“I come from a place called the Mid-Ohio valley. If you’ve heard of us, you may have heard this place is known for being the epicenter of the opioid epidemic in America. From a young age, drugs and alcohol affected me greatly. I’ll get to that shortly. But first, I’ll tell you a bit more about my childhood.
When I was growing up, my life was great. I came from an amazing family. They really went above and beyond to show me I was loved and cared for. I got to travel and experience so much more than a lot of people my age ever could. However, I’ve always felt like I was different. I hated how I looked. My teeth were crooked, I was overweight, I had this crazy slicked back hair cut and I just felt different. So I gravitated toward people just like me or what I thought were just like me.
As I got a little older, right around the age of 12, I was introduced to alcohol by one of my best friends. I instantly fell in love. Not really with alcohol, but with the feeling it gave me. Shortly after, I tried marijuana for the first time. Now that was what I was looking for. I no longer felt different. I felt like I could connect with other people via the use of drugs. But from the very beginning, drugs caused problems for me. I started to act out in a very aggressive way. They affected my mood greatly when I didn’t have them. Contrary to popular belief, smoking pot can affect your mood and behavior. Especially if there are already underlying mental health issues.
With my mood and behavior changes also came legal issues. I was incarcerated for the first time at the age of twelve. As embarrassing as it is for me now, I was very angry and aggressive, specifically towards my family. I was violent; I would attack my dad, punch holes in walls. And it doesn’t stop there. I was also violent and aggressive towards children my age. This caused me many problems over my adolescent years. I spent over one and a half years incarcerated before I ever even turned 18. Which where I’m from isn’t normal at all. Now my feelings of being different were elevated greatly because I had yet another thing to set me apart.
At the age of 14, I suffered my first loss from alcohol. My childhood best friend got in a terrible drunk driving wreck. He was the passenger in a vehicle being driven by someone intoxicated. This was very traumatic for a 14-year-old to experience. I had to watch my closest friend in the whole world on life support. He passed away 5 days after the wreck. These deaths shook our entire community. It was literally devastating to many friends and families, but I was especially broken from this. I attempted to commit suicide for the first time. And at the age of 14, I was committed to a mental health hospital in Huntington, West Virginia.
By the age of 17, I had already spent over a year in jails and institutions. I was hopeless, scared and angry about how my life had played out so far. My parents had just recently got divorced because of my behavior and my dad moved to Las Vegas. I was on felony probation and my probation officer was already on her last nerve with me. I got suspended from school which was a common occurrence. It was different this time though. I had a suspended commitment to the Ohio Department of Youth Services and my probation officer wasn’t happy. In fear of going to DYS, I went on the run. I sold all of the electronics in my parent’s house and disappeared. By the end of the night, the most life-changing thing happened to me. I injected heroin for the very first time.
I had experimented with many other drugs already; shrooms, LSD, pain killers, and Adderall. This was much different. I genuinely fell in love with this drug from the very beginning and little did I know it would cause my family and I a great deal of pain later down the road. Thankfully, the next day, the house was raided and I was arrested. I was taken to a holding facility called Multi-County Juvenile Detention Center in Lancaster, Ohio. Then later I was transferred to DYS.
If you know anything about the Ohio Department of Youth Services, then you know it is a bad place. Even though it is a group of juvenile correctional facilities, they are just as bad as the adult prison systems in Ohio. Plus, you can be 21 and still be held there. While there, I avoided the gangs, drugs, and violence that took place. I witnessed huge riots. I’m talking like 80-90 people riots that lasted hours. Even with all these distractions, I focused on my schooling. I also focused on my art. Since I was a child, I loved to draw and paint but my time in DYS took my skills to a whole different level. Right before I went home, I was rewarded with my GED. I scored higher than anyone ever has at the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility.
I turned 18 years old shortly after I was released. My mom had moved to West Virginia while I was locked up, so I had to do an interstate compact and I was on parole in both West Virginia and Ohio. This was not a good thing because I had developed a huge problem with authority. I met someone named Mike shortly after being released. To this day, he is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. He’s a huge part of my story, addiction, and recovery.
But unfortunately, when we met, we started selling what was known as K2 or spice (synthetic marijuana). This substance was so cheap, it didn’t show up on drug tests and the worst part about it was that it was more physically addicting than heroin. This drug damaged me greatly: physically, spiritually and mentally. Around this same time, I met Brittany and she got pregnant with my daughter. Thankfully, K2 became illegal and our supply ran out. I was stuck with the damage this drug left behind and up until then, I was getting away with doing it because I could pass drug tests. Now that I can no longer get my fix, I moved onto other drugs.
Here came the psychedelics, Roxy 30s and cocaine. Though I was on parole and I had a daughter on the way, I couldn’t shake my addiction. Before long, my first love found me again. Except this time, I didn’t inject heroin. I smoked it. I was so delusional that I believed that if I didn’t inject it, I wouldn’t become addicted to it. That it somehow made me better than people who injected it. I was so miserable, but the scary part about it is I didn’t even realize it. I was so numb to the world, digging myself into my misery with each high. One night, I was in a drug-induced haze and the most incredible thing happened – Brittany’s water broke and she was in labor.
September 10, 2013, my beautiful daughter Tatem Rae-Lynn Shepard was born. In the midst of a chaotic delivery room as the doctor was holding my baby girl I started speaking and she looked up at me.. She wasn’t crying or screaming, but to everyone’s amazement, she looked me dead in my face and smiled the biggest smile. I loved her from the second I saw her. I mean, how could I not love this angel that just gave me the biggest smile in the world?She was a part of me. With all this said, the love for my beautiful newborn daughter didn’t stop me from going out to the parking lot to get high before we ever even left the hospital. To me, this speaks volumes about how powerful addiction is. Even the most beautiful of situations can’t fix how broken some of us are.
At this point in time, I was on the run from both West Virginia and Ohio. I couldn’t pass a drug test and to be completely honest, I didn’t really care. I got away from them for quite a while. Until one day someone gave my location to the police and they came to pick me up for a parole violation. At the age of 19, I was once again incarcerated in DYS. My daughter had to come visit me in a prison visitation room. I’m just really grateful that she was too young to remember, but unfortunately I remember. 3 months later, I was released and for the first time in a very long time, I was a free man. This didn’t last very long though.
I got very heavily involved in criminal activity. I sold just about every drug I could get my hands on and used just as much as I sold. This caused me problems with people who gave me drugs on credit. That’s when things got really bad because I was stealing from and robbing people to pay off my own drug debts. If you know the kind gentleman I am today, it would be hard for you to believe I was committing armed robbery, home invasions, and selling people fake drugs to supply my habits. I could have very easily been put into a situation where I killed someone else or they killed me. I even stooped as low as to steal my grandma’s 50th-anniversary ring. Things were not looking up.
On September 27, 2015 (my 21st birthday), I tried meth for the first time. Once again I made the mistake of thinking that if I just smoked it, I wouldn’t get addicted. Meth made me fearless when it came to all the criminal activity I told you about. It also made me very paranoid, depressed, and anxious. I would hallucinate and the stuff I saw was so scary. It led to the second time I was hospitalized. It also led to the first rehab I ever went to.
Meth broke me so fast that for the first year I did it, I wanted to stop getting high altogether. I went to rehab, but it didn’t work. So I was stuck in Florida and posted on Facebook about how desperate I was. I posted about how I was going to start hitchhiking back to Ohio. A couple named Adam and Valerie saw how desperate I was. They lived in Alabama, not too far from where I was. They decided to give me a chance. These two people and their 6 children are a huge part of my story. Adam gave me a job and he gave me a ride to another job every day. Living with them, I got about 4 months of sobriety and I felt amazing. Then I made the choice to visit home and never came back to Alabama. I got sucked back into my drug addiction so quickly.
For the next few years, I was stuck in a vicious cycle of active addiction, jail, and rehab. So much happened in that small amount of time. I witnessed things that I should’ve never witnessed. I lost many friends to addiction. Whether to overdose deaths, being murdered, or to prison. My friends Taylor and Destany passed away from heroin overdoses. My best friend Mike has been incarcerated for the last 4 years for manslaughter and gets released sometime soon. For some reason by the grace of something bigger than myself, my life was saved.
Personally, I feel that I have a calling. I feel like the world needs to hear my story in hopes that it can change someone’s life. Even if its just one person, I’ll forever be grateful. Now that I’ve told you most of the bad that’s happened, I absolutely have to tell you about my recovery!
I say this in the most humble way: my recovery is nothing less than miraculous.
I am a walking, talking miracle. When I was in active addiction, I would pick at my skin compulsively for days and days at a time. I had scabs all over my whole body and I would get staff infections. Today, I have literally no scars on my body. I have healed physically, but let me tell about the rest…
I have healed in all aspects: mentally, spiritually, physically and financially. Today, I am blessed with so many opportunities. I travel all over. I have hobbies now which include mountain hiking, rock climbing, and lifting weights. I am turning one of my favorite hobbies into a business: photography.
I work closely with a few juveniles to mentor them into becoming better men. Today, I am passionate about helping addicts and their families find peace from addiction. Today, I myself have found peace from my addiction. I no longer have the uncontrollable urge to use drugs. Today, I am finally the father my daughter deserves and the son my parents deserve.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hunter Shepard. You can follow his journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more about addiction and recovery:
‘Why bother? Nothing’s left.’ I was a washed-up, homeless junkie injecting meth into my arm.’: Veteran launches organization to end veteran suicide after battling addiction, ‘your life is worth living’
‘I’d be single and a virgin forever. ‘The boys called me ‘big girl.’ I’d never be able to be naked in front of a lover.’: Woman loses 115 pounds after drug addiction, traumatic childhood, ‘I regret nothing, I finally had an opportunity to blossom’
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