At OneFifteen, we are working hard to reduce stigma surrounding addiction. We hope Johnathon’s story will help you understand that substance use disorder can impact anyone, any family, at any time.
Johnathon was 16 years old when he first felt the sharp pain of a back injury while working on his family’s farm in Eaton. The pain was bearable, numbed occasionally with the use of marijuana. When he was busted for smoking pot as a teenager, he got probation and a stern lecture from his probation officer who warned him that marijuana is a gateway drug. “No way weed is a gateway drug for me,” he told her, “I’ll never do heroin or crack.” Never didn’t last very long.
When John was 20, a series of farming accidents left him with back pain so severe, at times he couldn’t get out of bed for weeks on end. He sought relief from a neurologist, who prescribed him 20 mg of percocet, three times a day. The pills came with a warning that he could become addicted, but he didn’t care. John didn’t want to hurt anymore. “My spine surgeon voiced concerns about taking pain meds for so long, but in my head I thought I would be alright. It never registered how bad it could get,” remembers John.
Soon, he was taking more pills than he was prescribed, forced to turn to the street to buy oxycodone and hydrocodone when his percocet would run out. “I was pretty addicted, I was abusing them.” John quickly found that drug addiction is expensive. He started dealing pain pills to not only feed his own addiction, but to try to make ends meet. “I felt like I would always be on drugs. I wanted to do drugs. I was trying to figure out how I could, and still pay all the bills. When you’re on drugs, you don’t care if all your money goes to it,” says John.
Then, the day came when he was out of pills. His fellow dealers were out too. John was dope sick and desperate. Then a friend suggested he try heroin. “He told me it was cheaper than taking pain killers. It was the best high I’ve ever had.” At 25 years old, John was hooked.
John doesn’t talk too much about the years that followed. Only to say he overdosed ten times and was revived with Narcan each time. Three of those incidents landed him in the hospital. “I should be dead,” John says. “I was afraid to do drugs by myself. I learned to make sure someone was around who could save me. If I was home alone, I would walk outside and do drugs on the front sidewalk. That way, if I passed out, someone would find me and call for help.”
Then, the wake up call. An infection in his hip bone, caused by his drug use, landed him in a nursing home at 29. When he looked around and saw others his age in the same nursing home for the same reason, John knew he needed to make a change or he was going to die. He’s grateful he had a support system. “I am where I am right now, because my grandma and mom were so supportive, they never gave up on me.”
His family encouraged John to seek treatment. For 10 years, he had battled the demons of substance use disorder but he was ready to make a change. His wife had moved away and took their two young sons with her. He longed for a relationship with his kids and was ready to get back to work. John credits OneFifteen therapists Melissa and Chet for giving him the tools he needed to begin his path to recovery. “They helped me learn how to live sober,” says John. “It takes awhile to get your happiness back so you can feel joy. Talking about stuff helps.”
In January of 2020, John celebrated a year of sobriety. He says his regular meetings with Chet and his drug tests at OneFifteen are holding him accountable and that he is committed to never going back to a life controlled by drugs again. “I’m lucky to be alive. I know I don’t want to go back to that, it’s scary to think about all those times. If someone hadn’t been around, I may not have woken up.” John says a key to his recovery has been a steady job that gives his life meaning, and a way to pay the bills…legally.
Two years into recovery, John knows this will be a lifelong journey. But it’s one he’s looking forward to: “I want to get a factory job, get my driver’s license back, see my kids, and hang out with my nieces and nephews.” He’s learning how to manage back pain with more holistic methods, “stretching helps, hot showers help, physical therapy helped, I haven’t hurt my back in a couple of years now.”
John is looking forward, he doesn’t like to look back much. But, when he does, he has some advice for himself. “Try something other than pain meds. Get off pain meds. See your kids more. Start a retirement fund. Stay away from drugs, they are not going to make you happy.”