A local man has permanent nerve damage in his leg because of his drug use, a condition he’s hoping will push him toward permanent recovery.
He overdosed on heroin earlier this year, was revived by bystanders and dropped off at his home. Then, he lay on his kitchen floor for hours with his right heels pressed under his left side. Given how skinny he had become, his heel compressed his sciatic nerve. Now he’s walking with crutches.
“It’s a direct correlation from me using. If I’d never used that day, I wouldn’t have the damage,” said Cory, who asked that his last name not be used because of the stigma surrounding drug use.
Cory has spent years going through periods of recovery followed by relapse.
“I get real down on myself because I’m a smart person and I feel like I should be able to overcome this,” he said.
Cory started using heroin at 18 and ended up in Oneida County Drug Court, graduating in 2005 and staying sober for almost six years during which time he got a job, married and had kids. He relapsed after a divorce and has been in and out of treatment ever since.
He’s currently a resident of the Addiction Stabilization Center at the Rescue Mission of Utica. He’s hoping the nerve damage will motivate him to stay in recovery. But he’s scared that it won’t.
“I’m going to go one of two ways,” Cory said. “I’m either going to start feeling sorry for myself and screw up again. Right now it’s scary (about using drugs again).”
He’s hoping the fear of further health problems wins out.
“I’m sick of the lifestyle. I’ve pushed family away. I’m 35 years old. I want to get this right. I was getting really depressed with the company I was keeping. I know where this ends up. I’m either going to end up in jail or dead,” he said, a few weeks before he left his program, relapsed and had his nerve-damaging overdose.
He’s trying again and is encouraged by the fact that, as he gets older, his periods of sobriety between relapses have gotten longer, lasting long enough at one point for him to become a peer advocate, helping others move into recovery, he said.
Cory has pinpointed his weak point.
“I thrive in programs. … It’s when I get out on my own,” he said. “My intentions are good. I plan on doing the right thing … and then I settle back down into my old coping mechanisms.”
Treatment can mean months in an inpatient program followed by months in a halfway house without a job. It’s hard to go back to work after that, he said, and the support services just aren’t there to help with reintegration into the community, he said.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Heroin Anonymous are great, Cory said, but they only last an hour and they’re full of other newcomers who are all trying to learn to stay sober together.
“A lot of times, it’s the blind leading the blind,” he said.
But every relapse, Cory believes, leads him closer to recovery.
“Every single one of my relapses that I’ve had, I’ve learned very important lessons with each one. I think each time that I’ve come back, I’ve gained something that wasn’t there before. … I just really, really, really want to live my life free from addiction.”
And he has a constant reminder of the dangers of addiction — nine poppies tattooed on his arm. Each represents a friend in Oneida County who died of an overdose in the past five years.
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).