OCEAN CITY — While it’s one thing to accept that heroin has become a difficult problem in this region, it’s much harder for the average person to understand the long journey that former addicts must embark on to both get and stay sober.
The “one day at a time” mantra that almost every addict has uttered at one time or another can often be looked at as cliché or somewhat simple, but when you sit down and talk with a former addict about restoring the damaged brain chemistry that heroin inflicted or repairing the all the damage that their addiction levied on their families and friends, you start to see the sheer size of the proverbial hole that addicts often find themselves in.
Yet, while it’s easy to look at the growing numbers of overdose deaths or addiction cases and be alarmed by the statistics, the trickier and more nuanced narrative is the one that exists for the addicts who are taking the steps toward sobriety.
This week’s “Curing Our Coast” series focuses on recovery and how two local men are navigating toward the ultimate goal of living free of opioids and heroin and how they have dedicated their lives to staying on the straight and narrow.
Wes Bresnahan, 25, admits that he thinks about relapsing and overdosing on heroin all day long. The visuals flash in his head “almost every single hour” and send a shiver of fear down his spine as he sits in his cell at Brockbridge Correctional Facility near Jessup.
“I realize now that where I’m at is a life or death situation,” says Bresnahan. “I’ve learned to finally tell the truth and be brutally honest with myself and with everyone else. I have to stay clean this time.”
This “last chance” type of attitude was taken another step further in recent weeks as Bresnahan, who was up for release from prison, told the parole board that he didn’t feel that he was ready to go back into society without treatment for his addiction.
“Look, prison sucks and the harsh realities of living here each and every day are first and foremost awful,” he said during a phone conversation. “Of course, I want to get out of here, but I want to stay clean and the consequences are getting worse and worse for me. So, I know I wasn’t ready to get out.”
His mother, Jackie Ball, who is also one of the founding members of the Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction, says her son’s decision to stay in jail in order to seek proper treatment was a big moment in his journey toward sobriety.
“To me, I think he realizes that he needs help to stay clean when he gets out of jail,” she said.
Now, Bresnahan will stay in jail until he’s granted an “8505,” which is when the judge rules that drug treatment is necessary and he will be assigned a bed for long-term treatment.
Now, it’s a bit of a careful waiting game and not just because Bresnahan has to wait in jail until a treatment bed becomes available. It’s also because he turns 26 in October and will now longer be able to be on his mother’s insurance plan.
If he is granted the “8505” and he gets into a long-term treatment plan for his addiction, the state would likely foot the bill, but if not, further treatment will fall squarely on his incarcerated shoulders.
Yet, for as much as he hates prison, Bresnahan realizes the importance of getting his sobriety right this time around.
“Addiction is a disease of the mind, so I have to focus on being honest and truthful to myself every day and I can’t get caught up replaying all of my failures in my head,” said Bresnahan. “I want to create a whole new identity for myself, and I know the person that I can be. I just want to start anew as a sober person.”
The only thing Kevin asks to withhold when speaking about his opiate addiction is his last name. The strongest thing he’s consumed for the past seven and a half years is coffee, and over several cups of it in a local café, he discussed his foray into the dark world of drug addiction and his almost eight-year journey to a time when he can unequivocally admit that he is truly happy.
“I was a garbage can head, meaning I’d do just about anything,” said Kevin. “Alcohol was my first love and that led me to uppers and eventually to crack cocaine in the 1990’s. That was the epidemic then. I had snorted heroin a few times, but my opiate addiction really began when my mother was diagnosed with bone cancer.”
To cope with his mother’s illness, Kevin would steal the very pills prescribed to help ease her pain in her cancer battle.
“It’s amazing how you remember things like this, but I remember the first time I took one of her pills,” he said. “I think it was 10 or 20 mg oxycotin and when I took it, the feeling I had was pure ecstasy. I can picture exactly where I was when I took it and it all changed for me right then. Three days later, when I went back to California, I ran back in the house and took as many pills as I could and snuck them on the airplane.”
By the next time he returned to his Salisbury home, Kevin’s opiate addiction had gotten so bad that his mother refused to take the drugs that were prescribed to her to help ease her excruciating bone cancer pain.
“She said, ‘I won’t take them anymore. I don’t want to end up like my son,’” he remembers.
Kevin’s mother never saw him get clean, but he says he’s repaired the relationship with his father in his years of being sober and he’s active in a 12-step fellowship program and often willingly takes the role of helping others face and overcome their demons. He’s an open book about his addiction, especially to young people in the community who often come to him in confidence when they feel they are slipping into a bad place.
For some, Kevin is the friendly former neighborhood addict who not only survived, but came back better and stronger and is now trying to help others not fall into the same abyss of addiction that he did.
“You have to be truly ready to get clean,” said Kevin. “Nobody can help you until you are ready to help yourself. I remember the day I decided that I was going to get clean. My whole journey through addiction was trying to chase the feeling of the first hit again. Now, in my journey of sobriety, I’m not chasing anything but my own happiness, and I can tell you honestly, I’m happier than I’ve been in a really long time.”