Recovering addict says county can kick drug habit

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Substance abusers, families can find help here

PERRY COUNTY - County resident Wes Ball is proud of the fact he's been free of meth addiction for three years, eight months and, as of last Thursday, 29 days. He's also glad that he knows of "50 to 60 people who are making a good effort" toward staying drug-free.

"When I first started getting clean, there were only four or five people I could turn to for help," he said.

While the number of abusers trying to turn their lives around is encouraging, Ball said he's seen a lot of people relapse. Some end up in prison. Some end up dead.

"We can do it together," said Ball, who is pursuing classes at Ivy Tech Community College and eyeing a possible career in counseling. Recovering addicts have a saying, "I can't, but we can," he said.

In Ball's opinion, drug addiction can bring more-severe consequences, but is otherwise similar to weaknesses many people exhibit such as a drive to be a "people-pleaser" or workaholic.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, no cure exists for drug addiction. Like alcoholics working to free themselves from dependency, drug abusers refer to themselves as "recovering" rather than "former" addicts. The difference reflects how easy it is to return to the destructive habits.

Relapsing is Easy

"I know people who have been clean for eight or 10 years," Ball said. "Then they go out for a drink and find themselves in another state and back in the habit."

Drug courts are ordering a lot of people into treatment programs, he explained, but addicts can't change until they see that the pain of recovery will be less than that of continuing.

Kicking the habit means struggles even after a user has been clean for some time, according to Ball.

"I can't explain what we go through," he said. "We can't just walk into graduation parties, for example. There are lots of things I don't do because of my addiction, but I can do things with other recovering users. We have to know our triggers and have coping strategies for when they occur."

Now working with the Education on Drugs and Alcohol Support Group, Ball goes into local schools to tell youngsters "you don't need to drink or smoke to have fun." Faculty members appreciate the talks he and others give, he said. "They know it's not easy for us to say we ruined the first half of our lives."

The youngsters he talks to will remember his story, he hopes, when they find themselves tempted to use drugs.

"The older the kids, the less they seem to want to hear what we have to say," Ball said. One or two youngsters have walked up to him after each of his presentations, however, to say they were glad to hear from the speakers, he added. "At Perry Central, a kid walked up and said 'drugs are a problem there, but we're not all involved in it.' That was good to hear."

He graduated from that school in 1991, and knows he was an alcoholic by that time.

One group at Tell City Junior High School that had been studying addiction cycles impressed him, Ball said. "They were the highlight of our tour."

Meth Has Ugly Effects

While he did witness presentations by police officers when he was younger, "I would like to have had the opportunity to hear from someone whose life had been ruined by drugs," he said. In his talks to students, he can bring up ruined relationships, several surgeries and "teeth rotting out of my head" as evidence to counter any glamorous notions they might harbor about getting high.

"That's real powerful to tell them at that age," he said.

Ball recommended that anyone interested in seeing the effects of meth use on appearance go to www.facesofmeth.us/main.htm. They'll find pictures of several ordinary-looking people, until they move their cursors over the photos, causing them to change to images taken after as little as three months of meth use.

Loss of driving privileges might serve as another deterrent, the recovering user said.

"One of the guys who goes to the schools with us calls himself Dopehead on a Moped," he said, "because he's lost his license for life."

Ball noted substance abuse is part of this community's heritage, and said, "I tell kids to be the generation to change history. We've got the power not to go down that road."

Ball didn't go to prison after being convicted in 2005 of possessing methamphetamine, marijuana and paraphernalia, but spent 28 days in a rehabilitation program, and months in a halfway house and counseling. For the first two years of his recovery, he was going to support-group meetings seven days a week. Because he spends so much time in school, he said that has tapered off, but he still goes at every opportunity.

Early in his treatment, "the shakes and the sweats lasted a couple of weeks," he said. "I had access to psychologists, and they diagnosed me as having (attention deficit disorder)."

Several non-narcotic drugs helped him with that disorder and depression, Ball said, but "it was a real rough two weeks. I couldn't sleep; I was up all night walking the floor. It takes up to six months to get some of these drugs worked out of your system. I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

Some addicts decide after a couple of days off drugs they can't go through the withdrawal, he noted. The effects of recovering from alcohol or drug abuse can mimic all kinds of problems, he explained, and it can take a couple of weeks for professionals to determine whether what they see are results of substance abuse or a psychological disorder.

Addicts Among Us

Before he started using drugs, "my idea of an addict was a guy living under a bridge, stealing purses," Ball said. He has met professionals such as lawyers in recovery, however, and said, "this drug doesn't discriminate." Low-income people are drawn to it in larger numbers, however, "because it's cheap," he said.

All that's needed to become addicted is alcohol or drugs, curiosity and opportunity, he pointed out. The high poverty rate in this area and the availability of anhydrous ammonia make this a good environment, and if a person suffers low self-esteem, "meth gives them a boost they've been missing their whole life; they become instantly addicted," he said.

In all his years of using the drug, he saw only one person who tried it and didn't like it, he added.

"We've come a long way in Perry County," he said of multiple treatment programs now available here. "There was nothing here but addiction. You had to go out of the county to find help."

Stand Up to Help

Local rates of drug use won't change, Ball said, "until the people sitting there saying, 'it's not my problem' stand up and say, 'it's my community; what can I do to help?' "

The few people who showed up for substance-abuse presentations such as those given by psychologist George R. Ross last week (see story, this issue) "broke my heart," Ball said. "If this was a company coming in and dumping these things, people would start petitions and be calling the governor. Until people stand up, we're always going to have the problem."

"People do need to know there is hope, there is help," he added. "If anyone has questions about a loved one, there are people here."

Ball isn't sure exactly what's in the future for him. He worked in factories previously, "but that's not what I wanted," he said. He's now "starting with the basics" at Ivy Tech, and may pursue a career in helping others recover from substance abuse.

"Once you get involved in it, you get your heart into it," he said.

When listing points of contact for help, the Education on Drugs and Alcohol Support Group's Jo Sodrel provided only the first names "because some people like to make an issue of it." Recovering addicts can call Wes at 547-7470 or 719-9270, or Peggy at 547-2772, she said. Parents of drug abusers can call Stephanie at 547-6956 or Kathy at 547-3840.