I’m a Marine Veteran who, in 1997, had two heart attacks, and I was in a car accident where I was rear ended. After surgeries I was prescribed stronger and stronger pain medications, and I was given fentanyl patches. I smoked marijuana off and on since I was a teenager, and I also tried cocaine prior to my surgeries. I was prescribed the fentanyl and other opiates for pain for over five years; this eventually led me to have an opiate dependency and a heroin addiction.
After several years I was tired of the ups and downs of withdrawal and tried several times to wean myself off the opiates; unfortunately, I had no success. Rehabs would not take me because of my heart problem, and supervised detox did not help me either. Finally, in 2008 I tried medication assisted treatment, Methadone worked where nothing else did. I was able to give up heroin and all other drugs; I began living a life of freedom and recovery.
After I got sober and lived clean for a few years, I began volunteering at the outpatient methadone clinic where I received my treatment as well as at my church’s recovery group. I had been living on disability due to my heart condition and was no longer able to work as a chef. It was suggested to me to become a peer specialist, and I went to go get certified. Several months after earning my Peer Specialist certification I was hired by the VA Pittsburgh Health System. I was able to get off disability and work full-time assisting and supporting my fellow Veterans who struggle as I did.
This is why I am sharing my story. I now travel around the country speaking about recovery, PTSD, and suicide prevention. I work to empower Veterans, help them navigate the VA system, and work to stamp out stigma. I provide “been there” empathy and emotional support because of my experience; I help Veterans get connected to the services they need so they can begin their own journey. I also have earned certificates as a Recovery Specialist, a wellness recovery action planner facilitator, and a community integration specialist. My suggestions for those who seek recovery is to reach out for help, make use of services and support available; don’t let stigma hold you back. We lived through addiction and mental health challenges and can help others find recovery too.