Clayton’s Story: Hope in the Face of a Drug Epidemic
Our country is experiencing a drug epidemic. 100 people die a day from drug overdoses. Heroin is taking out entire cities. People are becoming hopelessly addicted to painkillers. Meth labs are everywhere.
But all is not lost. There is hope. There is healing. Today we are sharing with you a story of one of our friends, a graduate – and now recovery coach at Spring to Life, Clayton.
Clayton’s story is one of devastation and destruction but also hope and inspiration. This may mirror your life. This may mirror the life of your loved one. We want you to know that addiction can be treated and a fulfilling life can be had. Clayton is proof. Read on.
What is your background? How did you start doing drugs or drinking?
My addiction actually started long before I ever even knew anything about drugs. Where I grew up in Kentucky, kids are allowed to begin kindergarten at four years old if their birthday falls in a certain timeframe. So I started school early. Even at that age, I felt insecure being the youngest and the smallest in the class. I was already trying to seek acceptance at a young age.
By the time I was in second grade, I learned that I could be cool by doing stuff the other kids were afraid to do. I’d jump off things, climb things and say things the others wouldn’t. I did everything I could to impress the other kids at it worked. I made friends. I prided myself on doing things better than them. Even though I appeared to be brave on the outside, I was still the same insecure kid on the inside.
By middle school, I realized I had to do more to impress people – and whoever got a girlfriend was the cool kid. So I was always trying to surpass my friends on how far I could go with a girl. It gave me a sense of acceptance.
After middle school is when I started drinking heavily. I found that liquor stores didn’t really care about my age as long as I was going in there to spend $200 or more. So I became the go-to guy if my friends wanted alcohol or wanted a place to party. I became two-face: I was a good kid in the sense I went to church and school, and I had started my own lawn-mowing business by the time I was nine – and made good money doing it, paying my own way for everything. But I was also drinking heavily and partying.
What happened after that?
In high school, I never felt obligated to obey authority, my coach, my teachers or my parents. I had always done everything on my own. By my senior year, I was drinking before school and after school – and no one could really punish me because I had bought my own car, paid my own insurance, and had enough money to pack up and leave home if I got kicked out. Growing up in a small town, of course the police knew that we were partying and drinking on my family’s property – but as long as we didn’t drive, we never got into any trouble.
My senior year, I started dating a girl who was several years younger than me. Neither of our parents liked us dating – which I think in a sense fueled our relationship. We were having sex at a young age, and even though she was my first love, it wasn’t a good relationship. I think in a way, she wanted to be like me. She wanted to be cool, she had an older boyfriend who was able to get alcohol and she partied. I should’ve been a better person for her to look up to – but I just wanted to drink and party.
Her father and I used to get into arguments, and one night he dotted my eyes and busted my chin. Her mom took our side when the police were called. Her parents eventually got a divorce – and I still put a lot of that on myself. I should have seen the damage I was doing, but I didn’t.
How did your addiction progress?
After I graduated high school, my girlfriend ended up leaving me. I started drinking even more heavily, smoking more pot, and doing my best to mask the pain. I moved out of my parents house, thinking they would worry less – but in fact it was the opposite. I had a complete lifestyle change: I didn’t put on a front anymore. I quit going to church and stopped hanging out with my more reasonable friends.
I ended up going to the doctor and getting prescription painkillers. Taking opiates, I felt invincible: I could work longer and accomplish more. I made new friends – the kid that supported my drug use. I had girls over every night and didn’t treat them as people – just a means to getting what I wanted. I surrounded myself with people who didn’t care about me, and I didn’t really care about their welfare either.
My business deteriorated the more painkillers I took, and the more I fell behind in work, the more drugs I took. I could never catch up, and I spun further into debt.
How did you first get into treatment?
The first time I went to treatment, I was 22. It was a 30 day, 12-step type program in Florida. To be honest, it didn’t do any good. I was there for 30 days and the only thing I really learned was how to do drugs better. I did a Suboxone taper while I was there, and continued it when I got home.
At home, I had a sense that I was getting everything under control while being on Suboxone. I thought it was the cure – that I would just have to stay on it the rest of my life. Well, it was just the same lifestyle and a different drug. I went back to smoking weed and drinking.
What happened after that?
Around that time, I had a buddy that went on a week-long methamphetamine binge and shot himself in the head. When he died, we all had our suspicions: we couldn’t believe he shot himself. So I went to his place and saw the blood and the bullets for myself. It’s one of those things I wish i had never seen.
But he also left a video that explained why he committed suicide.
After seeing all of that, I swore off meth right then and there.
I straightened up for a little while. I worked on my relationship with my dad and things seem to be on the mend. He had always been a good leader in our family and taking us to church, I just hadn’t followed him.
How did your addiction continue?
I ended up going back to treatment at the same rehab facility I went to the first time – but this time for 60 days, and then a halfway house afterwards. From there, I got an apartment with some of the guys I graduated with. One week in, my roommate started shooting heroin. I had never used a needle before, but one day after a long day of work, he had one ready for me.
After about a month, we started running out of money – and one night, I shared a needle with him. It was the only time I ever shared a needle in my life.
Shortly after, I moved back home and moved in with my parents. About a month later, I went to the doctor and told him about my drug use. My blood tests came back positive for Hepatitis C. It should’ve been an eye-opener, but instead it gave me a hopeless feeling.
After that, I had a really bad run. I was stealing, getting drugs, and had no desire to live. I had a lifelong disease and no point to live. So I was just going to keep going until something killed me.
My mom started researching Hepatitis C and found there was an experimental new drug at the Mayo Clinic. I didn’t want to go – I rarely wanted to leave the house for more than one day because I was afraid of running out of drugs. But I went.
It was worse than any withdrawal or detox I had ever been through. I felt so weak, but when I was done with it – my Hepatitis C was cured. It should’ve been a hope for a second chance, but I went right back to drugs.
How did your drug addiction continue to progress?
It was late January or early February when one morning I left my house. There was black ice on the roads and as I went to make a turn, I went fender to fender with a car coming the other way. I don’t remember much about the wreck, but when I woke up, my truck had flipped and twisted. I don’t know how I got out of the truck, but I was able to crawl out. When I got down to the road, I saw the other car in a ditch. I had had a little bit of EMT training before, so I went up to the vehicle to help.
I got up to him and put my right hand on him to lift his head and stabilize his breathing, and use my left hand to dial 9-1-1. As I was pressing with my right hand, I realized my palm was sinking further than it should have – and that the entire life side of his skull had been crushed.
It felt like forever before EMS arrived – but we were both rushed to the ER. At the time, I wasn’t as worried about the man next to me dying as I was about the tests coming back with drugs in my system. I had used the night before and I knew a positive drug test would mean charges of involuntary manslaughter.
I don’t understand why I was able to get out of that wreck with no cuts, no bruises or anything. The only blood I had was his blood on my hand from when I tried to stabilize his breathing.
I was a no-good drug addict and he was a preacher from the Methodist Church. I couldn’t understand why he died when the good in his life far outweighed any of the good in mine.
At the hospital, my blood work came back clean. Again, I don’t know how that happened because I had used the night before – and in reality, I should be in prison.
I felt like I shouldn’t have lived.
That’s when I turned to methamphetamine – the one drug that I had sworn off. But it was the only thing I knew to keep me from thinking as much. It worked for a little while, but I was completely crashing out.
How did you get into Spring to Life?
By that point, my mom and dad were not going to help me anymore – after paying for rehab the two previous times.
I don’t know how my mom found the Addiction Campuses website, but if she hadn’t I would probably be dead.
I sold all of my business equipment to come to treatment – which was an incredibly difficult decision; I didn’t know life without my business. But I gave it all up and sold everything. It was the first time I had ever really sacrificed anything, and I think that’s what helped me to focus.
When I first got there, it took me a while to detox and get everything out. By the second month, I started to find my freedom from addiction through God and Jesus Christ. Before that, I had always thought I had to get high to live – but there, I was reassured in my faith in God. It took me a while to get to that point.
Life now is so much better. I’m a 27 year old intern – which isn’t exactly much to brag about after having my own business. But it’s such a far step about where I was a year ago. It’s a freedom I wouldn’t trade for anything.
What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself while in treatment?
There are people out there who have been successful through faith based treatment. I had always been told that in order to change, I needed to change on the outside. But at Spring to Life, I learned to change what was inside; I learned I don’t have to be someone else – that I’m good enough.
What is life like now in recovery?
It’s still overwhelming to me. It’s like hitting the lottery – it doesn’t sink in for a while.
I always thought my life was just going to be one way, and instead it’s completely renewed. The things I thought would make me happy, like drugs, money, cars, women – they don’t even begin to compare to the freedom from addiction. None of those things will save me.
What keeps you sober each day?
God has given me this gift of a new life, and I want to share it with the men in this program. That’s my job and my purpose now. I want to bring hope. That’s what keeps me going.
What would you tell someone about Spring to Life?
One night, I snuck out of Spring to Life to buy a bottle of Listerine to drink. When I got back, I thought I’d be kicked out of the program. I was reprimanded, but I wasn’t kick out. Instead, the showed me forgiveness and grace. They showed me that we all slip up and it doesn’t mean we have to go back to square one. I learned so much from this experience and all of the guys here.
What would you tell someone who is maybe walking a similar path that you did?
There’s no shame in what you’ve done and there’s no sense in living in the past. Once you admit what is going on in your life, you don’t have to be ashamed. Holding onto shame is what will hold you back. There is help and you can restore your life.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
You know, my family had given up on me. By the time I went to treatment, we were no longer talking. We didn’t speak while I was there. But now, they fully support me. My dad calls me for advice on things. My sister calls me sometimes just to tell me that she loves me. It overwhelms me that they do that and that they have forgiven me. It’s really a great thing.