Editor’s Note: The Empire is publishing a weekly column from members of Juneau’s recovery community, in coordination with Great Bear Recovery Collective, to highlight September as National Recovery Month.
My name is William James Musser V, and I am in long-term recovery from substance use disorder.
For me, this means that I have not used drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time, 33 months. To understand why I need recovery, you first need to understand my use. I started when I was 13 years old, probably for reasons like childhood trauma, trying to fit in, and it running in my family.
As time went on, I moved onto harder and harder drugs and using more and more. I could never see it myself, but drugs were affecting my life a great deal. Subsequently I dropped out of school and got my G.E.D. and I became a felon, entering the revolving door of going to jail, getting out of jail, being put on probation, then using drugs and being put back in jail. This cycle would continue over and over again until eventually I finished my entire prison sentence and was fully released. However, I still continued to abuse drugs and alcohol.
I began creating a successful career in caregiving, and working full time. I got hurt, and was one of the many who get prescribed painkillers. These ran out and I found that I could purchase OxyContin on the streets, which quickly took control of my life. Once they stopped becoming available I switched to heroin, eventually bringing me to my knees, and about to lose everything I had worked for.
By some miracle, I sought out treatment at Lakeview Health in Jacksonville, Florida, saving my life. I went straight into sober living for six months and was taught all the different ways people were staying clean, like 12-steps, SMART Recovery, counseling, religion, community involvement, service work, sports, fitness, clubs, yoga, meditation, art classes, and much more. I’m so glad that I tried everything through that program because I got to see what tools worked for me, and was able to tailor them to my specific needs.
For the most part I’ve stuck with these same tools, but I still like to switch it up from time to time to keep myself growing. For example, I’ve got to experience the services offered by recovery communities in three different states and bring some of that knowledge back to Juneau, which could greatly benefit from their example. Here our services have not quite caught up with much of the nation. It will take quite a bit of time to get similar programs running in our community, but I truly believe Juneau is on its way to providing up-to-date recovery options. We have so many amazing people who are both in recovery from substance use disorder and those who are just supporters trying to make this happen.
Today I am in my 11th year as a caregiver for individuals with mental and physical disabilities. I’m switching careers to be a chemical dependency counselor and am currently a technician. I hold the following service positions: President of Southeast Alaska Fatherhood Alumni Association, Recovery Coach Certification from NCADD, Co-chair for Peer Support for the Juneau Reentry Coalition, 12-Step Area Service Position, and Board Member of Great Bear Recovery Collective.
It takes a community coming together to take on a challenge this big. The push continues and I encourage everyone to get involved because at some point everyone will be affected by substance use disorder. There is a lot of stigma and I hope that people open their hearts and understand that many good people are suffering because of their use, making bad choices because drugs have hijacked their brains and bodies. If they can get clean and get the help they need, then they can be amazing members of this community. To those of you who are still struggling: I can relate to what you’re going through, and I made it out, for now. Substance use disorder will be something that we recover from for our entire lives. We will never be cured. But we can stop using the things that are destroying our lives and find a new way. Many people showed me the way and we can help show you. Don’t ever give up, there is always hope.
• Jim Musser is an individual support specialist at Compass Home Care in Juneau. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.