned to Crossroads … again.
This time, we agreed to work on the program and stop lying. They always told us “Lying isn’t going to get you anywhere.” It began to sink in… When we stopped lying and got clean things began to change. VOA helped me find a job and a home for us.
I wish the story ended here.
It was nearing the end of my probation period at my new job and I got sick, missed work, and lost my new job. To make everything worse, after 6 years of marriage, my wife left me. She kissed me goodbye, told me she loved me and left.
I was crushed.
I went right back to using. Not heroin. I gave that up when I overdosed and I don’t ever want to go back to it. I drank and took other drugs and stayed in my apartment. I stayed in my apartment as long as I possibly could.
I was trapped by drugs, alcohol, and my mind. I didn’t know what to do. My life was not working. Everything felt dark. I felt so alone.
I’m sure you know where I ended up. I was at Crossroads again. I knew I let them down again. But the VOA staff didn’t give up on me. Not one time. And this time, I knew I couldn’t let them down.
I gave up the drugs and the drinking … and this time I listened. They were helping me.
When they needed to find me, if you found Todd, I’d be right there with him. Todd is the maintenance person who keeps Crossroads clean and makes the place feel good for us. I wanted to do that too. Todd taught me how to do things and he helped me feel useful again. I am so grateful to Todd.
And, also the program director for VOA Recovery Housing. She told me she saw something special in me and she knew I would be okay if I moved into Recovery Housing. That was this past October.
Every day, the staff took my hand and helped me. The program director told me I only needed to worry about my recovery, and all the other worries I had could wait. She is more than a program director, she’s my friend and my guide and I can always depend on her.
With VOA’s help, I got a maintenance job and I like it. After my first 12 days, I got a raise and am always thanked for my hard work. Every day I make the building look nice, just like Todd did for us. I feel appreciated and needed.
Most importantly, I’m discovering my own strengths. I feel stronger when I am helping others. I am living in a safe place and surrounded by a new family, who understands and helps me.
Today I am officially drug and alcohol free for 10 months. I am in recovery.
I’m feeling better every day. I finally have a sense of not having to worry about tomorrow. I take it one day at a time. It’s scary for me to be here with you today. But I wanted to do this. I had to do this for everything Volunteers of America has done for me. I’m so grateful for all the help I’ve been given along the way, from the Volunteers of America and my community.
Finally, I want to say thank you to all of the staff at VOA.