Profiles in Recovery

Alex Elswick

The opioid crisis has pummeled Kentucky, killing 1273 people in 2015 – the nation’s third highest death rate for drug overdose. Alex Elswick lived to tell about his grim descent into prescription narcotics and heroin abuse. Today, the Lexington native is fighting for other lives at risk. Every minute of every hour of every day that I spent in addiction was abject misery, Elswick told the Kentucky State Legislature recently, as lawmakers considered proposals to address the epidemic. Growing up in an affluent suburb, Elswick attended private schools and played baseball for Centre College in Danville, Ky.He followed a familiar path into addiction, moving from prescription painkillers to heroin. I spent the very last days of my addiction sleeping on a tarpand shooting heroin under Highway 35 in Dayton, Ohio, Elswick said. Herecovered with the support of his parents and a six-month stay in a Salvation Army treatment program. Today, Elswick is a graduate student and co-founder of the non-profit Voices of Hope(his mother Shelley is also a co-founder), which trains people how to recognize and respond to a drug overdose.

Day Job:
Marriage and family therapy graduate student; plans to pursue a Ph.D. in family science, to explore addiction’s impact on families.

What I lost to addiction:
Addiction took family, relationships, and friendships. It took cars, clothes, laptops, (and other people’s stuff too). But most of all, addiction took my sense of self. When I washed up in treatment, I was unrecognizable. Looking in the mirror wasn’t hard because the person on the other side was a complete stranger.

What worked for me:
Recovery Capital. I needed a little bit of everything to insulate myself with a program of recovery. Long-term treatment, aftercare, 12 step meetings, individual counseling, sponsor, sponsees, stable housing, employment, reliable transportation, education, a sense of purpose, new friends, the gym, the list goes on . . .

Insights from my journey:
Life can be hard, but I can do hard. When I was in treatment, my Dad signed letters with the words The Road is Long… This phrase has become shorthand in my family for encouragement. No matter the adversity, the road is long…so on we go.

What saves me from myself:
God. Sponsorship. Counsel with others. Meditation. Being present. Though it may not seem like it, these are all one in the same for me. In engaging with each of these, I am getting outside of myself. This, I have found, is the secret to my peace.

Thoughts on relapse:
The word relapse is stigmatizing in and of itself. It connotes failure or starting over. I don’t think I ever really relapsed. Every time I returned to active addiction, I learned something about myself and about my recovery. These moments are some of my greatest assets. These experiences taught me how to stay on the road to recovery. And more importantly, I can lean on these experiences to help others who may find themselves in a similar situation. What I value most in recovery: Peace of mind. Peace is one of the few things I can control. Someone once said “Life isn’t what happens to you, it’s how you respond to what happens to you.” I have found these words to be absolutely true. Every action I take can be measured by the extent to which it promotes peace of mind.

I get inspired by:
I am most inspired by the courage of people in early recovery. Recovery is like inertia. It takes a hell of a lot of sweat and tears to get rolling, but once you do, it only requires some maintenance and direction to sustain. Making that decision to enter recovery, fighting a craving, refusing your medicine, denying the self – these are the acts of courageous people.  Follow Elswick at Voices of Hope.

Shed the Stigma:
If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at [email protected].