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Addiction in Franklin County

Slipping into addiction can be easy, reclaiming your life can be hard

Christopher Lemay, left, and chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain visited the area recently for his Parts Unknown CNN show. Lemay is recovering from an opioid addiction. Bourdain's memoir deals frankly with heroin addiction in his younger years.

Christopher Lemay, left, and chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain visited the area recently for his Parts Unknown CNN show. Lemay is recovering from an opioid addiction. Bourdain's memoir deals frankly with heroin addiction in his younger years. Purchase photo reprints »

Addiction carries more than the average number of stereotypes. Like most, Christopher Lemay doesn’t really fit those.

Lemay, 25, is a Greenfield native and 2007 graduate of Greenfield High School. He was a multi-sport varsity athlete at GHS, popular, captain of at least two sports teams.

In the fall he left for a good school.

“I think that’s where the stigma and embarrassment comes from ... (you think) I can’t be an addict, I grew up with two parents, I didn’t have the poverty ... I put myself in poverty, I screwed myself royally,” said a sober Lemay during a recent interview.

“I never thought I would need to go to a halfway house or be in therapy,” he said.

In mid-April Lemay was a couple weeks shy of 11 months sober after five years and several failed starts in treatment.

Lemay began developing a serious addiction to Percocet in the year after high school, he said, in the pressure of starting out in the real world.

“That’s what makes it feel good. You’re not going to have to impress anybody, you’re not going to feel you’re letting anybody down, anything like that. It’s just you’re happy with what you’re doing,” he said. “You put on this big front to everyone else that everything’s fine, and really if you take the drugs away you’ve got a completely broken person.”

Lemay said he made the dean’s list his first year at Johnson and Wales University. In the next, he remembers sitting down to a final exam in withdrawal, filling in his name and leaving it at that.

While primal priorities might be food, shelter and sex, once addicted “number one is drugs, and that ruins you,” he said.

The loss of control extends from priorities to little skills like grocery shopping and paying the bills on time, which remained a struggle even after he had cleaned up, and in the meantime things went downhill quickly.

“Things I could never imagine doing – stealing ... just being that self-centered person. You start to lose morals that you never thought you would lose,” he said.

Now, he’s in debt for treatment and for the time in college he doesn’t really remember, but is working full-time and able to meet obligations and do the other things he forgot.

He tried Suboxone treatment, detox, various stays in treatment, always thinking he had to do it. The last time he said he went into recovery wanting to do it, and is staying sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous — which he said is directly translatable to drug addiction, and helps with the biggest hurdle.

“Just putting down drugs is actually the easy part, after a while, for me; it’s staying away from them and having a happy life,” he said.

At first an AA meeting is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, he said, until you start experiencing everything the veteran recovering addicts described.

Now he’s open enough with his addiction to discuss it with a high school acquaintance holding a notebook.

Addiction carries a real stigma, but the more he saw how others in AA dealt with it, the more he opened up to his family and friends and got over it.

“You really just got to open up and not worry about what other people think, because it’s really about whether you last or not, not the journey,” he said.

It’s not an easy journey.

“I could be talking to you right now and go get high an hour later and not even know it right now,” he said. “You don’t know how strong it is until it’s already got you. It’s life or death, no matter how small it seems ... somebody using 5 milligrams or somebody using 500 a day, it’s life or death.”

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Series at a glance: Pushing Back

Friday, May 9, 2014

A year ago, we reported that addiction to heroin and its painkiller cousins was ravaging lives in Franklin County.  Now, this new six-day series asks “what can we do?” ... to reclaim those ruined lives and beat back the threat of chemical enslavement. … 0

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