My name is Stuart Lemarr, and I am a person in long-term recovery. That means I have not found it necessary to take a drink or a drug since June 4 of 2010. Let me start out by saying I have the disease of alcoholism.

I lose all control of regulating my drug or alcohol use when I start. I did not cause it, but I am responsible for treating it. I do not have any sob story or something that happened to me to start my addiction. I have no excuse except the disease. My parents were both educated. My mother was a small business owner, and my father was a newspaper publisher. I was raised middle class with considerably more opportunity than most in Eastern Kentucky are afforded.

We went on vacations, to college sporting events, and bought the newest video games and Air Jordans. My father was sick the majority of my life and that is how I remember him. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six months after my twin sister and I were born. His disease was really aggressive, and he was in a nursing home by my 14th birthday.

I say this because it left my mom to be the bread-winner, so she worked and worked a lot. I had all the talks, school programs, and Saturday morning TV commercials on how bad drugs were; it was never in any part of my life. I played sports, participated in school clubs, and always made good grades. Then I became a teen-ager, and life happens. First it was sneaking alcohol on camping trips and sleepovers with friends – all fun and nothing serious.

I do know I was an abnormal drinker from the beginning. I did not have an off switch. When I put alcohol or any other substance in my body, the world got quiet. I didn’t know the world was loud until it wasn’t anymore.

When I was 13, I smoked pot for the first time. I also remember immediately thinking I was going to get stoned for the rest of my life. This is where that progression part of the disease comes in. By the age of 16, it was Valium/Xanax and weed. At 17, I had my wisdom teeth removed and was given a Rx of Tylox, which is Oxycodone.

The next week, my sister had her wisdom teeth removed, and I was army-crawling across the floor to steal hers and put crushed up Tylenol back in the capsule. Then my disease progressed more – OxyContin starting in 1998, Methadone clinics by 2004, then IV OxyContin and heroin.

I just wanted to wake up and not be afraid. By 2004, I was in rough shape. I was testing positive for other drugs at the Methadone clinic. It was suggested I attend an AA meeting if I wanted to stay a patient at the clinic. I had never been so insulted in my life. I was physically dependent and that was it – definitely not an alcoholic. So, I did not go to the meeting and switched Methadone clinics.

A few months later, I could no longer handle the mental pain of my addiction and told my mom I needed a rehab to stop using. The next couple of years can be summed up in a few words: Rehab and jail. By 2010, I had been arrested 13 times, including three DUI’s, with all charges related to drugs and alcohol. I had been through a rapid detox, six residential treatment centers, three halfway houses, and multiple Suboxone clinics.

In 2008, I met a girl in rehab. EVERYONE said it would be a disaster. Guess what? It was a disaster. Our daughter was born in 2009 and, yes, some of our first visitors were not family, but social service workers. We did what we had to do to manipulate them, but in May of 2010 my girlfriend was arrested and court-ordered to long-term treatment. My Mom took our daughter and said, “call me when you figure it out.” Her concern was our daughter. My girlfriend had a scheduled date to enter Cumberland Hope Community, a Recovery Kentucky Center (RKC) in Evarts.

I had no license, was living in a house my Mom owned that I couldn’t even keep the electric paid, and had lost custody of my daughter. Staff at Cumberland Hope provided me with the phone number to another RKC in Owensboro. I had no interest in staying in treatment, but did not have many other options. The next day, my girlfriend drove me to Owensboro in our car (title already pawned and trying to hide the vehicle) and dropped me off.

It was June 3, 2010. I entered the doors of the place that would change my life high and pissed off. Soon, I was dope sick, depressed, home sick, and did not have any motivation to change. I am not one that believes you have to “want it” to get sober. I believe the consequences have to make someone so uncomfortable that it puts them in a position to learn how to stay sober.

While in detox, I had a map drawn to the bus station. Problem was I didn’t have any money, so I stayed. I also experienced something different. Nothing magical with rainbows and butterflies. Cold, hard, truth. I was told I had earned how I was feeling, and that if I wanted to feel better I also had to earn it. I was told if I could do life better, then to go ahead and go. If not, stay there and listen.

I stayed 11 months. I did not have an aha moment. I did have moments of clarity. One of those was my brother dying of untreated alcoholism just a few weeks after I arrived in Owensboro. In treatment, I became a part of a community. I was not alone and isolated. I learned to get up early, do my job to the best of my ability, and be accountable for my actions. I learned how to be honest – not only with myself, but with another human being. I learned about my disease. More importantly, I learned to have a relationship with the God of my understanding.

I returned to Harlan in May 2011 with the understanding that people would treat me how I taught them to treat me before I left. I had a bad reputation, no license, poor job history, and a criminal record. I started employment at a Long John Silvers. I chaired meetings, communicated with my sponsor, and ignored the chaos of working in a fast-food environment. I stayed sober. We regained custody of our daughter. My girlfriend stayed sober, and we became husband and wife.

I tried gaining other employment, but always was rejected when the background check returned. After two years at Long John’s, I was given an opportunity to start the substance abuse program at the Harlan County Detention Center. My wife and I enrolled back in college. We had a baby boy. We continued our recovery. People started to trust me. Today I have three kids that adore me, a mother who doesn’t have to hide her purse when I visit, and a community that I can contribute to. My wife has a Master’s Degree and works in the field of recovery. I have a degree and work in addiction medicine educating healthcare providers about Vivitrol.

God has given me the opportunity to help others and has re-created my life. I implore anyone who is looking for help to reach out to UNITE. It is never too late. I thought losing custody of my daughter and being dropped off in Owensboro was the worst day of my life. Turned out to be the start of my life.