That first prescription pill was not the first drug Thomas had tried. He began smoking marijuana early in life, receiving his first ticket for possessing the drug at just 12 years old. His upbringing could be described as dysfunctional with his parents getting divorced very soon after his birth. Over his childhood, his parents were each remarried and divorced a number of times, providing no real stability or structure early on. His mother moved to Georgia where she stayed until Thomas was 19 or 20 years old. During that time, Thomas remained in Utah with his father, an avid member of Alcoholics Anonymous or AA.
Thomas rebelled against his father’s gung-ho AA teachings and continued to get in trouble after that first marijuana ticket. His use progressed from marijuana to prescription Percocet to OxyContin off the street. Early in his using days, he didn’t realize it was developing into an addiction. It was just partying and hanging out with friends. It was fun and he loved it, so he kept doing it. The more drugs he tried and mixed and experimented with, the more fun it was.
At 19, Thomas realized that he was in over his head. He had been selling “club” drugs and had lots of disposable income that covered his Oxy habit. He thought addiction was just weakness, that is, until he couldn’t get his drugs. He quickly found out what dope sick is, and he realized he wasn’t okay. Around this same time, it became more and more difficult to afford prescription drugs, and that is when Thomas began smoking and eventually shooting heroin.
The lifestyle Thomas had been leading came with a fair amount of trouble. He found himself in a courtroom often, and played the game of avoiding jail time by asking to be sent to rehab. By the time he really needed help, he’d used all his chances with the court. At the age of 21, Thomas went to prison for the first time. At the age of 23, he emerged from prison with no real resolve to be clean, going immediately back to using. His dad had tried his best all his life to help his son. Now, the tables were going to turn. Thomas’ father relapsed and they began using together.
It started with providing his dad with marijuana, and then cocaine and heroin. They lived together – Thomas’s dad had money and Thomas had connections – and for a while that system sustained their needs. Thomas went back to jail and stayed until he was 25. Again, he got out of jail sober, but made the conscious choice to go back to drug use.
“I could always rely on it. I didn’t have that in life before. Even if there was going to be negative consequences, I know what was going to happen. I could buy the drugs, take em, and I was going to feel decent for a minute. It was nice to have a little certainty in my life.”
After watching his dad continue down the spiral with him, Thomas experienced a moment of clarity. He saw that if his life was not going to be the best it could be with the choices he was making. What had seemed like the perfect life for an addict – off probation, money for drugs, and nothing to do except for use all day – became unsatisfying quickly. He realized that his happiness only last for a split second, a sharp spike of enjoyment, but that most of the time he simply felt bad.
In the past, neither voluntary nor court-ordered inpatient treatment had been effective, nor had abstinence-based 12 steps programs. Rationale recovery, community therapy, court-ordered probation…nothing had ever been a big enough motivator to stay clean until he saw his dad in the same situation he had once been in. That shining light provided the final push.
In 2015, with his new found clarity, Thomas reached out to his mother who had returned to Utah. He knew that if he stayed in the situation he was in, he would die. His mother invited him to live with her. She supported him as he began treatment with methadone at BAART Programs Ogden, formerly known as Metamorphosis, driving him to the clinic every day and paying for the medication and counseling. Thomas thought that he would use the methadone for detox, but learned that for him, the process would take much longer. After a relapse, Thomas began to seriously focus on his recovery and in January of 2019, he celebrated 3 years in recovery.
Unfortunately, Thomas’s father has not joined him on the road to recovery, but that hasn’t stopped Thomas from having a relationship with him. It is now Thomas who cares for his father as best he can in the way that his father had once helped him. Thomas knows the disease of addiction well having persisted in his use for at least 10 years after realizing he had a problem. That time had been spent like a snake eating his own tail, trying to stay out of jail so he could keep using, going to rehab to avoid the jail time as often as he could and then hitting the streets to begin the cycle again.
Thomas is now in a position to not only be of service to his father, but to others in recovery who might benefit from his experience. Telling his story is part of that. The possibility that someone might see hope in knowing that others have recovered is all the motivation needed to give back. Anything can work when the time is right, and a person truly wants to recover. For those not ready, the program can be difficult to see the benefit of, but when you are ready to give up an old way of life and be committed, results can be accomplished.
Thomas is now fully tapered off of his medication, a process that many fear, but that was manageable with medical supervision and support from BAART. The key is to go slow, ask for help when it’s needed and recognize when you are beginning to feel emotionally overwhelmed or on edge and pause. Now a few months after completing the taper, Thomas is seeing the continued positive effects including more balanced emotions, level-headed reactions and a clear head.
Life before had little purpose or joy, but that has all changed. Thomas has been welcomed back into the lives of friends and loved ones, being the caretaker of his mother’s home when she’s traveling throughout the winter, and becoming a leader at his job in construction. He has had a girlfriend for the last 6 months and recently got a puppy. He had always wanted a dog, and was now in a position to truly care for one as they deserve. All of these little things add up to an infinitely happier and more satisfying life. He still participates in AA, sponsors other men seeking recovery and offers support to those looking at medication-assisted treatment but fear the stigma that can sometimes accompany it.
The future is bright for Thomas. He is looking forward in a way he couldn’t before. The possibility of starting his own handyman business or even having a family is real now. Continue to take it day by day, make each right decision as it comes along, stay-focused and try to be a good person – life can be better than you ever imagined.