Former Drug Users Share Their Stories At VHS
Valley High School students received an important lesson in drug prevention Thursday as Brandi Murray of the Wetzel County Coalition Against Drug Abuse, Mike Koontz of the Wetzel County Sheriff’s Office, and three very vital guests teamed up to talk about the dangers of drug addiction and the struggles encountered even after addiction.
“I grew up in Littleton,” Chief Deputy Koontz began. “I have seen people abuse drugs in their life. I can give you statistics and tell you stories.” However, Koontz stated noted that some of the students would probably think, “That old man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“I’m older than you and I probably don’t relate to a what a lot of you experience today,” he admitted. “I thought we could bring people here that experience these things.”
Koontz noted that the three individuals “are addicted to drugs” and “started out sitting where you sit today.”
“They are currently in the process, the ongoing process, of staying off of drugs. They are here to tell you their stories.”
Devon was the first to speak to the group. “I’m a recovering addict,” he admitted. “I live a lot better life than what I used to.”
Devon started abusing drugs in the seventh or eighth grade. “I started smoking pot and drinking beer. I wanted to be one of the popular kids in school,” he said. “I hit high school and started hanging out with older kids and was introduced to pills. That’s been the problem for the last seven years of my life. I’ve been addicted to pills, opiates. I’ve been to jail. I’ve lost relationships with my family.
“I pretty much hit rock bottom before I realized I was an addict,” Devon stated.
“When I was your guys’ age, sitting here, I’d probably be high right now. I never got the picture. I just thought it was something I’d choose to do, something that wouldn’t hurt me.”
“It landed me in three rehab centers. I was arrested in four different states in 2013 on charges. You know . . . it’s not fun to go to jail not knowing if your cell mate is a murderer. I spent six months, thought it would change me. It changed me for a while. I had given up on those old friends that used drugs. However, I started hanging out with them and then I started using again.
“it’s a battle,” Devon noted. “I’m not proud to be an addict.
“I’m thankful for the drug court program,” Devon offered. “It teaches me how and what to do, so I don’t use anymore. It’s just . . . I don’t wish it on anybody. It’s real, and it will definitely ruin your life . . . I don’t think there’s one drug in this world you can control,” Devon noted. “I don’t care if people think weed is just weed. It’ll lead to something else.”
Devon noted that he was an All-State wrestler in high school, with scholarship opportunities. “I threw it away,” he noted. “I got runner-up in the state. I had all this athletic ability, and I just ruined it over drugs.
“I robbed my grandmother over a year ago because of my drug habit,” Devon stated. “Someone offered to take me in after my mother died. Someone that offered to help me, I robbed her just to get high.”
“I’m lucky to be standing here,” Devon admitted. “It’s very real, and it’s very dangerous. I never thought when I picked up drugs, the danger in it. You’ve got to think about it. You have got to think about what one pill might do. I took my first pill and I was addicted. It’s seven years down the road, and I still fight.”
“I don’t wish someone to live like that,” Devon stated. “It’s not fun, and it’s not the cool thing to do . . . It’s a touchy subject,” he noted, becoming emotional.
“I’m a felon now,” another speaker, Chelsea, stated to students. “I have a three-year-old, and he is amazing. He’s a great little boy.
“Whenever I was in high school, I started using drugs,” Chelsea said. “I think maybe marijuana was the first drug I used. Everyone says it is a gateway drug, and it really is.
“People say addiction is a choice,” Chelsea added. “It kind of really is. You make that choice to pick up whatever it is that you are doing. You make that choice.
“I believe there are two types of people,” she added. “Some have that addictive personality and some people don’t. I have that addictive personality . . . You just make that choice, and you can’t put it down. It ruins your life.
“I did drugs throughout high school. I was accepted in college,” Chelsea stated. “I considered myself a pretty good student. I was accepted into a couple of colleges. I made the choice to go party instead of go to college.
“You need to go to college,” Chelsea urged students. “Do whatever it is you want to do. Just don’t do drugs.
“I was 21 when I had my son. I wasn’t using then,” she noted. “I considered myself a great mother for about five months of his life, and then I started using again.
“I started doing heroin, then my mom had my son all the time. I feel like I never had him. It’s so sad. It really is. It’s so sad. It’s completely different now. He’ll never leave my side.
“I’m very fortunate that he’s so young,” she added. “I’ll never forget that . . . what I’ve done.
“It’s heartbreaking to think that I was more concerned about doing drugs,” Chelsea stated, nothing that she used to look at drug users and think, “How can these mothers do that? How can they do that to their poor kid? How can they be so selfish?”
“Now I’ve been clean and sober for two-and-a-half years,” Chelsea noted. “I couldn’t imagine leaving him.
“Addiction is a horrible thing. It consumes your life. You don’t have family. I was never around my family. I was always out running around. You have that guilt, that shame. You always feel it . . . I have a job. I have horses. I have my son. I have a house. I have so much going for myself right now. It can all get taken away. All I have to do is make that decision to pick up drugs again.
“Now that I have a clear mind and a clear conscience, I don’t understand why I did that, why I did those things. I don’t get it. It just takes that one time. They say that one beer, one joint . . . I was thinking ‘Oh whatever. It won’t matter.’ It did matter.
“You know,” Chelsea noted, “I feel like in a way I did kind of ruin my life, but I’m bringing it back . . . It takes a long time to be a nice member of society. It takes a long time to get back to that. It’s just, you know, I didn’t have anyone forcing me to get clean and sober. I was a rare case. I made a decision that day. It was the best decision I ever made, besides my son . . . He’s the best thing God has ever given me.
“I’m thankful for my mom, that she had my son. Had I had him with me . . . could you imagine? Your son would be gone in a second. You probably wouldn’t get him back. You could get in trouble for having him with you, being in jail . . . to think that could’ve been me.
“I’m thankful for my life,” Chelsea noted. “I’m a felon though. You can’t be a teacher, a cop, can’t go to the military. You can’t do anything like that . . . I’m going to college, but it’s going to cost a lot more for getting help,” she noted, stating that one cannot get financial aid assistance if they are a felon.
Koontz noted that Chelsea made the comment that no one forced her to get clean and sober. “No one can force them. That’s a choice they all had to make on their own. Even if someone suggested it, you can’t force them.”
Kimberly spoke next to the students, stating that she, too, was a convicted felon. “I think it started with drinking with friends, smoking pot, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. I moved from that to doing meth-amphetamines, to doing Xanax. It ended with me with a needle in my arm, doing heroin . . . and luckily jail and a treatment program opposed to death.
“I never thought I could get hooked. I thought I could put it down any given time, but it wasn’t like that. It got ahold of me, and it got ahold of me quick. It was so powerful. Nothing mattered. Nothing at all mattered. My family didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. All I cared about was getting my fix.
“It was like dying, in every worst way possible. You get hot and cold sweats. You are sick. You can’t sleep . . . I don’t think I slept for a week at some times. It was awful.”
“I lost many friends,” Kimberly noted. “I’m not talking about acquaintances. A true friend is going to want the best for you and themselves. I lost them because they tried to get me help.”
“I started drugs because I wanted to be cool and fit in. I thought it would be fun. It helped relieve some of the pain of underlying issues in life instead of dealing with them like I should have.
“It made it 30 times worse,” Kimberly noted. She added that she wrote thousands of dollars worth of bad checks in a matter of months to afford drugs. “Once I became a junkie, I fell out of the circle of family and friends . . Once I became a full-time junkie with no job, out to get a fix, I would lie and steal and cheat-whatever I had to do.
“I recall my mom hiding her purse . . . She had cancer. I would steal her prescription pills. I was taking from her something she really needed. She was about to lose her life, and I didn’t care.”
Kimberly noted there were a few times she tried to get clean on her own. “I even went as far as staying out in the country. I made it a week-and-a-half, was practically through it . . . I got that one phone call and jumped up and ran and went and started the cycle all over again.
“I went from going to school and college, only having a year-and-a-half left. I’m not in school anymore. I had my own house, my own car. I had all of that.
“When I finally accepted the treatment program, once I went to jail. . . it was almost a relief to where I could have a life again.”
Kimberly noted that after about two months in jail, she began to regain her sense of smell and was able to think clearly. “You don’t realize how much you lose when yo are addicted to drugs. It’s almost overwhelming to a point.”
Kimberly noted she got out of jail and into the drug court program but she “was scared.” “It was a change and fear of the unknown,” she noted. “I know it was for good, for something good. I didn’t know how to get new friends. I didn’t have friends. I was scared. I didn’t have a job. I almost felt worthless.” She noted she relapsed twice. “After the second relapse, I thought ‘I don’t want this anymore.'”
Kimberly noted that now she doesn’t give herself too much downtime. “I got a job and met a bunch of new people. I met people in my life now that don’t do drugs. It was a change for me. Addiction is a challenge and so is recovery. I had to learn how to get honest again.
“I’m still making amends for that. I will from here on out, and I probably will for the rest of my life.
“Some may accept my apology and some may not,” Kimberly noted. “That’s something I’m going to have to live with. I can tell you, the challenge I thought going through recovery is . . . it’s a whole lot less than what I had to deal with when living on the streets.”
Kimberly noted that there are things she will have to explain to her niece, who visited her once when she was in prison. “She couldn’t understand why I was behind that glass . . . That’s one of the hardest things I had to deal with.”
She added that when going through her addiction, her mom would beg and plead with her to stop. “She didn’t want to have to wake up one day and find her daughter is at the morgue somewhere . . . But you know what? I remember at one point in time, I was in her bathroom and was shooting dope. I told her that if I die, just chuck me outside.
“She was already struggling,” Kimberly noted of her statements to her mother. “And she’s scared she’s going to lose me, and I throw it in her face even more.
“I have three jobs now,” Kimberly stated. “I am a recovering addict and I take it one day at a time. I could fall out anytime.
“I am willing to help anybody who is going to help themselves. You have got to help yourself first . . . In this new life, I’ve accomplished a lot in a year. I graduated drug court in December. I have my own place to live. I still have to go to meetings. I still have to come see people like you guys, because that’s what keeps me strong. I don’t want to see you turn into anything like that. I want you to keep in mind, that you have potential.”
At the conclusion of the presentation, Koontz noted that all three speakers were there “voluntarily.”
“They all wanted to share with you their stories and how they ended up becoming addicted to drugs . . . We all have our preconceived notions about how drugs addicts end up becoming drug addicts. It’s not always what we think. One of these people said that they started out drinking beer and maybe smoking a little marijuana. That’s not an uncommon path to addiction and to more serious drugs. I think we should respect all these people for coming here and standing in front of all of you, to talk about the things they go through. You have to be a special kind of person to do that.”
“I want to reiterate that it takes a lot of courage to stand up here in front of you all,” Murray noted. “They will live with addiction the rest of their lives. They may never pick up another substance again, but they have to deal with the addiction. They will forever be an addict. You can prevent that from ever happening to yourselves, if you stay away from the substances from the very beginning.”
“I can give you numerous cases of individuals, around your age, the very first time they picked up a substance was the very last time, because they overdosed the first time . . . or they dealt with it so long, they killed them. I hope you walk away with something these people shared with you.”
That afternoon the special visitors at VHS moved on to Short Line School to present a similar program to students there.
“We are fortunate to have law enforcement officials in Wetzel County that recognize the issues we face in the county and take action towards addressing the drug issue,” Superintendent Dennis Albright noted of the collaborative effort between WCCADA and WCSO. “These presentations present a realistic picture of the effects of drugs on individuals and the course of their life. Hopefully there is a positive effect on students hearing these presentations.”