In an effort to show that heroin can be stopped and addicts aren’t alone, one local recovering addict shared his endeavors toward remaining sober after six-and-a-half years of drug abuse, and offered advice on how others can do the same.
Josh Shadley, 25, of Good Hope, is currently a recovering heroin user who recently sat down with the Record-Herald to share his recovery testimony in the hope that current addicts or recovering addicts can find solace in his story.
Shadley said he was a delinquent as a teenager when he moved out of his grandparents’ home with his mom. According to Shadley, his mom let him do whatever he wanted, including staying out as long as he wanted and he took advantage of that. It was during this time he fell in with some new people and would stay out until 1 or 2 a.m. every night drinking. This alcohol abuse led to smoking marijuana which, he said, eventually led into more potent and deadly drugs, like pain pills.
“The opioid addiction started with pain pills,” Shadley said. “Of course throughout this time I never thought I was addicted. I didn’t realize that until I tried to stop. After I lost the pain pill connection we had, I started doing heroin. I snorted it and only injected drugs one time, that was not my thing, just a few months before I went to rehab.”
Shadley said that as a heroin addict, the drug makes the user crave it and simply described it as very intense and hard to explain or fight. He said he tried numerous times to stop doing heroin, and after a month or two without it, the cravings got worse and worse.
“It was like I would be cool for a couple months, then I would see or hear about it and I would go do it,” Shadley said. “It just triggers something in your head that makes you go do dope. It wasn’t that I wanted it, it was my mind telling me I needed it. I knew I didn’t, but I listened to those fake needs, listened to my brain telling me what it thought I needed.”
Shadley said he first started realizing he was addicted when he started taking stuff from people and taking advantage of people. It was then, “I realized I was in this pretty deep and I needed to get out.” After his first time going to jail, he said he really wanted to stop then but couldn’t, and continued in his addiction, ending up in jail numerous other times. Shadley described going to jail as a vacation, saying it was fun and he would be able to hang out with people there, but it quickly got old.
Shadley will be celebrating a year of sobriety on Nov. 16 and had a smile on his face as he remarked, “Almost a beautiful year.” For him, the first few months of recovery were not so bad, but he said he must remain diligent as a recovering addict.
“Honestly, the last few months have been the most difficult,” Shadley said. “In the very beginning you go through the honeymoon stage. Oh I am clean, I am better, nothing can bring me down. Then you run into a wall. I didn’t hit that wall until a couple months ago. There has been a lot of health issues in the family and they have just been dragging me down a little bit. As I stress and it peaks, I find myself wanting to use. Thankfully though my recent cravings have not been for heroin, but for weed, because that was always my main coping thing. If I was stressed out, aggravated or whatever, I would smoke, and with recent stress that has been what I want to do, smoke or drink. Being the addict I am, I know that I can’t do either because it will take me straight back where I was before. I know all it takes is one mess up and I will hit the road running.”
Shadley said he has a great support system in place. It can be stressful sometimes, but as a recovering addict he works on it. He said using the tools gained through sobriety, the stress can be easy to cope with. He suggested that those in early recovery make sure they get those tools from counselors or others recovering.
“I go to Fayette Recovery and those people have done so much for me that it is off the chain,” Shadley said. “Without my counselor, I probably would have messed up. But I go in there and talk to him and he will say things like, ‘You really want to come here and tell me that you, a recovering heroin addict, relapsed on marijuana?’ He reaffirms the things I have learned and tells me how it is. He shows me that I am better than that and he really is a good dude that does a lot for me.”
The goal Shadley has set for himself is to remain sober for the remainder of his life. This is something he wants not only for himself, but for his family. He said that his grandma never got to see him sober and one of the biggest things she did was try to get him off heroin. She remains one of his biggest influences to stay drug-free. He said he also does it for his son and for his partner, because without them he said he was much worse off. Without them, he said he did not have a care and his life turned into how much heroin he could do that day.
“When she and I started communicating again to figure things out, I said, ‘Alright maybe I need to go talk to my probation officer,’ and I got put on the Vivitrol shot,” Shadley said. “It is definitely a life-changer and a life-saver. The shot….you get it once a month and it helps to kill cravings. For some people it works and for others it does not, but I think it has a lot to do with your mindset. Because there are people who go get it and a month later they are out using heroin again because they don’t think it works. For me, I went and got it and three days later I didn’t even think about heroin. It wasn’t on my mind, pain pills weren’t on my mind and I had no cravings for drugs at all. It was weird to me because I was sitting around bored, I wasn’t chasing heroin and I had nothing to do. It was a weird change and it happened so fast. Within a few days I was a totally different person and I had to change the people I hung out with or even spoke to. A lot of sobriety is changing your surroundings. You can’t be sober and hang out with active heroin addicts because it makes it even harder to not return to that life.”
Vivitrol, with its active ingredient naltrexone, works as a “blocker.” It attaches to certain opioid receptors in the brain and blocks the pleasurable feelings associated with taking opioids. Even though Vivitrol may block the intense high from opioids, it does not prevent good feelings that come from other naturally pleasurable activities. After you get a dose of Vivitrol, its blocking effect slowly decreases and completely goes away over time.
“I have a little brother who is on the shot now and he is doing good, but when he was an active user my mom would give him heroin because she did not want to see him sick or let him suffer,” Shadley said. “That was something I tried to explain to her after I got clean. I told her that if she continued to do that, he would end up in the ground. She was going to literally love him to death because she did not want to see him suffer. I know it can be hard, especially when you see it, but when I saw my brother dealing with it, I did not give him any money or buy him drugs because I knew that it was not helping him. If he wanted cigarettes, I went and got them for him. I knew five dollars is only five dollars from being ‘well,’ and I wanted to see him recover, not just end up ‘not sick.’”
Shadley ended his testimony with a bit of advice for recovering addicts, suggesting they take life one day at a time. He said that if they get too far ahead, they will find themselves right back where they were.