John’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’s not lost. There is hope. There is healing. Today we are sharing with you a story of one of our friends and new coworker, and a graduate of our Texas campus The Treehouse, John.

John’s story is one of consequences and pain, 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.  John is proof. Read on.

What is your background? When did you start using?

My addiction road began with a car accident in 2000. The accident killed my friend – and resulted in a lower leg amputation for me. I had 14 surgeries between 2000 and 2001, when they performed the amputation.

That’s when my painkiller addiction began – on top of alcohol. More substances were added in on top of that. I was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall. This spurred 10 years of undiagnosed PTSD.

What happened after that?

I graduated with a Master’s Degree in counseling from San Diego State, thinking that I’d help other people. I realized I was so far into my addiction, that I couldn’t help others when I hadn’t even helped myself.

After I graduated grad school, I had an opportunity to work on a TV show. Newly married, I moved to one of the best places for an addicted person – Hollywood. I did acting and stunts and served as an amputee technical consultant for film projects. All along, I was using and heavily addicted. I couldn’t admit that I needed help. My wife and other loved ones tried to talk to me, but I ignored them – thinking my problems would somehow, someday level out and magically go away.

How did your addiction progress?

In 2008, I found my brother dead from a cocaine overdose. He wasn’t just my sibling, he was my best friend. I had to kick in the door to his place to find him.

After that, my wife and I moved here to Tennessee to raise our family. I thought the geographical change might help, but it only made it worse.

I was working for a well-known company. I was drinking and taking various prescription pills to cope with my fear, anxiety and chronic pain. One day, CEO brought me into his office and told me, “You obviously need help. I can’t help you in the way that you need it. But I can let you go so you can find that help.” I was fired.

For the first time in my life, I had to be honest. I called my wife and told her, “I need help. I just got fired, and I need help.”

How did you get into The Treehouse?

I went to several treatment centers before going to The Treehouse, trying to sort through my trauma and establish my footing in the real world. I was emotionally checked out for so long – it was a struggle.

After my third time in treatment, I relapsed again and wound up in the hospital after taking large amount of Klonopin for the anxiety of my ongoing nerve pain in my leg. Somehow, Amber, Addiction Campuses’ Director of Alumni Relations was at that same hospital for something else. I don’t know how, but God worked it out and she spoke with my wife.  My wife called Addiction Campuses that night – and by the next day, I was on a plane to The Treehouse.

It was good not to have that time to think about it. I really had no choice. My marriage was in trouble, I was in pain, and I was emotionally beat down once again.

What was it like once you got into The Treehouse?

When I got to The Treehouse, I was so welcomed. In comparison to the other treatment centers I had been, what really stood out was how I was treated like family. Real family. Two days after I got there, the entire staff knew me by name – counselors, coaches, everyone. It was impressive!

What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself at The Treehouse?

I learned the importance of being available and sober for my family. While I was at The Treehouse, my wife and I had some conversations about divorce. It set in how permanent addiction could make things for my family. The counselors at The Treehouse helped me walk through that difficult time, and encouraged me to take care of what I could take care of. I felt so supported and accepted, even when I was emotionally broken and scared, and I learned that it’s ok to have those emotions and fears.

What is one thing that stood out to you at The Treehouse?

One thing that really stood out to me at The Treehouse was the recovery coaches. They were unique to the other treatment centers I had been to. There was always someone available to talk to, vent to, cry to – and they truly cared. It was so helpful to spew my problems and feel like I was being heard.

Also, to know that the CEO of the campus, Vinnie, had 25-30 years of experience in treating trauma. He was so devoted to helping us better understand our traumas. I was able to set up a one-on-one meeting with him and walk through the timeline of my life, and he helped me identify things that I never knew impacted me.

What have you been doing since completing treatment?

After graduating from The Treehouse, I knew I had to be a part of this organization. I connected with Amber, the woman who met me at the hospital. I wanted to work or volunteer in anyway possible. I walked into Addiction Campuses with my resume and interviewed for a position. I’m now working as a Strategic Partnership Manager and working with hospitals and other behavioral health services to help others like me get the help they need.

What keeps you going each day?

I just got a new sponsor – one who challenges me in ways I haven’t been challenged. As an addict with PTSD, anxiety and depression, it’s easy to shy away from challenges, and it has to be managed. My new sponsor really challenges me to identify and connect with my emotions and feelings, not just my circumstances.

Also, my family. I want to be available and present for them.

And finally, I’m doing it for myself. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life – I’ve acted alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, I’m an inventor, and I’m an amputee triathlete – but this is one thing I haven’t conquered. My disease tells me not to talk about it, but I’ve found myself being able to have the difficult conversations that I had shied away from in the past. I’ve surrounded myself with the right people, and I’m entrenched in it.

What would you tell someone who can identify with your story?

No matter where you are at, just get started. Start somewhere. It’s ok to not be ok – just don’t put off getting help. I’ve been there, and I know it’s so easy to want to get everything together, arranged in a certain way before getting help. But you can’t wait – you just have to do it.

You need to deal with the underlying issues of addiction, and there’s a place where they care and listen.

What would you say about addressing mental health?

Mental health is a huge animal. It was so easy to talk about my amputation. Physical pain and physical obstacles are so much easier than mental pain and mental obstacles. I’ve been skydiving, wakeboarding, skiing, I’ve done crossfit. But addressing the mental health side is the biggest struggle.

How has your family healed since completing treatment?

My family is far from healed – but that’s ok. Time takes time and things don’t fix themselves overnight. It’s an ongoing process and we’re still working towards it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

One of the hardest things for me to work on was my ego. Addiction can stem around ego. It was so nice at The Treehouse because they wouldn’t let me get away with lying to myself or feeding my ego. I have excuses, valid reasons to live in addiction – but The Treehouse didn’t accept excuses. Instead, they encouraged and supported me to look deeper into the issues.


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