Local man speaks out about 21 years of addiction
For Brad Arrington, 37, it was boredom that led him to try drugs and alcohol for the first time when he was 16.
But after 21 years of addiction, crime and sometimes hopelessness, he now describes himself as a grateful recovering addict and hopes his story can be a warning for others.
Growing up in Balsam and a student at Tuscola High School, there wasn't much to do in Haywood County when he was a teenager.
"I was socially awkward, so when I found pot and alcohol, things got more interesting and I fit in," he said.
He was a "pot head" for several years until he discovered alcohol at age 20 and quickly became addicted. For Arrington, alcohol was a gateway drug. By age 21, he was charged for driving while impaired for the first time. Even after his second DWI charge at age 24, "I still didn't think about giving it up," he said.
He said he was an alcoholic for about 11 years.
"I'm talking a fifth of liquor and a 12-pack of beer a day," he said.
At the time, he owned Mountain Computers on Main Street in Waynesville and did IT work. But his love for his computer work was quickly overshadowed by his love for drugs. Though he experimented with a variety of drugs over the years, it wasn't until he tried meth at age 28 that he really became a drug addict.
He doesn't remember where he was the first time he used meth or who he was with, but he does remember the feeling it gave him.
"For an ADHD person, meth seems like it fixes everything. I could focus, I could concentrate on what I was doing. In small amounts, it was really great. But I never much believed in small amounts. If I was going to do it, it was go big or go home," he said.
Within two weeks of his first time using, he went from smoking meth to using an IV. He went from 170 pounds to 98 pounds in less than a year.
"There were stretches of 21 days at a time that I stayed up…You start seeing shadow people. All your functions start to shut down to the point where you're brain dead," he said.
His drug use greatly affected his family and personal life as well.
"I can't tell you how many relationships I've been in and destroyed. They weren't in a relationship with me they were always in a relationship with my addiction," he said.
Over the next several years, he went back and forth between drugs and alcohol, just quitting one to pick up another. Eventually, he found himself addicted to meth and prescription pain pills, known as "speed balling."
Looking back, he wonders how he ever managed to pay for his drugs. He guesses during his heaviest drug use, he was spending more than $200 each day.
There was no quality of life, either. Arrington couch surfed at friend's houses and kept his belongings in a backpack. Sometimes he lived without electricity, running water or food.
"That was all I had and I didn't care. It didn't matter. All that mattered was where I was going to get my next bag of dope from," he said.
As an addict, Arrington didn't care what means it took to get his hands on drugs. Sometimes it meant stealing from loved ones.
When his pregnant wife-to-be left him, it sent him into a six-month binge of nonstop drugs and alcohol. During that time in 2008 he robbed the Exxon station on Old Balsam Road while high and spent 10 months in prison.
While in prison he was part of the road crew and got involved in church. But even prison didn't stop him from smoking pot from time to time.
"I still hadn't made my mind up that I was ready to quit," he said.
After his release he soon accrued 14 more felony charges, including breaking and entering and forgery to support his habits and he was on the run from the police.
One day after doing drugs, he decided he had finally had enough.
"I finally hit my knees one day and said, 'God, I can't do this anymore. Please help,'" he said.
In less than 30 minutes, deputies came through the front door and arrested him.
"Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it," he said. "But it was the best thing that has happened to me in a long time."
A better life
He went back to prison for 10 months again, but with a different attitude. He got involved in 12-step recovery programs in prison and stayed away from drugs.
"When I went to prison this past time, I decided I was really going to do something different. I spent my time trying to stay recovery-oriented," he said.
After his release in October 2013, he immediately enrolled himself in a recovery program in Ridgecrest, just outside Asheville, called First at Blue Ridge.
"I didn't have to go, it was just something I wanted to do," he said.
At the end, the program helps recovering addicts find a home and a job.
"It made a huge difference for me. It's actually the best thing I ever did," he said. "There are people there who actually care. It's not the Hilton, but if you want recovery it's a great place."
Arrington completed his recovery program in January and has been clean and sober for about a year. He was recently hired at a job doing his favorite work — computers. Soon, he will have his license and a car again for the first time in 16 years.
"Things are not perfect today, but I didn't wake up this morning sick trying to figure out where I was going to get my next pill from. I'm not out robbing nobody. Every day is a miracle for me when I'm not using and I count my blessings every day," he said.
More than anything, he hopes he can be an inspiration to others who may be like him.
"If you are young in Haywood County, please don’t start using just because there is nothing to do there. Take it from someone who could have done anything — you will get stuck in a very deep, dark hole. It’s taken me 21 years to put down the drugs I picked up because I was bored with life in the country," he said.
He hopes to continue to repair his relationships and meet his son, who is almost 7 and lives in New York. With drugs in his life, that would have never been a possibility.
"It's something to look forward to," he said, with a smile.