‘I knew I was going to die a junkie’

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An addict in recovery shares his message

By Kacie Goode

On New Year’s Eve, Shawn Stovall walked his daughter down the aisle. A few years ago, he might not have even been able to attend the wedding. With a year of sobriety, his life has changed immensely, but his message for others is to take recovery one day at a time.

Despite losing his dad at a young age, Stovall had a normal, happy childhood.

“I had a loving family — a good family,” he said. “My mother did everything she could for us. I didn’t go without.”

But it was after a back injury in high school and a visit to a pain doctor that things started to change.

“I was getting 60 pain pills a week at 15 or 16 years old,” the 38-year-old said of his prescribed treatment. “My addiction set in, and it never stopped.”

With the exception of LSD, Stovall said, he’s tried it all.

“The last time I injected anything, I injected coke, heroin and meth in the same day,” he said.

He got off heroin, the withdrawals were too much — but the thought of not using didn’t cross his mind. Instead, he switched drugs for decades.

“I thought I was outsmarting my addiction by switching things up, that way I’m not going to get addicted to anything, when in reality I got addicted to everything.”

But despite the battle, Stovall recalls, he was a functioning addict. He graduated from nursing school with good grades. He worked in medicine for years while concealing his addiction.

“I was high on something all the time,” and so it was his normal, he said.

He ended up unemployed in 2015, when he could no longer cope. His addiction had finally spiraled out of control and his job and everything else became unimportant.

In 2016, he caught an assault charge after overdosing and getting into a fight with first-responders, which landed him in Shelby County Drug Court. It was that moment that would begin a change in his life.

“I entered Drug Court with the mentality that I’d get out and end up using again,” he said. “I thought as an addict, you can’t quit. If you’re an addict, you’re going to be using forever.”

But then he was hanging around addicts in recovery. They had been through the same experiences, felt the same lows and highs and knew the struggle. He saw these other people moving forward and happy.

“That became something I wanted to try,” he said. “At first, I didn’t think it would work, but a little over a year later I am happy today.”

It wasn’t until his recent change that Stovall better understood how his addiction had affected his life.

“I was able to manipulate and lie. I always had an excuse for why something went wrong. I was able to manipulate those close to me and hide my internal pain from them.”

He was pretty good at it, until he started injecting.

“It’s a different monster at that point. It became everything and nothing else mattered. Even trying to hide it becomes a moot point.”

He now better understands how he strained his relationship with his mother and with his own children. He had to get high to function.

“When we are recovering, we have to look at the wreckage we caused,” he said.

He said he is blessed to have family and friends who support him — who forgive him — because there are some people who don’t come back around.

When asked what it’s like to navigate holidays such as New Year’s Eve as an addict in recovery, Stovall said it really isn’t different. While holidays might be an excuse for some people to indulge, for an addict, it’s just another day.

“I didn’t have to have a holiday to get high or get drunk,” he said. “I got high because I got up that day.”

When Stovall started to revamp his life, he said it was the meetings that helped.

“It sounds cliche, but you get to be with people that are like you, think like you, have been through what you’ve been through,” he said, and you get to learn from one another. He also learned that the key to recovery is working on himself.

“That’s the biggest part of recovery in my book — you’ve got to work on what is wrong with you,” he said. “I didn’t have a ‘drug problem,’ I had a ‘me problem.’ Drugs were a byproduct. They were a symptom.”

Stovall, a Christian, says he finds a lot of strength through his relationship with God.

“I go to him daily to seek strength, and he can get me through these things. I can’t do it alone.”

It can be hard, he said. Addicts don’t like to dwell. They don’t like pain — not emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain.

“I never felt that, because I always covered it up as soon as I could,” he said.

Something he has learned, he said, is to take his recovery one day at a time. “I can’t dwell on the past or look at the future. I’ve got to look at today, 24 hours at a time. “I know I can stay clean for a day, and whatever I did that day, I’ll do again tomorrow … If I stay clean today, I’ve got a shot.”

Stovall said he knows if he puts anything in his body, he will lose his family, his job and his life.

Temptation can be a terrible thing.

“I wanted to drink last week because I heard people talking about partying with the holidays coming up. I hadn’t thought about drinking in a while,” he said.

But in meetings, he has heard too many addicts share about how they had a glass a wine with dinner or just wanted that one beer and the next they know, they’ve lost control again.

“I love what I’ve got today,” he said, and he doesn’t want to lose that. Even when he has his bad days, he manages to make it through.

“When I started, I had 100 percent no faith in it at all,” he said of recovery. “I know me. I like getting high. I knew I was going to die a junkie.”

There were a lot of times he should have died, and he begged God to take him out of his misery, he said, because he didn’t have the guts to do it.

“And he did, just not in the way I expected.”

Now, he hopes to carry that message and give other addicts hope.