Dr. Leonard is a Doctor of Medical Science and a clinical anatomist. He achieved his bachelor’s degree in human biology from the University of Miami. He received his Master of Science in anatomy from Barry University’s School of Podiatric Medicine, he then achieved his Master of Medical Science from Nova Southeastern University, and lastly, he achieved his doctor of medical science from Lincoln Memorial University’s DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine. He has practiced in both internal and emergency medicine at the University of Florida medical system. He has published several, peer-reviewed scientific articles, as well as a medical book chapter.
Described medically as “a chronic, relapsing brain disorder,” and once described by a New York journalist as “a form of mourning for the irrecoverable glories of the first time,” drug addiction is a cruel and unforgiving conqueror, and a hard life-or-death battle, just waiting to happen. If it happens at all, that is.
All of this, of course, with one proviso – the substance addict in question has to be at the critical point where flight is no longer an option, and where they finally understand that another fix or another drink isn’t an escape – it’s just waving their white flag again. Addiction wins. Yet again. Game over.
“You can never replace it. The good news is you do learn to live without it. You miss it. You want it. You hang out with a bunch of other crazy people who feel the same way, and you live with it.” – Augusten Burroughs, U.S. author and writer of “Dry” and the bestselling memoir, “Running with Scissors”
Addiction recovery, regardless of the type of substance that has been abused, is one of the most difficult and personal journeys that may need to be accomplished in the life of anyone. However, this arduous, possibly dangerous task is normally dropped at the feet of those who have already been physically, mentally, and spiritually damaged by the disease, and who may, understandably, doubt themselves.
Yet, time and time again, stories of remarkable, against-the-odds addiction recovery will pass through our daily news feeds, our social media conversations, and other channels of communication, like this one.
All of these stories, every single one, remind us that recovery from substance addiction is not only possible, it is achievable – in a wonderfully up-close and personal way, redefining our lives and our essential selves, and changing us into a fearless and worthy opponent, ready for the struggle, one day at a time. These stories give us that one vital element – hope.
Cody Bishop was once addicted to heroin and methamphetamine and considered homeless and missing. This is Cody now, in recovery.
With their very kind permission, this article will take you briefly into the lives of several former drug addicts who have made the arduous journey towards addiction recovery, who have battled that chronic disease, the deadliest of foes, and come out the other side – not unscathed, no, but still far, far stronger than when they finally chose something other than their drug-of-choice and laid their white flag to rest.
No Mercy: Substance Addiction in the U.S.
With the dual crises of this year’s COVID-19 pandemic and the already present national opioid epidemic, the U.S. continues to see drug overdose fatalities and substance addiction rates rising across the nation.
Only last month, the American Medical Association’s Advocacy Resource Center published its latest issue brief – “Reports of Increases in Opioid- and Other Drug-Related Overdose and Other Concerns During COVID Pandemic,” which revealed “an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid- and other drug-related mortality – particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality, as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder.”
More and more drug addicts, abusers, mental health disorder sufferers, and recreational drug users are now buying their usual “self-medication” from new and unknown drug dealers (as normal supply chains continue to be disrupted by the pandemic), and with little or no idea what’s in the majority of these illicit substances.
Reports demonstrate that the highly dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl is now being routinely cut into cocaine and methamphetamine supplies, as well as the usual black market opioids, including heroin.
The U.S. Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP), using real-time overdose data from this year, has reported that suspected drug overdoses across the nation have risen almost 18% – nearly a fifth – since restrictive social distancing rules came into force around mid-March, compared to rates from January and February of 2020.
Unfortunately, all of this comes at a time when many drug rehab centers and services have been cut or diminished, either because of COVID restrictions, furloughed staff, or due to foreclosures or financial problems with the business concerned, resulting in the reduced access to addiction treatments and therapies.
No Mercy: Focus on Arizona
In Arizona, a state originally hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, which saw opioid-related deaths rise by over 75% between 2013-17, the news is just as grim. According to Dr. Cara Christ, the Arizona Department of Health Services’ director, her department have observed an increase in deaths due to suicide and drug overdose during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a news conference, held on July 16, Dr. Christ stated, “We are seeing an increase in drug overdose and in suicides, not just here in Arizona but nationally. Could some of that be associated [with] isolation and loneliness? That was one of the things that we were worried about.”
The psychological effects of isolation and loneliness on recovering addicts has been studied extensively, but the effects of such stress during a pandemic is an unyet researched topic. According to Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, national health officials believe there will be a continued increase in overdoses because of “stress, isolation, and loss of employment.”
Additional data is also being collected and collated through call numbers made to behavioral health crisis providers. One of these surveys reported that:
- 37% of Arizona crisis call centers, such as suicide hotlines, reported being overwhelmed due to the demand for their service, and
- 44% of Arizona crisis call centers reporting being overwhelmed by “clinical intensity,” ie. severe cases
One telling statistic that even preempts this year’s pandemic overdose fatality data is from the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner, who investigate deaths that may have occurred as the result of unnatural causes. In 2019, they found that 67% of the unnaturally caused deaths were due to opioid-related overdose, and 75% of those opioids were prescription opioids and fentanyl.
These frightening numbers are what drives SpringBoard Recovery, and other drug rehabs in Arizona, to demonstrate to you how important it is to have hope, to not give up, that addiction recovery is achievable, it can be yours, and that your life can be so different and so much better if you’ll just first seek and then accept the help provided.
1. Jason’s Story of Recovery from Meth Addiction
To look at a recent photograph of Jason Wickilne now, the 41-year-old West Virginia resident appears to have enjoyed a healthy and fulfilling life, and continues to do so. However, as we know, photographs are just a captured moment in time – they never tell the whole story.
Back in 2015, in the aptly-titled town of Mount Hope, WV., Jason was arrested for the clearly illicit manufacture of methamphetamine, one of the most potent and dangerous illegal drugs available. A meth addict himself, Jason feared a long spell in prison, a place he was already way too familiar with. However, as all too drug many addicts know only too well, things were about to get a whole lot worse.
Jason Wickline was once a meth addict, and, in 2015, he was arrested for manufacturing methamphetamine. In the process, Jason, a single parent, was further charged with child neglect, and he subsequently lost custody of his then 4-year-old son, Krystian.
At that point in his life, Jason was a single parent, with a 4-year-old son, Krystian. When Child Protective Services (CPS) became involved, they promptly took Krystian into their care and charged Jason with child neglect. As Jason explains, “As they were walking Krystian to the car, he turned around to look at me, and said, “Daddy, I love you, and I’ll never forget you.” He was 4 and thought he would never see me again. I was bawling my eyes out. I had no idea what was going to happen to my kid at that point.”
It was at this pivotal moment in his life, his personal rock-bottom, that Jason decided he needed to completely turn his life around. As he says himself, “I knew my life was never going to be the same again. I knew that insanity I had been living in was finally over.”
Fortunately, the judge hearing his case gave Jason a lifeline – the chance to enroll in a long-term addiction treatment program. Jason gratefully grasped the opportunity with both hands, kept his word, and stayed in the program for 13 months. Additionally, the judge gave Jason a 30-month probation period, with a couple of strict conditions – stay sober and find adequate housing.
Again, Jason kept his word.
During his addiction, he says he was nothing more than “an empty shell. I’m 5-foot-8, and I only weighed 120 pounds. I was a dead man.” However, as his more recent family photos clearly show, Jason is, indeed, a changed man. Now happily married to Shanna, he is back to where he wanted to be – being a father to Krystian, now a happy 9-year-old.
Jason Wickline: Now happily married to Shanna, Jason is back to where he wanted to be…being a father to Krystian, his happy 9-year-old son.
Jason has learned the importance of giving back to the recovery community, too. Along with his wife, Shanna, a recovery community volunteer and advocate, Jason actively helps to promote the recovery website: www.morethanaddiction.org/. A final few words from the man himself:
“Everything is so different now. I surround myself with positive people, and I try to give back whenever I can. I want people to know that this is a possibility. If I can do it, anyone can.”
2. Melissa’s Story of Recovery from Heroin Addiction
Melissa Lee Matos finally woke up on March 1, 2016, having lost 3 entire days to one her worst blackouts yet, caused by the abuse of heroin, Xanax, a powerful benzodiazepine, and the antipsychotic medication, Seroquel.
Although Melissa was in addiction treatment at the time, an outpatient program that she herself admits she was “lying and scheming my way through,” she immediately realized that she was both lost and terrified, and believed that only death could end her torment.
Fortunately, she found the desperate courage to call her mother, and finally admit that she wasn’t sober, she wasn’t in recovery, and her addiction had actually gotten worse. In Melissa’s words, “That choice, that honesty, that cry for help… It saved my life.”
In Melissa Lee Matos’ own words: “This was what I looked like, daily, for years. This is what my husband dealt with. This is what my little girls walked in on. This is what my family and friends saw, on the rare occasions I left the house. I was sick. I was dying. I was so far gone I thought I could never recover. I was so lost I couldn’t imagine a life without using. I just wanted to die.”
With the unwavering support of her family, Melissa found the real addiction recovery she thought would never be possible when she was actively using. Today, Melissa runs a recovery resource website, Operation Clean Recovery, where she is the head editor and a writer, and has a personal Facebook blog page dedicated to helping others find recovery, Recover Me.
“If you need help, please do not be afraid to ask for it. I promise you there are people who love you, that will show you the way out. You are worthy. I am forever grateful beyond words to those who stuck around and loved me until I could love myself, and who continue to support me.” – Melissa Lee Matos
3. Cody’s Story of Recovery from Heroin & Meth Addiction
If there is one thing that Cody Bishop’s story tells us, it is that addiction recovery is no easy task to achieve – it requires a hardened resolve to get where you need to be. Through the trials and tribulations of everyday life, it can be difficult to maintain that resolve, that focus, and, even when we least expect it, when we think we have it cracked, it can take everything we have. And some.
Back in October of last year, Cody’s mother, a Missouri resident, was left with no choice but to turn to Facebook in a last-ditch attempt to locate her drug-addicted son – missing, homeless, and abusing both heroin and methamphetamine. Cody had been battling against his addiction for over 7 years, since the age of 21, when his use of prescription medication led to something far, far worse.
Cody Bishop was missing and homeless, seemingly another victim of heroin and meth addiction
Her post hit home, ultimately turning viral as social media, and Cody was not only found, but reunited with his family, and helped into addiction treatment, all thanks to his mother’s unwavering love and support. Through the Facebook page Cody Bishop’s Road to Recovery, she continues to encourage people to talk about addiction even though it may be an exceptionally difficult conversation to have.
Cody is now dedicated to both his physical and mental health to keep him strong, focused and resolute during his addiction recovery.
Cody celebrated his 28th birthday only last month – happy to not just survive another year, but to be living it, too, and to be able to enjoy quality time with his daughters. As he says, “For the addicts that are out there, as soon as you have that moment where you know enough is enough, you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, reach out for help.”
4. Dejah’s Story of Recovery from Heroin & Meth Addiction
Sometimes, a Facebook post goes viral for another reason… One post that did just that was originally shared to Instagram by Dejah Hall, then 26 years old, as a way to celebrate and honor her own 4-year sobriety anniversary of the beginning of her recovery from both heroin and meth addiction.
Re-posted on Facebook by the “Love What Matters” page, her story went viral and more, as it demonstrated not only her own dramatic return to health, but, quite inspirationally, what so clearly could be achieved through a successful recovery from an addiction as powerful as intravenous heroin and meth abuse.
Dejah Hall’s original Instagram images to celebrate her 4-year sobriety anniversary
[left: Dejah’s arrest photo; right: Dejah in 2016, 4 years into her recovery from heroin and meth addiction]
Dejah struggled with addiction from the ages of 17 to 22 years, beginning with prescription pain killing medications, which, in turn, led to heroin, and then meth. Her rock-bottom came the day she visited her grandfather, “I started crying after I told my grandfather that I loved him. He told me I was hurting him.” Dejah went into the bathroom, locked the door, and did the only thing she could – she prayed to God, “If you’re real, I really need you to save me.”
Her prayers were answered. Within 2 hours, she had been arrested on outstanding felony warrants, and, with her grandfather and her answered prayer to God as her motivation, she spent the next 2-3 weeks in county jail, going through withdrawal – without medication. As she says, “It was hell, but I am still alive.”
Dejah, now a busy mom and pictured here in a more recent photo, has some sound advice for those who are suffering from addiction: “[They] are stronger than any substance. Get to NA or AA, get a sponsor, and work your Steps. Everyday, I thank God that I am not where I once was. Sobriety is possible.”
“In truth, most addicts find relief the moment they stop hiding. The moment they publicly admit they have a problem. For most high-functioning addicts, the moment they realize there’s a God and it’s not them, relief floods into their tortured hearts.” – Ana B. Good, U.S. writer and author of “The Big Sugarbush”
5. Brent & Ashley’s Story of Recovery from Meth Addiction
Our last story of addiction recovery is not just one story, but two. Last last year, just before Christmas, Brent and Ashley Walker celebrated their 3-year joint sobriety anniversary early by posting their own “before-and-after” addiction recovery photos.
The couple, from Tennessee, whose joint sobriety date is December 31, 2016, relied on their faith in each other, and their shared faith in God, to help them to overcome addiction to methamphetamine.
Having met in 2010 during a marijuana deal, and seeing each other off-and-on for several years, their own personal lives came to a head when Ashley lost custody of her children. Just released from another jail-term, Brent gave her an ultimatum – “Get clean with me, or leave.” The rest, as they say…
In 2019, Brent and Ashley Walker shared the above images to their social media accounts as a way of celebrating their 3-year sobriety anniversary, and as an inspiration to currently active drug addicts that addiction recovery and a fulfilling sober life was possible.
Brent and Ashley, now a certified nursing assistant, were married in January 2017, and are now approaching 4 years of successful recovery. Many people continue to share and comment on that original Facebook post. As Brent himself laughingly points out, one comment now says, “Ashley looks so different now – glad she got rid of that guy in the picture!”
The pair were more than happy to participate in this article, and with exactly the same reason for doing so as their original viral post – “We have been clean and sober and living for God. I hope that [the] transformation can encourage [an] addict somewhere. It is possible to recover. If it helps just one person, then it’ll be worth it.”
After Drug Addiction: Health Improvements
The overall physical toll endured by the body as a result of long-term substance addiction is dependent upon a number of variable factors, such as the particular substance(s) involved, the quantity normally consumed, the frequency of use, the length of time the user has been clinically addicted, and, to a lesser degree, the user’s family genetics, and whether they are male or female.
Each substance will affect certain physical areas or functions of the body, eg. opioids, either prescription or heroin, can weaken lung function, and vastly increase the likelihood of abscesses, infections, and even tuberculosis, and methamphetamines are particularly harmful to the user’s brain and central nervous system.
“If you want to know what humanity can accomplish, drive to the airport. Until about 100 years ago, every human being was stuck on the ground.” – Paul Komarek, U.S. social issues consultant and author of “SHARP Stop Heroin and Rescue People: A Workbook for Communities”
However, after recovery from substance addiction, many people still have the ability to regain an incredible and healthy quality of life. The brain is an extremely resilient organ and will begin to create new neural connections once the addict has stopped using.
Although damage to the body’s vital organs can be dangerous, the body’s natural resilience means there is a strong likelihood of internal organs recovering to near pre-addiction levels. For example, in the case of recovering alcoholics, the liver will have been scarred to some degree, but, as long as this scarring does not severely disrupt liver function, new cells can still develop, regenerating the organ, once the alcohol abuse stops.
Physical Transformations: The Older, But Newer You
Potent and harmful drugs such as those which feature in the previous recovery stories, ie. heroin, and meth, can have drastic effects upon the human body, and, in particular, the addict’s physical appearance. Widespread damage is often seen in these addicts’ overall facial appearance because the drugs will cause dramatic deterioration in their skin, their eyes, their hair, and their teeth.
Therefore, one of the most visible signs of new-found health and wellbeing for recovering addicts will be the clear improvement in their facial appearance. For the recovering addict themselves, looking in the mirror first thing in the morning, studying how different and transformed they look compared to their addicted days, can act as a powerful and continuing motivation for their sobriety.
The facial sores and abscesses that often resembled large, gaping wounds have now healed, leaving clearer, smoother skin – no longer with the typical grey, sallow appearance, but brighter and warmer-looking.
The excess, baggy skin under the eyes no longer exacerbates the cheek cavities – the area under the eyes has now filled out with proper nutrition and hydration. The eyes themselves are no longer bloodshot, with a glassy appearance, but are far clearer and brighter. That whole gaunt, addicted look is now a thing of the past.
Family and close friends will see these remarkable changes as clearly as the recovering addict. They’ll also notice that their loved one no longer appears to be the sad, isolated, unsure, and worried individual of the past – they’ll see the older, hopefully, wiser, but definitely newer-looking loved one, transformed through recovery, with a happy demeanor and new joy of life.
“You are Worthy”: Let SpringBoard Recovery Help You Find Your Recovery
If you’re struggling with substance addiction, we understand that the challenges of recovery are very real, they’re intimidating, and you’ll need help to get through. At Springboard Recovery, our passion is to help you lead a balanced, healthy, and fulfilling life once again. We believe there is so much more to sobriety than just stopping the addiction. We prioritize holistic wellness, so we can help get you healthy from the inside out.
We know that taking the first steps to addiction recovery can be scary and lonely. We’re here to help every step of the way. All you have to do is decide you’re ready to stop this life of addiction and begin a new life – one full of hope and purpose. Contact us today and let us help you to do so.
This article would not have been possible without the kind and generous cooperation of those featured in these real-life addiction recovery stories – Melissa, Dejah, Jason, Cody, and Brent. Each of these recovering addicts was happy to offer access to both the details of their individual story and their social media photos.
Their respective reasons for doing so were absolutely identical across the board – to demonstrate that, even with the hardest of addictions to conquer, namely heroin and meth, you must never, ever give up hope, because recovery is possible. Recovery is always possible.
- Google Books: https://books.google.com.co/books?id=Jtl22vJHVlkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Running+With+Scissors&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjfmZq61afsAhWN1VkKHVVKDJAQ6AEwAHoECAYQAg#v=onepage&q=Running%20With%20Scissors&f=false
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CodyBishopRoadToRecovery/
- American Medical Association: https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2020-12/issue-brief-increases-in-opioid-related-overdose.pdf
- U.S. Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program: https://www.odmap.org/Content/docs/training/general-info/ODMAP-Fact-Sheet.pdf
- Arizona Department of Health Services: https://www.azdhs.gov/
- Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner: https://www.maricopa.gov/5079/Overdose-Deaths
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jason.wickline.9/
- More than Addiction: https://www.morethanaddiction.org/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melissa.leematos/
- Operation Clean Recovery: https://operationcleanrecovery.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CodyBishopRoadToRecovery/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dejah.dimartino/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brent.walker.1694/