Survivors Share Tales Of Their Addictions

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Andrew and Sarajane (not their real names) have a couple of things in common. They are from prominent Payson families, they are from the same generation, and they have both been to the depths of hell with drug abuse and fought their way back.

They are not related, but they can relate to how drug use almost destroyed their lives. Their stories are somewhat different.

Andrew has never been arrested on drug charges, despite 20 years of abuse.

Sarajane, on the other hand, has seen the inside of a jail cell more than once.

Their motivation to get sober also is different. However, their timing was within nine months of each other and they both checked into the same rehabilitation center.

Andrew

With a gun pointed at his head, Andrew knelt on the floor execution style while the house he was "flopping" in was ransacked. The unknown intruders took items they could sell for quick cash. Andrew later found out his near-death experience was over a drug debt he had no part of.

"That brought about the beginning of the end," Andrew said, referring to his long stint of drug use. "That is when I realized the small town of Payson was no longer. It had become something different ... it was no longer where you knew who used drugs and could always walk within the circle."

Andrew's first encounter with drugs began shortly before his 19th birthday when he began experimenting with marijuana. In the mid-1990s he began his love affair with cocaine and methamphetamine.

"I quit smoking marijuana. It no longer served my purposes," Andrew said.

He could easily buy his meth in Payson, but would travel to Phoenix to buy cocaine.

To avoid being drug tested by an employer, Andrew started his own business.

"That all came to an end because all of my employees were also under the influence of drugs. When I would show up on the job site, it was party time," Andrew said.

His drug habit had become expensive, and Andrew soon lost everything.

"I spent 30 to 40 percent of the money I made on drugs," Andrew said. "Toward the end, instead of making a truck payment I would buy an eight ball (1/8 ounce of meth)."

Andrew lost his business and was in deep trouble with the Arizona Department of Revenue, so he turned to the only people who were always there for him: his parents.

Andrew did not give up his drug habit. He now relied on the cash his parents were giving him for work he was doing on their house to support his habit.

When he was really down and out no job, no money he became the "middle man" to get his drugs.

Andrew knew the dealers and he knew the buyers. He became the middle man, setting up the deals, hooking up his friends with the local speed dealer.

"Every ounce I sold for him, I got a 1/4 ounce free for me," Andrew said. Andrew said he never got money for being the middle man. He didn't need money, he only needed the speed.

The combination of being robbed at gunpoint and eventually being cut off by his parents finally saw Andrew hit rock bottom. With the help of his parents, Andrew entered treatment at the age of 37.

"I had hit bottom. I was so ready for help. I was ecstatic to be there, where I was given the tools to know how to handle it (drugs)," Andrew said.

Today, Andrew lives and works in Phoenix. He visits his parents frequently. They are all he has of his past in Payson. Those he thought were his friends, he now knows were only using him for the drugs he could supply them. They no longer talk to Andrew now that he is sober.

"For the first time in my life, I have a good job in a drug-free workplace. I have health, dental and optical insurance. I have a 401(k), a telephone and a charge card," Andrew said.

How does Andrew feel about legalizing marijuana?

"No way. As long as drugs are illegal, there will be those who want to see what they are about. But, the answer isn't legalization of drugs. It's education and rehabilitation," Andrew said.

"Marijuana is a gateway drug in the respect that it places you in situations you wouldn't normally be in. Legalizing it would not make a difference," Andrew said.

Sarajane

Sarajane, like Andrew, turned to her family for help when she hit bottom.

However, her life of addiction began at the age of 13 with alcohol.

At the age of 21, following the death of her father, she began to freebase (highly flammable form of cocaine commonly smoked) cocaine daily while remaining a prisoner of the drug in her home.

"It consumed every ounce of me," Sarajane said. "I had enough money to have it delivered to me."

She continued over the next five years on a self-destructive path of cocaine and alcohol abuse. A hiatus from the combination came about when she was remodeling her house and could not function mentally to focus on what needed to be done.

"I backed off the drugs and soon found out I was pregnant," Sarajane said.

Following her pregnancy, she quit the cocaine and alcohol and began a five-year love affair with marijuana.

In 1994, Sarajane was introduced to meth by a friend. She started out using once a week, however, within six months to a year, she was a daily user. She continued to smoke marijuana, relying on it as the depressant to the stimulation of meth.

The move from user to dealer became unavoidable for Sarajane after she lost her job.

A series of arrests and subsequent probation started the beginning of the end. Sarajane found herself manipulating, lying and trying to flush her system of the drugs to get through her probation. She said she was never exposed to treatment while in jail or on probation.

"No one ever said to me, there's a way out," Sarajane said. She was finally placed on intensive probation with house arrest and violated it in May of 1998 by leaving Gila County, and entering a treatment facility in Phoenix.

Sarajane has been drug-free for more than three years. She not only gave up illegal substances, she turned her back on alcohol and tobacco.

As is the case with Andrew, Sarajane does not feel the answer to the drug problem is legalization.

"In my perfect world, there would be treatment for everyone whether they want it or not," Sarajane said. "For those dealing large quantities of dope, they probably need to be locked up. When someone gets busted for use, they should be sent to treatment."

Sarajane spent 30 days in a treatment center. It was there she not only found sobriety, she found herself again.

"I hadn't had fun in years, I didn't know what it was," she said. "On weekends (in treatment), we had recreational activities. We played softball, went bowling, we had fun. I had forgotten what it was like."

Sarajane is an active member of the Payson chapter of Narcotics Anonymous. She now is employed full-time and attending college. She is a survivor.

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