Athletics, Addiction, and Recovery in Appalachia

I am a true believer that my struggle has given me a quality of empathy and compassion I never even knew existed. Today, I am grateful for who I am!

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So, anyone who is well informed on the opioid crisis and substance abuse problems in the United States has surely heard of Huntington, West Virginia, right?

So, anyone who is well informed on the opioid crisis and substance abuse problems in the United States has surely heard of Huntington, West Virginia, right? Well, I am a 32 year old product of this environment.

I grew up in a family that worked very hard to support me in all the best ways they could. As a child, I flourished in athletics, especially basketball and baseball. I had straight As on all my report cards until high school along with zero disciplinary problems. I played on nationally ranked AAU basketball teams and got to travel the whole east coast. I had many friends. My family, including myself, were well respected in our community.

From this list of contributions, who would have thought I would have ended up in treatment eight times, two trips to detox in mental institutions, and to many to count other attempts at detoxing? There are a few things I failed to mention: the long line of substance abuse history in my family. The early exposure to alcohol and drugs. The regional and societal factors that showed me substances weren’t as bad as those, “this is your brain on drugs” commercials.

I am a citizen of a region targeted and exploited by Big Pharma. I’m part of a population oppressed by others. And last, but not leastly, I didn’t mention when I was around fourteen years old, I totally lost my personal identity, and slowly over many years feel into a black hole of low self worth, self esteem, negative stigma, criticism, and just plan bitterness towards the world. Actually, fun fact, my tenth grade math teacher told me once and I quote, “You are the most cynical person I have ever met.”

At 14, I started using drugs, and I found a new identity. Where I am from, if you have drugs on the street, you can control other people. Also at this time, I was still involved in sports and my reputation carried me through a lot of problems that a “normal” person would have been punished differently. I am man enough today to admit that. Some call it God’s grace and mercy. I call it favoritism. Either way, I still ended up spending my early twenties until my thirties heavily addicted to prescription pain pills, alcohol, and eventually heroin. At the end, I also struggled with crack and methamphetamine.

Over the years, I have been in and out of state funded treatment facilities. I have previously put together substantial amounts of time in recovery, but roughly a year and a half ago I had a recurrence of use. Now, I am approaching three months again.

During my period of abstinence, I regained employment, engaged in healthy relationships, created a good standing in my community, and achieved the Dean’s list. So, I ask myself after gaining all of that, why did I choose to basically destroy my “entire” life that I built coming from a treatment center in Richmond, Virginia that also serves as a homeless shelter? Your guess is as good as mine.

My turning point came on the day I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself, “You are so much more than this.” I continued to tell myself this until my face flooded with tears and I felt an unusual feeling of safety inside my entire being. It wasn’t a voice inside my head, but more like a truth spoken from and to my very being with reassurance of my own spirit’s capability to conquer this illness. I left treatment the next day and have continued to tell myself every morning those same words I feel were spoken to me that evening.

I am a true believer that my struggle has giving me a quality of empathy and compassion I never even knew existed. Today, I am grateful for who I am! I am currently employed at an outpatient rehabilitation program. I will start school in April for Substance Abuse Counselor, and fight for all the suffering addicts and alcoholics who felt just as hopeless and empty as I have previously. I have a beautiful girlfriend that runs Sober Living for Woman. I have healthy friendships with numerous people in my community. I have a best friend who has stuck by me through my darkest times and was the most influential person in helping me regain my own worth and self respect.

To be honest, I could go on and on about the blessings I have in such a short time, but honestly I have dinner to cook and need to spend time with my number one supporter, Nichole.

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