Recovering drug addict works toward sobriety

by | Jan 21, 2013 | A Writer's Journey, Feature Articles, Gallia Hometown Herald Archives | 0 comments

This article originally appeared on the Gallia Hometown Herald

VINTON – It was nothing for Frank McMillan to step over naked bodies sprawled around his living room as he headed out the door, stopping along the way to finish off any alcohol left over from the party the night before. It was a family member that gave him his first shot of heroin and six months later he was able to find it, cook it and shoot it himself.

Frank McMillan was around 10 years old.

Now, 40 years after his first shot of heroin, McMillan is trying to put his life on the right track with the help of Gallia Strong Tower, a ministry of Vinton Baptist Church.

While they aren’t often heard, Kevin Dennis with Gallia Strong Tower said stories like McMillan’s are not outside of the norm. In his experience, many drug addicts started as juveniles either because of their family or in spite of their family; whether it is given to them, or they sneak it out of the cabinet.

Since 2006, Gallia Strong Tower has been attempting to do their part to quell the drug problem that is spiraling out of control in Southeastern Ohio through a 12-step faith-based drug rehab program. Because of their experience, Vinton Baptist Church also took the leap over four years ago and purchased the old North Gallia High School building in the hopes of eventually turning it into a community center and 24-hour drug rehab center, aptly named Field of Hope.

It has been a struggle. The building has fallen victim to years of abandonment, largely due to asbestos. At first glance, it looks unsalvageable. But, according to Dennis, the basic structure is sound, and it just needs rehabilitated.

It’s difficult not to draw parallels between those currently served by the ministry and the building the group hopes to utilize to further their efforts. At first glance, many substance abusers may also seem lost to the destructive lifestyle which often ends in death or prison. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by the growing drug problem in some way, whether they are addicted, know someone who is addicted or have been a victim of a crime perpetrated by an addict.

Dennis himself watched a daughter spiral through that world and end up in the prison system. And sometimes, Dennis said, prison is what it takes. Dennis said there are scientific studies that show a person’s brain and thinking process can change if subjected to substance abuse and, while the brain can heal itself, it takes time.

“Whether it’s in prison or in a rehab, you have to allow time in the right environment for healing to begin in their thinking,” said Dennis.

And environment can play a large part in the effectiveness of an abuser’s recovery. For McMillan, who backslid after three years of recovery, and is now back in the program, it is steering clear of the lifestyle in which he raised. And it is often that lifestyle he misses the most. But he also knows stepping back into that lifestyle opens up the door to stepping back into drug abuse.

“There was times I was drawing water out of rain puddles to cook my dope and shoot it. I was in and out of prison,” said McMillan. And sober, McMillan is well aware of what he has lost over the years as a result of his drug habit.

McMillan moved to Gallia County from California and was addicted to heroin and methamphetamines. A member of the church encouraged and finally convinced him to attend, and he eventually started the Strong Tower program. McMillan said it is the positive force and involvement in the church and Field of Hope that helps him to stay on track.

“That’s how I stay clean. That’s what makes me what I am today. My life has done a 360 degree turn and I’m still working on it. I’ll be fifty years old in March and I’m still not totally up and running on my own two feet. I believe that that’s going to happen and believe God is going to make that work for me,” said McMillan.

McMillan’s hope is that someone will see his story and ask for help.

It isn’t just the substance abuser on whom the ministry focuses. It also focuses on educating family and the community on the dangers of enabling an abuser. Dennis said family members often spend a great deal of time trying to deny their loved one is involved in drugs and then, in their attempt to support them, end up hurting their chances of recovery and survival.

“We have to, as family members, we’ve got to draw a line,” said Dennis. And that often means allowing the addict to “hit bottom”.

“Family members are on the front line. They are on the front line of both defense and beginning to call this person to accountability. That is hard,” said Dennis.

Helping an addicted family member always means the “tough love” approach, said Dennis.

With the asbestos removal almost complete thanks to an EPA Brownfields grant, Dennis said the next step is to develop a detailed plan for Field of Hope that hopefully attracts the support of the community.

“I think the community, everyone sees a need. They see what’s going on,” said Dennis.

Some of the plans for Field of Hope include expansion of the church’s food bank, which served over 6,000 people in 2012, a youth center and mentor program to hopefully prevent juveniles from traveling down the destructive path of drugs in the first place and a 24-hour drug rehab center to help the ministry further their efforts to help those already addicted.

The amount of time in which the project is completed will depend completely on funding and volunteers. But Dennis believes it will be completed and serve as a positive influence on the community as a whole. And for now, McMillan, who has already felt the positive effects of the program, is taking one step at a time to overcome his addiction; an addiction that started long before he was old enough to know the long-term effects it would have on his life.