Four hours to change: Danville native shares his story of addiction and recovery

Published 10:36 am Monday, November 7, 2016

Four hours made a big difference for Nick Rhodus. It’s a short period of time compared to the 11 years he spent as an addict, but Rhodus says four hours changed his life.

“That’s my mustard seed,” the Danville native said.

Rhodus said he is now a recovered addict. He became addicted in college, but his story starts shortly before he got to college.

“I just didn’t fit into school. I had a difficult time socializing into my age group. I spent a lot of my time sleeping. The educators decided it was probably best to put me in alternative school. We had made the decision — we tried homeschool, it didn’t work. I went to Fort Logan (alternative high school). I actually did fairly well there,” he said.

While there, he found out that he could obtain a GED and decided that was the route for him. He passed and ended up attending Eastern Kentucky University.

“That’s when I got addicted. I suffered from what I would have called social anxiety. I understand it’s something different today, but that’s what I would have called it. Really uncomfortable around people. Again, I couldn’t relate to the community at college. Class was always awesome; I always loved class. After class, you know, the social groups, I just didn’t fit. I got depressed.”

It was during his third semester, when he moved to living on campus, that it became the worst. Ultimately, despite having a room on campus, Rhodus would commute from Danville to school every day.

“That’s when I discovered Loritabs.”

His mom had the pills for pain after having breast cancer and diabetic neropathy.

“She had a good reason to have the stuff, but didn’t take them because she didn’t like the way they made her feel. I found them,” he said. “I knew something about how opiates worked already, because I had my wisdom teeth extracted. That wasn’t the first time I did one, but I got addicted. I started to take and self medicate.”

The pills, he said, helped him become the “life of the party” and solved his problems — or so he thought.

“I went through mom’s entire bottle of 90 pills and she never did say a word. Then they grew back — she had them refilled,” he said. Rhodus went through those, too, and she began questioning him.

“She started freaking out,” he said. “That’s when I experienced social anxiety, depression and withdrawal and it was just too much. I just left. I just stopped going to class. I didn’t even go through the right channels, I just quit.”

“I beat myself up for that for years — I wasted my opportunity at the American Dream.”

Rhodus still beats himself up over it.

At the time, he had been attending school for psychology and philosophy, with the hopes of being an applied psychologist.

“I was fascinated with people in general … I had a knack for it as well. I really enjoyed it; understanding human behavior. And philosophy challenged me. I could talk for hours about either one of them.”

While he would love to return to school, Rhodus said the path is pretty daunting. Staggering student loan debt, with loans that defaulted from lack of payment while he was in the “darkness,” coupled with the inability to receive more financial aid due to the way he left school the first time, all add up to a big financial battle.

“I have a hope that that dream can be accomplished someday, but I’m skeptical. Not about me, but about society in general … If I’m honest, I can understand why people would be leery about giving an investment opportunity to someone that’s had so much trouble,” Rhodus said. “The truth is the truth, and the truth is, things are different now. Jesus has a way of doing that to people.”

Rhodus credits his Christian faith with helping him overcome his addiction.

“I came to my awareness in January. You can become not using and still be the same person, it’s just a matter of time before you pick up again. Anyone that’s been around addiction and recovery long enough can tell you that — when you sober up a horse thief, what do you get? A sober horse thief. But Christ changes everything.”

Rhodus said it was one January afternoon that turned him around. He said there was no big fanfare, no out-of-body experience, nothing like that. It was simply life restored in a basement of a house in Danville.

“I feel like the truth of the story — most people wouldn’t believe me if I told them. I could take you over to the house I died in. I was in the basement alone. I had just bought a half-gram of heroin from this person. I shot it into my veins at 5 p.m. Woke up at 9, alone,” Rhodus said. “I lost four hours of my life. I don’t know what happened in those four hours. That’s my mustard seed.”

“I can tell you for sure what’s happened since then.”

Since then, he said his fears are gone, especially his fear of being stigmatized as an addict.

“I used to be afraid of everything — the judgment of everyone and the stigma and all that. I don’t have to be afraid anymore. I don’t think that there’s anything that other people can do to me worse than what I’ve already done to myself. And heroin didn’t kill me. I gave my life to that before and God saw fit to keep me alive and I feel like it’s for a reason.”

He thinks that a big part of that reason is helping addicts and their families through addiction, out of their own darkness and into the light, just as he came through.

“I call that period the darkness and this period the light. That’s where I’m at today. For 11 years, I lived in the dark. Addiction is self-centeredness surrounded by 1,000 forms of fear,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have survived a disease that’s killing people. It gave me a perspective that a lot of people don’t have.”

It’s important, he said, to remember that addicts didn’t choose to become addicts.

“Addiction is a disease. It’s also a sin issue, in my opinion,” Rhodus said. “There are many out there that would say, ‘This guy did this horrible stuff and he’s choosing this over that; it’s a choice.’ They’re allowed their opinion like anyone else. But the truth is, that perspective is the perspective of the victim. And the victim cannot help it.”

“You need to have the perspective of the healer. You have to know that your addict is sick.”

Knowing that, he said, can protect from the addict and their actions, but it can also protect from “your own thinking.” It’s important, he said, to “protect yourself” and “protect your addict.”

“I know that the disease is just a strange thing and it baffles a lot of people. But when you experience it firsthand, it becomes pretty simple,” he said. “None of us chose to be born. I believe that those that have the disease of addiction were chose with a predisposition for it. It may never be activated if they manage to go through life without finding that one substance that sets them off. But it’s been my experience that I didn’t choose any of this.”

Rhodus said it’s the choices he does make next that matter.

“The choice that I have today is to continue to do things that I have been doing in order to maintain my recovery — what I would call my walk with Christ.”

The reason so many are dying, Rhodus said, is that addicts are scared of the community around them.

“I would be willing to go and find a man that is using heroin today. I would go to where he is, knock on the door, and say, ‘Look bro, if you want to come with me, I will take you to a team of people that will fix your life as long as you are willing to stay clean.’ And he would come with me, if that was the case. But that’s not what they find. They get broken in jail, they get broken in the street, they get broken somewhere along the way, and continue to use against their will. They don’t want to do it, but they can’t stop. They don’t know how.”

“I know that when I was at the end of my rope, I prayed, ‘God, I wish my family would give me a chance.’ They did. I’m not going to say they didn’t, because they gave me several chances. But I didn’t have Jesus at those times,” he said. “They get out there in that ugly lifestyle and that’s what they do.”

It becomes the norm for the addict and changing that is scary for them, just as change is scary for anyone, he said.

That’s why it’s important to have the mindset of the healer, not the victim, not the “angry, upset person, ‘Oh, you stole my stuff. Oh you did this, Oh, you did that.’”

“Yes, they did. They did all that stuff. If you can’t look at an addict, especially a heroin addict, and not know that they’re sick, maybe you need to put on some new glasses,” he said.

“There is an addict somewhere that woke up this morning ‘dope sick’ and would do anything to get that fix. Here’s the thing — imagine if you’re one of those guys today. Your dealer is killing people for $20 a pop. ‘It’s a gamble, but I can’t live without it.’ That’s the mindset they have,” he said. “We have to look at the disease as an irrational thought process that needs to be destroyed. But we can’t destroy that unless we can get them to trust us.”

Groups like Families Into Getting Help Together, of which Rhodus is a member, the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse and the Hope Network are part of the answer, he said.

“There’s a heart for service in Danville that I’m proud to be a part of,” Rhodus said. “They can’t do it alone.”

He said people need to speak up when things seem out of place and not be afraid to report something, even if it might be nothing. Financial support is something else he said is necessary.

“They need the community’s support. Resources are absolutely necessary. Most rehab facilities are not free,” Rhodus said. “While the heart of service in Danville is willing to help an addict that wants to come out, it does cost money. I would encourage everybody that wants to be part of the solution to invest time, talent and tithe or some combination of those to the cause.”

It’s important to remember that those who have made it through recovery still need help to face the “mountain of consequences” that come after and it’s important to go where they are and see them through, Rhodus said. That’s something he’s confident in doing — going where the addicts are and helping them find their way out — and that’s something he’s been doing to help his friends, and even strangers, get out.

“Addicts go in two boxes. The box they can get out of and the box they can’t get out of. The box they can’t get out of, obviously, is a coffin. The boxes they can get out of are a hospital, a rehab facility, and a jail cell. There’s a third option that was made available to me — a living room of a good friend,” Rhodus said.

Rhodus said he’s making a point to be a “pest” to addicts he knows and said he’s willing to do the same for those he doesn’t know because he’s tired of seeing people die.

“I can go and knock on his door. I can go leave notes on his door every day. We remember the ones that were there all the time, even if we didn’t particularly like it. We love them now, we’re grateful, because they’re the ones that helped us get to that place where we’re ready to surrender, because we have someone to surrender to,” he said. “Be present. Before they die.”

Rhodus said he’s sat through many funerals since heroin, especially since fentanyl-laced heroin hit the region.

“There’s not one of these funerals that I’ve gone to where you don’t see that face. That face of pain, where a person wonders if they could have done something. We’re not going to be able to save everybody. That’s the fact. However, I can go to sleep at night knowing I did everything I could,” he said. “This is a really big deal. When the son of a family dies, it affects everybody. When the mother of a family dies, it affects everybody. When a family member goes off to jail, it affects everybody. It’s a huge deal. It’s eating away at the foundation of our society.”

Besides a dream of returning to college, Rhodus said he hopes to open a dojo where he can teach martial arts — something he has a background in. Rhodus teaches privately and also teaches self-defense.

“I think the marital arts is a great vehicle for passing along positive life skills that are useful in just about any circumstance you can think of,” he said.

Rhodus said he would like to pursue applied behavioral science when he returns to school.

“One day, I could see myself teaching. I love teaching,” he said. “I would like to see myself back in that upward mobile lifestyle I was in before I got addicted. But to be honest, it’s going to take a lot of mercy on behalf of God and other people.”

He’s also working on a book of his experiences through addiction and helping others, and hopes to publish that soon. Writing is a good outlet for addicts, he said.

“The only answer I know is Jesus,” Rhodus said.

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.

SO YOU KNOW:

To reach out to Nick Rhodus about Families Into Getting Help Together (FIGHT) organization, his martial arts opportunities or other questions, email him at nickfightr@yahoo.com.