After hitting rock bottom, five local residents have confronted their addictions and rebounded to turn their lives around.

The latest participants to graduate from the Conasauga Circuit Drug Court program — Ryan, Michale, Bruce, Jason and Billy — celebrated their recovery at the 82nd Graduation Ceremony held April 22 at Edwards Park and also televised via Zoom.

Ryan said he had been an addict for 15 years, in and out of jails, detention centers and prison “countless times” before he finally hit rock bottom, using pills and meth every single day. “I needed help this time and I was finally open minded and willing to accept it,” he admitted. “I wanted my life back.”

The first step, he said, was dealing with his feelings of shame, guilt, resentment and regret brought on by the consequences of his chronic substance abuse.

“I had to change almost everything about myself. My thought process, my self-awareness and most of all my people, places and things. Without these changes I would have never been capable of loving myself or finding recovery.”

Michale had been an addict even longer, close to 30 years, going to prison twice and jail many times. In June 2018, he was caught with nearly 20 grams of meth. “While I was in jail,” he said, “I got to thinking about all the people I had hurt. I thought about all the time I had wasted with drugs. At that point I realized that I had a problem, and I did need help with it. I wanted to change my life, but I didn’t know how to start.”

That’s when he heard about Drug Court, learning that it was an accountability program and that if he wasn’t truly ready to change his life, the program wouldn’t work.

“Well, I was ready to change my life because doing it my way wasn’t working,” he said.

Bruce came to the program through a different route, having never been exposed to addiction in his family.

“I had parents that loved me and worked hard together to make sure me and my brother had everything we needed,” he said. “Parents that instilled strong morals in us and a father that showed me how to be a true man. Parents who made sure we were in church so we could be brought up in the happiest life possible that was pleasing to our Father in heaven.”

For 20 years, however, Bruce said he went through ups and downs with his addiction, landing in jail for six months when he finally realized he wanted help.

“I wanted something different,” he said. “I wanted to learn about my disease and how to control it. So, Walter Eddy (an assistant district attorney) suggested Drug Court. I went back to my cell and pleaded with God and asked him to give me this because I wanted to be a better son and a better father to my girls.”

Billy said he was a slave to his addiction for 27 years, and in 2018, he accumulated four cases in three counties, tallying 14 felonies and six misdemeanors.

After eight months in jail, he wrote a two-page letter asking to enter Drug Court, admitting he was “an addict, liar, thief, a cheat and a control freak who manipulated everyone and everything in my way of getting high. I was the epitome of obsessive compulsive and total self-centeredness.”

Like so many other Drug Court participants, Billy realized that “my best thinking landed me here and maybe I should start taking suggestions” from the Drug Court staff. “I finally surrendered and admitted my powerlessness,” he said.

He said he learned how to nurture and love his inner child, to come to terms with his past and gain acceptance of all the things he can’t change, to admit the wisdom of following the rules, to set goals for himself and achieve them by breaking them down in smaller goals, and to be a good, loving father to his children and the son his mother needed and deserved.

Jason said he faced many challenges as he entered Drug Court.

“For the first few months I was really tempted to go out and use because nearly my whole life I had used drugs to escape my feelings and to avoid reality and responsibility,” he said.

During the first two phases of the five-phase program, Jason said he had his mind set on just doing what he had to do to get through it.

“But when I got into phase three, something changed in me,” he said. “I had a spiritual awakening. My way of thinking had totally changed. I started participating more in group, and I started applying the things that I learned in my classes into my everyday life.”

Like his fellow graduates, Jason has turned his life around now, with the help of God and the Drug Court staff.

“I’ve been working at Shaw for almost two years, and I am the third shift leader at Plant DJ. I invest 8% of my check into my 401(k) every week, I pay all of my bills on time, and my property taxes are caught up. I’m also going to be buying a new house in just a few months. I have a lot of new friends who don’t use drugs and I have a very good support group.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Drug Court program, call (706) 281-4811.

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