Travis’ trials and triumph

By on July 12, 2017

This is one story in a series on addiction written by Janice Ballenger, who works at Retreat at Lancaster County, a 175-bed inpatient addiction center in Ephrata. She has a burning passion to raise awareness and offer hope to those in active addiction and recovery, as well as to their families and friends through true, local stories.

The debate rages on as to whether Narcan is truly a miracle for those in addiction or a “get out of jail free” card. Many people are angered because they feel that addicts made the choice to have their disease, whereas the cancer or anaphylactic patient generally had no choice. One thing is certain: our opiate/heroin crisis is not getting any better. We need to accept the fact that being an addict is not a crime in itself. Some feel mandatory treatment for addicts saved by Narcan should be implemented. That theory comes with obstacles. Who will pay for treatment? Most addicts don’t have insurance.

I read about young children, infants, and even pets overdosing by accidental ingestion of heroin. Most of them were saved by Narcan. I am grateful for that.

I am proud of the people that I know who were brought back to life by Narcan and are now in recovery and thriving. One person in particular, Travis Arnold, has a story as inspiring as he is. On his Facebook page he wrote, “Work for a cause, not applause. Live life to express, not impress.” Travis also has a permanent, hanging “TO DO” list on which he wrote, “Trust God. Clean House. Help Others.”

Here is Travis’ story, in his own words:

Born and raised in Mechanicsburg, I had a good early upbringing. My mother owns a day spa and is a consultant. My father is a senior executive in a technical firm. They are some of the strongest, most caring people that I know. They always made certain my older brother, who is a veteran and works as a defense contractor, and I never wanted for anything. My father taught me a lot about cars, sales and marketing, and the normal father/son things.

Despite a loving home, I lost interest in nearly everything, especially school. I took a Nerf gun to school for show and tell and shot at my classmates. I thought it was funny, but no one else did, and I came close to being expelled in kindergarten. Being kicked off of the bus had no impact on me. For a reason unknown to me, I just didn’t care.

My first date with drugs was at the age of 13. I dabbled in alcohol and marijuana, as it was the in thing to do. Drugs became a daily habit in my life. Playing hockey in high school, while smoking pot, allowed me to give the appearance of a somewhat normal hippie. I graduated, but by the skin of my teeth. I was awarded my diploma but was not allowed to walk on stage to collect it as I was a sub-par student to put it mildly. Following graduation I started taking opioids and doing heroin. My parents had tried every type of punishment that they could, but to no avail. I think they knew that my addiction had escalated, but they were afraid to know the truth. For eight years I put my family through relentless misery. I stole from them and pawned everything. I lied. I didn’t care. I only cared about my next fix.

They sent me to several rehabs and at one point I was clean for nearly one and a half years. Then I relapsed and was back out on the streets. I never considered myself homeless as I could always find a car to sleep in or go couch surfing. At one point I was living in a beautiful condo with another addict but my life was totally centered on drugs. My drug use went from being a part of my life to becoming my lifestyle. I tried saying no to drugs but they didn’t listen. I spent an entire day crouched on the floor, holding a flashlight and picking through the filthy, green shag carpet, searching for the specks of crack that I was convinced I had dropped.

I had overdosed two or three times, but one night was different. EMTs saved my life with Narcan. After receiving the Narcan, I went into anaphylactic shock. The doctor had to use an Epi-Pen at that point to again save me. When I woke up they told me I should have gone to meet my maker. I realized that the next time I might end up pushing daisies. I left, grateful, but within one week I was back using again. My last overdose made me realize that the next time I might not make it. It just clicked. As I left the hospital my tears morphed into worried thoughts of death and dying. Having experienced many “small deaths,” I wasn’t ready for the real deal. Out of desperation and tired of hurting the people that I loved most, I knew I had to do something differently. As I entered another rehab, this time it was different. With an open mind and a desire to change, I accepted the fact that I don’t need to go up the whole staircase at one time, but I could take one step at a time. Many times a step was painful, but my greatest pain became my greatest strength. It petrified me when I laid in my rehab bed trying to focus on happy memories, and some of my memories smelled like heroin!

This facility was very structured and provided constant monitoring during my detox. After detox I transitioned into rehab. Becoming involved in many of their elective programs made me realize I would begin recovery as I had done with drugs, out of necessity. Then it became a habit, and now I live clean because I want to.

Doing activities and therapy sessions that I enjoyed validated my soul. During a session called “Be Happy” I read a sentence, “You know you’re an addict when you misplace things … like an entire decade.” I started laughing, and it hit me. I could laugh and enjoy things without drugs! Learning to connect with sober people gave me the boost I needed.

I knew that when I left rehab I had to change my behavioral patterns. Remaining committed to change is difficult. Armed with an outpatient program and a list of NA meetings, I was ready for my new, sober life. Although each new sober habit meant relatively little on its own, over time, they had an enormous impact on my health and happiness. Moving into a recovery house in Lancaster, I had nothing left but my ambition. After finding a relationship with God, I mended my relationships with my family. Today we are once again a very close-knit family. My family no longer lives waiting for that dreaded phone call. They are so grateful, and so am I.

Landing a job as an outreach coordinator at a local treatment center reinforced my desire to help addicts on a different level. This position provides me with a lot of direct patient interaction. I had found value in my deep, destructive journey as I am able to understand other addicts’ apprehension. Today I serve my community. I have accepted that I will be in recovery for the rest of my life. On June 19, 2017, I posted on Facebook, “What a fantastic day to be alive! I am overwhelmingly grateful for days like this. A lovely day today in PA. Life is good. If you’re struggling, please reach out. Life doesn’t have to be that way.”

Overdosing was never in my plans during my active use. Never! I am grateful that Narcan saved me so that today I can be a hope dealer.

My words of advice to addicts are: “What is it going to take for you to get help? You are not alone in this. You don’t need to live like that anymore. Don’t give up before the miracle happens! Never lose hope. But please reach out and get help.”

Janice may be contacted at janiceballenger@yahoo.com.

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