“There are only two things I don’t like. Change, and the way things are,” says 27-year-old Trevor. “I wanted things to be different, but I didn’t know what different looked like – I didn’t even know where to start. So I always ended up picking up the first drink again, and even though I knew it always ended up bringing me to bad things, at least for a little while I felt OK.”
Trevor and several siblings grew up in Mount Pleasant with aunts, uncles and cousins living close by. Dad was an executive with the office overlooking historic downtown and mom took care of the kids and the house. During the week the adults always had cocktail hour after work, after dinner drinks and the weekend activities always involved drinking. “It was the norm – I thought that was how everyone lived,” Trevor said.
Football was the highlight at Bishop England and there was some talk with The Citadel about a sports scholarship. But the drinking and drug scene had taken its hold, and college just seemed like too much work. “I found work in the food and beverage business, and there was a party every night. It kept taking more alcohol to get the same effect, and the longer you drink the more uncomfortable you are without it. The next thing I know high school classmates were graduating college and starting careers and families. That gave me even more to feel inadequate about,” Trevor shared.
“At age 24 I had two DUIs in short order and was no longer welcome at my parents’ house. I went to a rehab in Georgia for two months to get the heat off, and sure enough they let me come back. The day I left rehab I was drinking again,” Trevor continued.
“My parents thought that I should learn a trade, so I went to work for a local plumber. He needed a chauffeur because he had lost his license from DUIs. He ran his business from a bar, and in no time I was cracking open the first beer of the day when I picked him up at 8 a.m. in the morning. That lasted a year until I got another DUI and lost my license again. Kicked out of the house, again, I went from friend’s house to friend’s house getting odd jobs where I could; never welcome anywhere for long. Then came the day that alcohol just wasn’t strong enough to make me feel OK with me anymore and I started into the drug scene. I was spinning downward quickly, and out of desperation I decided to try a rehab again,” Trevor said.
“Meanwhile my dad had gone to a rehab and was staying sober in a 12-step program. Being sober was painful — I didn’t think I could stay sober long on the streets. But after leaving rehab, my dad introduced me to a man who was renovating a house to be a sober living facility. I moved into the house and started helping with the renovations. I had never taken care of myself. I had to learn to do my laundry, to cook for myself, to do dishes and to clean up after myself. I didn’t like the structure, but I respected the man and saw him living a happy and productive life.
He introduced me to Raymond, a local contractor with many years sober, and I started helping with kitchen remodeling. When they saw I was sober and working well, a local group called The Phoenix Project bought me the tools I needed to start doing jobs on my own. The next thing I know a year has passed and I am still sober. And I want to be sober. These men have shown me how to live an honorable life, how to help others and how to resolve problems so that I don’t feel the need to drink just to feel OK,” Trevor continued.
In a week’s time, last month, Trevor celebrated a year clean and sober and buried his first cousin who died of an overdose. “Her life track was almost identical to mine,” Trevor said. “We went to the same schools, had the same family of origin, and just over a year ago I ‘graduated’ from alcohol too – I was starting to take the harder drugs. But something happened for me – some people who understood where I was and who I respected enough to trust and listen to put themselves out for me. They tell me ‘no’ when I need to hear no, and they call me on it when I am acting out on old behaviors. They understand me because they have been where I was, and what they have become is what I aspire to be. I have no doubt that were it not for them the family would have been burying me too.”
I meet Raymond, Trevor’s employer at an out-of-the-way warehouse that serves not only as office and shop, but a sort of community gathering place. Raymond has those smiling eyes and shows a genuine interest in how you are and what is going on in your life. After a couple of attempts to turn the conversation away from me, I get Ray to talk about what he is doing.
It turns out Ray has 17 years sober himself and employs numerous men that are staying sober after long bouts with addiction. “Working with guys trying to stay sober is what helps me stay sober” Ray said. “I have been given steady work and it has given me the opportunity to hire some guys that have the same malady that I have that manifests itself in the mind, body and soul. I have come to understand that we can’t stay sober by ourselves. Trevor came to work for us new in sobriety. You could tell he wanted to learn and be a productive member of the team. He has done well and has moved himself into a leadership role. His self-esteem has grown. He has learned how to be honest and take ownership for his work. When we start drinking and using drugs we are stuck in our adolescence; when we get sober we start to mature again. I have witnessed this in Trevor and other men. We have become comfortable with ourselves and the world around us. We are finally free.”
“In this workplace we have created a sober community where we are accountable to each other. Our rule on the job is if you come to work drinking you no longer have a job. In the rare instance that someone relapses off the job we all offer them the support and direction they need. As employer, I have had the privilege of meeting and spending time with their families but I have also seen the pain that this disease causes families. Just in the last two years one had a daughter die from an overdose, another has a daughter imprisoned and most recently Trevor’s cousin overdosed and died. But I also get to see the jubilation brought about by victory over this disease. Together we get through it all and we stay sober. As long as I am in business there will always be a place here for the Trevor’s that want to improve their lives. I can only hope that other employers follow suit,” Ray added.
What a great thing that there are folks like Ray helping others along. I am heading off to interview a woman who has turned her opiate addiction into a career helping others for next week and feel good enough to get some of that sweet potato mustard on a few dogs at Jack’s Cosmic Dogs along the way. Have a Merry Christmas all.
The purpose of this series is to educate the community about addiction in general and the Opioid Crisis that is affecting communities nationwide. We are hopeful that this series will make a difference locally. When appropriate the names will be changed of those the articles feature. Contact the author at David@PhoenixSC.org.